Shelia MacKenzie (Shelia Lawn) was born in Scotland in 1924. She studied Modern Languages at Aberdeen University. (1) She later recalled: "I was in my second year in Aberdeen University studying for a Modern Languages honours degree. But I was very troubled because I was reserved as a future teacher. I felt I ought to be doing something - like so many of my friends - about fighting Hitler. So I took my name away from the Reserve list, didn't consult anyone, just took it away. I waited for developments, which came very quickly. A letter from the Foreign Office in London, asking me to go down for an interview... I had my interview and shortly after that - it was the vacation - I got another letter, simply asking me to report to Bletchley." (2)
Shelia was only nineteen and had never left Scotland before. She embarked upon an uncomfortable eleven-hour train journey from Inverness to Bletchley. "When I arrived at Bletchley station. I had been instructed to find a phone, which I did. The voice at the other end said: 'Ah, yes, Miss MacKenzie, we are expecting you.' And a car came down to take me up there. How could I really speculate about what I was getting into? This was a very secretive business, you see." (3)
On the outbreak of the Second World War, the Government Code and Cypher School moved to Bletchley Park. Bletchley was selected simply as being more or less equidistant from Oxford University and Cambridge University since the Foreign Office believed that university staff made the best cryptographers. The house itself was a large Victorian Tudor-Gothic mansion, whose ample grounds sloped down to the railway station. Lodgings had to be found for the cryptographers in the town. (4) Shelia lived in a hostel for the first three weeks. "I met some charming girls there, delightful girls, a lot of them were secretarial, and they were so nice to me and they would come out with us in the evening. And then I was moved to my first billet, with people called Hobbs... They were very pleasant people indeed, never asked me any questions." (5)
Like other women at Bletchley Park, at first she was engaged in routine clerical work. Shelia was originally paid £2 a week. As Lynsey Ann Lord has pointed out " this was an era of female discrimination in the workplace, similarly qualified men received significantly more money." (6) Her abilities were soon recognised and in order to give her higher pay she was promoted to the rank of linguist. "The principle of equal pay and rank being stoutly resisted by the civil service, she had to be promoted to the humble rank of linguist that the pre-war establishment reserved for women." (7)
Shelia later recalled that most of the work was often unexiting: "I just did what I had to do. It wasn't exciting. I got these messages, I translated them, I decoded them, and simply got through them. They got a lot in. From the radio stations and gun emplacements along the Dutch, Belgian and French coasts. And some in the Mediterranean, but I never distinguished that, and didn't ask too many questions. It was sightings, weather reports, sightings of ships, sightings of aircraft, anything peculiar." (8) Her main work was "to decode and then translate 3-letter codes used by German Coastal Batteries and Radar Stations located around the Channel coasts." (9)
There was a lot of romance at Bletchley Park. Keith Batey became involved with Mavis Lever. He felt guilty about working at the Government Code and Cypher School while so many of his contemporaries were risking their lives in open combat. "Accordingly he told his bosses that he wanted to train as a pilot, only to be informed that no one who knew that the British were breaking Enigma could be allowed to fly in the RAF, the risk being that he might be shot down and captured. Batey then suggested that he join the Fleet Air Arm, flying over the sea in defence of British ships, arguing that he would be either killed or picked up by his own side. Worn down by his persistence, his superiors reluctantly agreed." Keith married Mavis in November, 1942, shortly before he left for Canada for the Fleet Air Arm advanced flying course. (10)
Shelia MacKenzie had fallen in love with Oliver Lawn, another codebreaker at GCCS. Oliver later recalled that several other codebreakers married while working at Bletchley Park, including Robert Roseveare and Dennis Babbage: "There was quite a bit of romance. There were several in Hut 6 who married while they were at Bletchley. There were the Bateys, of course... The other couple I recollect was Bob Roseveare and Ione Jay. He was a mathematician, straight from school. He hadn't even gone to university. Very brilliant chap from Marlborough. He married Ione Jay, who was one of the girls in Hut 6. Then there was Dennis Babbage, who was a don similar to Gordon Welchman. Same sort of age. Babbage married while he was there." (11)
At the end of the Second World War Shelia returned to Aberdeen University to finish her degree. She followed by a Social Science Diploma at Birmingham University. Shelia and Oliver married in May 1948. (12) "When Oliver and I married, we could only get dockets for basic furniture. But Oliver had a great-aunt who died and some of her beautiful furniture came to us... There was very little fuel and very little hot water. That was even worse than during the war. Everything was rationed, including potatoes and bread. And clothes were rationed until 1952." (13)
They moved to London and Shelia found work in the Personnel Department with London Transport. Oliver worked in several Government Departments, including the Department of the Environment. Shelia later had two children, David and Richard. (14)
Shelia Lawn had signed the Official Secrets Act and never told her father about her work at the the Government Code and Cypher School. "What I regretted was that my father died long before I could reveal anything. He died in 1961... I am so sorry my father couldn't have... he would have been so interested." Oliver Lawn commented: "My parents were the same. They both died in the 1960s... Most people were in the same situation. Relatives who should have known, but who couldn't be told. And then died." (15)
On retirement in 1978 they moved to Sheffield, and have been involved there with a number of voluntary and charitable activities.
I just did what I had to do. It wasn't exciting. I got these messages, I translated them, I decoded them, and simply got through them. They got a lot in. From the radio stations and gun emplacements along the Dutch, Belgian and French coasts. And some in the Mediterranean, but I never distinguished that, and didn't ask too many questions. It was sightings, weather reports, sightings of ships, sightings of aircraft, anything peculiar.
