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The Rose Code

Recap & Book Summary



The Quick Recap and Section-by-Section Summary for The Rose Code by Kate Quinn are below. Spoiler warning: these summaries contains spoilers.

For a non-spoiler version of the plot synopsis, see The Bibliofile's review of The Rose Code by Kate Quinn.

Quick(-ish) Recap

The one-paragraph version of this: Three women (Beth, Osla, Mab) work on various aspects of codebreaking in Bletchley Park ("BP") during WWII. Beth learns there is a traitor at BP, but she gets hauled off to an asylum so that she can't report it. The womens' friendship also splinters at the end due to Beth not warning the others (because they take an oath of secrecy) about a raid that kills Mab's husband and child. Years later, Beth calls upon the other women for help to get her out before she's scheduled for a lobotomy. Together, and by calling in a bunch of former BP cryptographers as reinforcements, they get Beth out and decode the messages (the titular Rose Code) needed to identify and arrest the traitor.


In 1947, years after WWII, two women are contacted by a third woman, Beth Finch, who has been institutionalized in the Clockwell Sanitarium. Beth says she knows they hate her, but she needs their help. She claims a traitor set her up to declared crazy when she discovered proof of their treason. She asks them to come rescue her.

Back in 1940, Osla Kendall, 18, and Mab Churt, 21, are women who get recruited to work at Bletchley Park ("BP") at the Government Code & Cypher School. Collectively, they work on decoding German communications that have been encrypted with variations of a cipher device called the Enigma machine. Their work is highly secretive and revealing anything is considered treason.

Osla is an upper-class debutante, who starts seeing Prince Philip of Greece just before he ships off to war and she goes to BP. Mab comes from humble means, where she lives with her mother and much younger sister, Lucy, 4. At BP, Osla starts off doing secretarial work, but moves into translating German. Mab works in the decoding room (where they punch in messages to be decoded) and later works on running machines that test out settings to decode messages, called bombe machines.

Osla and Mab are billeted at the house of the Finches, where they meet Beth, 26, who lives with her parents. Beth soon gets recruited into BP to work with Dilly Knox's team of female cryptographers, doing extremely challenging decryption work. The three women bond over books and start a literary society, which they name the Mad Hatters Tea Party. Eventually, Osla and Mab help Beth to stand up to her overbearing and manipulative mother, and the three move into a flat together.

As time passes, Beth eventually gets involved with a man named Harry Zerb, who is legally married but he and his wife are only together for the sake of the child. Osla continues to see Philip, but she's told to break things off with him due to his Nazi familial connections. Soon after, there's rumors of Philip and Princess Elizabeth being romantically linked. One night when she is in London, Osla ends up in the midst of an air raid, and she is helped by a man who gives her his overcoat. She later finds the name "J. P. E. C. Cornwell" in the coat's lapel. Meanwhile, Mab meets and marries a good and loving man, Francis Gray. She's also able to reveal to him that Lucy is actually her daughter, not her sister, and he is supportive.

In November 1942, Mab and Francis are set to move to Coventry with Lucy, and Osla will be visiting, too, to help with Lucy. Beth deciphers a message about an upcoming air raid in Coventry, but does not say anything as it's against the rules to share details of their work. When the sirens go off, Osla accidentally lets go of Lucy's hand and she runs off. As soon as Francis finds Lucy, a bomb falls before they can make it to a shelter, and both Francis are Lucy are killed.

Mab blames Osla for their deaths, fracturing their friendship, and Mab drinks excessively following Francis's death. Around the same time, Dilly, Beth's mentor and supervisor, dies of cancer. Beth sees that Dilly's last project was trying to crack a Soviet Enigma code, and she's determined to finish deciphering it.

By June 1944, the tides of the war have turned, and the Invasion of Normandy is planned. Beth finally cracks the Soviet cipher (which she nicknames the Rose Code based on it's complicated structure), only to learn from it that there was a traitor in their midst. However, before she can report her findings, Beth is denounced by someone as having broken down mentally and is taken to the Clockwell Sanitarium. Osla and Mab have also just learned that Beth knew about the Coventry raid and in their anger and feelings of betrayal, they fail to defend Beth vigorously when questioned about her. Beth is locked up for the next three and a half years.

By November 1947, Beth manages to get the messages asking for help out to Osla and Mab. Osla is now engaged and working as a magazine columnist. Mab is married with two kids. Meanwhile, Beth is scheduled to have a lobotomy performed which happens to be the day after the royal wedding between Prince Philip and Princess Elizabeth. Giles Talbot, one of the BP cryptographers and their friend from the book club, comes to see Beth and admits that he was the traitor. He says he can get her out, but will only do it if Beth agrees to turn over any evidence she has of his treason. Beth refuses. He says she has until the lobotomy to change her mind.

With a little over a week before the lobotomy is scheduled, Osla and Mab finally show up to Clockwell. They talk to Beth and realize she is telling the truth, though Osla is shocked by the revelation because Giles is her fiancé. Still, by causing a distraction and stealing a set of keys, they help her to escape. From there, they need to get evidence that affirmatively identifies Giles as the traitor before he learns Beth has escaped (which he'll know when he checks in on her the day of her scheduled lobotomy). They retrieve the rest of the files encrypted with the Rose Code, and Beth gets to work on decoding it.

With only a few days left, Mab gets the idea to call Beth's old cryptography colleague, Harry, who had believed her to be dead. Harry calls in a bunch of other people and soon one of them is able to get access to the machinery they need, a bombe machine and an Enigma machine. They bring in a bombe technician that turns out to be Mab's husband, and they realize they've both been keeping their histories secret due to the oath of secrecy they took.

The cryptographers crack the code and they get the evidence they need against Giles just after midnight on the day of the royal wedding. After an extended interlude, they are able to apprehend Giles, though everyone gets arrested. Osla happens to be wearing Mr. Cornwell's coat (which she kept all these years), so he gets called in (the police assume he is her husband) and they finally meet again. Osla then phones her ex-beau, Prince Philip, to help untangle this mess.

