As she remembered, it was 3 a.m. and Madge Trull was sleeping soundly in her bed. Suddenly she heard noise and was hastily wakened. All the women in her dormitory were told to get dressed and pack as quickly as possible.
“So we said, ‘What for?’ They said, ‘You will be (told) later.’ So we said, ‘Oh goodness. It’s terrible not knowing something, but OK we’ll go along with it,’” Trull said. “We were in the services, so you do go along with it.”
It was the height of the Second World War in Britain. Madge Trull was about to finish her three-week probationary period in the Women’s Royal Naval Service, known as the WRENS.
“They had a van outside, like a paddy wagon … that they take prisoners to prison. No windows in it and just seats along each side.”
Earlier that week, Trull said, she and her friends had been interviewed by psychologists for unknown reasons. The next morning, they found out why.
“You have been chosen to go to Eastcote,” Trull recalled her superiors saying, “because you will be decoding German messages.”
Madge Trull, 92, served as a cryptologist for the British Intelligence Services. The WRENS were the first point of contact, intercepting and breaking German messages, that were then sent to mathematicians at Bletchley Park in central England, and other outposts. These mathematicians decoded the messages, including those associated with the German encrypting machine called Enigma, providing Allied troops with vital information about the Germans’ plans of attack.
“It saved many lives and shortened the war by two years,” Trull said. “Mr. (Winston) Churchill told us that.”
It was rigorous work. The women worked seven-day weeks. The secrecy that shrouded their work made it even harder.
“We were like the left hand that never knew what the right hand was doing. Everything was totally secret,” she said. “We were sworn by the 90-year War Secrets Act. If we broke any secret we could either be shot or sent to a detention camp.”
Veteran Madge Trull, living today in the Mississauga, Ont., recalled how important the WRENS’ work had been, because, she said, because a single missed message might have meant the loss of many lives.