Joanna Chorley: one of the first computer technicians
Name: Joanna Chorley
DOD: 19th February 2019
Place of Birth: Cirencester, UK
Area of work: Computing & code-cracking
What they did:
Joanna Chorley was a technician at Bletchley Park in World War II, operating Colossus, the world’s first electronic computer. Arriving at the code-cracking centre as a Wren in 1944, she helped decipher top-secret messages from Hitler to his generals. The size of Colossus meant there was a minimum height for workers. Luckily for Joanna, her long arms made up for her small frame and so, working with a cryptographer and another Wren, she adjusted the settings on the complex array of switches and dials and threaded the paper tapes on which coded messages were punched. With some intuition and a little luck, they had a chance of decoding the message to provide information vital to the war effort.
After the war Joanna taught men and women returning from service abroad how to live on civvy street. She never again took a technical role but became a housewife, mother of three, and later a domestic bursar for a number of schools. Like all the men and women who operated, maintained, and designed these first computers, she had to keep her wartime work secret until the 1970s, when stories of Bletchley Park started to emerge. In 2017, over 70 years after she started a Bletchley, her role was recognised with the ‘Bletchley Park commemorative badge’ from GCHQ.
Without them we…
Would certainly have been at war for several more years and may even have been defeated.
To learn more, please visit: Andy Connelly's #technicianjourney Blog
Bonus content: Hear Joanna speak about her experiences in World War II (BBC Three Counties Radio Special)