23 July 2024

Farewell to Bletchley Park veteran Gladys Lewis

by Ray Duffill

The news of the passing of one of Hedon’s oldest residents was conveyed to the congregation of St Augustine’s Church on Sunday.

Gladys Lewis, who was 101, was last seen by most who knew her on the special BBC TV broadcast on June 5 to mark the 80th anniversary of the D-Day landings.

A pre-recorded interview with Mrs Lewis recounted some of her experiences in the WAAF (Women’s Auxiliary Air Force) working at the home of the Second World War codebreakers at Bletchley Park.

Last year, Mrs Lewis was awarded one of the French government’s highest honours, the Legion d’Honneur, for her top-secret work there. This is awarded in recognition of the recipient’s contribution to the liberation of France.

Mrs Lewis was put forward for the honour after two ex-servicemen from Bridlington – Martin Barmby and James Riley – applied to the French government on her behalf.

Mrs Lewis had been Hedon Town Council’s first choice to light the beacon for its D-Day commemorations on June 6, but was too ill to carry out such duties.

Despite her love for the art of conversation, she never spoke about her wartime experiences until very recently, but she had so many other memories and anecdotes to share.

She will be remembered fondly for her life and activity in the town community.

Numerous friends and family paid tribute to her, with one saying she was an “extraordinary and amazing” woman who lived life to the full.

Born Gladys Beckett on May 29, 1923, she was the second of five children growing up in Park Row Cottages in Sproatley.

After school in the village, aged 14, Gladys went to a secretarial college and worked as a secretary before joining the WAAF and training in Morecambe.

During the war, Sergeant Gladys Beckett worked in Hut 3 at Bletchley Park where she would type up the decoded messages so that copies could be sent to those that needed them in the different theatres of war.

Her link with the armed forces continued after the war and she was active in the Women’s Section of the Royal British Legion serving as the president of the East Yorkshire branch and chairman of the Hedon Branch.

After the war, she returned to Sproatley and continued working as a secretary with various employers including 18 years spent at Bilton School and then working for many years at BP Chemicals where she worked until retirement.

She met her future husband Harold Lewis while working at BP, and the newly married couple moved to Hedon in 1970. Mrs Lewis lived in the town ever since.