A REMARKABLE Monmouth woman who was at the heart of the ultra-secret D-Day code-cracking operation at Bletchley Park has died, aged 94.

Margaret Kelly, who died on Sunday of natural causes, was only 18 when she was posted to the Government Code and Cypher School near London in 1944.

She was one of a team of Wrens – as members of the Women’s Royal Naval Service were called – who toiled around the clock operating code-cracking computers that helped to shorten World War Two and win the war for the Allies.

Free Press Series: Margaret as a WREN

Margaret Kelly as a Wren

“I was trained to operate the Colossus computer, which had been built to break intercepted messages enciphered on the Germans’ Lorenz machine used exclusively for communications between Hitler and his generals,” she wrote in a personal memoir a few years ago.

“We all just did our own job in our section and never knew what anyone else was up to. We had all signed the Official Secrets Act and by that late stage of the war we were well used to not asking questions of anyone involved in the war effort.

“My job was to put a message tape on one Colossus and using an algebraic formula try to find the settings the Germans had used to encode it. If we were successful in getting a result the taped message was immediately raced off to a different machine to be further processed and translated.

“We knew that some of the messages gave the Allies vital information of Hitler’s battle plans. Churchill said the Wrens were ‘chickens who didn’t cackle’ and that Bletchley was ‘the goose that laid the golden egg’.”

Colossus – not to be confused with the computers used to crack the Enigma code – was unlike modern computers.


It was enormous, needing banks of electronic valves, and was hot, noisy and smelt of oil.

But it was so successful it reduced the time to break Lorenz messages from weeks to hours.

Just before D-Day it revealed that Hitler had believed the deception campaign to convince him that the invasion force would land in the Pas de Calais.

By the end of the war the ten Colossus computers had decrypted 63 million characters of high grade German messages.

Free Press Series: Margaret with the Colossus computer

Margaret Kelly with the Colossus computer

But life was not all hard work for the Wrens. “There were no restrictions on our free time,” Mrs Kelly recalled. “We could easily get to London to visit family and friends and go to the theatre and restaurants – chancing our luck with the V1 doodlebug bombs and V2 rockets which targeted London and once shook me out of bed on to the floor.”

She was among the ecstatic crowd outside Buckingham Palace on VE night.

In 1973 she married Peter Kelly, a widower, of The Cwm, Welsh Newton, becoming the much-loved stepmother to his eight young children.

Free Press Series: A recent picture of Margaret

A recent picture of Margaret Kelly

For many years she chaired the social committee of St Mary’s RC church in Monmouth and was the driving force behind its popular and successful Christmas bazaar.

Her “secret service” days lived on with her: she was happy to share her memories with schoolchildren and she enjoyed being one of the honoured guests at Bletchley reunions.