In the end, Beth is free and back together with Harry. She also has an offer to continue working on codebreaking for the government. Mab and her husband are able to have a closer relationship now that they know about each others' pasts. And Osla marries Mr. Cornwell and pursues a career as a magazine columnist. The book ends with the announcement of Bletchley Park reopening (as a tourist destination) in 2014.

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Section-by-Section Summary

Introduction

The book opens by setting the scene in the Autumn of 1939. Hitler seems unstoppable and the Germans are encrypting their communications with a cipher device called Enimga which they deemed “unbreakable”, but “they were wrong”.

Prologue

(November 8, 1947)

Years after the war, the wedding of Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip is soon to be the event of the season. However, thinking back to her romantic history with Philip, Osla Kendall, 26, plans to attend but wishes she could skip the event altogether.

That afternoon, a cryptogram arrives in the post at Osla’s flat in London. Addressed from the Clockwell Sanitarium, she recognizes immediately that it’s a message from her former friend and fellow codebreaker who ended up in the sanitarium. She immediately calls another woman in Yorkshire, who has received the same message.

While Osla now writes for Tatler, back then, the three of them had worked on code-breaking in Bletchley Park (“BP”) during the war, until their partnership and friendship had disintegrated into betrayal. Now, one of them needs their help.

Eight Years Ago

Chapters 1 – 4 (December 1939 – June 1940)

In Yorkshire, Mabel “Mab” Churt, 21, is listening to the radio with her mother as her little sister Lucy, 4, runs around. Mab and her six siblings had all grown up with humble means. Lucy was a late addition to the family. Mab has recently finished a secretarial course and intends to find a desk job. She wonders if England joining the war against Germany will bring other job opportunities. As a matter of practicality, Mab also hopes to marry a good husband who can help to provide for Lucy.


In London, Osla, 18, is just stared a new job, working on planes. With the war starting, Osla had been sent to Montreal for her safety, but Osla had stubbornly found her way back to England. To express her disapproval, Osla’s mother cut her off financially. So, now Osla is working, along with her, friend, Sarah “Sally” Norton. Sally and Osla share the same godfather, Lord Mountbatten.

Tonight is New Years, so Osla heads to Claridge’s. Her mother has fixed her up on a date with a man who turns out to be Prince Philip of Greece. Lord Mountbatten is Philip’s uncle. The two hit it off. Philip explains that, despite his Greek ancestry, he grew up here, and he’s too far down the line of succession to ever become king. Meanwhile, Osla explains that she was born in Canada and grew up with a German governess, so she had a German accent as a child. Philip suggests that her language skills could make her useful in the war office.


By June of 1940, one country after another has fallen to German control, with France being the most recent. Mab is on a train headed to Bletchley station after having received a new job posting. Soon, passengers filer off until only one other is left, Osla.

When Mab and Osla reach the station, they’re ushered to a mansion home. There, they are greeted by Giles Talbot, who says that the man in charge here is Commander Denniston. Denniston explains that the nature of the work here is highly secretive and disclosing anything about it would be considered treason. After they accept their post, he explains that Bletchley Park is the location of the Government Code & Cypher School (nicknamed the Golf, Cheese, and Chess Society).


Beth Finch, 24, and her mother live near Bletchley Park. They were informed recently that they’d be required to take on two female boarders in their spare bedroom. As they wait for the women due to arrive, Beth completes a crossword. Soon, Mab and Osla arrive. Beth goes up to bring them tea, and the three women are soon launched into a conversation about Thackeray’s Vanity Fair, which Beth happened to be reading that morning.

Twelve Days Until the Royal Wedding

Chapter 5 (November 8, 1947)

Beth has now been imprisoned in the sanitarium for three and a half years. The doctor refers to her as “Miss Alice Liddell” and forces pills on her all day long, which she has learned to vomit back up. Last week, she finally managed to get her letters out, asking for help.

In London, Osla has just gotten off the angry call with Mab, who refused to meet with Osla. She thinks of the works “You owe me” in Beths’s message. Osla decides to head to York to find Mab.

Seven Years Ago

Chapters 6 – 8 (June 1940)

As Osla gets introduced to her work, she and a bunch of other women are assigned to sort, log and organize various German communications. The undecipherable stuff is sent off to others (“boffins”, or the “brainy boys”) to be deciphered. Her supervisor is Miss Senyard. Osla finds herself disappointed that her job mostly consists of punching holes and binding papers together. Meanwhile, Osla has been writing to Philip, though they’d only spent a few weeks together before he’d been shipped off.

Mab soon learns that the response to most of her questions about her work is that “you dinnae need to know”. Mab works in the Decoding Room, where her job is to align the settings each day on a machine (since the Germans change their keys daily) and then punch the coded messages in to be decoded. The messages are divided up into different colors (Red, Blue, Green, Yellow), each referring to different types of messages. Red, for example, refers to German air force communications. After Mab and her team do their work, the decoded messages (all in German) are sent to others to be translated into English.

In a room nearby, Mab finds Giles and a roomful of other men. She deducts that these must be the “brainy boys”, likely all well-educated with fancy degrees. She wonders if one of them could be a potential husband. She invites Giles to join her and Osla for a book club (which they name the Bletchley Park Literary Society) and tells him to bring other guys. Later, Mab invites Beth as well.

The Literary Society convenes on Sunday at the bar of The Shoulder of Mutton inn. Beth is scared of what her mother will say about her being there, but Mab ignores her protests. Beth meets Harry Zarb, a tall darker-skinned man who is Maltese, Egyptian, and Arabic. When the three women finally return to the Fincher home much later, smelling of alcohol, Mrs. Finch guilts and chastises Beth, leaving her sobbing with tears. Beth’s mom also pinches her arm, leaving a bruise.

