World War II Veteran Receives Recognition For Role In Code-Breaking
(April 8, 2011)
Jean Watters, a
resident of Omaha, Neb., recieves a certificate
signed by former British Prime Minister Gordon
Brown from Adm. Robert F. Willard, commander of
U.S. Pacific Command, for her role in the
"Enigma Project" on Mar. 2, 2011. Following her
enlistment in 1943, Watters was assigned to the
Government Code and Cypher School where she
joined the Top Secret ENIGMA code-breaking
program. Photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Danny
HONOLULU (April 4, 2011) – A longtime resident
of Bellevue, Neb., and World War II veteran who
worked on the Top Secret ENIGMA code-breaking
program received a rare recognition in Honolulu,
Hawaii, March 2.
Adm. Robert F. Willard,
commander, U.S. Pacific Command, presented Jean
A. Watters, a British Royal navy veteran, a
badge and a certificate signed by British former
Prime Minister Gordon Brown in recognition of
her efforts supporting the deciphering of Nazi
Germany's ENIGMA operational codes during World
War II. Both the badge and the certificate bore
the emblem of the Government Code and Cypher
School, the British intelligence branch where
Mrs. Watters served during the war. Her son,
Rear Adm. Robin M. Watters, Willard's chief of
staff and graduate of Bellevue High School and
the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, was present
for the ceremony.
During World War II,
the Government Code and Cypher School was home
to much of the vital and groundbreaking work
conducted to break the German ENIGMA code – work
that proved crucial to the Allied war effort.
“The Germans thought their encrypted messages were
absolutely impossible to decode,” said Mrs. Watters. “The
Germans were doing very, very well in the war [at the time]
and mainly at sea.|
“They were sending U-boats and
sinking [British ships] terribly fast. They had to be
A teenager at the time, Mrs.
Watters recalled the atmosphere during the first years of
“England had [joined] the war in 1939,” she
said. “There were ships going down. There were countries
fighting for their lives... it was a [time of] complete war.”
Despite having attended the Cambridge Art School for two
years and being offered a ‘teacher deferment', Mrs. Watters
declined the opportunity to remain in school and enlisted in
the British Royal navy. In recounting her decision to
enlist, she described a sense of duty to her country.
“Everyone wanted to do something in the war,” said Mrs.
Following her enlistment in 1943, Watters
was assigned to the Government Code and Cypher School where
she joined the Top Secret ENIGMA code-breaking program. In a
windowless building, she worked with a team sworn to
secrecy, tirelessly decoding encrypted German messages.
“It was very difficult to break because about 13 times a
day, [the encryption] would change,” she said.
Watters and the rest of the ENIGMA team continued their
critical contributions to the war until May 8, 1945. Known
as ‘V.E. Day,' for ‘Victory in Europe,' it also marked the
end of the Government Code and Cypher School's ENIGMA
program. With no German forces sending coded messages, the
program was abruptly discontinued.
“It was the most
extraordinary day and a very strange day,” Watters recalled.
“We were all terribly busy. [When VE Day] was announced,
just like that, it was shut down. The messages stopped
coming and it was the end of the European war.”
the end of the war came a chance for the intelligence sailor
to separate from the Royal navy and marry her American
husband, John Watters, who served as a B-17 Bombadier/Navigator
in the U.S. Army Air Corps and retired as a colonel after 30
years of service in the U.S. Air Force.
had left the military, she kept her Top Secret role in World
War II from her husband for decades until the project was
declassified in the 1970's, an event that Mrs. Watters
described as a shock.
“The ENIGMA [project] was a
state top-secret for 30 years. It suddenly exploded in the
newspapers, and I couldn't believe it.”
Over 65 years
after her secret service, Watters sat on the sofa in her
son's office after the ceremony. Holding her badge, she read
the words delicately inscribed in gold, “We all served.”
“Looking back now, I'm so pleased that I was able to do
something that helped the war,” she said. “It was duty.”
By Army SSgt. Carl Hudson|
Comment on this article