Brendoncare care home resident receives World War 2 medals for intelligence work

Written by: Alison Reijman Published: February 2, 2024

Mary Watkins, who is 103 and a resident at Brendoncare Stildon in East Grinstead, has finally received medals for her top secret work during World War 2.

Mary was only presented a lapel badge in recognition for her intelligence work including at Bletchley Park during the war.

However, her daughter Bobby Cadwallader discovered about six months ago that she could apply to the Ministry of Defence to finally receive the medals.

Initially, Mary received a veterans’ pin badge similar to the lapel badge. Then Bobby had a call to say she was entitled to the medals. One is inscribed as a defence medal, the other a war medal that includes the dates of World War 2.

Mary,  born in 1920, got a job as a bookkeeper when she left school. Her life changed when, with the outbreak of war, she volunteered for the Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS), the women’s branch of the Army.

Because of her love of solving puzzles and crosswords, Mary was selected for special duties with MI8, the Military Intelligence, at Scotland Yard in London.

She was told her work would be top secret. She would never be able to talk about it, nor would there be any formal recognition for what she did.

Enigma Code

As a result, as a member of the ATS, she started work on a punch card system of coded letters and numbers. These came from the German code device, the Enigma Machine. After being promoted to sergeant, she went on to work at Bletchley Park. There, Mary helped to support the team that finally cracked the Enigma Code.

Bobby said: “We were thrilled when we got the call to say she was entitled to these medals.

“Mum is delighted with these medals now. She was told when she was 19 and about to sign the Official Secrets Act, that she would never get any recognition, receive any thanks or be able to tell anyone what she did. She is still very reluctant to talk about her work. We are all so proud of her.”