Chapters 9 – 11 (July 1940 – August 1940)

By July, Osla is vey bored with her work. She finds reading messages about the German preparations to attack England very depressing as well. Osla hears that some “brainy” girls get picked to work with Dillwyn “Dilly” Alfred Knox, which sparks her curiosity. Meanwhile, in his letters, Philip writes about being transferred to a new ship, and Osla worries about his safety.

Mab has now gone on four dates with a man named Andrew Kempton. One night, as Osla and Mab are walking in the middle of the street, and they nearly collide with a vehicle. The driver turns out to be a Mr. Gray, and Mab invites him to their book club.

All the while, Beth hasn’t spoken to them since the night at the inn, feeling too shamed by her mother. However, Osla gets the idea to have Beth apply for a job at BP, given her skill at crosswords. In August, Beth is accepted and her interviewer, Commander Bradshaw, offers her up to Dilly Knox’s team for a trial. Very quickly, Beth is told that she’ll be doing cryptography and is introduced to the team. Margaret “Peggy” Rock, 35-ish, offers to show her the ropes.

Chapters 12 – 13 (September 1940)

By September, the book club is now called the Mad Hatters Tea Party, deemed “less pompous”. Beth runs into Harry at BP, who recognizes her from the book club and introduces her to Alan Turing, who they call “Prof“. Beth’s parents still disapprove of her work, and Beth feels unsure of herself. However, as Peggy helps to explain some of the tricks they use in cryptography and the flaws in Enigma they can exploit, Beth makes her first breakthrough by cracking an Italian Enigma code they’ve been struggling with.

Dilly invites Beth for a proper meal to celebrate, bring her to his house where his wife offers to make her an omelet. Dilly explains that he hired only women on the team because he finds that they’re good at this work and easier to work with. They also talk a little about their attempts to crack the daily-changing German Enigma codes, as Dilly explains how the Polish efforts had contributed to their work. He says that the information they’ve gotten is used very carefully to ensure the Germans don’t know they’ve cracked it.


On the radio, it’s announced that the Germans are bombing London. Harry says that he was hoping to enlist, but no one here will ever be eligible to enlist; it risks them being captured, and they know too much.

Mab wants to go back to London to see her family, but her request is denied, since everyone is requesting the same thing. She calls her mom to tell her to ship Lucy out of London, but her mother refuses since she doesn’t want the Germans to dictate her life. Back at the Finches house, she cries, but Beth reassures her that recent communications indicate that the Germans are pushing back their invasion until spring at the earliest. Afterwards, Beth reminds them they can’t tell anyone.

Eleven Days Until the Royal Wedding

Chapter 14 (November 9, 1947)

Osla calls her fiancé to let him know she’s going out of town for a few days. She had accepted the proposal out of necessity. After Philip’s engagement, the media developed a sudden interest in her (as his wartime ex), but portrayed her as a jilted, still-unmarried “object of pity”. She’d been happily living the single life with a string of beaus until then, but found herself desperate for an engagement all of a sudden.

At Clockwell, Beth thinks about the information she’d written in her letter to Osla and Mab. At Bletchley Park, there had been a traitor, selling information during the war. Beth had determined it was someone in her section, but before she could report it, they’d gotten her locked up. She knows Osla and Mab “hate” her, but she needs their help.

Six Years Ago

Chapters 15 – 17 (March 1941)

One nigth, Osla goes to the Café de Paris in London to meet up with a friend, Charlie, who is on shore leave from the navy. But, the Café gets bombed that night by the Germans (as part of the Blitz), and Osla finds herself crawling through rubble with Charlie’s dead body nearby. Then, looters descend on the scene. A man helps Osla to get rid of a looter and gives her his coat. Later, she sees the coat belongs to a “J. P. E. C. Cornwell”.


There’s a rumor bulletin going around called the Bletchley Bletherings, about gossip around BP. It’s reported that Andrew Kemp has been stringing along two women at once. When Mab finds out he’d had someone else on the side all along, she’s angry and disappointed.

One day, Mab gets pulled in to work in the operators hut, since they need tall people. She was reluctant to leave the decoding room, since she’d gotten good at her job, but it wasn’t optional. She’s brought into a room where she’ll be operating large machines called “bombe machines”. These are able to test out various potential setting for the Enigma code much more quickly than humans are capable of. Since each cipher has a bunch of possible settings, figuring out the correct set of settings is crucial for decoding the messages. Mab is paired up with a woman named Wren Stevens to work on one machine, which they’ve dubbed “Agnus Dei” or Aggie.

Later, as Mab thumbs through a book of poetry, she runs into the man who she’d nearly gotten into an accident with. When he asks her about the book, she’s dismissive of the writer, Francis Gray. It turns out that he’s the author (as well as a Foreign Official), but he asks her out to dinner anyway.


At work, Beth translates a message that says that “Today 25 March 1941 is the day minus three”, which alarms her. Soon, they’re swamped with urgent messages to decrypt. They know something big is happening. The women work tirelessly until Dilly finally says they’re out of time. He translates the parts they have, and it’s enough to reveal an upcoming battle plan for a large attack on a British convoy. Beth volunteers to transmit the message to the Admiralty.

When she finally goes home for the first time in three days, there is a small dog huddled in the rain outside. Beth decides to take it inside. Her mother protests but Beth finally ignores her and takes the schnauzer, Boots, up to her room.

Eleven Days Until the Royal Wedding

Chapter 18 (November 9, 1947)

At the sanitarium, Beth learns they’re planning on giving her a lobotomy. Meanwhile, Osla has just arrived in York. Mab tries to brush her off, but Osla says they need to figure out if Beth is telling the truth or if she’s crazy.

