Codebreaking Sisters

Our Secret War

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Pub Date 01 May 2021 | Archive Date 28 Jul 2020

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Patricia and Jean Owtram are possibly the only living sisters to have signed the wartime Official Secrets Act. Raised in a Lancashire country house in the 1920s, the family takes in two Austrian Jewish refugees, and the sisters quickly become fluent in German - which will go on to shape their roles for ever. When war breaks out in 1939, Patricia is snapped up by the Wrens and posted to top-secret listening stations along the British coastline. Collaborating with Bletchley Park, she is tasked with intercepting German shipping radio in a bid to crack the seemingly impenetrable Enigma Code. Jean's quick brain for crossword solving lands her a secretive role as Code & Cipher Officer in the First Aid Nursing Yeomanry. At just 18 years of age, Jean is posted to Cairo, before moving on to Italy to aid the Partisan efforts against the Nazis. As the sisters continue to demonstrate their outstanding intelligence, resilience, and fierce determination, the tide of war gradually begins to turn in Britain's favor. This is the astonishing story of persistence, comradeship, and fighting spirit showed by everyday people in bringing the Nazis down.

Patricia and Jean Owtram are possibly the only living sisters to have signed the wartime Official Secrets Act. Raised in a Lancashire country house in the 1920s, the family takes in two Austrian...

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ISBN 9781913406059
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Featured Reviews

Brilliant book loved hearing exactly what the code breakers had to do and the secrets they had to keep. Reminded me of the Bletchley circle but a bit more intense

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What a fabulously intriguing book about these wonderful sisters it just shows how resilient they had to be in these worrying times and how they coped with it. a highly enjoyable experience reading this book
Thank you to netgalley for an early copy in return for an honest review.

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What I appreciated the most about this book was the atmosphere. It felt as if the two sisters were sitting in a living room with me and going back and forth while they told their story. Both sisters kept very thorough remembrances of their experiences during WWII, and shared letters and diary entries with us as they shared with us.
What I couldn't get out of my head is what I assumed to be their class benefit. I do not claim to know much about British class systems both modern and non, but at some point, it was mentioned a gentleman was not to be considered for a romantic partnerships because he was not of the right class. Now, I don't mean to say the sisters sounded snobby, but it was obvious that it certainly did pay to have a godmother who was related to an ambassador (for example). I'm sure it opened doors of opportunities that lower class women would not have gotten. That being said it is evident that neither of the women whittled away whatever opportunity they were provided. They worked hard for their country and for their accolades.
In a later chapter, Jean mentioned that both her and Patricia married when they were older - in their forties, and that their time of independence provided by their positions during wartime contributed to that. It was nice that this memoir was about them (and their family - father especially), and that barely any time was devoted to romance, as so often becomes the case. This was a memoir about strong women made stronger due to the vehicle of war. As we move further and further away in time and events become lost to history, it is important to remember the people forgotten or not even mentioned by textbooks.

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An enjoyable and informative book to read. I learnt a lot about the part women and men took in the second world war. It was well written with the two sisters stories. I recommend you read this book if you want to know more about code breaking and to get more insight into the war activities.

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The wartime experiences of the Owtram sisters are so incredible and darng that this non-fictional account reads like a thrilling fast-paced piece of fiction. I really enjoyed reading the different perspectives of each sister which allowed their individual personalities to shine through. Both Patricia and Jean were engaged in top secret intelligence work which required intelligence, resilience and fortitude. This book is a testament not only to their incredible efforts but also shines a light on the secret efforts of thousands of women during wartime. Thank you Netgalley for the advance review copy.

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would like to thank netgalley and the publisher for letting me read this fascinating book

world war two
2 sisters about to embrace life suddenly have their lives turned around with the advent of war

both enlist and sign the official secrets act and experience life in their service to king and country...though each of them not knowing what the other was doing and a father a prisoner of war.

it was a fascinating read and to realise that they paved the way for women to become more independent and to realise their own worth,

well worth a read

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I am a particular fan of memoirs of ordinary people and this was a great example of two ordinary girls who played their part, alongside millions of others, in the war effort. What makes these sisters slightly unusual is that they were both recruited to work in the "codebreaking" area.
It was a thoroughly enjoyable read - the tone of the story was friendly & chatty, as if they were sitting having tea with you & reminiscing! The diary entries etc made it all the more real.

Stories like this need to be committed to paper asap - they will soon be no longer with us & this fascinating insight into their life would have been lost forever.

Disclosure: I received a copy of this book free via NetGalley - all opinions are my own

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With Codebreaking Sisters there is more than their secret work during the war. This is also stories about upper class living in the period, families, love, girls maturing to women and the wonderful letters that were written by Pat and Jean that shows the art of writing I feel is now sadly missing with our frantic lives.
I would highly recommend this book to young women as an inspiration to believe in yourself and follow your heart. I just loved this book.
This is an independent review thanks to NetGalley / Mirror Books

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Fully enjoyed reading the Owtram sister's story. I loved that the chapters were split between both Jean and Patricia's points of views of their stories.
Definitely made me (an early 20s female) realise just how far society has come with allowing women "bring home the bacon". It's because of women like the Owtram sisters that womens independence and worth was proven useful in society.
Absolutely loved the read and will pass the book round all of my friends! It's a MUST READ.

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Very interesting.

This book is written by two sisters, originally from Lancashire. They write one or two chapters each, and swap over. Some of their letters to each other, as well as to their mum are slotted in as well as normal narrative.

The Second World War broke out when they were kids. So, they were just teenagers when they started doing their bit for the war effort. The two young sisters are away doing their bit for King and country in WW2, not knowing whether their father is alive or dead. He's missing; they know he could die at any moment, or indeed, already be dead.

