Mavis Batey

Mavis Batey


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Mavis Lever, the daughter of a postal worker and a seamstress, was born in Dulwich, London, on 5th May 1921. She was a talented linguist and after passing her German O Level she persuaded her parents to take her to Germany on holiday. She was studying German Literature at University College when the Second World War broke out. (1)

Mavis later recalled: "I didn't want to go on with academic studies. University College was just evacuating to the campus at Aberystwyth, in west Wales. But I thought I ought to do something better for the war effort than reading German poets in Wales. After all, German poets would soon be above us in bombers. I remarked to someone that I should train to be a nurse." Her friend suggested that her very good German might be of use to the government. (2)

Mavis joined the Ministry of Economic Warfare. Her first task was checking the personal columns of The Times for coded messages. (3) She also did other work such as "blacklisting all the people who were dealing with Germany - through commodies they were using." Soon afterwards she was asked to visit the Foreign Office: "I got called for the interview at the Foreign Office - conducted by a formidable lady called Miss Moore - I don't know whether she knew what we were going to do. At the time of the interview, we didn't know whether we were going to be spies or what. But then I got sent to Bletchley." (4)

Mavis was sent to the Government Code and Cypher School at Bletchley Park. Bletchley was selected simply as being more or less equidistant from Oxford University and Cambridge University since the Foreign Office believed that university staff made the best cryptographers. The house itself was a large Victorian Tudor-Gothic mansion, whose ample grounds sloped down to the railway station. Some of the key figures in the organization, including its leader, Alfred Dilwyn Knox, always slept in the office. (5)

During the Second World War radio communication was a vital aspect of modern warfare. Radio was used for aerial, naval and mobile land warfare. However, it was very important that the enemy was not aware of these messages. Therefore all radio communications had to be disguised. The main task of the codebreakers was to read messages being sent by the German Enigma Machine. The situation was explained by Francis Harry Hinsley: "By 1937 it was established that... the German Army, the German Navy and probably the Air Force, together with other state organisations like the railways and the SS used, for all except their tactical communications, different versions of the same cypher system - the Enigma machine which had been put on the market in the 1920s but which the Germans had rendered more secure by progressive modifications." (6)

Peter Calvocoressi, explained in his book, Top Secret Ultra (1980), the task that faced the codebreakers. "Although its keyboard was simpler than a typewriter's, the Enigma machine was in all other respects much more complicated. Behind the keyboard the alphabet was repeated in another three rows and in the same order, but this time the letters were not on keys but in small round glass discs which were set in a flat rectangular plate and could light up one at a time. When the operator struck a key one of these letters lit up. But it was never the same letter. By striking P the operator might, for example, cause L to appear; and next time he struck P he would get neither P nor L but something entirely different. This operator called out the letters as they appeared in lights and a second operator sitting alongside him noted them down. This sequence was then transmitted by wireless in the usual Morse code and was picked up by whoever was supposed to be listening for it."

Both the person sending and receiving the message had a handbook that told him what he had to do each day. This included the settings of the machine. As Calvocoressi pointed out: "These parts or gadgets consisted of a set of wheels rotors and a set of plugs. Their purpose was not simply to turn P into L but to do so in so complex a manner that it was virtually impossible for an eavesdropper to find out what had gone on inside the machine in each case. It is quite easy to construct a machine that will always turn P into L, but it is then comparatively easy to find out that L always means P; a simple substitution of this kind is inadequate for specially secret traffic. The eavesdropper's basic task was to set his machine in exactly the same way as the legitimate recipient of the message had set his, since the eavesdropper would then be able to read the message with no more difficulty than the legitimate recipient. The more complex the machine and its internal workings, the more difficult and more time-consuming was it for the eavesdropper to solve this problem.... Although only three wheels could be inserted into the machine at any one time, there were by 1939 five wheels issued with each machine. The operator had to use three of this set of five. He had to select the correct three and then place them in a prescribed order. This was crucial because the wheels, although outwardly identical, were differently wired inside." (7)

Mavis worked very closely with Alfred Dilwyn Knox. "We were all thrown in the deep end. No one knew how the blessed thing worked. When I first arrived, I was told, 'We are breaking machines, have you got a pencil? And that was it. You got no explanation. I never saw an Enigma machine. Dilly Knox was able to reduce it - I won't say to a game, but a sort of linguistic puzzle. It was rather like driving a car while having no idea what goes on under the bonnet." (8) "We were looking at new traffic all the time or where the wheels or the wiring had been changed, or at other new techniques. So you had to work it all out yourself from scratch.” (9)

Knox admitted that he liked employing women. According to Sinclair McKay, the author of The Secret Life of Bletchley Park (2010): "Dilwyn Knox... found that women had a greater aptitude for the work required - as well as nimbleness of mind and capacity for lateral thought, they possessed a care and attention to detail that many men might not have had. This of course is just speculation; the other possibility, and one that seems likely considering the scratchiness of many of Knox's personal dealings, was that he simply did not like men very much." (10) Knox was so impressed with Mavis Lever's work that in August 1940, that he contacted head office: "Miss Lever is the most capable and the most useful and if there is any scheme of selection for a small advancement in wages, her name should be considered." (11)

Soon after arriving at Bletchley Park Mavis met Keith Batey. One day she had to convey an operational message to convey to Hut 3. He later recalled: "Late one evening. I was in the hut, on the evening shift, and that's how I met her. This little girl arrived from Dilly's outfit with this message or problem - she didn't know how to solve it." It was several months before they became what she called an "item". Although people from different units were not allowed to have "conversations concerning work" there were no rules against "courting". (12)

Knox encouraged all his assistants to look at problems from unexpected angles. Knox would ask new arrivals which way the hands of a clock went round. (13) When they answered "clockwise" Knox would reply that that would depend on whether one was the observer, or the clock. Although most of the codebreakers were mathematicians Knox believed that this caused them problems as "mathematicians are very unimaginative". (14)

Mavis Lever worked with Knox on the "updated Italian Naval Enigma machine, checking all new traffic and even the wheels, cogs and wiring to see how it was constructed." (15) In March 1941 she deciphered a message, “Today 25 March is X-3". She later recalled that "if you get a message saying 'today minus three', then you know that something pretty big is afoot." Working with a team of intelligence analysts she was able to work out that the Italian fleet was planning to attack British troop convoys sailing from Alexandria to Piraeus in Greece. As a result of this information the British Navy was able to ambush four Italian destroyers and four cruisers off the coast of Sicily. Over 3,000 Italian sailors died during the Battle of Cape Matapan. Admiral John Henry Godfrey, Director of Naval Intelligence, sent a message to Bletchley Park: "Tell Dilly (Knox) that we have won a great victory in the Mediterranean and it is entirely due to him and his girls." (16)

Mavis's boyfriend, Keith Batey, felt guilty about working at Bletchley Park, while so many of his contemporaries were risking their lives in open combat. "Accordingly he told his bosses that he wanted to train as a pilot, only to be informed that no one who knew that the British were breaking Enigma could be allowed to fly in the RAF, the risk being that he might be shot down and captured. Batey then suggested that he join the Fleet Air Arm, flying over the sea in defence of British ships, arguing that he would be either killed or picked up by his own side. Worn down by his persistence, his superiors reluctantly agreed." The couple married in November, 1942, shortly before Batey left for Canada for the Fleet Air Arm advanced flying course. (17)

Mavis Batey played a very important role in breaking of the Enigma cipher used by the German secret service, the Abwehr. This was a vital aspect of what became known as the Double-Cross System (XX-Committee). Created by John Masterman, it was an operation that attempted to turn "German agents against their masters and persuaded them to cooperate in sending false information back to Berlin." (18) Masterman needed to know if the Germans believed the false intelligence they were receiving.