Six Years Ago

Chapters 19 – 21 (April 1941 – May 1941)

At BP, Mab and Osla wonder who’s writing the Bletchley Bletherings gossip column. Mab goes out to her dinner with Francis, who seems to be more interested in companionship than romance. Meanwhile, Osla writes to J. P. E. C. Cornwell. She tried to send his coat back, but was informed he’d been shipped overseas. Instead, she leaves a note with his landlady, encouraging him to reach out when he returns. Osla also wonders if Philip is alright, having not heard from him in a while.

Osla finally tells Miss Senyard that she’d like to be transferred to a job where she can put her language skills to use. Miss Senyard agrees to get her translate German. Sally also works at BP now, and Osla suggests transferring her as well. Later, Osla goes to Harry’s house where he and his wife Sheila Zarb are hosting that night’s Tea Party. Osla sees that their son Christopher, 3, has Polio. When Beth shows up, Giles muses to Osla that he thinks Beth and Harry have crushes on each other, despite Harry being married.

Secretly, Osla thinks about what she’ll write in the next Bletchley Bletherings column (so we find out here that Osla is the anonymous gossip columnist).


In May, Dilly Knox’s team of cryptographers finally have a chance to celebrate their victory in helping to evade the March attack. They’re congratulated by Dennison and Admiral Cunningham Later, Beth teaches Mab and Osla how to do a Vigenère cipher. Then, Mab and Osla help dress up Beth so they can go to a dance in Bedford. Beth ends up dancing with Harry as they chat about cryptography.

Eleven Days Until the Royal Wedding

Chapter 22 (November 9, 1947)

In the sanitarium, Beth tries to get information on what exactly a lobotomy is by giving an orderly a blow job, something she’s learned to do to get things she needs.

In York, Mab checks on Lucy and her 18-month-old son Eddie. She thinks about her husband, her nice house and the life she’s built. She knows that trying to help Beth could land her in prison, and she tries to convince herself that Beth’s allegations of a traitor are the ramblings of a crazy person.

Six Years Ago

Chapters 23 – 26 (May 1941 – August 1941)

After the dance, the girls tease Beth about dancing with Harry, while also warning her about getting attached to a married man. When Mab talks about men wanting sex from women, both Osla and Beth don’t really know what it is, so Mab gives them a mini sex-ed lesson. When Osla says that she doesn’t think the men she knows (gentlemen) would use women for sex, Mad warns her not to be so naive. Mab thinks back to a guy she dated when she was 17, Geoffrey Irving, who had invited his gentleman friends to rape her in the backseat of a car. Mab had successfully fought them off.

Osla then finally tells them more about Philip. Beth freezes up momentarily when Osla mentions that she last heard from Philip when he was on the Matapan (naval vessel), since she knows her work led that ship into a naval battle, but she doesn’t say anything. The women also started leaving each other messages using the ciper that Beth taught them, always with LASSIES as the key word, and Mab plans a third date with Francis.


In June, Dilly tells Beth and the rest of the team they’ve been reassigned to work on German military intelligence ciphers, which are coded with a four-wheeled Enigma machine (instead of the typical three-wheeled one), making it tougher to crack.

Later, she takes a break and runs into Harry at the chemist’s (pharmacist). The chemist’s wife gives Harry a hard time for being able-bodied and not in uniform (i.e. not fighting in the war), though he’s unable to say anything in response. Beth ends up asking Harry for advice on trying to crack a machine with 4-letter indicators.


Osla finally gets a letter from Philip, saying he’s in town. She goes to London to see him. When they reunite, it’s been a year since she’s seen him. They kiss as the lights go out and an air raid siren goes off. Philip is in town for a few months, and for that time Osla spends her free time shuttling back and forth to see him when she has a chance.

Chapters 27 – 29 (September 1941)

In September, Winston Churchill comes to visit BP. Mab demonstrates to him how the bombe machine works. She also sees that Francis Gray is there, who she hasn’t seen in a few months. As she catches up with Francis, she’s shocked when he proposes to her. She says yes. Francis will be in America for the next few months, but they agree to get married when he returns. He buys her a ruby engagement ring.

Meanwhile, Beth has been working fruitlessly with the rest of her team for months, unable to crack the German intelligence ciphers encrypted with the Abwehr Enigma (also known as the Spy Enigma) which frequently changes its settings. After endless work, in early December, they finally manage to decrypt one message. As the women in the hut celebrate and Beth heads home to sleep, Beth hears from others that the Americans have finally joined the war.

Beth cries tears of joy, but then finds out that her mother has gotten rid of her dog. Mab, Osla Beth immediately go out searching for Boots until Mab finds him. When Beth gets home and her mother continues to complain about the dog, Beth reach up and slaps her mother. Beth says she’s 25, she helps out around the house whenever she can and gives her mother her full salary, so she hasn’t done anything to deserve being guilted all the time. As they argue, her mother reaches out to pinch her arm, but Beth shoves her away for the first time.

That night, the three of them (Osla, Beth and Mab) pack their bags and leave the Finches. They ride into London, and Philip comes to pick them up. They go to stay at Claridge’s, in a hotel suite belonging to Osla’s mother. Mab meets Francis in the lobby, who is back temporarily, but is leaving again in tow days. Mab and Francis decide to get married the next day. Osla helps Mab to make wedding arrangements, with Philip pitching in as well. Osla also takes a cream colored gown from her mother’s closet for Mab to wear as a wedding dress.

Ten Days Until the Royal Wedding

Chapter 30 (November 10, 1947)

Osla and Mab meet up, though they are acerbic and critical of one another. Osla accuses Mab of marrying her husband for his money while Mab says that Osla now writes “fluff”. They also talk about whether Beth is crazy or not, with Osla coming to Beth’s defense. She tells Mab they need to go to the sanitarium and talk to her to find out for sure.

At Clockwell, Beth wonders if the traitor who sent her here was now sending information to the Soviets, especially since the Cold War was continuing to heat up.

