Former British volunteer helped decode wartime German messages

Theo Hopkinson was recognized by the Government Code and Cypher School for her contribution during the second World War.
Theo Hopkinson was recognized by the Government Code and Cypher School for her contribution during the Second World War.

The loss of a personal friend pushed Theo Hopkinson to volunteer during the Second World War. At the time she lived in Cardiff, Wales, where German aircraft regularly bombed the city docks.

“One day, when I was at school, I was sent home to see why one of the girls in my class hadn’t come (to school),” Hopkinson said. “I walked to her house and bodies were being brought out.”

During the aerial raid, bombs fell on her classmate’s house and exploded. Then only 17, Theo decided to volunteer for service in the military.

Theo Hopkinson will be among the veterans featured during the annual Remembrance Day observance at Centennial College’s East York campus on Nov. 11.

Hopkinson served in the Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS) in the U.K. before being sent to the University of Edinburgh to study such things as operating a tele-printer, learning how to touch type, as well as sending and receiving Morse code.

The ATS first stationed Hopkinson at Luton Hoo, then in 1945, transferred her to Hanslope Park, near Bletchley Park, where she sent and received messages on a tele-printer and the Rockex machine. During the war, she and thousands of others at Hanslope and Bletchley Park served top-secret operation.

“(I worked) in the fight decode the Enigma (machine) and the Lorenz machine; so we read (German messages) and sent out false messages,” Hopkinson said.

She said that mathematicians such as Alan Turing and William Thomas Tutte were among the many people whose work, historians say, saved 22 million lives and shortened the war by two years. During her time at Hanslope Park, she met a radio technician, Dennis Hopkinson, whom she would later marry.

As the war ended, and years passed, Hopkinson along with her husband and two daughters (Claire and Barbara) moved to Canada. For years Hopkinson and her husband kept their work at Hanslope Park a secret due the Official Secrets Act; they had sworn an oath of secrecy about their work on Enigma.

Theo Hopkinson was awarded the Bletchley Park commemorative badge, which is given to individuals who were ‘code breakers’ during the second World War. 
Theo Hopkinson was awarded the Bletchley Park commemorative badge, given to code breakers in Britain during the Second World War.

Hopkinson, 89, now recognizes that her work contributed to ending the war. For her service she was awarded a Bletchley Park Medal and was also a recognized with the Government Code and Cypher School certificate, signed by United Kingdom’s former Prime Minister David Cameron.

“I’m not in the same class as Alan Turing, William Thomas Tutte, or any of them, but to know where we were working and (that) the work we were doing (saved lives and ended war early),” Hopkinson said that it felt good. “Those chaps (Turing, Tutte and others) have the grateful thanks of a nation, but we also had pride.”