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Ex-Queen's tutor Greer helped break Nazi's Enigma

By Cate McCurry

Published 20/01/2016

Eileen Leslie Greer was awarded a medal and certificate signed by Prime Minister David Cameron at her nursing home
Eileen Leslie Greer was awarded a medal and certificate signed by Prime Minister David Cameron at her nursing home

A former Queen's University lecturer who was part of Bletchley Park's top secret team of intelligence analysts during the Second World War has been honoured for her role.

Eileen Leslie Greer was awarded a medal and certificate signed by Prime Minister David Cameron at her nursing home.

The 98-year-old worked at Bletchley Park, the intelligence centre that cracked the German Enigma code and is credited with shortening the war by two to four years.

Greer used her talents as a fluent German speaker to help break enemy communication codes.

In her early 20s, the linguist had been a lecturer at Queen's University Belfast. While she was working at the university, war broke out and she later explained that this was more serious "than teaching German".

With the encouragement of her professor at Queen's, she offered her services to the Government.

She became one of the thousands of women who spent their days trying to break the code of German messages.

Bletchley Park was cloaked in near complete secrecy and is only popularly known today because of films such as Enigma (2001) and The Imitation Game (2014).

Its role was to crack the Nazi communication codes, transmitted through Enigma and Lorenz cipher machines, and then use the information in a way that did not betray to the Germans that their communications had been compromised.

Born to an Irish family in London, Ms Greer, known as Leslie, moved to Dublin as a baby with her family.

Ms Greer is the daughter of a barrister and the granddaughter of a Trinity College Dublin professor.

Now living in a nursing home in Ballsbridge, Dublin, Ms Greer said: "We set up this small group of people who read all the stuff in German and knew what it all meant."

They gave their findings to Stuart Milner-Barry, a code-breaking chess player.

"The work was on the whole boring," she recalled in her room in St Mary's Home on Pembroke Park, surrounded by books including Seamus Heaney's Open Ground, pastel illustrations by her late husband Patrick, and some family photos.

"We had one or two things come in that really got us all on our seats, for instance when something happened that showed the Germans were deciding to start something with Russia, everybody got excited."

It was also important to watch for anything relating to north Africa, she said.

After the war, Greer continued working for the Foreign Office and was awarded the MBE.

"I think it was because I was in South America and the Queen or someone must have thought it was desirable," she said.

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