Mavis was part of a team that included Alfred Dilwyn Knox and Margaret Rock that broke the Abwehr Enigma. "On December 8 1941 Mavis Batey broke a message on the link between Belgrade and Berlin, allowing the reconstruction of one of the rotors. Within days Knox and his team had broken into the Abwehr Enigma, and shortly afterwards Mavis broke a second Abwehr machine, the GGG, adding to the British ability to read the high-level Abwehr messages and confirm that the Germans did believe the phony Double-Cross intelligence they were being fed by the double agents." (19)

This Double-Cross operation became very important during the proposed D-Day landings. The deception plan had been devised by Tomás Harris and carried out by double-agent, Juan Pujol: "The key aims of the deception were: "(a) To induce the German Command to believe that the main assault and follow up will be in or east of the Pas de Calais area, thereby encouraging the enemy to maintain or increase the strength of his air and ground forces and his fortifications there at the expense of other areas, particularly of the Caen area in Normandy. (b) To keep the enemy in doubt as to the date and time of the actual assault. (c) During and after the main assault, to contain the largest possible German land and air forces in or east of the Pas de Calais for at least fourteen days." (20)

Harris devised a plan of action for Pujol (code-named GARBO). He was to inform the Germans that the opening phase of the invasion was under way as the airborne landings started, and four hours before the seaborne landings began. "This, the XX-Committee reasoned, would be too later for the Germans to do anything to do anything to frustrate the attack, but would confirm that GARBO remained alert, active, and well-placed to obtain critically important intelligence." (21)

Christopher Andrew has explained how the strategy worked: "During the first six months of 1944, working with Tomás Harris, he (GARBO) sent more than 500 messages to the Abwehr station in Madrid, which as German intercepts revealed, passed them to Berlin, many marked 'Urgent'... The final act in the pre-D-Day deception was entrusted, appropriately, to its greatest practitioners, GARBO and Tomás Harris. After several weeks of pressure, Harris finally gained permission for GARBO to be allowed to radio a warning that Allied forces were heading towards the Normandy beaches just too late for the Germans to benefit from it." (22)

It was later pointed out: "The false intelligence led the Germans to believe that the main force would land on the Pas de Calais rather than in Normandy. As a result Hitler insisted that two key armoured divisions were held back in the Calais area.... Brigadier Bill Williams, Montgomery’s chief intelligence officer, said that without the break into the Abwehr Enigma the deception operation could not have been mounted. The forces in Calais would have moved to Normandy and could well have thrown the Allies back into the sea." (23)

After the war, she gave up work to bring up her three children, Elizabeth, Christopher and Deborah. She later told Sinclair McKay, the author of The Secret Life of Bletchley Park (2010): "I didn't really get back into any kind of intellectual activity until my three children were grown. After that, I could go to the Bodleian Library every day. so i eventually picked up." (24)

In 1967 Keith Batey became chief financial officer of Oxford University, and they lived on the university's Nuneham Park estate where the gardens, landscaped in the 18th century, had become overgrown. While researching the estate, Mavis Batey developed to an interest in historical gardens. Over the next few years she " became an immensely inspirational force behind moves" by the Campaign to Protect Rural England and English Heritage to protect these gardens. (25)

Mavis Batey became honorary secretary of the Garden History Society from 1971 until 1985, then its honorary president. She also wrote several books on historical gardens, including Jane Austen and the English Landscape (1996) and Alexander Pope: Poetry and Landscape (1999). She also published an affectionate biography of Alfred Dilwyn Knox, entitled Dilly: The Man Who Broke Enigmas (2010). She advised Kate Winslet on what it was like to be a female codebreaker, for the film Enigma.

Mavis Batey, died aged 92, on 12th November 2013.

Mavis Batey vividly recalls the V-1 rockets and the means by which the codebreakers at Bletchley Park sought to thwart them. "We were working on double agents all the time, giving misinformation to their controllers. And because we could read the Enigma, we could see how they were receiving this misinformation. One of the things when the Vls started was that the double agent was asked to give a report to the Germans on where the rockets were falling. Because of course they were wanting them to fall on central London.

"At that point, the bombs werefalling in central London so intelligence here wanted them to cut out at a different point. So this double agent was instructed to tell his masters that they were falling north of London. The result of this was that the Germans cut the range back a little and as a result, the rockets started falling in south London. Just where my parents lived."

In this case, it seemed that to Mrs Batey at least, ignorance was preferable to any other state; for security reasons, she knew nothing of this double-cross operation, or the messages that confirmed its success. "I had no idea and it is just as well that I didn't. So when I saw the devastation at Norbury, I did not know that it had anything to do with anything I was doing. It really would have been a terrible shock to know that."

Dilly himself always slept in the office, going back to Courn's Wood once a week. His driving was worse than ever. His mind was totally elsewhere. Fortunately he drove slowly. "It's amazing how people smile, and apologise to you, when you knock them over," he remarked.

In time the buildings inside the Park walls extended into blocks of huts and cafeterias, and by the end of the war the personnel numbered more than seven thousand, increased by observers and liaison men and important visitors in uniform. With all this Dilly had nothing to do. At first his department consisted of ten people, though these included, besides Peter Twinn, two very brilliant and sympathetic young women, Margaret Rock and Mavis Lever (now Mrs Batey). They were accommodated in a small cottage overlooking the old stable yard.

He would, however, need more ciphering clerks-not the vast numbers which eventually made the Treasury complain that "Bletchley was using up all the girls in the country," but still, a section of his own. Into this task Dilly entered with quite unexpected enthusiasm, and when the assistants arrived down from London with the files they were surprised to find him surrounded with pretty girls, all of them, for some reason, very tall, whom he had recruited for the work. The girls took from four to six months to train, though this was not undertaken by Dilly, who never trained anybody, but by a capable and understanding woman, Mrs Helen Morris. They worked on the equations in three eight-hour shifts, and when Dilly wanted to speak to them or to the punch-card operators who registered the encipherments as dots, he would limp across from the cottage, often in his grey dressing gown, indifferent to rain and snow, to tell them his new idea.

Mavis Batey, who has died aged 92, was one of the leading female codebreakers at Bletchley Park, cracking the Enigma ciphers that led to the Royal Navy’s victory at Matapan in 1941.

She was the last of the great Bletchley “break-in” experts, those codebreakers who found their way into new codes and ciphers that had never been broken before.

Mavis Batey also played a leading role in the cracking of the extraordinarily complex German secret service, or Abwehr, Enigma. Without that break, the Double Cross deception plan which ensured the success of the D-Day landings could never have gone ahead....

She initially worked in London, checking commercial codes and perusing the personal columns of The Times for coded spy messages. After showing promise, she was plucked out and sent to Bletchley to work in the research unit run by Dilly Knox.

Knox had led the way for the British on the breaking of the Enigma ciphers, but was now working in a cottage next to the mansion on new codes and ciphers that had not been broken by Hut 6, where the German Army and Air Force ciphers were cracked.