Five Years Ago

Chapters 31 – 33 (February 1942)

In February, Osla goes to Commander Travis, noting that it’s too easy for people to smuggle information out if they want to. She points out that she was able to smuggle out a bunch of blank paper as a test. However, he’s dismissive of her concerns, with one of the intelligence guys calling her a “silly deb”.

Afterwards, Osla runs into Giles. He says Harry was suggesting that the Americans share more information with the Russians (their allies), but one of the other guys in the hut called him a commie for saying that. When Giles defended Harry, another guy threatened to hit him. Then Giles admits that he was interested in Mab, but should’ve made a move while he had the chance. Later, Osla calls Philip, who is writing a letter to Princess Elizabeth (“Cousin Lilibet”). Osla wonders if he’ll propose since they’ve been together for over two years now.

By now, Osla, Mab and Beth are renting a large room together in Aspley Guise, which Giles had helped them find. Meanwhile, Beth learns that Peter Twinn is taking over their team — what’s known as Illicit Services Knox (“ISK”) — for Dilly because Dilly is dying of lymphatic cancer.

Mab’s name is now Mab Gray. Though she’s married now, she has barely seen Francis because he’s been working. In February, they’re finally able to spend their first night together. Mab finds herself finally getting to know her husband as they spend a delightful weekend together. He does admit that the things he saw when he was in the trenches in WWI still trouble him.

Chapters 34 – 37 (March 1942 – June 1942)

Lord Mountbatten shows up at BP, who is a Vice Admiral and who Osla refers to as “Uncle Dickie“, which causes some disturbance as he looks to say hi to Osla and Sally. Afterwards, Osla sees two lids that are out of place in the index room, and she wonders if someone used the commotion to smuggle out some papers.

Mab’s mother is delighted with her marrying Francis. She and Francis plan to move into a house in Coventry after the war. For now, Mab is frustrated over not being able to spend more time with him. Instead, Mab and Francis write each other letters, and Mab smiles as she reads his word.

By April, the Mad Hatters have been meeting for two years now. Giles and Harry get into an argument over Gone With the Wind, with Harry being increasingly angry. Beth also notices how Harry has gotten thinner and seemed strained in general. Afterwards, he admits that he’s stressed about work, since the code for the U-boat communications changed and they haven’t been able to crack it. She senses he’s on the edge of a breakdown. As she comforts him, he kisses her and then immediately apologizes, though he qualifies it by saying that he and his wife “aren’t married in the way you think”.

In May, Sheila Zarb (Harry’s wife) finds Beth and asks to talk. She says that they’re only married for Christopher’s sake. Sheila is seeing someone else, Jack, so they are married in name only. Sheila says that she was a barmaid that Harry knocked up, and his parents cut him off after he decided to stick by her to raise his son. Sheila tells Beth she’s welcome to him for a fling and wants to see Harry happy, but does note that Harry won’t leave her because of Christopher.

In June, Osla gets questioned about her relationship with Philip due to him having family members who are Nazis, though Osla points out King George has Nazi relatives as well. There’s also missing files from Hut 3 that they’re concerned about. Finally they ask her to turn over her correspondence with him and break things off with Philip, and Osla agrees sadly.

Ten Days Until the Royal Wedding

Chapter 39 (November 10, 1947)

In her head, Beth goes over who the traitor could possibly have been. She thinks about Peggy, who had had a breakdown and left temporarily, and wonders if Peggy had really been up to something else. In York, Osla demands that Mab go to Clockwell with her tomorrow morning.

Five Years Ago

Chapters 40 – 42 (June 1942)

Mab and Francis go on a walk one day, and he tells her that he’s guessed the truth about Lucy, that she’s actually Mab’s daughter (not her little sister). Mab admits to it, and Francis is undisturbed by it. Mab says that her mother wasn’t great, but she raised Lucy instead of throwing her out so there’s not much she can say. Francis then talks about moving Lucy in and getting her a pony.

After Beth’s talk with Sheila, she lets Harry know she’s interested in him. They go together on a trip to Cambridge. They visit a music shop he used to owrk at, which he still has the key to, and they have sex (when they’re alone in the store).

Meanwhile, Osla writes to J. P. E. C. Cornwell again, and she has stopped writing to Philip, both for her sake and because their connection could affect his military career as well. Osla likes to wear Mr. Cornwell’s overcoat as well, though it is too large for her. When Mab asks her to come with her when she goes to Coventry and help watch Lucy, Osla agrees.

Chapters 43 – 46 (November 1942)

For months now, Beth and Harry have been sleeping together, with Harry needing an outlet for his frustration over his team’s inability to crack the U-Boat Enigma code. Around the country, there’s a rising optimism about the prospect of winning the war, but Beth worries about what she’ll do if she can no longer do the job she loves.

The day before Osla and Mab are to leave for Coventry, Beth decipers a message about a planned air raid on Coventry on November 8th.


In Coventry, Francis and Mab show Lucy around, and Francis gives Lucy a paid of new riding boots which excites her. Osla joins them in Coventry. Soon, they’re all awoken the sound of air raid sirens, and they head to a shelter nearby, with Osla holding Lucy. However, a bomb falling causes Lucy to run off. Mab is frantic looking for her, but Francis soon finds that Lucy ran back into the house. However, in that moment, a bomb lands on Lucy and Francis, killing them both.

Chapters 47 – 49 (November 1942)

The funeral takes place in Lake District, where Mab and Francis had spent many happy weekends. Mab grieves bitterly. Beth says to herself multiple times that Coventry could not have been evacuated in time even if they’d known the raid was coming. When Mab sees Osla, she blames her for Lucy’s death, saying that Osla should have never let her go and that’s why they didn’t make it to the air raid shelter. (In the process, Mab also tells them that Lucy was her daughter and not her sister.)

Afterwards, Beth is determined not to say anything about knowing about the Coventry raid. She hadn’t said anything about it since she’d sworn an oath and she didn’t think they’d be in danger. Harry soon announces that they’ve finally cracked the U-boat Enigma.

