Rena Stewart obituary


Rena Stewart, who has died aged 100, labored on the Bletchley Park codebreaking centre in the course of the second world conflict and subsequently helped to interrogate German intelligence officers. She additionally translated Adolf Hitler’s will, earlier than happening to change into a pioneering feminine journalist with the BBC.

Stewart studied French and German on the College of St Andrews earlier than becoming a member of the Auxiliary Territorial Service, the feminine equal of the military, and in early 1944 she was posted to Bletchley Park. Her fluency in German led to her being put to work in a small sub-section of Bletchley’s guide room, the place deciphered German military and air drive messages have been collated in guide type to offer reference paperwork for long-term intelligence evaluation.

Stewart and her two colleagues needed to work out what was within the gaps in messages that had not been absolutely intercepted or deciphered. “The three of us have been allotted just a little aspect room off the principle workplace,” she stated. “We have been instructed to not make too many wild guesses about what was lacking, however it was normally fairly apparent. It was very thrilling. I believe essentially the most attention-grabbing factor I ever received to kind was going on to Hitler.” That message was from Discipline Marshal Albert von Kesselring who, with the allied forces approaching the Rhine, had simply taken over as commander-in-chief on the western entrance.

On the finish of the conflict Stewart was despatched to work on the Mixed Providers Detailed Interrogation Centre in Unhealthy Nenndorf, 12 miles west of Hanover, to help within the interrogation of captured German intelligence officers. Her position was to transcribe the interrogations into English, however her most memorable second got here when she and a colleague got Hitler’s will to translate.

“There should be no errors,” they have been instructed: “Make sure that it’s completely good.” There was one specific phrase that Stewart and her colleague stumbled over: Hitler had requested that the executor of his will, Martin Bormann, his private secretary, needs to be allowed to take pleasure in a “kleinen bürgerlichen” life.

“We have been very puzzled as to learn how to translate it,” stated Stewart. “The dictionary we consulted outlined it as ‘decrease middle-class’ however we didn’t assume ‘decrease middle-class’ had fairly the precise ring about it. So we determined to translate it as ‘petit bourgeois’.”

The British intelligence officer – and eventual Oxford professor – Hugh Trevor-Roper had tracked the ultimate actions of Hitler as a way to affirm he was useless. When he printed his investigation as a bestselling guide, The Final Days of Hitler (1947), Stewart was thrilled to see the official translation was hers, together with the time period “petit bourgeois”.

Rena was born within the Fife village of Lundin Hyperlinks to Thomas, a financial institution worker, and his spouse, Andrewina (nee Williamson); she had one sister, Isobel. She went to St Andrews in 1940, gained her diploma three years later, joined the military as a volunteer and, after fundamental coaching, was despatched to Bletchley.

Having risen to the rank of sergeant, she left the military in 1947 to hitch the BBC’s German Service, which employed quite a lot of actors who had fled from Germany. Stewart translated Ibsen and Shakespeare performs for them to be broadcast to occupied Germany. Nonetheless, her intention was at all times to change into a journalist, and when the BBC Monitoring Service, based mostly at Caversham Park, Berkshire, provided her a submit listening in to Radio Moscow’s English language service, she gratefully accepted, staying there for 10 years.

The Monitoring Service didn’t simply report back to the BBC. It additionally fed info to the British authorities, and had an trade settlement with the CIA’s International Broadcast Data Service, which had a bureau on the primary ground at Caversham Park. “They have been there purely from an intelligence viewpoint,” Stewart stated. “They have been working for the CIA, telling America what we have been doing. I believe that was a bit hush-hush, you understand.”

Whereas on the Monitoring Service, Stewart was repeatedly turned down for jobs within the BBC World Service newsroom at Bush Home in London, however finally she managed to acquire a submit there as a subeditor. When she arrived she discovered there was a widespread view that it was not a job for ladies, and that “the person in cost on the newsroom thought ladies have been garbage”.

However she fought her nook, and in time a brand new editor inspired her to use for promotion to chief subeditor. As soon as she had that job, she secured successive promotions to the submit of senior responsibility editor, accountable for particular person shifts, changing into the primary girl to achieve that grade within the World Service.

She retired from the BBC in 1983, after which she loved going to the theatre and listening to music, notably German lieder, and was for a very long time an elder at St Andrew’s United Reformed Church in Ealing, west London, the place she edited the church journal, ran a Scottish nation dance group and organised an annual Burns Evening dinner.

Whereas at Bletchley, Stewart had developed a detailed relationship with a male colleague who was eager to get married, however she by no means wished to be a housewife – as she would have needed to change into in these days – and most well-liked to focus on her profession.

She is survived by her nephew, Stewart.


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