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Codebreaker Girls (Paperback)

A Secret Life at Bletchley Park

Military WWII > Bletchley Park & the Codebreakers Women of History

By Jan Slimming, Foreword by Sir Dermot Turing
Imprint: Pen & Sword Military
Pages: 352
ISBN: 9781526797100
Published: 1st February 2023



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“What would it be like to keep a secret for fifty years? Never telling your parents, your children, or even your husband?”

Codebreaker Girls: A Secret Life at Bletchley Park tells the true story of Daisy Lawrence. Following extensive research, the author uses snippets of information, unpublished photographs and her own recollections to describe scenes from her mother’s poor, but happy, upbringing in London, and the disruptions caused by the outbreak of the Second World War to a young woman in the prime of her life.

The author asks why, and how, Daisy was chosen to work at the Government war station, as well as the clandestine operation she experienced with others, deep in the British countryside, during a time when the effects of the war were felt by everyone. In addition, the author examines her mother's personal emotions and relationships as she searches for her young fiancée, who was missing in action overseas. The three years at Bletchley Park were Daisy's university, but having closed the door in 1945 on her hidden role of national importance — dealing with Germany, Italy and Japan — this significant period in her life was camouflaged for decades in the filing cabinet of her mind. Now her story comes alive with descriptions, original letters, documents, newspaper cuttings and unique photographs, together with a rare and powerful account of what happened to her after the war.

"It is an interesting look behind the curtain of secrecy that was drawn over Bletchley Park and those who worked there."

The Armourer, May 2021

This book is very different to most on Bletchley, focusing as much as possible on one individual and how their time at Bletchley impacted on the rest of their life.
The result is a thought provoking work which demonstrates that the burden of post-war secrecy must have had a major impact on the life of people who were sworn to secrecy, but were surrounded by people who could talk about their own wars.

Read the Full Review Here

History of War

"For anyone interested in the birth of Enigma, it’s growth and development, and how a simple young lady from the streets of downtown London mastered it, then assisted in codebreaking to achieve innumerable victories for the Allies to win World War II in Europe, this is an absolute must read."

Read the review here


Daisy Lawrence worked at Bletchley Park, but no one knew, not her family, nor her friends. Decades later when her daughter uncovers the truth, she asks questions, finds photos, and gives us this wonderful book about her mother. Full of insights and stories, this was a hidden piece of history that has finally been given the light.

NetGalley, Terri Ladage Randolph

A very interesting small peep into the lives of some of the ladies who did their bit at Bletchley Park and well worth reading.

NetGalley, Irene Appleby

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

I recently read a book on the women and men who listened for messages during WWII and then passed them on for decoding. My complaint about that book was it was too dry. I belong to the group of history buffs who think it is more than facts and figures. It is real life regular people often doing extraordinary things in remarkable times. They deserve some passion and heart.

This book serves it up in spades. In fact, it covers the lives of many of people at Bletchley during the war but it is also a highly personal journey because it tells the story of the author’s mother. The information that she was able to learn came late in life because her mother took her vow to never reveal anything to the point where it caused her grievous harm. It is heartbreaking to read of the bravery and the grit of those who worked in the huts at Bletchley giving the British and the Allies an advantage. They were sworn, obviously, to secrecy and only when the information was made available decades later, did her family learn of what she endured.

It drove her to multiple admissions to mental hospitals and a life of drugs and chaos. Only when she could finally speak about her experiences would she find any relief. So this is a story of dedication and courage but also loss and sadness. It makes this book rather special. Kudos to Daisy and all those who served with her and kudos to Jan for telling the story.

NetGalley, Susan Johnston

If you want the human (and dark) side of codebreaking in WW2 and how it affected 'normal' people then this is a good place to start, the technical stuff is good too and there are excellent reference sections... an absorbing and thought-provoking read.

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Army Rumour Service (ARRSE)

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Fascinating look back in history at the Bletchley Code Girls.Loved how it reads like a novel but is a true story about these amazing women.Great for bookclub or college classes will be recommending.

