2. Women and the war

Teleprincesses 2 'It was the fact that everyone knew how important it was and that everything was at stake that mistakes very seldom happened' Mavis Batey, cryptographer, Bletchley Park, 1940-46.

Women as landgirls, drivers and in munitions manufacture during the war are well known, but their role in code-breaking less so. It wasn't until the film Enigma was released in 2001 that the extent of their involvement at Station X (the codename for Bletchley Park) became common knowledge. Many of the women never told their families of their 'hush hush' wartime work.

The majority of the women were in the Women's Royal Naval Service (WRNS), but in reality many thousands of women from the Women's Royal Auxillary Air Force (WAAFS) and from the Auxillary Territorial Service (ATS) were also involved in the codebreaking programme, acting as radio operators, Morse code readers and teleprinter typists.

Other important, and until recently, hidden wartime contributions by women include construction workers who built Waterloo Bridge in London and the first American women computer programmers who programmed the Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer (ENIAC) machines.

Few of the thousands of women were directly involved in the design or maintenance of the decoding machines, such as the Bombe and Colossus. Their efforts were invaluable listening, recording, transcribing onto tape and operating the vast machines that tried to crack the Enigma code. They were certainly pioneering as the first 'computer' operators.