“It was a strange little outfit in the cottage,” Mavis said. Knox was a true eccentric, often so wrapped up in the puzzle he was working on that he would absent-mindedly stuff a lunchtime sandwich into his pipe rather than his tobacco:

“Organisation is not a word you would associate with Dilly Knox. When I arrived, he said: 'Oh, hello, we’re breaking machines, have you got a pencil?’ That was it. I was never really told what to do. I think, looking back on it, that was a great precedent in my life, because he taught me to think that you could do things yourself without always checking up to see what the book said.

“That was the way the cottage worked. We were looking at new traffic all the time or where the wheels or the wiring had been changed, or at other new techniques. So you had to work it all out yourself from scratch.”

Although only 19, Mavis began working on the updated Italian Naval Enigma machine and, in late March 1941, broke into the system, reading a message which said simply: “Today’s the day minus three.” “Why they had to say that I can’t imagine,” she recalled. “It seems rather daft, but they did. So we worked for three days. It was all the nail-biting stuff of keeping up all night working. One kept thinking: 'Well, would one be better at it if one had a little sleep or shall we just go on?’ - and it did take nearly all of three days. Then a very, very large message came in.”

The Italians were planning to attack a Royal Navy convoy carrying supplies from Cairo to Greece, and the messages carried full details of the Italian plans for attack: “How many cruisers there were, and how many submarines were to be there and where they were to be at such and such a time, absolutely incredible that they should spell it all out.”

The intelligence was phoned through to the Admiralty and rushed out to Admiral Andrew Cunningham, commander of the Royal Navy’s Mediterranean Fleet. “The marvellous thing about him was that he played it extremely cool,” Mavis said. “He knew that they were going to go out and confront the Italian fleet at Matapan but he did a real Drake on them.”

The Japanese consul in Alexandria was sending the Germans reports on the movement of the Mediterranean Fleet. The consul was a keen golfer, so Cunningham ostentatiously visited the clubhouse with his clubs and an overnight bag. “He pretended he was just going to have the weekend off and made sure the Japanese spy would pass it all back,” Mavis recalled. “Then, under cover of the night, they went out and confronted the Italians.”

In a series of running battles over March 27/28 1941, Cunningham’s ships attacked the Italian vessels, sinking three heavy cruisers and two destroyers. Without radar, the Italians were caught completely by surprise, and 3,000 of their sailors were lost.

Mavis Batey, who has died aged 92, was often described as one of the top female codebreakers at Bletchley Park but, while she was always too modest to make the point herself, this diminished her role. She was one of the leading codebreakers of either sex, breaking the Enigma ciphers that led to the Royal Navy's victory over Italy at Matapan in 1941 and, crucially, to the success of the D-day landings in 1944.

She was 19 years old when she was sent to Bletchley, the codebreaking centre in Buckinghamshire, in early 1940 and put to work in No 3 Cottage, in the research section, which broke into new cipher systems that had never been broken before. It was run by the veteran codebreaker and Greek scholar Dilly Knox, who had not only broken the Zimmermann Telegram, which brought the US into the first world war, but had also pieced together the mimes of the Greek playwright Herodas from papyri fragments found in an Egyptian cave.

In March 1941, Mavis broke a series of messages enciphered on the Italian navy's Enigma machine that revealed the full details of plans to ambush a Royal Navy supply convoy ferrying supplies from Egypt to Greece. The plans gave Admiral Andrew Cunningham, commander-in-chief of the Royal Navy's Mediterranean Fleet, the opportunity to turn the tables on the Italians, who were taken completely by surprise. Cunningham's ships sank three heavy cruisers and two estroyers with the loss of 3,000 Italian sailors. The Italian fleet never confronted the Royal Navy again.

Cunningham visited the cottage to thank Knox and his team of young female codebreakers. "The cottage wall had just been whitewashed," Mavis recalled. "Someone enticed the admiral to lean against it so he got whitewash on his lovely dark blue uniform. We tried not to giggle when he left."

Mavis Batey was a garden historian and conservationist, but unknown to many until recently, was also one of the leading female Bletchley Park codebreakers whose skills in decoding the German Enigma ciphers proved decisive at various points of the war. On the outbreak of war she broke off her German studies to enlist as a nurse, but was told she would be more use as a linguist. She had hoped to be a Mata Hari-esque spy, seducing Prussian officers, but, she said, “I don’t think either my legs or my German were good enough, because they sent me to the Government Code & Cipher School.”

Batey was the last of the Bletchley “break-in” experts – codebreakers who cracked new codes and ciphers. She unravelled the Enigma ciphers that led to victory in the Battle of Cape Matapan in 1941, the Navy’s first fleet action since Trafalgar, and played a key role in breaking the astonishingly complex Abwehr (German secret service) Enigma. Without this, the Double Cross deception plan which ensured the success of D-Day could not have gone ahead....

Batey began working on the updated Italian Naval Enigma machine, checking all new traffic and even the wheels, cogs and wiring to see how it was constructed. She reconstructed the wiring from the machine to discover a major machine flaw that helped her team break even more coded messages. “You had to work it all out yourself from scratch,” she recalled, “but gained the ability to think laterally.” In March 1941 she deciphered a message, “Today’s the day minus three,” which told them that the Italian Navy was up to something.

Batey and her colleagues worked for three days and nights until she decoded “a very, very long message” detailing the Italian fleet’s proposed interception of a British supply convey en route from Egypt to Greece; it included their plan of attack, strength – cruisers, submarines – locations and times. “It was absolutely incredible that they should spell it all out,” she recalled. The message was passed to Admiral Andrew Cunningham, commander of the Mediterranean Fleet, giving him the intelligence he needed to intercept the Italians.

He deceived the Japanese consul in Alexandria, who was passing information to the Germans, into thinking he was having the weekend off to play golf. Then under cover of darkness he set sail with three battleships, four cruisers and an aircraft carrier. Over 27-28 March 1941, his forces staged a series of surprise attacks. The Italians lost three cruisers, two destroyers and 3,000 sailors in the Battle of Matapan, never again dared to sail close to the Royal Navy. Cunningham went to Bletchley to thank Knox’s unit, ISK (Intelligence Section Knox).

Arguably, ISK’s most important coup was to break into the Enigma cipher. MI5 and MI6 had captured and identified most of Germany’s spies in Britain and in neutral Lisbon and Madrid, and had “turned” them, using them to feed false information to Germany about the Allies’ proposed invasion of France, in an operation known as the Double-Cross System.

However, no one knew if the Germans believed the intelligence, because Enigma had proven unbreakable. This machine had many millions of settings, as it used four rotors, rather than the usual three, which rotated randomly with no predictable pattern.

Working with Knox and Margaret Rock, Batey tested out every possibility, and in December 1941 broke a message on the link between Berlin and Belgrade, making it possible to reconstruct one of the rotors. Within days, ISK had broken the Enigma – and days later Batey cracked a second Abwehr cipher machine, the GGG, which confirmed that Germany believed the Double Cross intelligence.

British agents fed a stream of false intelligence to German command, convincing it that a US Army group was forming in East Anglia and Kent. Hitler believed the main invasion force would land at Pas-de-Calais rather than in Normandy, leading him to retain two key armoured divisions there. Montgomery’s head of intelligence, Brigadier Bill Williams, later said that without the deception, the Normandy invasion could well have been a disaster.

