100-year-old WW2 codebreaker reveals story of her 'secret war'

ITV Granada reporter Paul Crone speaks to Pat Owtram about her book Century Sisters.

A Second World War codebreaker has revealed the story of her "secret war", 82 years after she was posted to top-secret listening stations along the British coastline.

Pat Owtram was 18 when she joined the Women's Royal Naval Service after signing the Official Secrets Act in Liverpools Royal Liver Building.

Now aged 100, she is one of the last surviving Special Duties Y Service Wrens.

Together with her sister Jean, who became a code and cipher officer, Pat has pieced together their story based on their diaries and letters for the book Codebreaking Sisters: Our Secret War.

She said, “History is very important and interesting. I would be very sorry if we get totally forgotten."

Pat enjoyed visiting a radio room identical to the ones she worked in during the war. Credit: ITV Granada

Pat returned to Liverpool on Tuesday, where she was guest of honour at the Western Approaches war museum to talk about her story.

She recalled the day she bumped into Prime Minister Winston Churchill, future US President Dwight D Eisenhower and senior British Army officer Field Marshall Bernard Montgomery.

Raised at Newland Hall, Dolphinholme, Lancashire in the 1920s, her family took in two Austrian Jewish refugees during the late 1930s.

Pat and Jean quickly became fluent in German – a skill which allowed her to intercept top secret German shipping messages for decoding at Bletchley Park.

She said, “Very often when you listen to messages between ships, it’s can be corrupted or fade out.

"It’s not the most easy listening!"

Pat Owtram with her sister Jean in their uniforms.

Pat rose the rank of Chief Petty Officer.

Jean’s quick brain for crossword-solving landed her a secretive role in the First Aid Nursing Yeomanry.

At just 18 years of age, she was posted to Cairo, before moving on to Italy to support allied agents and help Partisan efforts against the Nazis.

Sadly, Jean died in April 2023 aged 97.

A memorial is due to take place in Lancashire on Wednesday.