Veteran reveals secret life as Second World War code breaker
Published Sunday, November 11, 2012 7:00AM EST
Last Updated Sunday, November 11, 2012 10:33AM EST
Margarita "Madge" Trull was one of the code breakers who helped keep the Allies one step ahead of Adolph Hitler and the Nazis.
Now 90, the Mississauga, Ont., resident worked secretly at Britain’s Bletchley Park and at an outstation at Stanmore near London as part of a team who cracked communications between Hitler and his generals during the Second World War.
"The Germans had their secrets between (them) about what they were going to do and of course we had to break these to let our generals and everybody know what we were doing," she told CTV News Channel on Friday.
"We didn’t actually ourselves know the thing because everything was sent onto ‘the brains," she said, referring to the analysts.
Originally, Trull wanted to be a nurse. But when she and her sister Jeannie went to Portsmouth, England they couldn’t find work. Instead, they joined the Women’s Royal Naval Service, more popularly known as the Wrens. Trull became an intelligence writer or cryptologist.
"We were interviewed after we got into the Wrens by psychologists and apparently they found something in us that was right for the work."
The cryptologists used noisy huge machines called Bombes that had rows of drums and wiresto decode German Enigma messages.
There were times when they had a eureka moment when they knew they had found something tht made a difference.
"If we broke a code everybody in the bay… there were big bays that we worked in…we’d practically throw our hands up and say 'we made it' and they got it," said Trull.
However the code breakers couldn’t actually read the codes, which were checked by another girl and then sent off to Bletchley Park by courier.
The work was stressful and she was under a lot of strain, Trull admits.
"Well it was tedious, it was hard work because we were on times, special times, you know."
Historians say the Second World War was shortened in Europe by perhaps two years because of the Allies' ability to eavesdrop on German coded communications.
"Mr.[Winston] Churchill said that. He called us his most secret source, Churchill did,” said Trull. “He actually had a bunk in Bletchley Park where we were."
Trull is quite a talker as her friends will attest, but she’s also good at keeping secrets, she said. And that was a good thing, since the government threatened that anyone who divulged what they were doing would be sent to a detention camp in Scotland or shot.
That happened to someone Trull knew. A young woman who told her fiance what she was doing was sent away, she said.
Remembering a dark past
Stan Egerton, 87, has kept quiet about his wartime past for most of his life, until this week.
He recalls he went to war following in the footsteps of his father and brothers.
Egerton joined the forces at 16, spent eight months in combat at 18, and was the youngest man in his battalion. He fought in the Battle of Normandy in June 1944 with the Toronto Scottish regiment. First he was a mortar man, then a machine gunner. But he was the only son in his family who made it home.
"I often wonder how it would be like if they had come home… and it gets lonely sometimes," he said.
For years, Egerton, who has four children, nine grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren, has said little about his pain. But this week the veteran finally found the courage to tell his story to students at Toronto’s Don Bosco Catholic Secondary School, after one of his granddaughters told him it was time to break his silence.
"There’s certain things that happened to me that make me very emotional," he told the students on Wednesday.
"First time I saw a dead body at side of road, I said 'This is for real.'"
Egerton spoke to students who were about the same age as he was when he joined up, he told CTV News Channel on Friday. He stressed the importance of Remembrance Day to them, he said.
"In Normandy there were more than 5,000 Canadians killed. It’s good that we remember their sacrifice."
While Egerton has no regrets, after the war he wondered if he was responsible for a German mother suffering the kind of grief his mother felt after his two brothers died during the war.
Once a year since he came back from the war, Egerton visits the gravesite of his father Frank who served during the First World War.
"I think he would have been proud of me, what I done (sic) with my life," said Egerton
With files from CTV’s Naomi Parness