Jean Rooke (nee Valentine), a wartime Bombe operator and a Bombe guide at Bletchley Park has died in Henley, Oxfordshire.
Born in Perth, Scotland, in 1924, Jean joined the WRNS in 1943 and was sent to Bletchley Park to operate the Bombe machines, created by Alan Turing and Gordon Welchman, to find the key settings to the German Enigma cipher machines. Being four feet ten inches, Jean couldn’t reach the top rotors, so they built her a special footstool, something she would joke about even on her final visit to open the Bombe Gallery in The National Museum of Computing in May 2018.
After training on Japanese codes, Jean was posted to Sri Lanka (then Ceylon) and there met her husband Clive, a Royal Navy seafire pilot.
Like almost everyone else, Jean had to keep silent about her work on the Bombe until the 1970s when the first details began to emerge in public. Thereafter, she was an enthusiastic visitor to reunions at Bletchley Park. She became a Bombe volunteer and acted as a Bombe guide for thousands of visitors. In 2011, she demonstrated the Bombe to the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh.
In 2013, she featured in a short video for Google about operating the Bombe.
Her clarity of expression, sharpness of wit and crisp Scottish accent shine through.
In 2018, Jean opened the Bombe Gallery with fellow wartime Bombe operator and Bombe guide Ruth Bourne. Ruth didn’t work alongside Jean during the war but recalls meeting her at Bletchley Park many years later, “We had some interesting reminiscences to exchange and on one occasion we took over operating the Bombe together for the day – and we didn’t break it! However, we didn’t have the physical strength to push the pump (I think that’s what it was called) although she did give me confidence to ‘fix’ a little problem at the back! Confidence was Jean’s hallmark.”
Ruth continued, “I have a very happy memory of being with Jean for the last time when the Bombe was moved to TNMOC and we cut the ribbon together to inaugurate the new installation – the scissors didn’t work but the Bombe did!”
Jean Valentine’s funeral was on Friday 14 June. The Order of Service contained a poem and a puzzle, entitled From crib to crypt.