Alan Turing - School Student (Answer Commentary)

(1) The Daily Telegraph (13th November, 2013)

(2) Mavis Bately, interviewed by Sinclair McKay, for his book, The Secret Life of Bletchley Park (2010) page 23

(3) Martin Childs, The Independent (24th November 2013)

(4) Mavis Bately, interviewed by Sinclair McKay, for his book, The Secret Life of Bletchley Park (2010) page 23

(5) Penelope Fitzgerald, The Knox Brothers (2002) page 228-229

(6) Francis Harry Hinsley, British Intelligence in the Second World War: Volume One (1979-1990) page 53

(7) Peter Calvocoressi, Top Secret Ultra (1980) pages 34-37

(8) Mavis Bately, interviewed by Sinclair McKay, for his book, The Secret Life of Bletchley Park (2010) page 51

(9) The Daily Telegraph (13th November, 2013)

(10) Sinclair McKay, The Secret Life of Bletchley Park (2010) page 57

(11) Alfred Dilwyn Knox, letter to Headquarters (August 1940)

(12) Mavis Bately, interviewed by Sinclair McKay, for his book, The Secret Life of Bletchley Park (2010) pages 195-196

(13) The Daily Telegraph (13th November, 2013)

(14) Sinclair McKay, The Secret Life of Bletchley Park (2010) page 196

(15) Martin Childs, The Independent (24th November 2013)

(16) Sinclair McKay, The Secret Life of Bletchley Park (2010) page 132

(17) The Daily Telegraph (2nd September, 2010)

(18) Richard Deacon, Spyclopaedia (1987) page 178

(19) The Daily Telegraph (13th November, 2013)

(20) Michael Howard, British Intelligence in the Second World War (1990) pages 106-107

(21) Anthony Cave Brown, Bodyguard of Lies (1976) page 672

(22) Christopher Andrew, The Defence of the Realm: The Authorized History of MI5 (2009) page 305

(23) The Daily Telegraph (13th November, 2013)

(24) Mavis Bately, interviewed by Sinclair McKay, for his book, The Secret Life of Bletchley Park (2010) page 292

(25) Michael Smith, The Guardian (20th November, 2013)


Mavis Batey obituary

Mavis Batey, who has died aged 92, was often described as one of the top female codebreakers at Bletchley Park but, while she was always too modest to make the point herself, this diminished her role. She was one of the leading codebreakers of either sex, breaking the Enigma ciphers that led to the Royal Navy's victory over Italy at Matapan in 1941 and, crucially, to the success of the D-day landings in 1944.

She was 19 years old when she was sent to Bletchley, the codebreaking centre in Buckinghamshire, in early 1940 and put to work in No 3 Cottage, in the research section, which broke into new cipher systems that had never been broken before. It was run by the veteran codebreaker and Greek scholar Dilly Knox, who had not only broken the Zimmermann Telegram, which brought the US into the first world war, but had also pieced together the mimes of the Greek playwright Herodas from papyri fragments found in an Egyptian cave.

In March 1941, Mavis broke a series of messages enciphered on the Italian navy's Enigma machine that revealed the full details of plans to ambush a Royal Navy supply convoy ferrying supplies from Egypt to Greece. The plans gave Admiral Andrew Cunningham, commander-in-chief of the Royal Navy's Mediterranean Fleet, the opportunity to turn the tables on the Italians, who were taken completely by surprise. Cunningham's ships sank three heavy cruisers and two estroyers with the loss of 3,000 Italian sailors. The Italian fleet never confronted the Royal Navy again.

Cunningham visited the cottage to thank Knox and his team of young female codebreakers. "The cottage wall had just been whitewashed," Mavis recalled. "Someone enticed the admiral to lean against it so he got whitewash on his lovely dark blue uniform. We tried not to giggle when he left."

In a poem composed to celebrate the victory, Knox dedicated one stanza to Mavis: "When Cunningham won at Matapan, By the grace of God and Mavis, Nigro simillima cygno est, praise Heaven, A very rara avis." ("Like the black swan, she is, praise heaven, a very rare bird".) It was, she later said, "very heady stuff for a 19-year-old".

Arguably, her most important break was into the German secret service Abwehr Enigma. The British had captured most of the enemy spies sent to Britain and were using them to feed false information to the Germans in an operation known as the Double Cross System. But they had no way of knowing whether the Germans believed the false information, because the Abwehr Enigma was deemed impossible to break. Knox and his team believed otherwise and in December 1941, Mavis broke a message on the link between Belgrade and Berlin that allowed them to work out the wiring of the machine.

From that point onwards, MI5 knew the Germans believed everything the double agents told them, allowing them to provide a stream of pieces of intelligence suggesting that the allies had an entire army ready to storm the Pas de Calais.

As the allies landed in Normandy on 6 June 1944, one of the double agents insisted that the main thrust would come against Calais. His report went straight to Adolf Hitler, who ordered two key armoured divisions back to the area. Without the breaking of the Abwehr Enigma, the D-day deception could never have gone ahead and those divisions might well have helped the Germans throw the allied forces back into the sea.

She was born Mavis Lever, in Dulwich, south London, the daughter of a postal worker and a seamstress. She attended Coloma convent girls' school in Croydon, and was reading German at University College London when war broke out.

While the image of eccentric wartime codebreakers is often exaggerated, it is entirely appropriate in the case of Knox, whose unusual views on training in effect left new recruits to sink or swim. In a chapter on her work in the book The Bletchley Park Codebreakers (2011), Mavis described her own arrival in the cottage where Knox and his team worked, and his first words to her.

"They were: 'Hello, we're breaking machines. Have you got a pencil? Here, have a go.' I was then handed a pile of utter gibberish, made worse by Dilly's scrawls all over it. 'But I'm afraid it's all Greek to me,' I said, at which he burst into delighted laughter and replied, 'I wish it were.'"

Mavis met her husband, Keith Batey, a mathematician and himself one of the leading break-in experts at Bletchley, when he assisted her on one night shift to tackle a particularly difficult codebreaking problem. They married in 1942. After the war, she stopped work to bring up a young family.

In the 1960s, when her husband was appointed secretary of the chest, the chief financial officer of Oxford University, they lived on the university's Nuneham Park estate where the gardens, landscaped in the 18th century, had become overgrown.

Researching the estate, a process that made good use of research skills and a determination to find the truth developed at Bletchley, led Mavis to an interest in historical gardens. She became an immensely inspirational force behind moves by the Garden History Society, the Campaign to Protect Rural England and English Heritage to protect them.

She worked with the Historic Buildings Council to compile what became the English Heritage Register of Parks and Gardens of Special Historic Interest in England and was honorary secretary of the Garden History Society from 1971 until 1985, then its honorary president.

Mavis wrote numerous books on historical gardens, including Jane Austen and the English Landscape (1996) and Alexander Pope: Poetry and Landscape (1999), and a wonderfully affectionate biography of Knox, Dilly: The Man Who Broke Enigmas (2010).

She was awarded the Veitch memorial medal of the Royal Horticultural Society in 1985 and two years later was appointed MBE for services to the preservation and conservation of historic gardens.

Keith died in 2010. Mavis is survived by her three children, Elizabeth, Christopher and Deborah.

