‘I could’ve been making bombs’: woman who kept her Bletchley Park work secret for 50 years dies

Hunstanton and District Lifeboat Guild midsummer day buffet luncheon in aid of the RNLI at Titchwell

Hunstanton and District Lifeboat Guild midsummer day buffet luncheon in aid of the RNLI at Titchwell Manor on June 21, 2006. Pictured is Margaret Bullen. Pictures: Annie Hirst

A Norfolk veteran of the codebreakers of Bletchley Park, who became a local fundraising dynamo, has died at the age of 96.

Deer safari at Snettisham Park in aid of Hunstanton RNLI on June 24, 2010. Pictured is Margaret Bull

Deer safari at Snettisham Park in aid of Hunstanton RNLI on June 24, 2010. Pictured is Margaret Bullen. Picture: Bob Hobbs. - Credit: JASON BYE

Margaret Lumley Bullen (nee Boulton) died on October 22 - a day after celebrating her birthday.

Born in King’s Lynn, she attended King’s Lynn High School.

But it was during her time working in Barclays Bank on the Tuesday Market Place when the War Office in London called her for an interview for Bletchley Park, in Milton Keynes.

Then a top-secret home of the Second World War codebreakers, she worked on wiring the Heath Robinson machine and Colossus, the famous Lorenz code-breaking machine.

The re-builder of 'Collosus', 68-year-old Tony Sale from Bedford adjusts the world's first computer

The re-builder of 'Collosus', 68-year-old Tony Sale from Bedford adjusts the world's first computer at the wartime intelligence centre at Bletchley Park. Photo: Peter Jordan. - Credit: PA


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Colossus was the world’s first programmable computer and went into operation at Bletchley Park in 1944.

The machine was used to decipher encrypted messages sent between Hitler and his generals and, due to secrecy surrounding the work at code-breaking base Bletchley Park, many were unaware how important their role was.

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For decades after, they were sworn to secrecy and could not talk about their former work, including Maragaret Bullen, who was unable to tell her family about her time there until 1995 due to signing the Official Secrets Act.

She was 17 when she began working there and, speaking at a reunion event last year, she said she has been “very proud” of her work.

Bletchley Park. Picture: Archant Library

Bletchley Park. Picture: Archant Library

“The first thing we did was sign the Official Secrets Act.

“I don’t think my parents knew what I did. They knew I was at Bletchley doing war work - I could’ve been making bombs for all they knew.”

She was still working at Bletchley Park when the Second World War ended, and added: “I remember a chap in the office coming in one day and saying ‘you can go home now - the war’s over’.”

Experts credit the work of the intelligence centre with shortening the war by two years.

Bletchley Park, women manning the machine COLOSSUS. Picture: Crown Copyright - Used by permission

Bletchley Park, women manning the machine COLOSSUS. Picture: Crown Copyright - Used by permission of Director GCHQ. - Credit: Crown Copyright - Used by permis

Mrs Bullen went on to meet her future husband, Geoffrey, in King’s Lynn and they married in St Faith’s Church, in nearby Gaywood.

They lived in Essex for 20 years, which is where Mrs Bullen’s commitment to volunteering and fundraising began as she helped with Meals on Wheels and the NSPCC.

In 1973, the couple returned to Norfolk, living in Heacham and Old Hunstanton.

Mrs Bullen continued her voluntary work by helping at the hospital library, Rebecca Court in Heacham, Heacham School, and with a group of women who repaired furniture at Houghton Hall.

The couple also made lasting friends through the Rotary Club, and she continued to enjoy meeting with members of the Inner Wheel for pub lunches.

Her interest in the RNLI, and being part of the Lifeboat Guild, became her passion.

As well as fundraising, she became chair of the committee and visited the lifeboat crew on Sunday mornings to taking them all a Kit Kat chocolate bar. She served on the committee as president right up to her death.

This passion and commitment led to her being awarded an MBE in 2007.

Her family said she would be remembered for “her enthusiasm for life, sunny smile, and love of people”.

“She was always ready to call out ‘hello darling’ and have a chat. [Their] doors were always open for visitors, young and old. They had a gin and tonic and cheesy biscuits ready and waiting.

“She was a lady of great style and elegance, never going anywhere without her earrings, necklace and lipstick.

“She was an amazing gardener whose gardens were always a blaze of colour, this interest being passed on to her children and grandchildren.”

After her husband’s death, Mrs Bullen moved to Dersingham, near Sandringham, to live with her daughter. She spent the last nine months of her life at the Nightingale Lodge Care Home, in Hunstanton.

She leaves behind her daughter Jane, son Andy, grandchildren Charles, Rebecca, Alex, Harriet and Hugh, and four great-grandchildren.

Due to Covid restrictions there will be a small private service on November 22, with plans for a celebration of her life in the new year.

- Donations to the RNLI in her memory are welcomed via Fakenham and District Funeral Directors.

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