- Associated Press - Friday, December 26, 2014

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (AP) - For decades, Barbara Saks of Colorado Springs kept mum over Bletchley Park, the fabled home of the British code breakers credited with shaving years from World War II.

But her vow of secrecy didn’t apply at the Christmas Day premier of a film that recounts the once top-secret story - especially when it hit a false note.

“We didn’t wear uniforms at Bletchley - we wore civvies,” went one of her whispered corrections from the back row at Kimball’s Theater, where Saks, 97, joined a sold-out crowd at a matinee showing of “The Imitation Game,” which tells the story of Alan Turing, the Cambridge mathematician who managed to decrypt German communications.

By cracking the code of the Germans’ Enigma decryption machine, Turing and his team are credited with shortening the war by two years and saving millions of lives.

Unbeknownst to many fellow moviegoers, Saks served as what she called “a very small cog” in the operation that sent decrypted messages up the chain of command.

A native of London, she joined the Royal Air Force in April 1940, though she wasn’t assigned to Bletchley until 1943, well after Turing and his team had solved the riddle - not that Saks could have known that.

At Bletchley, each worker was assigned a discrete task and ordered to keep silent about it.

Saks served as a translator in Hut 3, Block D, and spent her days transforming strings of numbers into letters. She didn’t know why; she only knew it was critically important.

After finishing each message, Saks and her colleagues placed their translated documents in a wire basket, rang a bell and sat back down at their desks. “A few minutes later, the door would open 4 to 5 inches and a hand reached in and picked up the message and whisked it away - to where we never knew and never asked.”

She now knows that her work went straight to her nation’s top war planners - among them Winston Churchill. “We were a small cog, but a very important cog,” she said.

Like other workers at Bletchley, Saks signed an oath to stay silent, and she kept it until the 1974 publication of F. W. Winterbotham’s “The Ultra Secret,” which detailed the British code-breaking operation.

Saks moved to the United States after the war with her American G.I. husband and settled in Colorado Springs in 2006 to be closer to family.

She accompanied a Gazette reporter to the premier screening wearing two British war medals and a Bletchley Park pin on her lapel.

Inside a storage pouch in her walker were books of history, a magazine for Bletchley Park alumni and photographs of Saks in uniform - when she “was young and beautiful.”

During the two-hour screening, Saks pointed out historical inaccuracies and chimed in with additional context throughout, fleshing out the film’s events with her vivid memories.

“That’s Neville Chamberlain,” she said as an off-screen voice announced Britain’s declaration of war. “I listened to that broadcast on the radio.”

She turned down offers of popcorn and instead opted for Hall’s cough drops stored in her purse.

Saks reserved her praise for star Benedict Cumberbatch and wondered aloud if he could be related to Joan Cumberbatch, a woman who served with Saks - then known as Barbara Brown - during an earlier assignment at a British fighter station.

“She was called Cumbers, and I was called Brownie,” she said. “Do you think there’s a tie?”

Moviegoers who recognized Saks from veterans events in Colorado Springs came to pay their respects - one woman called her a “treasure” - and she was asked to pose for photographs after the movie with theater owners, Kimball and Sabrina Bayles.

“It’s so cool,” Gene Geary of Colorado Springs said after being told of Saks’ role at Bletchley. “It brings a reality to the film…when you have a participant sitting next to you.”

Like a starlet with an adoring audience, Saks chatted with well-wishers outside the theater until her son, Alex Saks of Colorado Springs, announced it was time to leave for a family Christmas celebration.

“Oh, I have so many tales to tell you,” she told people around her, while flashing a smile. “It will have to be another time, I suppose.”

___

Information from: The Gazette, http://www.gazette.com

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