Two minute history lesson: Bletchley Park intellectual badass Mavis Batey


I remember listening to Stephen Fry on Radio 4 talking about the advent of technology, specifically the panic over the Millennial virus (the infamous Y2K bug), and the conversation meandered to the story of codebreakers at Bletchley Park. Bletchley Park lies 50 miles north of London and was a railway town during World War 2. It was also the site of the Government Code and Cypher School. Some historians believe the work conducted at this estate may have shortened the war by up to two years.  It was run by the veteran codebreaker and Greek scholar Dilly Knox, who helped decrypt the Zimmerman telegram, which brought the US into World War 1.

Mavis Lever was sent to Bletchley Park at age 19. She was halfway through her course in German Romanticism at University College London. With her analytical abilities and fluency in German, she became a key contributor to a wartime project that remained classified for decades. She played a critical role in different points of the war. She was responsible for the cracking of the extraordinarily complex German secret service machine called the ‘Enigma’. This break was responsible for at least two major English successes in the war, the naval victory at the Battle of Matapan in 1941 and the Double Cross deception plan which ensured the success of the D-Day landings.

‘She was the last of the great break-in experts … who broke codes or ciphers that no one else had ever broken,’ said British historian Michael Smith, who is an expert on Bletchley Park.

Batey also met her husband, mathematician, Keith Batey, at Bletchley Park. They married in 1942.

Mavis Batey died on November 12, 2013 at age 92.