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After Decades Of Secrecy, Two Sisters' Role As Codebreakers During WWII Finally Recognized

Jean Argles and Patricia Davie, both born Owtram, the last living sisters to have both signed the Official Secrets Act in Second World War, unveil their portrait by Dan Llywelyn Hall, in west London, ahead of VJ Day (Victoria Jones/PA)

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.

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.



And, some even shared their own experiences.


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."