NetGalley, Abby Siverman

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

There are two good reasons why I wanted to read this book. Firstly, I became interested in Bletchley Park (BP) when I learned that my grandfather had apparently worked there during the war. This is a man I know little about because he died before I was born. Secondly, I recently finished a fiction series set during World War One at the forerunner to BP; Room 40 at the Old Admiralty Building in London. Because Codebreaker Girls is about the women who were at BP, the author’s mother in particular, I didn’t expect it to reveal much about my grandfather’s life, but it promised to tell me something about the people who did work there.

Codebreaker Girls starts with Daisy’s early years in south London, leaving at school at 14 to go to work wasn’t unusual. She had a good grasp of mathematics, which enabled her to move from a shop floor job to a clerical one. Since the other side of my family is also from south London, this gave me an insight into how their lives might’ve been like in the time between the two wars. Readers learn how she met her fiancée and how he proposed to her. From there, we read how both became involved in the war. Stan joined up to fight, and she found herself at Bletchley Park and signing the Official Secrets Act.

Mixed in with the story of BP – and the processes involved with breaking codes, much of which went over my head – is the story of how Daisy and thousands of other people attempted to discover what happened to their friends and family members after the fall of Singapore. The Japanese offered little, if any, information about the soldiers they captured, and Stan’s daughter offers an explanation that the Japanese didn’t understand the notion of surrender and how families might want to have news of those who did so. There’s also information about rationing, and a short section on how Daisy’s nieces and nephew were evacuated away from the capital.

The most harrowing part of the book, however, looks at Daisy’s life post war. Trapped by secrets she couldn’t share, and a husband who didn’t know – and could never know – what she did while he was trapped behind enemy lines, her mental state changed. Because of the secrecy, those who worked at Bletchley Park weren’t properly acknowledged. They couldn’t receive the medals and accolades that those in uniform were rightly awarded. Daisy received recommendation letters stating she’d done important war work, but she couldn’t explain to any employer what she’d done. This is perhaps the crux of the book. Her daughter shares how there was no support for British non-military after the war, and how it took over 50 years for these vital workers received acknowledgement. Even now, only those still living received that when it came in 2009. That excluded Daisy, who’d died a couple of years previously.

It also excluded my grandfather, who died in 1975 aged 51. And this is where Codebreaker Girls hit me personally, and I began to understand the man a little more. I’ve heard that he was a drinker, that he could be abusive, and that he died of a heart attack. Other members of his family state that he was a kind man, who took great care of his younger siblings. They looked to him as a hero. What was the truth? I know the answer was probably a bit of both. But this book asked questions that I hadn’t thought about before. If Daisy suffered through not being able to share, how much more so my grandfather? He couldn’t have explained how he, a young man, never wore a uniform and never fought alongside his peers. Did he feel the pressure, and the guilt of not being on the front lines, of surviving when other men didn’t? How did others treat him? Did he lose respect once it was known that he was a civilian? Add in a rough home life, both before and after the war, and I’m beginning to understand him. It doesn’t excuse some of his behavior as described to me, but it does explain some of it.

I didn’t go looking for my grandfather in this book, but Jan Slimming’s book was an eye-opening experience. I think it’s vital reading for not only the children or grandchildren who did work of importance during the war, but for everyone. Our culture places a high sense of importance on our veterans, and rightly so in most cases, but we can’t ignore the civilians who worked behind the scenes. When we offer discounts at restaurants and other places for those who served in uniform, are we doing a disservice to those who worked just as hard to ensure that those in the military had all they needed to fight? My other grandfather was exempt from fighting as well: not only was he diabetic, but he was in a protected occupation and made lenses (which are useful for gun sights). Should he also be ignored? Without the likes of Daisy and my grandfathers, would the outcome of World War Two have been the same?

NetGalley, Sally McCombs

As featured in

COFEPOW April 2021 Newsletter

There is a lot of details in this book, many people, and tons of fascinating anecdotes which makes it a worthwhile addition to any World War II, history, or code breaking library. Ms. Slimming is a very good writer who obviously did a lot of research to write a fascinating book which, I’m sure, would make her mother proud.

