Though I am a resident in Tattenhall, I was actually born in in Plas Newton, Chester in 1924. I was one of 6 children and my family moved to Hoole when I was aged 11.
I joined the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force in 1941 at the age of 17½ (I fibbed about my age – I said I was 18!). Having been fitted for my uniform in Gloucester, I was then sent to Morecambe for training.
I was part of the first group of women who were trained at Cranwell Officer Training Station. From there I went to Leighton Buzzard for 6 weeks ‘vetting’ and then on to ‘Station X’, as the Bletchley Park ‘Government Code and Cypher School’ was known.
Initially, I lived in the attics at nearby Woburn Abbey before I was billeted with a family who took great care of me; the daughter of the family was later my bridesmaid. I actually met my husband ‘Francis Drake’ whilst living with this family. He was in the Air Force but was unable to fly because he was colour blind. I lived with the family until the completion of the ‘huts’ at Bletchley Park (typical huts shown below).
I completed a 6 month course to learn Morse Code and 5 Unit Code and then worked on the teleprinters at Bletchley, where I became Head of Section. I worked in Block E – The Communications Centre (Cypher Office, Central Signals, Registry, Auto Room, Teleprinter Room).
In context: The Government Code and Cypher School (GC&CS) mission was to crack the Nazi codes and ciphers. The most famous of the cipher systems to be broken at Bletchley Park was the Enigma. There were also a large number of lower-level German systems to break as well as those of Hitler’s allies. The ‘blocks’ and ‘huts’ to which Hilda refers are currently being restored.
Eventually I moved into the huts at Bletchley Park with 20 girls living in each. There were 6000 people working there; Australians, Canadians, ATS, Wrens and the WAF. I went dancing in London at weekends or into Bedford.
There was a special machine which sent messages to America and we received messages back. I learned the war was over via this machine before the rest of the UK. I worked round the clock in shifts 4-12, 12-6 and 6-4.
In January 1946 Hilda was both surprised and honoured to be ‘Mentioned in Despatches for Distinguished Service’ (see below).
Hilda wears her ‘Oak Leaf’ with pride. The single bronze oak leaf emblem is worn to signify a Mention in Despatches (MID).
In May 2010, Hilda also received a letter from David Cameron, the British Prime Minister, stating that her name is on The Bletchley Park Roll of Honour and expressing gratitude for her vital war service during World War II.
Hilda commented ‘I don’t know why I deserved it?’.
Hilda’s service at ‘Bletchely Park and its Outstations’ is recognised below by the GC&CS (Government Code and Cypher School):
I was demobbed in 1946 and married Francis. After the war, I applied for work at the Calendar Cable Company. Initially they had no teleprinter but one was soon acquired. I was given my own office and continued to work there until I became pregnant with my first child.
Hilda says “I have been so lucky in my life to have met so many lovely people.”