Obituary: Dorothy Smith, Bletchley codebreaker

Dorothy Smith, key member of Bletchley Parks wartime code breaking operation. Picture: ContributedDorothy Smith, key member of Bletchley Parks wartime code breaking operation. Picture: Contributed
Dorothy Smith, key member of Bletchley Parks wartime code breaking operation. Picture: Contributed
Born: 30 August, 1921 in Dundee. Died: 7 September 2015, in Dundee, aged 94

Like many of her generation, Dorothy Smith shrugged off the work she did during the war, not rating it as particularly important.

But more than 70 years on, the value of her service, and that of her colleagues at Bletchley Park, has become ever more significant as their contribution to breaking the Enigma Code and the iron grip of Nazism is only now being fully understood by subsequent generations, not only at home but across the world.

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Swathed in secrecy for decades, the work of the code breakers, and interceptors such as Dorothy, has only been widely revealed in the last few years, with the government taking until 2009 to recognise their vital role with a Bletchley Park Commemorative Badge. In the interim, Dorothy, a clerkess from Dundee, quietly got on with her life, maintaining a discreet silence about her war work.

Born in Dundee, the eldest of three daughters of master joiner James McLean and his wife Robina, a weaver, she was educated at the city’s Downfield Primary School and Morgan Academy. After leaving school she became a clerkess with a local firm until being called up to join the Women’s Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS) in 1942.

She served with the Royal Signals as a special intercept operator, listening in on Nazi messages. Anything of potential interest was then passed to Bletchley.

Her work would have been onerous, monotonous and intense, working long shifts requiring assiduous concentration throughout. They only knew that what they were doing was top secret and were unaware then of their role in the bigger picture.

She retained her knowledge of Morse code for the rest of her life, even having been known to identify it in the background of particularly bad radio reception and accurately translate its transmission.

After returning home to Dundee, she resumed her romance with Tom Smith, a boy whom she had first met at secondary school. He had served in the Merchant Navy and they became engaged in 1946, marrying more than three years later.

The couple went on to have a daughter, Shirley, but Dorothy later fell ill with tuberculosis and was hospitalised for two years between 1955 and 1957. She made a full recovery and worked in the office of Larg’s music shop in Dundee and then as a clerkess in Dundonald Garage before retiring.

An active member of the church throughout her life, she was a Sunday School teacher, pianist and church organist at Dundee’s Williamson Memorial Unitarian Church.

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She had been a member of the Royal Scottish Country Dance Society and continued to love dancing all her life. Other hobbies included bowls – she was a member of Dundee’s Balgay Ladies Bowling Club and the winner of many trophies. She was also a great animal lover, keeping numerous pet cats and dogs over the years, and a long-time supporter of animal charities.

Widowed by the death of Tom in 1995, she is survived by their daughter and was a much-loved aunt.