Ten Days Until the Royal Wedding

Chapter 50 (November 10, 1947)

A few weeks ago, Beth’s father had finally come to see her. Her father wasn’t able to get her out because it’s the government that has committed her. Still, Beth had asked him to secretly deliver the letters to Osla and Mab for her, but Beth doesn’t know if he did it or not. In York, Mab finally decides to go see Beth.

Four Years Ago

Chapters 51 – 54 (October 1943 – November 1943)

10 months later, Mab is doing a bombe machine demonstration when she has a breakdown after something reminds her of Lucy. She’s sent to the infirmary. Giles, Harry and Beth go to check up on her. Giles suggests that Mab transfer to a new team for a change of environment.

In November, Dilly Knox succumbs to his cancer, and Beth mourns his death. Beth runs into Dilly’s wife who asks Beth to bring back some Engima-related papers that Dilly had at home. Beth sees an uncracked cipher, and Peggy says it was probably a Soviet cipher that Dilly was working on.

Beth’s mother has caught wind that Beth has been spending time with a dark-skinned man (Harry), and she is upset. Beth decides to get fit for a contraceptive device, so Mab coaches her on what to say, since doctors will typically only be willing to do it for women who are already engaged. Mab lends Beth her ruby engagement ring.

Mab takes a meeting with a journalist, Ian Graham, who is writing a series about the war. He asks Mab about Francis, and thinking about him upsets her. She ends up getting drunk, and Beth helps her home.

Mab and Osla are still avoiding one another since Mab still blames Osla for the deaths. Osla writes to Mr. Cornwell again despite never receiving a response, and Osla’s mother is getting remarried soon for the fourth time. Philip has long since given up writing to Osla, but Osla happens to run into him at Claridge’s. He just getting over the flu, but she kisses him anyway and tells him she’s going to take care of him. Osla tells him that she didn’t write because things have been hard after Francis’s death, and she couldn’t think of anything cheerful to say. However, Philip knows that’s not the reason why, and she’s unable to reassure him that she’ll write to him in the future. Soon, Osla gets word that Philip and Princess Elizabeth, who turns 18 soon, have been rumored to be hitting it off romantically.

Chapters 55 – 58 (January 1944 – April 1944)

At BP, Beth wants to decrypt the Soviet message, since it was the last thing Dilly was working on, though Peggy insists there’s more important stuff than the Soviet cipher to work on. Then, Harry comes in, upset. His son’s classmates are criticizing him because Harry is the only one of their fathers that’s not in uniform. Beth comforts him by saying that they can better contribute to the war effort by doing the work they do. But Harry muses that Beth is lucky that she’s able to be so one-track minded about things. He points out how Beth hasn’t even noticed how Mab has clearly developed a drinking problem.

In February, Mab now works in administration, which doesn’t require much deep thought on her part. Giles finds her at the pub and asks about when she’ll rejoin the Mad Hatters. She continues drinking and awakes the next morning in bed with Giles, though he reassures her nothing happened between them. Giles says that ever since he started working with Beth, he’s been interested in her after seeing her in her element at work.

In March, Philip asks to meet up with Osla. She asks him directly about the rumors regarding Princess Elizabeth, but when he doesn’t deny them except to say it’s too early to be planning a wedding, Osla is upset. He says his mind is on fighting the war, but he also admits his family is pushing for a union to happen and that he has obligations to them. He also points out that she’s the one who stopped writing. Osla finally says that she’s given him four years, and breaks things off.

In April, Harry and Beth get rid of some boys that are harassing Christopher. Afterwards, Harry tells Beth that he’s enlisted in the Fleet Air Arm of the military. If you get shot down, you land in the water so there’s no risk of capture which is why he was permitted to enlist. Harry says that BP is now a well-oiled machine and doesn’t need him anymore, not like it was in the early years. Beth gets mad at him, telling him he’s going to die out of some sense of nobility and it’ll be a waste.

Nine Days Until the Royal Wedding

Chapter 59 (November 11, 1947)

In the sanitarium, Beth continues thinking about the possible suspects and wonders about Harry, who she tells himself it could not have been. She thinks about how Harry had never come to see her and cries. In York, the Tatler tells Osla it’s better if she takes time off of writing for them while the tabloids are still so interested in her. After she gets off the phone, Osla sees that Mab has arrived for them to head to Clockwell.

Three Years Ago

Chapters 60 – 64 (May 1944 – June 1944)

In May, Osla writes again to Mr. Cornwell. Beth asks Osla if she sees any of the data on Fleet Air planes going down. Osla admits that she does. Osla tells Beth she can’t give her the details because of their oath, but Beth pleads and Osla agrees to check for her. Meanwhile, the allied invasion of France has been set for June 6th.

When June arrives, everyone is wound up in preparation for the big invasion. Beth is still chipping away at her Soviet cipher, which she has nickname the Rose cipher due to Dilly’s description of its structure (“Reminds me of a rose, petals overlapping downward toward the core”). She makes some big progress on it on June 5th. Late at night, a few hours before midnight, Beth cracks the code and sees the message, and she immediately knows she needs to talk to Commander Travis. She also knows she can’t trust anyone, and she’s paranoid that someone has seen that she’s cracked it. She heads to Dilly’s house and asks his wife to look at Dilly’s study. She takes the papers from his safe, thinking about who could be the “source inside ISK” who was receiving the “usual compensation” for information from BP, as referenced in the Soviet ciphers.

That night, Peggy runs into Mab. She lets slip that Beth knew in advance about the Coventry raid that killed Francis and Lucy. When Beth gets back to their shared flat, Mab slaps Beth across the face and confronts her about what she’s learned. Osla hears the commotion and comes in as well. As the confrontation escalates, Beth insists that her oath prevented her from saying anything. However, Osla pointedly mentions how Beth had just been begging her to break her own oath so she could get information. Beth tries to defend herself, saying that it was just one raid and they’d been to London and other places plenty of times when there was a high risk of a raid. Before they can finish arguing, the women are called into BP for work.

