Two sisters who were codebreakers during the Second World War have spoken of their “surprise" after a portrait of them was unveiled ahead of VJ Day.
Patricia and Jean Owtram, both in their 90s, played important roles in the war but had never spoken of them because they had signed the Official Secrets Act.
But the pair's recollections are featured in a book called Codebreaking Sisters: Our Secret War.
"We never expected recognition for what we did, so it's been quite a surprise that people are so interested in it."… https://t.co/EGpdEPpAC9— SkyNews (@SkyNews)1597394265.0
On Thursday, a painting of the two of them holding a telegram from their father, a prisoner of war, was unveiled at a socially-distanced gathering at Patricia's home in Chiswick, west London.
It comes ahead of the 75th anniversary of VJ Day, marking the surrender of Japan and the end of the war in 1945.
“It's a great surprise to have a portrait painted at all because this wasn't something we were expecting in our 90s," Patricia and Jean said, speaking to the PA news agency.
Both sisters became fluent in German after their family took in Austrian Jewish staff in the late 1930s.
After the war broke out in 1939, Patricia, then 18 years old, was posted to top-secret listening stations along the British coastline where she intercepted German shipping radio.
Jean, landed a secretive role as Code & Cipher Officer in the First Aid Nursing Yeomanry at 18 years old, she was posted to Cairo before moving on to Italy to support allied agents and aid partisan efforts against the Nazis.
“What Jean and I were doing during the war was very different," Patricia said.
“It was years after the war before I actually got around to saying 'by the way Jean, what were you doing in Egypt and Italy?'"
“Because, as we had both signed the Official Secrets Act, we didn't tell each other or any of our family."
Their father Colonel Cary Owtram had been held in a prisoners camp in Thailand, near to the River Kwai.
The internet is astounded with their story.
@SkyNews How these ladies have not been made Dames is beyond me.— Chris Blake (@Chris Blake)1597395083.0
@SkyNews Top women. As were those that worked the factories and fields during WWII. Lest we forget 👍— Richard Schaller (@Richard Schaller)1597394652.0
@SkyNews Freedom today because of these sisters and many like them who worked tirelessly to ensure we would prevail… https://t.co/9D8ZdJklJy— Dave (@Dave)1597394682.0
And, some even shared their own experiences.
@BBCBreakfast My mother was also in the WRNS as a wireless operator, taking down codes. I never cease to marvel at what they all did— Alice Fowles (@Alice Fowles)1597399913.0
@BBCBreakfast @AngletonsMerits This is inspiring. My mother’s sister was in the WAC in the European theatre during… https://t.co/u13hB9LltG— Kahteei (@Kahteei)1597430940.0
Painter Dan Llywelyn Hall said the portrait took several months, and he now hopes it will be placed in a museum.
“It's a rare moment when you sit with sisters to have a shared memory of pivotal moments in history," he said.
“The portrait explores the idea of a how a shared secret is honored."
“Both sisters signed the secrets act and I'm interested in the moral conscience that upkeeps the lifelong private discourse."