NetGalley, Zohar Laor

Here's a beauty of a history of somem of the codebreaking girls who helped save us during the second world war. This one's about Daisy Lawrence's extraordinary life as a poor girl brought up in London and then chosen for top secret work at Bletchley Park. Reads like fiction...

Books Monthly

Easy to read. Very descriptive and very interesting to read. Congratulations to the author.

Read the full review here

Amazon Customer

Fantastic insight into the work at Bletchley Park. I think anyone will find this book very hard to put down.

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Amazon Customer

As a piece of history this was an interesting book

Read the full review here

Rosie Amber

Host Pete Mecca’s special guest is author Jan Slimming. Jan will be discussing her mother's contribution as a code breaker at Bletchley Park during WWII. Without these ladies, England could have easily lost the war.

Click here to listen

America's Web Radio, A Veteran's Story

What a really well written book this is by Jan Slimming, very well written that almost reads like a fictional story in very great detail that the historians are going to love reading.

Read the full review here

UK Historian

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Wow! I cannot imagine finding out things about a family member 50 years after they happened. For Daisy to have been so extremely brave during the war and then being able to shut that part of her life away. It was truly amazing to read about this Code breaker!!

NetGalley, Jennifer DiCenzo

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

This is a well-written memoir about the intricacies of the author's mother's life during WWII and the impact on her mental health from the strain of keeping secrets for a lifetime. The narrative explores the pain her mother experienced forevermore despite her attempts to cope with the secret memories of her work in the aftermath of the war and life at Bletchley Park. Unfortunately, for all who worked under intense stress in mostly poor conditions to help the Allies win the war, the threat of prison, or worse, loomed over them for the rest of their lives as a direct consequence of uttering any information about their work, discussion between coworkers was even forbidden because the civilian workers had all signed agreements of absolute secrecy as a requirement of the Official Secrets Act in Great Britain. The work at Bletchley Park, undertaken mostly by young civilian women, was so very segregated by specialized activities that roommates were not even aware of the specific duties performed by each other. The legacy of the codebreaker girls at Bletchley Park should be studied and recognized by all future generations for its historic impact on the outcome of the Second World War.

NetGalley, Brenda Yeager

Article: 'New book relates women’s secret work at Bletchley Park' as featured by

Click here for the full article

Inside Croydon, 31st January 2021

“We rubbed shoulders with brilliance, and we did our bit to win the war, but who would believe you?”

Slimming tells the story of her mother, Daisy Lawrence, who worked at Bletchley Park as part of its codebreaking operations during WWII. Unlike most books I’ve read on this subject, this one focuses on the consequences of the Official Secrets Act. Once the war ended, Lawrence was unable to tell anyone how much of a contribution she had made. While everyone thought she had worked as a clerk, she had in fact done much more important work.

The mental health effects of keeping such a large secret are hardly examined in the literature, but Slimming pays a lot of attention to this aspect of her mother’s life. I really appreciated this fresh perspective. Would recommend for anyone else who loves books about female espionage.

NetGalley, Émilie Weidl

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

This book very interesting showing the workings of the Betchley code breakers and how they kept their silence about the work they had done during war time.

NetGalley, Anne Wheeler

Codebreaker Girls is a historical true story of a young lady’s work at a secret facility in England. An interesting and informative read, the book follows the life of Daisy Lawrence pre-WWII and beyond.
I was intrigued reading of how her fiancee, Stan, goes off to war, yet she proudly offers her service to help at home. Daisy had to leave her family home, unable to let them know where or what she was doing. Her life during the war remained a secret for the rest of her life, and sadly hiding it made her suffer.
The book is about more than just this strong woman’s life, but a walk through the historical WWII era life. Packed with history and emotion, this book was hard to put down, especially knowing that it was true.

NetGalley, Karen McGuire

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

I enjoyed the 9.5+ hours I spent reading this 352-page WWII history. I have read and listened to podcasts about Bletchley Park. This book gave more everyday details than the other sources. I like the selected cover art. I give this book a 5 out of 5.