Chapters 65 – 67 (June 1944)

At BP, Commander Travis has questions about Beth. He asks if she’d said anything about codes she’d broken or messages she was working on, and they both answer honestly “no”. He also asks questions about whether she was mentally unstable, though they both deny that she was, despite being angry with her. Still, Travis seems to have already reached the conclusion that there is “evidence of worsening erratic behavior”. When they ask if Beth has ever violated the Official Secrets Act, they respond truthfully that it happened once.

Some men pick up Beth at their flat, involuntarily. She demands to see Travis, but her wishes are denied. When she resists, they inject her with a syringe, and she falls unconscious. Beth is taken to the Clockwell Sanitarium. She’s given a note, saying that she can either help the traitor by giving up what she knows or rot in the madhouse. Beth refuses to help the traitor.


As the invasion proceeds, Osla translates messages for 30 hours straight. Afterwards, Mab and Osla learn that Beth has been taken into the sanitarium. Mab also says that she’s leaving BP to work at the Admiralty in London, and Sally going as well. When Mab refuses Osla’s well-wishes and calls her a “silly deb”, Osla slaps her and the two part ways coldly.

Over the next year, Osla stays even without Mab, Beth or even Sally there, and she continues writing into the void to Mr. Cornwell, but it’s never the same.

Nine Days Until the Royal Wedding

Chapters 68 – 71 (November 11, 1947)

With over three years to think about it and after thinking over and over the events at BP, Beth finally reaches the same conclusions again and again, that the traitor must’ve been Peggy. She thinks about how Peggy was the one who let slip about Coventry to Mab, right after Peggy had seen that she’d made progress on Dilly’s Soviet cipher. She must’ve done it on purpose, knowing Mab and Osla would otherwise have been her staunchest defenders.

In York, Mag tells her husband Mike Sharpe that she’s going on an impromptu hen (girls’) weekend with a friend. Mike is a former RAF pilot and the father of her infant twins, Lucy and Eddie. That morning he wants to talk about why Mab avoids serious conversations, but Mab is running late to meet up with Osla. Mab knows it’s because she’s afraid of truly letting him after experiencing the death of Francis, but instead, she promises that they’ll talk afterward she gets back.


At Clockwell, Beth spots a woman she’s played Go with before who recently went into surgery for something. Beth invites her to play again. However, the woman looks blankly at the board. Finally, someone tells Beth that she has a visitor. She’s surprised to see Giles there, looking guilty. In that moment, she knows she was wrong about Peggy and that Giles was the traitor.

Giles admits that it was him who put her in there, but he rejects her characterization of him as a traitor. Instead, he says that he was giving information to their allies because he disagreed with the decisions that were being made at the top about how the information was being used. He also argues that Beth being so willing to “follow directions” regardless of if she disagrees is not unlike Germans committing war crimes because they were told to do so. However, Beth reminds Giles of how he was being paid for this information. She also guesses (correctly) that he’s still selling secrets to Moscow, even now that they are no longer their allies.

Finally, Giles tells her that he can get her out if she hands over all of the evidence she found (Beth has been hiding the key to Dilly’s safe where she stored the papers in her shoe for the last three+ years). He’s in MI-5 now, and he has the power to clear her and release her.

When Beth seems to be unwilling to agree to his terms, Giles reminds her that she’s scheduled for a lobotomy and tells her what it entails. Beth rages at him, and Giles tells her that she should ask the orderlies to talk to him if she wants to stop this. Otherwise, she’ll be lobotomized and unable to remember her evidence against him so he’ll be free either way.

Meanwhile, Mab and Osla head out of York by car. Osla tells Mab that she talked to the matron of the sanitarium, enticing her with fake royal wedding insider information, and got the matron to talk about how to get into Clockwell.

Chapters 72 – 74 (November 12, 1947)

As of November 12, there are nine days left before Beth’s surgery. Mab and Osla arrive, identifying themselves (lying) as Beth’s sisters. They’re told about Beth’s upcoming lobotomy, though neither of them know what that is. They’re brought in to see Beth, who looks gaunt and anxious. Beth immediately named Giles Talbot as the traitor.

Osla then says that Giles is her fiance. Osla recalls how she’d been trying to get over Philip when Giles had proposed, and she’d said yes. She’d been glad to have someone who she didn’t have to lie to about her past. At first Osla is reluctant to believe Beth, but as they go over the events in the past when Giles had various opportunities to steal information, Osla realizes that Beth is telling the truth. Beth also says that she needs to get out now before the operation.

To get Beth out, they’ll need Mab’s ability to scare people into submission and Osla’s charm. Mab expresses her concern over Beth’s health to the orderlies, and Osla distracts the nurses with royal wedding talk. Osla then pretends to have an epileptic fit. With everyone distracted, Mab grabs a set of keys from a garden shed and palms them off to Beth. Osla and Mab then leave.

From there, Beth waits a short while and then slips out as well. When she’s unexpectedly stopped by an orderly outside, she bangs his head into the ground to knock him unconscious. The women drive off. Mab tells Beth that their former landlady has been watching Boots.

Chapters 75 – 76 (November 12, 1947)

On the road, Beth explains more about what she knows regarding Giles. She also says they can’t report all this to the Commander yet because she needs to first get the rest of the Soviet stuff from Dilly’s safe. So they head back to Bletchley Park, and they get the file.

Beth is concerned because Giles isn’t actually named anywhere in the part that she decoded, so she thinks he could claim that the source was her and not him if she accuses him. Beth knows that Giles plans to check in on her in a week, so that means they have until then to decode the rest of these files and hopefully find evidence that incontrovertibly identifies Giles as the traitor.

