How Kate's Granny Helped Foil Hitler; at Bletchley Park, the Duchess Hinted at Her Relative's Secret Life as a Codebreaker. Now RICHARD KAY Reveals the Inspiring True Story

Daily Mail (London), May 18, 2019 | Go to article overview

How Kate's Granny Helped Foil Hitler; at Bletchley Park, the Duchess Hinted at Her Relative's Secret Life as a Codebreaker. Now RICHARD KAY Reveals the Inspiring True Story


Byline: Richard Kay EDITOR-AT-LARGE

SHE ENDED her days in a cosy four-bedroom detached house on the edge of a picture perfect Hampshire village. It was a special place of happy memories where her grandchildren loved to play on a pirate ship in the big garden. Valerie Middleton had the added comfort of knowing the daughter of one of her sons was being courted by the future king. In those days, the fact that her granddaughter, Kate, was almost certain to be betrothed to Prince William was a family secret.

The world would know soon enough, but the 82-year-old mother of Kate's father, Michael, was to take another Middleton secret to her grave.

It was her role at Bletchley Park, home of Britain's wartime codebreakers. No matter how many times as a young girl the Duchess of Cambridge asked her paternal grandmother: 'Granny, what did you do in the war?' Mrs Middleton never breathed a word.

This week, on a visit to a new exhibition celebrating Bletchley's part in the D-Day landings 75 years ago, the Duchess spoke of her sadness that her grandmother could never talk about her wartime role at the secret base.

'She was so sworn to secrecy that she never felt able to tell us,' Kate told visiting schoolchildren during her tour of the estate near Milton Keynes. 'When she was alive, sadly she could never talk about it.' What a story she must have had. We do know she was recruited with her twin sister Mary - Kate's great-aunt - and they monitored diplomatic traffic from secret listening stations.

In this role, they witnessed one of the most extraordinary moments in Bletchley's history. For the twins were on duty when a message was intercepted that Japan had surrendered. This meant they were among the first handful of people - with George VI and Prime Minister Winston Churchill - to learn that World War II was over.

But, of course, they could not share the news with anyone.

Despite Valerie's reluctance to talk about their role, the sisters' vital work has been publicly recognised: Valerie and Mary, employed as Foreign Office civilians, have their names engraved on the Codebreakers' Wall at Bletchley - the Edwardian mansion in Buckinghamshire is now a tourist attraction - which records the thousands who worked in signals intelligence between 1939 and 1945.

THEY worked in Hut 16, which originally housed boffins decrypting the Nazi Enigma machine. As Kate proudly told those pupils this week: 'My granny and her sister worked here ... it's very cool.' Bletchley's war effort was celebrated in the Oscar-nominated 2015 film The Imitation Game about the brilliant but troubled mathematician Alan Turing.

In the war more than 10,000 people worked at Bletchley Park and at its linked locations, and 80 per cent were women. Churchill referred to the staff as: 'The geese that laid the golden eggs and never cackled.' Such a description would certainly have applied to Valerie and Mary Glassborow, who were only 20 when they arrived in early 1944. Just how the sisters, the daughters of a provincial bank manager, came to be part of the elite intelligence gatherers is still something of a family mystery.

Mary died from breast cancer aged 51 in 1975 while Valerie died in 2006 - and neither sister let on what happened during the war.

One relative told me: 'It wasn't just Kate, they never said a word to anyone. They had an older brother who they adored and they wouldn't even tell him.

'All we ever heard was that they did secret work in England and were based in a country house. In those days, no one knew about the existence of Bletchley Park.' What makes their story more remarkable is that after the war they married brothers.

Six months after Valerie's wedding to former RAF ace Peter Middleton, Mary married his older brother, Anthony.

Since her engagement to Prince William, much has been made of the line of strong, indomitable women Kate is descended from. …

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