Uncovering the story of Christine Harlock

Emma Manners, Learning Officer for the National Trust at Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal, uncovered the story of Christine Harlock while working on a National Trust project .

Christine worked for the Auxillary Territorial Services (women’s army title) billeted in Queen Ethelburga’s school when it was based outside Harrogate. She was part of a top secret team decoding German messages at Forest Moor, a ‘Y’ radar station, passing them onto Bletchley Park, home of the famous Enigma code breaking machine.

As a codebreaker she was transported at night to Forest Moor where she analysed tele-printer messages – a forerunner of SMS texting – sent by German High Command generals, which may have included Hitler himself. The messages were so secret they were taken by motorbike riders directly to Bletchley Park, ‘X’, the most secret location of all. She was promoted to sergeant and went to work at Bletchley Park in Hut Sixta, Intelligence School Number 6, Traffic Analysis – labelled ‘Absolute Secrecy’. This was the home of the Government Code and Cypher School, the forerunner of GCHQ.

She never breathed a word about her job for 70 years, not even telling her husband, a highly decorated Royal Navy commander, William Mark Harlock. And it took the government until 2010 to recognise her contribution with the Bletchley Park Commemorative Badge and certificate which was presented to her by David Cameron, when Prime Minister.

Emma says: “Current history students who carried out oral history interviews with Christine and other former QE students were amazed at the courage, resilience and range of experiences these women had during WW2. The personal connections they made were powerful and touching. They were engaged and invested in the topic and worked from the heart. The Head Boy at the time said ”I think it is important that as you move forward you don’t forget what you’ve left behind. As the Second World War slips further from our collective memory, there is a danger it becomes a list of military campaigns and the horror of the Holocaust. Whilst all of this is eternally important, we need to give more balance to our children’s understanding of the war by looking at the experiences of women which span the whole range of domestic to military. Many women’s stories are still untold, stories students can connect with which allow them to reflect on the treatment of women then and today.”

Evaques.org.uk also has the tragic story of Doris Vyner of Fountains whose 18 year old daughter Elizabeth was killed on active service, as was her son. Her home then burned down and yet she still continued to serve the local community.