Mavis Lilian Batey, codebreaker, garden historian and author, born 5 May 1921 died 12 November 2013


Dilly : The Man who Broke Enigmas

Mavis Batey was born Mavis Lever, in Dulwich, south London, England on May 5, 1921. She was reading German at University College London when World War II started. During the war, she was one of the leading codebreakers, breaking the Enigma ciphers that led to the Royal Navy's victory over Italy at Matapan in 1941 and to the success of the D-day landings in 1944. In the 1960s, her husband was appointed the chief financial officer of Oxford University and they lived on the university's Nuneham Park estate where the gardens, landscaped in the 18th century, had become overgrown. While researching the estate, she developed an interest in historical gardens. She wrote numerous books on historical gardens including Jane Austen and the English Landscape and Alexander Pope: Poetry and Landscape, and a biography of Dilly Knox entitled Dilly: The Man who Broke Enigmas. She was awarded the Veitch Memorial Medal of the Royal Horticultural Society in 1985 and was appointed MBE for services to the preservation and conservation of historic gardens in 1987. She died on November 12, 2013 at the age of 92.


Mavis Batey: Bletchley Codebreaker, Garden Historian

In 1960 Mavis Batey read that the film Sink The Bismarck was playing at the local cinema. Her son Christopher would enjoy it, she thought – and he did. But she had not thought about her own reactions. At the end of the film set on a choppy black and white North Sea, the Bismarck is caught by a circle of British ships, and its men burned or trapped in freezing water below deck:

‘I saw it go down and I really did feel quite sick. I put my head down and my son said to me after a while, “It’s alright Mummy, it’s gone down…” He didn’t know that I was thinking how awful it was that one’s breaking of a message could send so many people to the bottom’.

The treat of my week – and the treat I’d like to share with readers of this newsletter is Jean Stone’s new biography of Mavis Batey, Secretary of the Garden History Society from 1972. The story is so gripping that earlier today I missed my stop on the train. Twice.

On 27 th May 1941 Batey was in the dining room at Bletchley Park when the radio announced the sinking of the battleship terrorising the Atlantic convoys. The room cheered. That night in the cinema in 1960 she could not yet tell her son that she was one of the code-breakers of Bletchley Park in the film Enigma (2001) she would be played by Kate Winslet. When war began, she was recruited as a student studying German at University, good at crosswords, and with a questioning mind.

And Mavis won the Battle of Matapan. Late one night in March 1941 her curiosity at one Italian signaller’s erratic punctuation broke the Italians’ Enigma Code off the Island of Rhodes, three British battleships surprised an Italian fleet. Three thousand Italian sailors died the eastern Mediterranean was won. To Churchill it was the greatest naval victory since Trafalgar. Batey missed the last train home to her lodgings, and was woken on the platform at Bletchley by the wet hiss of the milk train.

In 1965 she and her husband Keith – a fellow code-breaker, now working for the University of Oxford – rented a cottage at Nuneham Courtenay, an estate on a slope above the Thames, ten miles from the spires. It was the abandoned gardens of the 18 th -century house which inspired Batey to become a garden historian.

Nuneham Courtenay: the garden is now cared for by the Centre of Global Retreat and has been restored under the guidance of Dr Richard Bisgrove.

Kenneth Grahame once said to his anxious and talkative wife Elspeth: ‘You like people. I like places’. It’s a question. Do places, or people, intrigue us more as we grow older? But gardens, and worked or designed landscapes, were for Batey where places and people come together. And Nuneham is a particularly intriguing place.

In the 1750s the 1 st Earl Harcourt, a courtier to George I and investor in the East India Company, built a big stone house on the hill above the Thames. In order to create a serene, green parkland he demolished the medieval village and built model cottages for his tenants, each identical. A Picturesque mischief today (the A407 runs past their doorsteps) at the time the re-housing was as didactic as a 1960s slum clearance.

Batey’s deepest academic love was English poetry, and she connected the setting of her new home to Oliver Goldsmith’s poem The Deserted Village (1770), which laments the destruction of a community, its neighbours evicted by a nobleman of ‘silken sloth’ who wishes to create a parkland, pristine, but without people – or activity. (It is Kim Wilkie, the landscape architect who worked with with Batey on the masterful Thames Landscape Strategy, who underlines that Alexander Pope asked garden-makers to consult the ‘genius’ and ‘use’ of the place). Fifty villages were evicted to make landscape gardens in 18 th -century England it was Batey who identified Goldsmith’s subject as Nuneham in her first publication on garden history.

Nuneham Courtenay

Nuneham’s landscape reveals a second story. In 1783 the 2 nd Earl commissioned Paul Sandby to depict the ruins of the old. At first sight, the prints appear to be handsome examples of the contemporary taste for Pictueresque ruins melted into Nature. In fact, these are the son’s critique of his father’s destruction. The 2 nd Earl was a radical, who supported the American colonists in a war in which his brother was a Redcoat General. In gardens, that liberalism was expressed by making together with the poet William Mason a garden of flowers, its beds set apart from his father’s vast lawns. A statue of Rousseau declared his philosophy. To make a naturalistic garden of flowers in 1772 was, Batey understood, ‘without precedent’. It was a rejection of the past, a patricide in plants.

It was this garden, not the park, which captivated Batey. ‘It was derelict. Garden ornaments were buried in the grass. I had to cut my way through, almost losing my small daughter in the process. It kept telling me that someone was trying to say something in that place’.

Batey would go on to establish garden history as a discipline and to achieve protection for historic gardens within the planning system. When Painshill Park, the 18 th -century landscape close to the M25, was at risk of becoming a nursery for Christmas trees, she discovered that in 1946 Hugh Dalton, the Chancellor and rambler, had sold war surplus goods to enable the purchase of land as war memorials the Fund, she deduced, had been mislaid.

In fact, the code-breaker who located the Bismarck through a single word was Jane Fawcett, who became an architectural conservationist and Director of The Victorian Society. The two met again at Mavis’ 90 th birthday party in the walled garden designed by Lady Egremont at Petworth House and Park, under what is the most eloquent wisteria walk in England.

Mavis Batey at her 90th birthday party, sat with her friend and fellow garden historian Ted Fawcett

What Stone shows us is that code-breaker and garden historian were one. To understand German and Italian signals required curiosity at the human unpredictabilities behind the codes. (And why did the 2 nd Earl Harcourt reject his Republicanism and welcome the King to visit?). And garden history was about unlocking puzzles. This is what she told students:

‘Physical evidence through survey, aerial photography and excavation was of first importance. Archive sources included household regulations, estate accounts and inventories deeds, leases, sale particulars maps and plans including estate enclosure and tithe family topographical paintings and drawings architectural drawings and plans building contracts, oral reminiscences, letters and diaries. It is essential to find out everything possible about the owner of the house… Where did the owner get his money from? Why did he move or enlarge his house or park? What sort of man was he and who were his friends and associates and what clubs did he belong to? What books did he subscribe to and were any dedicated to him? If married what were his wife’s family’s interest and ownership?’

And it is putting such evidence together which is the thrill of garden history.

I read this excellent book at the same time as the National Trust published its self-expose of properties caught up with the slave trade, slavery, and colonialism. It kicks off with a dismissal of the V&A’s ‘Destruction of the Country House’ in 1974, without pausing to recognise that that first generation of conservationists of gardens and houses, big and small, were trouble-makers taking on the system. That said, it is not as provocative as the press has suggested: a cut’n’paste of existing publications on British history, it will not shock anyone who has studied A level history in the last 30 years, or ever read a book by William Dalrymple.

