Barbara Southerland, 97, has finally been officially recognised for her secret code-breaking work during World War Two thanks to a Re-engage tea party group.

Barbara - who is one of the original members of the Re-engage Enfield and Southgate tea party group - was just 18 and serving in the Auxiliary Territorial Service, which was attached to the Royal Signals, when she was recruited to listen to German coded messages at Forest Moor listening station near Harrogate.

Working round-the-clock with other colleagues from the ATS Barbara intercepted increasingly panicked enemy ‘chatter’ towards the end of the war as the Allies began to re-take Europe. The codes were then passed to world-famous Bletchley Park for analysis.

“We were never told exactly what information we were getting but I knew it was important,” said Barbara, who is one of the original members of the Enfield and Southgate tea party group, which is coordinated by Steph Hutchings.

“Because of all the secrecy I had to keep quiet about it for a long time. But now I feel very proud that my part in the code-breaking has been officially recognised and that wouldn’t have happened without the Re-engage tea parties.”

Barbara now has a certificate signed by Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, and a gold-plated badge inscribed: “We also Served.” Her name will be added to the role of honour at Bletchley Park.

Barbara had talked about some of her war-time experiences at the tea parties and it was Steph’s mum, Nan, who recommended a book about Bletchley, which she read. Another guest later told her about a local talk on the Enigma German enciphering machine, which was cracked by British code-breakers, and through that she was put in contact with an author who, in turn, spoke to Bletchley Park about Barbara.

“There were several listening stations which intercepted the German codes and passed them to Bletchley. Forest Moor was one. But not all of our names had been stored for whatever reason which was why it’s taken so long for me to be recognised.

“I’m very glad it’s happened, not just for me, but because all of us in the ATS were looked down on somewhat. We weren’t as glamorous as other units but we were doing a vital job.

“Every morning at 6am we were collected from our billet in Harrogate and driven in ten ton lorries to Forest Moor. We had no idea where we were going. It was always dark and there were no signs nor lights.

“It was 1945 and we were picking-up messages from German air force stations or army bases which became increasingly frantic. Then it went very quiet and we knew something stupendous was about to happen. That was all around the time of our victory in Europe.

“I never knew exactly what was going on. I have no idea why I was chosen to be a wireless interceptor. I had been a Girl Guide and in the Home Guard and knew morse code and semaphore so that probably helped. I was also interested in solving puzzles.”

Barbara did her basic army training at Guildford Barracks in Surrey, before being sent to the Isle of Man for more intense wireless work. After the war she spent a year in Egypt before being discharged and re-training as a switchboard operator.

As the war came to an end she met husband Peter, who was also in signals. They were married for 67 years before he died some years ago. They had four children, six grandchildren, 14 great grandchildren and one great, great granddaughter.

“My husband developed dementia and I had ten difficult years of looking after him,” added Barbara. “After he died I lost contact with most of my friends and became very isolated. I didn’t go out.

“Then someone told me about Re-engage so I joined and it’s been a real life-saver. I really look forward to Sundays. Everyone in the group is very friendly and Steph and husband Kevin are marvellous. They look after us so well and we have so much fun.”

“I love going to the tea parties and next year if I’m well enough I’ll also go to Bletchley Park to see what all the fuss has been about!”

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