From cryptanalysis to centenarian

This article has photo gallery Published on Ms Emily McFarlane (author)

Topic(s): Naval Heritage and History

Mrs Charmian Gladstone, with her grandson Ivan and son Kay, in front of a portrait of Charmian's husband, Rear Admiral Geoffrey Gladstone AO, DSC and Bar, RAN. (photo: )
Mrs Charmian Gladstone, with her grandson Ivan and son Kay, in front of a portrait of Charmian's husband, Rear Admiral Geoffrey Gladstone AO, DSC and Bar, RAN.

Reaching a milestone 100th birthday has led to a day of celebration and reflections, for a member of the Australian Navy family.

Mrs Charmian Gladstone, widow of Rear Admiral Geoffrey Gladstone AO, DSC and Bar, RAN, celebrated her 100th birthday in Sydney last month.

Friends and family, including several from the Royal Australian Navy, joined Mrs Gladstone in a series of COVID-safe mini celebrations in the garden of her home.

Mrs Gladstone has long been a member of the Navy community since her marriage to Rear Admiral Gladstone in 1942.

Mrs Charmian Gladstone, with her son Kay, at her former workplace - Hut 10 at Bletchley Park, in Buckinghamshire, UK, in 2019.

Mrs Charmian Gladstone, with her son Kay, at her former workplace - Hut 10 at Bletchley Park, in Buckinghamshire, UK, in 2019.

However, she made her own fascinating contribution to the war effort, decoding and encrypting messages at the famous Bletchley Park, and tending to wounded soldiers.

The original plan of a large event surrounding her birthday was replaced by a series of small celebrations, attended by guests who arrived and departed punctually, following a plan drawn up in accordance with NSW regulations on public gatherings.

Her son Kay and daughter-in-law Rosa Maria had recently been released from hotel quarantine after their arrival from London and were familiar with the importance of these precautions and the vital role played by the ADF during Operation COVID-19 ASSIST.

“We felt very safe after being checked into our hotel by Australian Navy sailors and checked out by the Australian Army, and we are very impressed by their professional care and attention,” Kay said.

Mrs Gladstone, née Prendergast, grew up in a family with closer links to the British Army than the Royal Navy. Her grandfather was General Sir Harry Prendergast VC, GCB. 

On the outbreak of World War II in 1939, Mrs Gladstone started work as a Voluntary Aid Detachment nurse, caring for injured soldiers.

She met Rear Admiral (then Lieutenant) Gladstone at a party for Commonwealth forces.

“We became engaged a year later in the summer of 1942, and married on 8 November 1942,” she said.

Within a month of their marriage, the then Lieutenant Gladstone embarked on the recently commissioned HMAS Quickmatch, as the ship’s Gunnery Officer.

“Neither of us knew when or where we would see each other again,” Mrs Gladstone said.

It was not until many years later, after her arrival in Australia in 1948, that Mrs Gladstone revealed that she had spent fifteen months of their almost two year separation working at Bletchley Park, the principal centre of Allied code-breaking.

Mrs Gladstone hastens to let it be known that she worked within the Foreign Office Secret Intelligence Service in Hut 10, and was not involved in the Ultra and Enigma machine programme.

She worked decoding and encrypting messages, which came to Bletchley Park. With a book to help her, she got to know some of the basic codes for messages that were normally in French, Dutch and sometimes Norwegian.

Her husband, Rear Admiral Gladstone, retired from the Navy in 1977 having served as the Fleet Commander; sadly he passed away on 7 September 1999.

Mrs Gladstone continues to thrive, living independently, gardening every day except during the winter months, which until recently were always spent visiting family in the United Kingdom.

Her recipe for a long and fulfilling life? An interest in the world around her, and a refreshing drink each day!