What is depressing is the laziness of the application of history to individual people, and places. Or, put another way, the absence of curiosity at the twists and turns, hillocks and hollows of the human past which enlivened Batey’s reading of designed landscapes. She understood the pain of the past more deeply than anyone who reads this cartoon of right’n’wrong it is only by understanding the choices which people make that the past comes to life. Of the young men drowned in the Bismarck’s coffered hold she continued: ‘That was war and that was the way we had to play it. If we thought about it too much we should never have been able to cope’.


World War II Database


ww2dbase Mavis Lilian Lever was born in May 1921 in Dulwich, South London in England, United Kingdom. Her father worked in the local postal sorting office and her mother was a seamstress. Despite her humble background Mavis was highly educated having won entry into the Coloma Convent School - a free but academically selective Grammar School in West Croydon where she studied German as one of her languages.

ww2dbase The family normally took their annual holiday in Bournemouth on the south coast, but during the 1930s Joseph Goebbels, Adolf Hitler's propaganda minister, created a programme of cheap holidays in Germany under the title of Kraft durch Freude ("Strength through Joy") and in 1936, the fifteen-year-old Mavis persuaded her mother that this year they should go to the Rhineland. During this holiday they joined a crowd of happy German workers, largely indoctrinated into the myths and legends of German heroes. Mavis was enthralled by it all and resolved to study German literature in her sixth form.

ww2dbase A little later Mavis earned a place at University College London (UCL) where she studied German Romanticism under Professor Leonard Willoughby who had been one of Alfred Dillwyn "Dilly" Knox's (q.v.) codebreaking colleagues in the Admiralty during the First World War. She had planned to go to Tübingen University in Germany for a term in 1938 but, with war increasingly likely, she switched to Zurich University instead. She returned to UCL when Germany manned the Siegfried Line of fortifications between France and Germany to find they were about to be evacuated to Aberystwyth. Wanting to do more for the war effort than simply read poetry in Wales, she briefly considered training as a nurse but was quickly told, that with her knowledge of German, she might be of more use to the Foreign Office.

ww2dbase After an interview at the Foreign Office, Mavis was selected as a suitable candidate for a job in intelligence and sent over to the dingy Secret Intelligence Service (MI6) Headquarters at 54 Broadway, then opposite London's St. James's underground station. In her new job Mavis was employed to examine commercial codes and peruse the personal columns in The Times for coded spy messages. In May 1940, after showing promise with a piece of smart lateral thinking that uncovered the origin of an illegal shipment to Germany, Mavis was plucked out and sent to the Government Code and Cypher School at Bletchley Park to become a German linguist in a new research team being set up by the eccentric codebreaker Dilly Knox.

ww2dbase The absent-minded Dilly Knox, who had broken the Spanish and Italian Enigma Machine (q.v.) codes before the war, had threatened to resign when his staff were hived off to Bletchley's Hut 6 (to examine intercepted German Army and Luftwaffe Enigma messages) or Hut 4's Naval Section. Commander Alistair Denniston, the head of GC&SC, stubbornly refused to accept Dilly's resignation, rightly telling him that he had unique qualities which were vital to the war effort. Instead his talents would be put to use breaking new codes, leaving Hut 6 to do the day-to-day breaking of intercepts. Commander Denniston reopened "The Cottage", a building adjoining the Park's mansion, and put Dilly in charge of a small research section looking into unbroken machine codes that Hut 6 (run by dynamic pipe-smoking Gordon Welchman with his former student, the Chess Master Stuart Milner-Barry as his deputy) didn't have time to deal with.

ww2dbase When 19-year-old Mavis Lever arrived at Bletchley Park she was placed into Dilly's exclusively female section as one of several German linguists. She was billeted on a farm at Leighton Buzzard where the farmer's wife immediately recognized that her war work was of a secretive nature and did not ask any questions. She also appreciated the way that Mavis would help around the farm during her days off. Almost all of Bletchley's people were paid a pittance Mavis initially earned thirty shillings a week from which she had to pay twenty-one shillings for her lodgings.

ww2dbase Dilly's unusual views on training left new recruits to either sink or swim, but ensured that Mavis and the other girls would develop an ability to think laterally. He encouraged his younger staff to look for patterns or predictability in the Enigma codes that might improve the chances of those codes being cracked. He soon recognized that Mavis had exactly the right mental approach towards the exhausting work, teaching her how to crack codes by hand – a system using a form of slide-rule known as "rodding".

ww2dbase The month after Mavis arrived at Bletchley Park, Italy entered the war and, despite having only the scantiest knowledge of the language, she was put to work on the Italian Navy's Enigma code, trying out likely forms of words to see if she could identify set formulae across multiple messages. Mavis soon proved particularly adept at making up in intuition what she lacked in experience and, at one point, recognized that one enemy cryptographer had a girlfriend called Rosa, whose name he habitually used when creating his codes.

ww2dbase Dilly Knox was keen to learn if the Italian codes he had broken during the Spanish Civil War were still in use, but it soon became apparent that the messages were completely different and none of his "cribs" (an intelligent guess by looking for patterns in the coded text) were of any use. Then, alone one night in September 1940, Mavis made a crucial breakthrough. When Dilly arrived on the next morning he was so delighted when shown her decrypted text that he immediately went to Commander Denniston to insist that Mavis be given a promotion and wage rise. He also took her out to dinner to celebrate. In the months that followed Mavis would become ever more familiar with the styles of individual enemy Enigma operators, eventually being able to determine that, in fact, two of them had girlfriends called Rosa. Based on what she learned, Mavis was able to build up a comprehensive picture of the current Italian code and soon she and her colleagues at Bletchley Park were routinely reading Italian messages.

ww2dbase Working as one of Dilly's assistants could be demanding but also very exhilarating. Mavis and her colleague, mathematician Margaret Rock, frequently found it difficult to keep up with his constant flow of brilliant ideas of ways into the enemy's codes. Then on one night shift she noticed something wrong with a message. There did not appear to be a single letter "L" in the message. This, she concluded, was from a mistake made by the Enigma machine operator which might, she hoped, permit the codebreakers to break into the code. Dashing across to Hut 6 she found one of the mathematicians who volunteered to help her. Together they sat drinking coffee through the night trying to work out the wiring of that Enigma machine's rotors. The helpful mathematician was Keith Batey, her future husband. Thanks to Mavis, with a bit of help from Keith, the Admiralty were now able to keep on top of the Italian Navy's communications and, in so doing, brought about one of the Royal Navy's greatest victories during the Second World War.

ww2dbase In late March 1941 Mavis decoded a message which suggested that the Italian Fleet was preparing to put to sea in three days. The Italian Navy's plan, subsequently revealed from other decrypted messages, was to attack British troopships and their token escorts off the Greek coast. This discovery was passed to the Mediterranean Commander-in-Chief, Admiral Sir Andrew Cunningham, in Alexandria, Egypt, via the Operational Intelligence Centre deep under the Admiralty. Admiral Cunningham was, at first, sceptical about the intelligence (known collectively as "Ultra"), but pressure from above finally convinced him that the intelligence was reliable. The outcome resulted in the defeat of Admiral Angelo Iachino's Fleet at the Battle of Cape Matapan (28-29 March 1941). Outnumbered, outgunned and without radar, the Italians, in a running fight during the night, lost three well-armed armoured cruisers, the Zara, Pola and Fiume together with two destroyers and the loss of 2,400 Italian sailors. Additionally the modern battleship Vittorio Veneto was damaged by a torpedo-bomber from HMS Formidable which holed the hull, damaged a propeller and brought the battleship to a halt. After several hours of frantic pumping and hasty repair work, the Vittorio Veneto was on the move again making her way slowly back to Taranto. For the loss of only one British torpedo bomber the Italian's Regia Marina was effectively put out of the war, making only one more appearance before surrendering to Admiral Cunningham in 1943.

