Garnett, Elizabeth (Betty)

Wartime member of the Bletchley Park team. Born in Barrow-in-Furness, apart from the war years she spent the whole of her life there and was educated at the local grammar school. She worked as a bookkeeper until called up into the WAAF in 1940. After her initial training she was unexpectedly posted as an Aircraft Woman 2nd Class to RAF Station X at Bletchley Park in January 1941. Everyone who knew her recognised that she had a special ability and a sharp intellect. Despite being from a working-class background very different from that of her colleagues, she settled well into the routine of Hut 10 in Block A Room 126, where she was assigned to the Italian section of the Air Section.

Betty was both expert in her work as a decoder and a natural leader, so she quickly rose through the ranks to become a Flight Sergeant. Her special responsibility was to decipher coded messages between the Germans and their Italian allies. She and her colleagues worked relentlessly for long hours. When there was a massive operation going on, such as the First and Second Battles of Alamein in 1942, the decoders had to work for twenty-four hours a day. The Axis German and Italian forces led by Field Marshall Rommel were a very great threat and it was essential that the messages between the Germans and Italians were decoded accurately and sent off to the War Office, who in turn relayed them to Field Marshal Montgomery. The messages were significant in giving him the information which helped the Allied forces to gain a significant and classic victory which began to turn the tide of the war in the Allies favour.

After the war she returned to a quiet life in Barrow, working as a bookkeeper until she was over 70. Like the rest of her family, Betty was an active member of the Greengate Wesleyan (later Central Methodist) Church in Barrow. Although she spoke of her service 'in the RAF', having signed the Official Secrets Act she said nothing of her war record. When her story was eventually told in1999 she said that she did not know why she was selected for the posting. But those who knew her recognised that she was not 'just an ordinary girl', but one with a special ability and the sharp intelligence which the authorities had recognised. After the war she held many of the offices at Central Methodist Church, including that of deputy organist, She died on 11 November 2016 aged 97.

  • Betchley Park website /
  • Barrow in Furness Evening Mail, 8 February 1999

Entry written by: DHR
Category: Person
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