Obituary: Mary Adams

Mary Adams, Bletchley Park interceptor and Advice Bureaux tutor. Born: 3 November, 1922 in Montrose, Angus. Died: 12 July, 2010 in Dalgety Bay, Fife, aged 87

Mary Adams was one of an extraordinary breed of British wartime women workers who modestly failed to realise the significance of their contribution until decades after VE Day.

One of the chain of Bletchley Park codebreakers, she and thousands of others were sworn to silence about their involvement in the Ultra secret project to decipher the German Enigma code.

After victory in Europe and Japan, the Government Code and Cypher School at Bletchley, also known as Station X, was wound down and knowledge of its top secret activities remained loyally guarded by its disbanded staff.

It was not until publication of a book on the project almost 30 years later that Adams finally acknowledged her part in the project - widely regarded as a major element in winning the war - and revealed her own enigmatic past to her husband Bob.

"Mary had just forgotten about it," he recalled. "When the book came out she said 'I was involved in this' and told me about it. But she mainly told me about the nice girls she had met there and what they did in their spare time, rather than talking in detail."

Like all her 9,000-plus colleagues she had fulfilled her duty to remain true to the Official Secrets Act she signed as a young woman drafted in as an interceptor of enemy messages.

Born in Montrose, she was the daughter of railway foreman John Ritchie and his wife Maggie. They soon moved to Stonehaven where their daughter attended Mackie Academy and where they were told by the headmaster that there was no point in her staying on at school as she would "only get married".

However Adams, then the bright young Miss Ritchie, took a job as a clerk in a local solicitor's office but life in Stonehaven proved too quiet for her liking and, in 1943, she signed up for the Auxiliary Territorial Service.

She enrolled in Dalkeith and her potential was quickly spotted. She was selected for the Royal Corps of Signals and, after training in the Isle of Man on how to receive Morse code, she was assigned to Bletchley Park as an interceptor.

She was based at one of the Y stations, the British Signals' collecting stations, at Harrogate. There she spent long hours in heavy concentration listening in to coded messages from the Germans and the Italians which were then passed on to the codebreakers.

She got to know which transmitter and nationality she was listening to as each had a distinctive rhythm. She preferred listening to the Italians because they were more excitable and transmitted so quickly that they made mistakes and had to repeat them, giving her a second chance to hear the message. The Germans did not make mistakes.

Occasionally she and her colleagues would get an inkling of the importance of their contribution when a high ranking official would visit from Bletchley Park to inform them that, as a result of their work, a particular boat had been saved or they had learned about troop movements. But on a day-to-day basis they were not aware of their significance.

She left Bletchley Park in 1947 and trained as a radiographer at Manchester Infirmary. While in Manchester she met Bob Adams, an accountant, who was to become her husband.

He was training there for five weeks on his way to take up a job with a timber company in Ghana. They had both been staying at a YWCA hostel for young professionals. Bob went off to Accra for a year and she took up a radiography post at Perth Royal Infirmary. They married in Stonehaven in 1950 and immediately returned together to Ghana where their son Bob was born.

They came back to Scotland in 1952, first to Moffat, then Edinburgh and Aberdour, and had two more children, David and Lorna.

Adams returned to work around 1960, spending 15 years with Citizens Advice Bureaux in Edinburgh, initially as a volunteer and then as tutor, training staff at all the capital's bureaux in the required procedures.

Throughout all the time since leaving Bletchley Park she had never uttered a word about her wartime work. It was not until the 1974 book The Ultra Secret was published that she and others broke their silence and the huge impact their work had on the course of the war was fully realised. It was followed in 1995 by the Robert Harris novel Enigma, later made into a film which Adams saw but was not enamoured by its romantic aspect.

Always a witty and good-looking woman, she had a bright and breezy personality which she put to good use volunteering as a driver for the Society for the Blind in Kirkcaldy and giving occasional after-dinner speeches at Aberdour Golf Club, where she had a hole-in-one, and at Aberdour Tennis Club where she served as president.

Devoted to her family, she was latterly confined to a nursing home suffering from Alzheimer's disease. It was there last year that, though by then unable to share her memories of her codebreaking work, she was presented with her Bletchley Park commemorative badge in recognition of her contribution to our freedom today.