Bletchley Park codebreaker awarded France’s highest honour

Lorna Cockayne's wartime efforts were as secret as the codes she helped to crack for years - until now, reports ITV News Correspondent Sejal Karia

One of the last surviving Bletchley Park Second World War codebreakers has been presented with France’s highest honour.

Lorna Cockayne was given the Legion d’honneur by the highest ranking female officer in the Royal Navy at a presentation ceremony held in Dorset.

The 96-year-old, from Christchurch, was trained to use the Colossus computers – the first computers in the world – at Bletchley Park to crack German codes, after joining the Women’s Royal Navy Service (Wrens) in 1943.

Mrs Cockayne receives the Legion d’honneur from Royal Navy Commodore Credit: Andrew Matthews/PA Images

Lorna Cockayne said: “I was one of 600 Wrens working day and night trying to sort out the jigsaw puzzle that was Bletchley Park.

"We didn’t know what we were doing and it wasn’t for years later that I discovered exactly what we were doing, it was just the secrecy of Bletchley Park.”

Mrs Cockayne said that because of security, she was not informed of how important her role had been.

The 96-year-old with the Legion d’honneur Credit: Andrew Matthews/PA Images

On the 70th anniversary of D-Day in June 2014, the French president announced that the Legion d’honneur would be awarded to all British veterans who fought for the liberation of France during the Second World War.

Steve Cockayne, the youngest of Mrs Cockayne’s three children, said: “I feel immensely proud – she is very humble about all of this and really didn’t want a big show, but I persuaded her to accept the medal on behalf of all the Wrens who can’t be here because they all did tremendous work at Bletchley Park.”

Mrs Cockayne served in the Women’s Royal Naval Service Credit: Andrew Matthews/PA Images

A RNA spokeswoman said: “Lorna Cockayne is one of the last surviving people who ran the first computers in the world – the Colossus computers at Bletchley Park.

“At the time, women could join the Women’s Royal Navy Service (Wrens) but not the Royal Navy itself, offering administrative support to the War effort but not allowed to sea.

“Lorna joined the Wrens in 1943, and as a member of Bletchley Park’s ‘C Watch’ she played a pivotal role in defeating the Germans.”

British codebreakers helped decipher the German army’s Lorenz encrypted messages using the Colossus computer and Tunny machine at the Government Code and Cypher School’s main codebreaking centre, which was based at Bletchley Park in Bletchley, Milton Keynes.