NetGalley, John Purvis

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

It is hard to believe that this book isn’t fictional! It reads as good as any novel yet is mesmerizing due to the fact that it tells the story of the real Codebreakers girls! Very personal and well researched, definite read for any history buff. Glad to see writers shining the light on females who broke down barriers in difficult times and helped the nation strive! Loved the picture of the girls holding a beer!

NetGalley, Kamila Bouvier

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Can a book about Bletchley be anything other than fascinating?? A recommended purchase for general nonfiction collections and some HS collections.

NetGalley, Mischa Thrace

Super interesting book about the women who worked at Bletchley Park during WW2.
There are many other books on this topic, but this is told from a totally unique point of view.
A must read for anyone interested in this group of heroes and how they served in this unique role.

NetGalley, Sarah Ferguson

I am very interested in the role played by women in the IIWW, and I had read some about Bletchley Park, so I was super excited when I got this book. It lived up to my expectations for sure!!
The book explains how Daisy got selected for the job as a codebreaker in Bletchley, and not only focuses in the historical facts and the role this women played in the war, but also on their day to day lives: the living quarters, clothes, food... There are several pictures, letters, newspaper clippings, funny anecdotes...added to the narrative that make it even more interesting.
The story about Daisy's fiancée got me hooked until the end.
I would recommend this book to anyone interested in WWII, and I'm very grateful to NetGalley and the publisher for letting me read it.

NetGalley, Mluisa Flores

An interesting history.. Always great to read about women who were Trail Blazers before their time and who had the guts to do what they believed in.

NetGalley, Joellen Sommer

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Codebreaker Girls: A secret life at Bletchley Park is one of those rare gems that if you're lucky, you will stumble upon and give it a read. It's a bit intense and filled with so much information about the early days of computers and the men and women who saved thousands of lives by using their wits to decode the enemies of Britain and the Allies during WWII. I was familiar with some of the names... but, the vast majority of these heroes will quietly slip from memory unless someone like the author takes a stand, digs deep into historical records, and interviewing those who were there or were somehow connected to those working at Bletchley Park. A very enjoyable read! Lots of tidbits to absorb. A must-have novel for those who have an interest in WWII as no library will be complete unless it has novels such as this, to get a full account of the very real history of those who fought with only their brains and aptitude to see patterns!

NetGalley, Cherei McCarter

Codebreaker Girls: A Secret Life at Bletchley Park is a fantastic blend of history and personal experience. Slimming combines the experiences of her mother, Daisy Lawrence, with enough historical information to give her mother's story the needed context. The photographs and documents help bring Daisy Lawrence's life story to life.

For those who enjoy the history of World War II, Codebreaker Girls give a personal insight into Bletchley Park and the critical events that transpired during the war. Being familiar with Bletchley Park, I was fascinated with the personal details of how Daisy come to work there, her years there, and the effect it had on her personal life following the war. The secrecy of Daisy's work at Bletchley Park in combination with Slimming's father, a Japanese prisoner of war, is compelling as they marry, raise a family, and navigate life. Codebreaker Girls shares a little told story of the hope, hardship, and postwar reality through the life story of Daisy Lawrence.

NetGalley, Shawna Lloyd

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Words cannot express how fascinating this book is! I clung to every word from the first sentence to the last and learned a great deal about WWII, one of my favourite topics and eras. And who isn't mesmerized by ciphering and code breaking? Sometimes you find that book, that perfect book which seems to be written for you personally. Well, this is one of those books for me. It took my breath away. What appealed first and foremost was that this depicts a real person, the author's mother, Daisy Lawrence...the photographs, advertisements and illustrations are touching and laden with meaning. I also enjoyed reading about actual strips of codes and equipment used and the importance of enciphering. The work Daisy did, which she downplayed, may have been tedious but crucial.

As a young woman in England Daisy wanted to make a difference in the war efforts and found herself at the infamous Bletchley Park for three years. Not only did she keep her work secret during the war but for many decades after and learned to deflect questions. Her fiance and later husband didn't even know specifics, even after many years of marriage. Swearing secrecy and honour were very important but came at a price.