I wasn't sure I was going to like it at first as there seemed endless 'darlings' and 'mummy darlings' in their letters-it seemed excessive and a kindle search told me darling and darlingest was used 74 times in the book! But I soon got over that as it became very interesting and informative. You get a combination of History and Travel in this memoir, and I enjoyed reading it.

A very interesting account of their experiences.

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This book is based on a true account by two sister Patricia and Jean Owtram. They are believed to be the only living sisters to have signed the official secrets act.

in the 1920's the family take in 2 Austrian jewish refugees and the sister become fluent in German. When the war breaks out in 1939 Patricaia joins the Wrens and supplies blotchily park with critical information. and Jean ends up in the secret life of coding .
This amazing story of the sister's life is one of determination and courage and above all the fighting spirit people of that time showed in terrible times
The book is well written and it felt as though the sisters were actually talking to me and telling me their story.

Many thanks to netgalley for the opportunity to read this book in return for an honest review #netgalley #mirrorbooks

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Codebreaking Sisters: Our Secret War is an intriguing and engaging read that gives you nothing but admiration for what these inspiring and courageous woman did in the war.

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Just finished this book after only taking 2 days to read. Absolutely fascinating. I always wondered about women’s roles in the wars and by gum they were just brave women. This books characters Pat and Jean are two of the many women who volunteered themselves to save their country in dangerous circumstances. It is a day by day account of what each of the sisters did by signing the official secrets act the last two women alive quite poignant for the situation happening now and fitting with the 75 years anniversary of Second World War ending.

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This is a book that I loved and could not put it down.

With all the talk about removing monuments, etc going on at the moment I feel monuments should be erected for wonderful workers like these 2 ladies and books like this should be studied by children as part of their school curriculum.

There are so many stories in the book, along with extracts from their diaries and letters to family. The book is very well written and you get so engrossed in reading that you can imagine that both ladies are in the room with you sharing a coffee as they tell their stories.

If you like history and investigating World War 2 then this is a book you definitely need to check out.

2 amazing Lancashire ladies with so many exciting and interesting stories to tell

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Great story of two sisters and the journeys that they each took during the second World War. Truly inspiring tale of the important role that women played too.

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Codebreaking Sisters: Our Secret War is the story of young sisters Patricia and Jean Owtram and their roles in World War 2.
Coming from what would have once been described as an upper middle class home in rural Lancashire the sisters learn to speak German with the help of 2 Austrian Jewish refugees who work in the family kitchen . This proves fateful and determines their choices when they determine to help the war effort.
Patricia, the eldest,joins the Wrens and finds herself working in various "listening posts" eavesdropping on German Naval shipping radio communications. The younger Jean has to wait until she leaves school before enrolling with the multi-role organisation,ostensibly volunteer medical corps but as she discovers who also played an Intelligence role in both World Wars.
A large part of the book is the the girl's correspondence with each other and with various members of their family and is a fascinating insight into the class system of the day, their strong family ties and life for those playing vital roles in the war in the background with constant partying the order of the day. The letters also underline how young many of those participating in the war were, Jean has to permission from her mother before she is allowed to travel overseas, this in an important Intelligence role! At the age of just 18 she is travelling to Africa and Europe to do her work and seemingly having a great time along the way with parties ,sightseeing and enjoying different cultures along the way.

Because of the secrecy attached to both their roles it was only decades later that Patricia and Jean realised the importance of the work they had done as eager young women and the book is testament to the thousands of backroom girls who are rarely acknowledged when we celebrate those who played their part in defeating Hitler.
As the girls' story is told a potted history of the war runs alongside and this,and the easy to read free-flowing style of the narrative makes it an ideal read for younger people to get a basic overview of the war as well as to appreciate that people their age played a very big part in the war effort.

An entertaining book that is far from being "just a war book" as it's as much about the girls' family, how they were brought up,educated and the role and benefits to those deemed middle and upwards of the class system in the Britain of those times, some of the letters mention ,"our kind of people" .

Thanks to Patricia and Jean Owtram, Mirror Books and Netgalley for the ARC in return for an honest review..

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Patricia & Jean Owtram, sisters born two years apart, have the course of their lives changed completely by the Second World War. After their father becomes a Prisoner of War of the Japanese, Patricia joins the WRNS (Wrens) where she is involved in intercepting messages from the German shipping radio, whilst Jean works overseas in FANY as a Code & Cipher officer.

What lives these two sisters have led - it was enthralling to read about their jobs in WWII. Both sisters have their own chapters and we can see how their careers developed separately but that they kept their strong family bond. The book is written in such a way that it is like having a cozy chat over a cup of tea, with excerpts from their letters to each other and their family members. If I have one criticism it is that sometimes the letters could have been edited down a little in places. Recommended if you want to learn what life was like for young women in the services (WRNS and FANY).

Thanks to NetGalley and publishers, Mirror Books, for the opportunity to read an ARC.

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"This is the astonishing story of persistence, comradeship and fighting spirit showed by everyday people in bringing the Nazis down."

This book is written by two sisters, Patricia and Jean, who are only teenagers when the outbreak of WW2 happens. Both girls are very eager to do their part for the war effort, whist also worrying abut their father, who is also fighting on the front lines and their family at home in Lancashire.

I really enjoyed this book! Anyone that knows me, knows how much I enjoy learning about anything related to WW2 and the 1940's, I got stuck into it straight away, finding it hard to put down. I loved that they incorporated parts of the letters that they sent to each other and members of their family. This gave the book such a personal touch and helped to show how they were real people.

There is so much more than just their secret work during the war, you are really taken of the journey of these two girls growing and becoming women. they are a true inspiration and I cannot recommend this book enough.

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