ww2dbase Mavis married Keith Batey in November 1942 at Marylebone Registry Office just before Keith was about to depart to Canada to undertake flying training. Peter Twinn, who worked with Alan Turing, served as the best man. Keith Batey had been studying mathematics at Trinity College, Oxford, when recruited by his lecturer, Gordon Welchman, and brought into Bletchley Park to bolster the codebreaking capability of Knox's ISK section. But, like many young men, he felt that he should be playing a more active part in the war instead of having a safe job in the English countryside. Not surprisingly his superiors were not enthusiastic about risking the potential capture one of their experts, and he was therefore refused entry into the RAF (although permitted to train as a Fleet Air Arm pilot where, they expected, should he be shot down he would very likely drown in the sea).

ww2dbase Since the beginning of the war every German spy sent to Britain had been captured and turned. They were now being used to transmit false information to the enemy through the "Double Cross" operation headed by Colonel Tommy "Tar" Robertson of MI5. What the Allied High Command needed to know urgently was whether these fake spy reports were being believed in Berlin. This required the Bletchley codebreakers to break into the sophisticated Abwehr Enigma, which many thought to be unbreakable. By now Dilly Knox was extremely ill with terminal stomach cancer and only made fleeting visits to the Park. Mavis, aged just twenty, would find herself in charge at "The Cottage". On 8 December, 1941, she successfully broke into an Abwehr coded message on a link between Belgrade and Berlin, thereby allowing the codebreakers to construct one of the machine's rotors. Commander Denniston wrote to Stewart Menzies, head of MI6, to let him know of the achievement. Later, she broke another Abwehr machine, the GGG which was used near the Spanish border. From then on, Bletchley was able to read all the high-level messages between the German Intelligence officers running the double agents.

ww2dbase An early success occurred during Operation Mincemeat (generally credited to have been devised by "James Bond" author Ian Fleming), a devious plan to convince the Germans that an Allied Invasion of southern Europe would be aimed at Greece and Sardinia, Italy rather than Sicily, Italy as was intended. Following the death of Dilly Knox his ISK research section had been taken over by codebreaker Peter Twinn with Mavis Lever as a key member of his team. The Abwehr officer in Madrid, Spain were anxious to find out if the documents washed ashore with the body of "Major Martin" were authentic. When, on 14 May 1943, the team decrypted a message from Berlin that indicated the Germans considered the documents to be genuine, the "Double Cross Committee" knew that the Germans had been completely taken in by the deception.

ww2dbase The knowledge that the Germans were accepting all the fake reports provided by their spies in England was absolutely critical for the success of Operation Overlord, the D-Day landings in Normandy, France. By June 1944, Hitler and his generals had been so convinced that the Allied invasion would come in Pas de Calais area that they kept most of their best troops there, expecting an invasion that was not going to come.

ww2dbase At the end of the war Bletchley Park was closed down. Mavis and a number of other girls (including Alan Turing's former fiancé, Joan Clarke) were redeployed to the new Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) at Eastcote in Middlesex (formerly RAF Eastcote which had been an outstation of BP) to work on Russian codes. Mavis left GCHQ in 1947 to start a family. When Keith was appointed to a post at the High Commission in Ottawa, Canada she went with him. With two young daughters and a son Mavis chose to become a stay-at-home parent. In the 1960s Keith became the Chief Financial Officer at Oxford University and the family moved to a house in the university grounds. It was here that Mavis began work on a restoration of the eighteenth-century gardens, which developed into a future career as an expert on garden history.

ww2dbase Mavis Batey would write many books on garden history including Jane Austen and the English Landscape and Alexander Pope: Thee poet and the landscape, plus an affectionate biography of her old boss, Dilly: The Man who broke Enigma. She was honoured with an MBE in 1985 for her work on protecting historic gardens, having received no recognition for her many remarkable achievements at Bletchley Park during the war. Keith Batey passed away in 2010 and Mavis died in 2013.

ww2dbase Sources:
Michael Smith: The Debs of Bletchley Park (Aurum Press, 2015)
Michael Smith: The Secrets of Station X (Biteback Publishing, 2011)
Michael Kerrigan: How Bletchley Park Won World War II (Amber Books, 2018)
Charles Stuart: Ultra at the Battle of Matapan (War Monthly Magazine, August 1981)
Max Hastings: The Secret War (William Collins Publishers, 2015)
Sinclair McKay: Bletchley Park-The Secret Archives (Autum Press, 2016)
Katharine Marsh (Editor): Story of World War II (Future PLC, Bournemouth, 2018)

Last Major Revision: Jul 2020

5 May 1921 Mavis Lever was born in Dulwich, London, England, United Kingdom.
8 Dec 1941 Mavis Batey successfully broke into a German Abwehr coded message on a link between Belgrade, Yugoslavia and Berlin, Germany, thereby allowing the codebreakers to construct one of the Enigma Machine.
12 Nov 2013 Mavis Batey passed away.

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Regency Gardens

First published 1995 in Great Britain by Princes Risborough (Bucks.) : Shire Publications Ltd.

ISBN: 0747802890, 9780747802891

96 pages lavishly illustrated with photos as well as period drawings and paintings in both color and bl&w

Excerpt (Introduction):

Eighteenth-century taste was aristocratic, sanctioned by such arbiters as Lord Burlington, Addison, Pope, Hogarth and Burke. Regency taste was more flexible and intuitive and embraced a much wider and more democratic society. In place of pediments, porticoes and Palladian stairways, Regency houses had striped canopies, verandahs, balconies and ornamental ironwork and, as an accompaniment to the light playfulness of the architecture, more 'dressed' grounds near the house, with sinuous shrubberies, flowerbeds, trellis and ornate garden seats. Garden design no longer depended on extent of property for effect, as in the days of 'Capability' Brown, and estate priorities had to be reassessed to meet the cost of living in the Napoleonic Wars and increased taxation.

Review

Gardens became increasingly important in the Regency era. The typical open landscape garden we today refer to as an English Garden fell out of favor and people once again discovered flowers! Humphry Repton was the garden designer in the forefront of the movement turning open lawns into garden 'rooms' through the use of shrubs, thickets and herbaceous borders. All was laid out in a pleasingly manner reminiscent of classical paintings, the pinnacle of the cultivation of the picturesque.

This and much more we learn from Mavis Batey's discourse in Regency Gardens. She manages on a scant ninety-six pages to cover her subject well. We discover Nash, the premier architect of the day, and follow along the building of the Brighton Pavilion, visit the gardens of stately homes, such as Mount Edgcumbe and Drummond Castle, view the development of Regent's Park, the seaside squares at Kemp Town and the layout of the first public park. All this lavishly illustrated with paintings, old photographs, drawing and etchings that makes the period come alive.

If you want an overview of the movers and shakers of the time, the most influential gardening literature and the best examples of the style picturesque that dominated the Regency era, this is the book for you. The text is more geared toward those with an interest in gardens and gardening, while the many illustrations makes the book accessible to all.


