Oxford at Bletchley Park

6 March 2018

Linking Oxford and Bletchley Park: Daphne Mary Moss

On my first trip to Bletchley Park, my wife, Mary Heneghan made me aware of our family connection: Mary’s great aunt, Daphne Mary Moss, worked at Bletchley.  Once at the park, we sought out the Bletchley Roll of Honour to confirm that Daphne was on the list and ascertain what information was contained in the database.

The good news is that Daphne was on the list, the bad news is that the roll of honour contained little to go on. The information included a Certificate of Service (View online), information that she was in the service of the Foreign Office, her rank was that of a Temporary Junior Administrative Officer as a Civil Service graduate and that she had attended St Hugh’s College.

We also found that she worked in Hut 10, which formed part of the Government Code and Cipher School at Bletchley Park and in the latter part of the war was the secret intelligence service Codes Section. In 1944 Daphne transferred to work on Jafo, the Japanese Army and Air Force and Intelligence.

As there was little information on Daphne, we set to work finding out more.  Anne Coombs, Daphne’s niece, pointed out that she can be seen at work in Hut 10 (circled in red) in the Roll of Honour” photograph on the Bletchley site.

We further learnt about what Daphne did at Oxford from Amanda Ingram, Archivist at St Hugh’s College: Daphne’s entry in St Hugh’s published register reads as follows:

1481[1484] MOSS, Daphne Mary, b. 10.02.1921, dau. of Arthur Jones Moss, bank official,  d. 06.03.1971. St Paul’s Girls’ School, London. St Hugh’s 1939-42. Mod. Langs (French and German), BA Hons I (1942), MA (1946). Hurry Prize (1942).*

Post at Air Ministry (1942); Cultural Relations Dept, Foreign Office (1945-7); as member of Youth Dept of National Council of Social Service, loaned to World Assembly of Youth (HQ in Brussels) as asst to Gen. Sec. (1949); Enquiries asst, Picture Post Photographic Library (1950); asst librarian, Picture Post Library of illustrations (1951).

*The Hurry Prize was established in 1919 from a gift by Dr & Mrs Hurry of Westfield, Reading, in the name of their daughter, Gladys, who matriculated in 1915. It was to be awarded to the St Hugh’s student who had earned the highest distinction on their course.

Further information from Anne Coombs informed us that as a result of Daphne’s language skills (she got a first in modern languages at Oxford). She would have been responsible for listening to the German air pilots, who used code words and coded maps, which had to be interpreted and translated by those at Bletchley.

The resulting information about the Germans’ activities had to be relayed within seconds to the RAF and Enigma de-coders, ensuring they were kept up-to- date with details about imminent air strikes, which they then communicated to Bomber Command. The information collected by this section was crucial to the British war effort as it enabled the RAF to anticipate where and when air raids would be carried out by the Germans, which they were then often able to intercept and pre-empt.

After the War, Daphne went onto to work for the Foreign Office from 1945-47. As a member of the Youth Department of the National Council of Social Service, she was loaned to the World Assembly of Youth as assistant to the General Secretary, with their HQ in Brussels. After leaving Brussels in 1949, she worked at the Picture Post Photographic Library in London until it closed in 1957.

An email from BBC archivist, Samantha Blake, told us about Daphne’s role at the BBC from 1957 until 1971, just before her death

“According to our Left Staff index, she joined the BBC on 1.8.58 and her last day of duty was 4.2.71. Her job title was Librarian, and she worked at the Radio Times Hulton Picture Library.

I also checked the yearly BBC staff lists. From them, I learned that her job title from 1958 to June 1963 was Deputy Librarian. Then, from Dec 1963 onwards she is listed as Librarian, so she must have been promoted sometime between June and December 1963.”

Post note by Carl Heneghan – Fellow of Kellogg College

Throughout all this time no one will have known of Daphne’s role at Bletchley Park. Even taking a photograph, let alone keeping it, would break strict secrecy rules at Bletchley, and it was only in the 1970s when the secrets of Bletchley Park began to emerge.

It, therefore, seems essential – well it does to me – that Oxford remembers those who had such an influence on the outcome of the war: reflecting on the skills they developed at Oxford and how they were of value at Bletchley. And because the vast majority of those that worked at Bletchley couldn’t tell their story, Oxford should consider its roll of honour to compliment the one at Bletchley – and fill in the bits around the edges.

I hope you enjoyed Daphne’s story, as we certainly enjoyed collating the information – so much so that we’re off to find out a bit more.

Carl Heneghan 
Fellow of Kellogg College and Professor of Evidence-Based Medicine


Thanks to Anne Coombs and Mary Heneghan for providing much of the information for this article, and Samantha Blake, BBC archivist and Amanda Ingram, Archivist at St Hugh’s College, Oxford.

  • Mick

    Hi Carl
    A little help here from your Bletchley Park visiting fellow. By 1942, Hut 10 was the Air Section and given that she was an Air Ministry civil servant this seems a much better fit. She will have been using her German in relation to breaking relatively basic ciphers or intelligence analysis not listening in to pilots, which was not done at Bletchley. Betty Webb who will be taking part in our panel on Thursday 8th also worked on Japanese army systems. So maybe she even knew her!
    Michael Smith