A remarkable woman who left Argentina for Scarborough during the Second World War finally got to revisit her posting 70 years on.
Sister Pamela Hussey MBE visited GCHQ Scarborough on Friday last week after a personal invitation from the Irton Moor base.
Having seen coverage of Prince Charles’ visit earlier in the year, Sister Hussey, who is now 92, wrote to the prince at Clarence House stating she was based there during the war. Her letter was passed to the base commander, who extended a special invitation for her to come back for a tour – personnel who leave GCHQ are rarely allowed back to visit their places of work.
Speaking to The Scarborough News, she said: “It has changed a lot from my day.
“We used to work underground, listening all day to communications. I knew Morse Code you see, that’s why I was sent to work in Scarborough.”
Sister Hussey was born to English parents in Buenos Aires and, by her own admission, was a regular on the cocktail scene in the city before the outbreak of war.
“We were glued to the coverage of the war when it broke out,” she said.
“When I was 20, in 1942, I set off on a huge boat with many of my friends for England. I just felt I had to be there and to do my part. It was like a big party when we set off, we were given gifts, some of which I still have, and it took five weeks for us to zig zig our way to the UK. We were all young people on the boat but we knew how dangerous the crossing could be.
“We had been told that we were not to stop, even if we saw debris of lifeboats in the water we would not stop for them in case it was a trap.”
To illustrate the perilous nature of the crossing, the boats which set off immediately before and after Sister Hussey’s were both sunk before they reached their destination.
After arriving at her aunt’s in London and getting her ration book, she signed up for the Women’s Royal Naval Service (WRNS) and was sent to Scarborough as a wireless telegraphist.
“I didn’t know the town but I thought it was very pretty when I arrived. We used to get picked up to be taken to and from the base with sailors and I remember they used to sing some very bawdy songs to wind up us girls.”
At work she would listen to incoming communications for hours.
“We would sit in a row in front of these huge banks of machines listening,” she said.
“One day myself and a friend intercepted a message and was told by my boss that ‘if you do nothing else in your time here you have done your war effort’. We never knew what it was but I can only think we were on the U-boat frequency.
“All we were told was that our messages were being sent to ‘Station X’, which we found out years later was Bletchley Park.”
After returning to Argentina in 1945 Sister Hussey said she became alienated from her pre-war life and started reading religious texts for the first time, coming to England in 1950, joining the Society of the Holy Child Jesus to teach languages in its schools.
In 1981 she joined the Catholic Institute for International Relations (CIIR) and, being fluent in Spanish, was immediately asked to take part in an ecumenical mission to Salvadoran refugee camps in Honduras. Thousands of refugees displaced by the Salvadoran Civil War were in the camps and Sister Hussey was make many trips into the wartorn country during her 20 years on the Latin American desk of the CIIR. She witnessed atrocities and lost many friends during the conflict but the sight of the refugees making a life for themselves despite the hardships they had suffered inspired her to write a book, with Marigold Best, called Life Out of Death. She championed human rights causes on the continent and in 2000 was awarded an MBE for her services to Latin America.