Dilly : The Man Who Broke Enigmas

The highly eccentric Alfred Dillwyn Knox, known simply as 'Dilly', was one of the leading figures in the British codebreaking successes of the two world wars. During the first, he was the chief codebreaker in the Admiralty, breaking the German Navy's main flag code, before going on to crack the German Enigma ciphers during the Second World War at Bletchley Park.

Here, he enjoyed the triumphant culmination of his life's work: a reconstruction of the Enigma machine used by the Abwehr, the German Secret Service. This kept the British fully aware of what the German commanders knew about Allied plans, allowing MI5 and MI6 to use captured German spies to feed false information back to the Nazi spymasters.

Mavis Batey was one of 'Dilly's girls', the young female codebreakers who helped him to break the various Enigma ciphers. She was called upon to advise Kate Winslet, star of the film Enigma, on what it was like to be one of the few female codebreakers at Bletchley Park. This gripping new edition of Batey's critically acclaimed book reveals the vital part Dilly played in the deception operation that ensured the success of the D-Day landings, altering the course of the Second World War.


Mavis Lilian (Lever) Batey (1921 - 2013)

Mavis Lilian Batey was an English code-breaker during World War II. Her work at Bletchley Park was one of the keys to the success of D-Day. She later became a garden historian, who campaigned to save historic parks and gardens, and an author.

Mavis Lilian Lever was born in Dulwich, London on 5 May 1921. Her birth was registered in Camberwell in the second quarter of 1921 [1] . She was the daughter of Fred Lever, a postal worker, and Lily E. Day, a seamstress.

Mavis married another codebreaker, Keith Batey, in Marylebone, London in 1942 [2] .

Batey studied German at University and was recruited to work at Bletchley Park at the outset of World War II. She played a major part in the breaking of the Enigma machine.

After a period in the diplomatic service, Batey dedicated herself to saving historic parks and gardens. For this work, she was awarded the Veitch Memorial Medal in 1985, and made a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) in 1987.


Obituary: Mavis Batey

Mavis Batey was a garden historian and conservationist, but unknown to many until recently, was also one of the leading female Bletchley Park codebreakers whose skills in decoding the German Enigma ciphers proved decisive at various points of the war. On the outbreak of war she broke off her German studies to enlist as a nurse, but was told she would be more use as a linguist. She had hoped to be a Mata Hari-esque spy, seducing Prussian officers, but, she said, “I don’t think either my legs or my German were good enough, because they sent me to the Government Code & Cipher School.”

Batey was the last of the Bletchley “break-in” experts – codebreakers who cracked new codes and ciphers. She unravelled the Enigma ciphers that led to victory in the Battle of Cape Matapan in 1941, the Navy’s first fleet action since Trafalgar, and played a key role in breaking the astonishingly complex Abwehr (German secret service) Enigma. Without this, the Double Cross deception plan which ensured the success of D-Day could not have gone ahead.

Born in Dulwich, south-east London, in 1921, Mavis Lilian Lever was the daughter of a postal worker and a seamstress. The family holidayed annually in Bournemouth, but on passing “O” Level German, she persuaded her parents to take her to the Rhineland, which was to spark her interest in the country. She was reading German romanticism at University College London when war broke out. Recruited to the government agency, she worked briefly in London checking the personal columns of The Times for coded messages. Having shown promise, she was sent to Bletchley Park to work with Alfred “Dilly” Knox, whose research unit led the way in breaking Enigma. When she arrived, he greeted her with the words, “Hello, we’re breaking machines. Have you got a pencil? Here, have a go.” After his initial success with Enigma, Knox, the archetypal British eccentric, was working on new, and as yet uncracked, variants.

Batey began working on the updated Italian Naval Enigma machine, checking all new traffic and even the wheels, cogs and wiring to see how it was constructed. She reconstructed the wiring from the machine to discover a major machine flaw that helped her team break even more coded messages. “You had to work it all out yourself from scratch,” she recalled, “but gained the ability to think laterally.” In March 1941 she deciphered a message, “Today’s the day minus three,” which told them that the Italian Navy was up to something.

Batey and her colleagues worked for three days and nights until she decoded “a very, very long message” detailing the Italian fleet’s proposed interception of a British supply convey en route from Egypt to Greece it included their plan of attack, strength – cruisers, submarines – locations and times. “It was absolutely incredible that they should spell it all out,” she recalled. The message was passed to Admiral Andrew Cunningham, commander of the Mediterranean Fleet, giving him the intelligence he needed to intercept the Italians.

He deceived the Japanese consul in Alexandria, who was passing information to the Germans, into thinking he was having the weekend off to play golf. Then under cover of darkness he set sail with three battleships, four cruisers and an aircraft carrier. Over 27-28 March 1941, his forces staged a series of surprise attacks. The Italians lost three cruisers, two destroyers and 3,000 sailors in the Battle of Matapan, never again dared to sail close to the Royal Navy. Cunningham went to Bletchley to thank Knox’s unit, ISK (Intelligence Section Knox).

Arguably, ISK’s most important coup was to break into the Enigma cipher. MI5 and MI6 had captured and identified most of Germany’s spies in Britain and in neutral Lisbon and Madrid, and had “turned” them, using them to feed false information to Germany about the Allies’ proposed invasion of France, in an operation known as the Double-Cross System.

However, no one knew if the Germans believed the intelligence, because Enigma had proven unbreakable. This machine had many millions of settings, as it used four rotors, rather than the usual three, which rotated randomly with no predictable pattern.

Working with Knox and Margaret Rock, Batey tested out every possibility, and in December 1941 broke a message on the link between Berlin and Belgrade, making it possible to reconstruct one of the rotors. Within days, ISK had broken the Enigma – and days later Batey cracked a second Abwehr cipher machine, the GGG, which confirmed that Germany believed the Double Cross intelligence.

British agents fed a stream of false intelligence to German command, convincing it that a US Army group was forming in East Anglia and Kent. Hitler believed the main invasion force would land at Pas-de-Calais rather than in Normandy, leading him to retain two key armoured divisions there. Montgomery’s head of intelligence, Brigadier Bill Williams, later said that without the deception, the Normandy invasion could well have been a disaster.

Mavis married Keith Batey, one of the Bletchley “break-in” experts, after he helped her with a particularly difficult problem. She recalled, “Dilly made no objections to my having sought such help and when I told him I was going to marry the ‘clever mathematician from hut 6’ he gave us a lovely wedding present.”

After the war she launched herself into researching landscape and garden history. She became the driving force behind moves by the Campaign to Protect Rural England, English Heritage and the Garden History Society to preserve historical gardens. She was the latter’s president from 1985 until her death. It was not until the 1970s that the couple were able to tell their own children about their codebreaking. She remarked that her children had always wondered why she was so good at Scrabble.

She was awarded the Royal Horticultural Society’s Veitch Memorial Medal in 1985, and appointed MBE for her conservation of historic gardens. Her books included Jane Austen and the English Landscape (1996) Alexander Pope: Poetry and Landscape (1999) and an affectionate biography of Knox, Dilly: The Man Who Broke Enigmas (2011). In 2001, she advised Kate Winslet on what it was like to be a female codebreaker, for the film Enigma.

Mavis Lilian Lever, codebreaker and conservationist: born London 5 May 1921 MBE 1987 married 1942 Keith Batey (died 2010 two daughters, one son) died 11 November 2013.