Six Days Until the Royal Wedding

Chapter 77 (November 14, 1947)

A few days later, the women are still at the Dilly’s house, with his wife’s permission. Mrs. Knox is happy to have the company. She remembers Mab from before. She tells Mab that Dilly was her second husband. As much as she loved her first husband who died in a war, she’s glad she allowed herself to fall in love again with Dilly later.

Beth has been working continuously, though the other women can’t make out if she’s making headway or not. Osla offers to reach out to her godfather to see if he has an old Enigma machine, which might help Beth. Mab gets the idea that Beth should call Harry so they have two cryptographers working on this instead of one.

Osla learns that she and Giles been called to London by the Palace, so she has to leave.

Six Days Until the Royal Wedding

Chapter 78 (November 15, 1947)

At the Palace, Osla finds herself and Giles seated in front of Princess Elizabeth, Princess Margaret (sister of Princess Elizabeth), and a smattering of other people, for lunch. She recognizes that the purpose of the lunch is likely to quell the tabloid stories about a jealous ex-lover and replace it with stories about the two women happily sitting down together. When Princess Margaret asks Osla for the lowdown on Philip, Osla reassures her that Philip is up for the role he’s taking on and that he’s loyal to the country despite what his familial relations might suggest.

As they eat, Osla sees what a social climber Giles and how that’s likely why he proposed to her. He’s gleeful afterwards, thinking of the possibility of seeing himself in the news. On the way out, Osla is pulled aside, and it turns out that Philip wants to talk to her. He thanks for for what she said about him to Margaret. Osla wishes him well, and Philip gives herPhyllida Ken. the number to his direct line and asks to part as friends.

As Osla walks out with Giles, she asks him if he’s the one who has been leaking information about her to the tabloids. He admits it and says that they paid a lot for those stories.

Chapters 79 – 80 (November 15, 1947 – November 19, 1947)

At the Knox house, Harry shows up as requested to help. He says that he was told by Beth’s mother that she was dead. Osla soon returns to the house, but laments that she wasn’t able to locate an Enigma machine. As they keep working, Harry suggests that they need more people on this. Beth is worried about who they can trust, but Harry says that these people, like them, were all trained to be discreet. Mrs. Knox immediately offers to prepare more beds in the house.

Soon, Alan Turing shows up along with others, some Beth knows well and others who are just acquantainces. And Peggy arrives, who is able to work on getting them authorization for their project. Peggy is also able to get her hands on an Enigma machine, and she knows where they can get access to a bombe machine, and Mab volunteers to operate it. Someone else goes to locate a bombe technician to get it back into working order.


In order to get to the bomb machine, the whole group needs to relocate to a lab in London, so they bid farewell to the Knox home. At the lab, they get set up. To Mab’s surprise, her husband Mike walks in the door, who turns out to be the bombe technician. He’d never told her because his work was also covered by the Official Secrets Act. He’d arrived at BP in 1944, when there were thousands of people there by then, and Mab had left that year so they ended up never running into each other.

By the time the bombe machine is fixed up and ready to go, it’s one day before the royal wedding.

Chapters 81 – 84 (November 19, 1947 – November 20, 1947)

That night, Harry picks up Boots and brings him to Beth. When they’re alone, they have sex and Harry tells Beth that he loves her. The next day the work continues, and finally some time past midnight, they end up with a translated message that contains the proof Beth needs to vindicate her and implicate Giles.

It’s now November 20, the day of the Royal Wedding. Unable to get ahold of MI-5, likely due to the wedding, they decide Osla needs to make sure Giles is at the wedding where they can keep an eye on him until they can get their evidence to MI-5. However, Giles fails to show up, and instead they go to his apartment to find him. It’s been hastily cleared out, and a newspaper reporting Beth as missing is there. They realize he must’ve made a run for it, but could not have gotten far yet.

They (Osla, Beth, Mab, Harry and Mike) high-tail it to the train station where Beth spots Giles. They rush towards him and after an interlude they are able to apprehend him. However, they are subsequently all arrested, including Giles, by a police officer due to the disturbance they caused.

Before they can enact a plan to be released from jail, a man arrives, who turns out to be the elusive Mr. Cornwell. He was contacted because Osla had been wearing his overcoat, and they assumed she was his wife. Osla grabs him and kisses him in thanks for helping her the night of the London raid. He introduces himself as John Percival Edwin Charles Cornwell, a Major in the Rifle Brigade. He says that he eventually got her letters, but by that time she’d moved so his letter couldn’t reach her.

Major Cornwell is able to clear Osla to be able to make a phone call. She, in turn, calls Prince Phillip to request his assistance.

Chapter 85

Afterwards, Giles is taken into custody, though there is evidence that there is an additional “compromised individual”…

After being debriefed, Beth, Osla and Mab are all released. Harry has found Beth a job as a clerk in the music shop in Cambridge. Peggy has also offered her a job working in codebreaking for the government, though Beth wants to take a break for the time being. Osla gives Beth her engagement ring from Giles to pawn for cash. Osla is now with John Cornwell, whose father turns out to be a Baron and in the House of Lords. Osla plans to return to London and her job at the Tatler where she has negotiated a new post. Meanwhile, Mab is looking forward to returning home to her family in York.

Finally, the three hug and part ways.

Epilogue (June 2014)

In 2014, it’s reported that the Duchess of Cambridge (Kate Middleton) has reopened Bletchley Park, now as a tourist destination. Kate’s mother, Valerie Middleton, née Glassborow, was once employed there. Mab, a former colleague of Valerie’s, now works part-time as a bombe demonstrator.

BP veterans are now allowed to talk about their experiences, but many still do not until after their deaths or ever at all. Osla, later Lady Cornwell, passed away in 1974, and published a posthumous memoir entitled Bletchley Bletherings. Beth is alive but still never speaks of her work.

Finally, the news article about the reopening marvels that so many people had an “incendiary” secret about the war and somehow managed to keep it under wraps. (“Churchill famously referred to them as ‘the geese who laid the golden eggs, but never cackled.'”)

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