In this, the week of the 75th anniversary of Colossus tackling its first Lorenz message, Steve Cockayne tells us what he overheard in a conversation that his mother was having at a Bletchley Park reunion a few years ago.
Steve Cockayne writes:
I took my Mum, Lorna Cockayne, to a Bletchley Park veterans' reunion a few years ago. During the Saturday night dinner, there were various talks going on and all the veterans were there having a lovely time. Mum didn’t know anybody (same for most of the ladies actually) so she got talking to a nice lady sitting next to her.
The conversation went something like this…
L. Hello my name is Lorna. It was Lorna Fitch but now it’s Cockayne. D. My name is Dorothy, pleased to meet you. (they shake hands) L. Where did you work at Bletchley? D. In Block/Hut F L. The Newmanry? D. Yes. L. I worked there from 1944 but I don’t remember many people. And what did you do there? D. I worked on Colossus first then went into the next door office. L. I worked on Colossus too but started on Heath Robinson. D. Hot in there wasn’t it? M. Yes, it was, no ventilation and blackout curtains. L. What Watch were you on? I don’t remember seeing you -- not that I saw anybody else, we were in small groups, pairs. D. D watch (I think, don’t quote me)
L. Ah I was in C watch. I only knew two other people.
Meantime I had my laptop and brought up a picture of Colossus and showed it to them.
L. Ah yes that’s it. I used to thread the tapes and set the settings here. D. Ah yes, that’s me on the left.
Me. What? That’s you?
A million questions hit my head at once.
Me. So, when did they take that photo? There are only two in existence! D. It was just after the war actually we were still using it. I just remember we had to stand there with the machine for a while, the man came in, asked us to stand still -- which we never did so it felt awkward -- took some pictures and left. I never heard anything about them till they appeared in that book. Me Ah yes the book.
D. Well I was quite angry as we had kept it a secret for so long. There is me now in all the books. I didn’t like that!
Conversation went on for a bit…..
Me. Well if you are going to BP tomorrow then we must get you and Lorna together at the rebuild machine. It would be great to recreate that photo 70 years on.
D. Yes I am going and yes that’s fine.
Mum & Dorothy then had their own conversation while I went away, shaking a bit.
I had actually met the lady in the photograph, one of only two that existed, one of the two ladies and one of the two pictures. An important part of History was sitting right next to me all the time, my mother Lorna and Dorothy Du Boisson. I’m also not ignoring all the other ladies and chaps in the room either, I was a bit over awed to be honest.
The next day we went to BP and there was a demo which was recorded and then afterwards I got Mum and Dorothy to stand by the Colossus Rebuild and took a few pictures.
Dorothy Du Boisson passed away on 1 February 2013.
Lorna Cockayne is 92 and still going strong and still knows the starting positions by heart 75 years on, says Steve Cockayne. We look forward to meeting them both again later this year.