"The work of Bletchley Park and its satellite stations was said to be the best-kept secret of the Second World War, after the atom bomb." Wow. So much to learn here. How sobering to realize the average age of an allied pilot was only twenty and that many, many codebooks were discovered on seabeds! Daisy kept loads of newspaper clippings, thankfully, so we are privy to this type of information.

Daisy eagerly awaited news of Stan for months and months on end while working hard at her job, doing well at it. She also made close friendships. Room 40 is talked about, as are the Enigma and other machines/processes (cribs and kisses!). Daily life events such as meals, rationing (including a copy of food and clothing allowances) and sleeping quarters are detailed. Mental health problems were a very real issue, too, as the workers were not allowed to discuss any part of their work. The author describes what happened to Daisy and Stan after the war.

History buffs, you need to read this book, especially if you are intrigued by WWII and/or codebreaking. It is a very personal and rewarding experience.

NetGalley, Brenda Carleton

Every book I read tells this about the people of WWII, they all extol the virtues of a generation that fills me with continuous awe and admiration. Codebreaker Girls does not disappoint. Telling Daisey's story with dignity. Seeking no accolades except to educate about the role the code-breakers and Bletchley Park filled.

NetGalley, Lori Harris

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

I am totally fascinated with Bletchley Park and I have found this book utterly amazing and so informative a truly fabulous read.

NetGalley, Jeanie Mckinlay

Author Jan Slimming tells a great story about her mother. I was impressed by Slimming’s authenticity as she neither placed anyone on a pedestal nor dragged anyone through the mud.

NetGalley, Stephen Goldberg

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Wow, having visited Bletchley Park and enjoyed films about the history I salivated when I heard about this book.
It does not disappoint but is hard going in places.
I had never thought about the human cost of the work, the hours or the secrecy involved at the time and for decades after.
The background of daisy's life, romance, working at Bletchley and family life afterwards is invaluable.
This was fighting on the front line in a very different way. It also highlights the need for highly intelligent ladies and how they were treated by male counterparts.
I could not put the book down.

NetGalley, Helen Wilkinson

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

This beautiful history book reads as smoothly as a novel but is a true and often unknown bit of history. I've been fascinated with the codebreaker girls for a while, so when I saw this ARC available on NetGalley I immediately wished for it and was thrilled to get the email granting it to me. I started reading as soon as it hit my Kindle app and I was hooked from page one. The writing is masterful, the story is powerful, and this bit of history is a fascinating yet necessary niche that is still relatively unknown. This was an enjoyable read from which I learned a lot.

NetGalley, Jessica Fick

History fans should enjoy this book, especially if you're interested in the activities of Bletchley Park.

NetGalley, Brad Cox

I enjoy reading about ordinary people in extraordinary times, and Slimming's book is an excellent example on how to do that. The book both tells the story on Bletchly Park and the work that was conducted there over the course of the Second World War but the book also takes in a personal portrait of one of the young women who did work with the war effort, Daisy Lawrence. Much of the material used for the book is taken from the personal archieve of Lawrence and that makes the whole book warmer, in a sense, as she was an ordinary young woman doing very important work.

Nice in-cooperation of pictures and pictures of documents. Made it more easy to visualise.

NetGalley, Sarah Matsson-Klingzell

An interesting read on a very secretive part of the war. The development of the story of the main character was well done and you genuinely cared about the person. It is an engrossing story and one you want to follow. A great read.

NetGalley, Ron Baumer

I loved this book, especially Daisy. Its so nice to finally see women recognized for doing their part in the wars. Girls can do anything they want, be anything they want to be.

NetGalley, Sheila Treacy

About Jan Slimming

Jan Slimming is a publishing professional and the author of Codebreaker Girls: A Secret Life at Bletchley Park and The Secret Life of an American Codebreaker. She now lives in Atlanta with her husband and family. She is CoFEPOW Area Co-ordinator for the Eastern United States.

British intelligence at Bletchley Park breaks German spy codes after capturing Enigma machines aboard the weather ship Muenchen

9th May 1941

British intelligence at Bletchley Park breaks German spy codes after capturing Enigma machines aboard the weather ship Muenchen

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