KRWG

Remembering World War II Code Breaker Jean Annette Watters

Sep 26, 2018
Originally published on September 29, 2018 10:12 am
Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Let's take a moment to remember a Nebraska woman who was an artist, a wife, a mother and a codebreaker whose clandestine work in World War II helped save lives and helped end the war.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Jean Annette Watters was born in England in 1925. At the age of 18, in the midst of the war, she left art school to join the Women's Royal Navy service. From there, she was recruited into a top-secret program codenamed ULTRA. The mission was to decode German military messages. The history is retold in the movie "The Imitation Game."

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE IMITATION GAME")

MARK STRONG: (As Stewart Menzies) If you speak a word of what I'm about to show you, you will be executed for high treason.

KEIRA KNIGHTLEY: (As Joan Clarke) And what is it that we're really doing?

BENEDICT CUMBERBATCH: (As Alan Turing) We're going to break an unbreakable Nazi code and win the war.

KNIGHTLEY: (As Joan Clarke) Oh.

ROBIN WATTERS: The British authorities picked the right person.

KELLY: Robin Watters - that would be Jean Watters' son - says she never told anyone about her codebreaking work - not even her husband - until the program was declassified in the 1970s.

WATTERS: It was tough. She was so scared of slipping up and losing this secret. For an 18-year-old - unbelievable.

CORNISH: He says his mother, to the end, was loyal to country and queen. She's steadfastly refused to become a U.S. citizen despite pleas from her husband, an American fighter pilot, a decorated veteran himself. Robin Watters eulogized his mother and wove British touches into her service.

WATTERS: I wanted to make sure that as best we could in Nebraska to try to do some things in accordance with the British military tradition.

KELLY: The British military sent two pallbearers. Her coffin was draped in the Union Jack and they played the British equivalent of taps.

(SOUNDBITE OF MILITARY TAPS)

CORNISH: Robin Watters says his mother's story is a reminder of the work all veterans have done to secure our freedoms, often at great peril to themselves.

WATTERS: I think it's important for people to hear about it and remind them that we're really blessed to have these kind of people around.

KELLY: A son remembering his mother, Jean Watters, a World War II codebreaker. She died earlier this month at the age of 92. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.