Sheila was recruited for Bletchley Park in July 1943 when she was in the middle of a Modern Languages Honours Degree Course (French and German) at Aberdeen University. She had earlier been `reserved' from call-up as a potential teacher, but decided that she must abandon this reservation and join the War effort. She worked in a part of the Naval Section at Bletchley Park, in Block B. Her main work was to decode and then translate 3-letter codes used by German Coastal Batteries and Radar Stations located around the Channel coasts. She continued at Bletchley until the end of the War in September 1945.
Early in his time at Bletchley, Oliver had joined the Scottish Reels Club, run by Hugh Foss, who was Head of the BP Japanese Section ( though, of course, at the time he did not know this). In due course, after she arrived in 1943, Sheila joined this Club. She was first attracted by Oliver's excellent dancing, and then by Oliver himself. The attraction was mutual, and they soon started going out together, as far as their different shift patterns permitted.
After the War, when they both left Bletchley Park, Oliver had to find a job, and he joined the Administrative Home Civil Service in 1946. Sheila, meanwhile, had to complete her interrupted studies. Since there was at that time no scope for travelling abroad (and what use would a Language Degree be without it?), she changed her course to a General Degree at Aberdeen followed by a Social Science Diploma at Birmingham University.
Then, in May 1948, Oliver and Sheila got married. They lived in London. Oliver worked in several Government Departments, including latterly the Department of the Environment. Sheila initially had a Personnel job with London Transport.
They had 2 sons, David and Richard, and now have 4 grandchildren. On retirement in 1978 they moved to Sheffield, and have been involved there with a number of voluntary and charitable activities.
Oliver and Sheila first revisited Bletchley Park in 1996, 50 years after they had left, and they have made many subsequent visits. They have also, since secrecy was lifted, given many talks to groups, and also interviews on TV, Radio and for Newspapers, about their wartime work. They are delighted to see the continuing public interest in Wartime code breaking - "Top Secret" for so long - and to see the large numbers of people now visiting Bletchley Park.
For 250 years it has exercised the minds of theologians, historians and scientists. Charles Darwin was observed pondering its meaning, and Josiah Wedgwood spent many an hour attempting to decipher its cryptic inscription. Some hope it may hold the secret of the whereabouts of the Holy Grail.
Books have been written, documentary films made and poems penned in an attempt to explain it, but the mystery contained in an 18th century monument in the grounds of Lord Lichfield's estate in Staffordshire has eluded interpretation.
In the hope of succeeding where so many others have failed and finally cracking the conundrum, a group of veteran codebreakers from Bletchley Park arrived at Shugborough House near Milford yesterday, armed with proven grey matter and years of experience in deciphering the German enigma codes.
Tucked away within the 900-acre grounds, they found their puzzle: a stone monument built around 1748, containing a carved relief of Nicholas Poussin's Les Bergers d'Arcadie II in reverse. The picture shows a female figure watching as three shepherds gather around a tomb and point at letters within an inscription carved upon it, which read: Et in Arcadia Ego! (And I am in Arcadia too.) Beneath it the letters O.U.O.S.V.A.V.V. are carved, and underneath them a D and an M.
The staff at Bletchley Park, called in to cast an expert eye upon the monument, could not resist the challenge and turned to some of the surviving members of the team who had spent the second world war deciphering codes.
Viewing it for the first time Oliver Lawn, 85, one of the former employees of Bletchley Park, had no doubt that there was a secret to unravel, contained both in the picture and the inscription beneath, and probably based upon missing letters from classical texts.
Mr Lawn, a Cambridge maths graduate who was among the first civilians to be recruited to Bletchley in 1940, deciphered more than 5,000 German codes during the war, using the enigma machine.
He and his colleagues helped to divert German bombers from British cities by breaking the codes that set the radio beams the Nazis used to lead their planes to the target. The successes of the decipherers is thought to have shortened the war by two years.
Their work was so secretive that it was not until recently that Mr Lawn's wife, Sheila, another Bletchley veteran, discovered what his role had been.
But while Mr Lawn normally succeeded in cracking the German wartime codes, he believes the enigma of Shugborough's monument will not be unravelled easily.
"It is totally different in terms of difficulty to what I used to do during the war," he said. "I think you need classical knowledge as well as ingenuity. This is a language rather than a mathematical code.
"Within its genre I would say it's the most challenging I have ever had to tackle. What we need is a bit more intelligence about the family from the documents held at the estate to try and find a key to breaking this. There is always a key, but if this was a code between two people and only they knew it, it could be almost impossible to decipher."
Over the years there have been a number of theories posited about the meaning contained in the Shepherd's Monument. Chief among these is the belief that the connections of the estate's creators, the Anson family, with the grand masters of the closed society of Knights Templar, and the supernatural myths surrounding the estate - where lay lines meet, rivers cross and UFO spotters regularly gather - are evidence that the carving holds the secret to the Holy Grail.
Other solutions are more prosaic. The current Lord Lichfield's great-grandmother believed the letters represented the lines of a poem from Roman mythology about a shepherdess: "Out of your own sweet vale Alicia vanish vanity twixt Deity and man, thou shepherdess the way."
There is always the possibility that the letters mean very little. Richard Kemp, the estate's general manager, said: "They could of course be a family secret, which everyone in the family knows about and which is of little consequence. But it's like Everest, you climb it because it's there. There's a code here, so everyone wants to unravel it."