Queen Elizabeth, the royal codebreaker!
In her first major public engagement since ending her winter break, the 92-year-old monarch celebrated the centenary of the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), the UK’s Intelligence, Security and Cyber Agency, with a visit to the Watergate House, the Agency’s first home as the “Government Code and Cypher School” and a former top secret location.
Queen Elizabeth – dressed in a blue code and matching hat – was shown around Watergate House with Jeremy Fleming, GCHQ’s current director, and viewed historic intelligence and machinery in the Alan Turing Room, the boardroom named after the mathematician and computer scientist who was instrumental in breaking German codes during World War II.
The Queen was also shown the 1939 Royal Codebook, used by GCHQ to write coded messages that were exchanged between The Royal Household and Government about Royal visits. Such code was used in her 1947 visit to South Africa, where then-Princess Elizabeth was referred to as “2519” and Princess Margaret as “6101.”
Queen Elizabeth unveiled a plaque to mark the milestone, which appropriately included two hidden messages. (Give up? Dots and lines under certain letters spell out “1 Hundred Years” while the symbols spell out “Secret” in Morse code!)
The Royal Family’s official Twitter account also got in on the fun, sharing a coded message to the GCHQ. (Reveal the message here.)
During the visit,Queen Elizabeth also recalled her father’s impatience with a scrambler phone. She spoke of how her late father, King George VI, would struggle with the original technology at Buckingham Palace.
Being shown some old machines at the agency’s first headquarters, the Queen remarked, “I remember my father had one. He used to get so cross when it didn’t scramble.”
She added, “It took some time to heat up.”
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After she left, Tony Comer – GCHQ’s departmental historian and one of only seven people who can be identified at the organization – told reporters, “She has been a customer of ours for two-thirds of our entire history. She is the person in the world who has received our intelligence more than anyone. So it’s clear there is no way you can bluff your way through briefing the Queen.”
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