From codebreaker to dedicated volunteer
The amazing story of the late Northampton resident Dorris Moss
By Natalie Bloomer
Dorris Moss, 99, who lived in Northampton, died earlier this month. She was one of the last living Bletchley Park codebreakers and later dedicated her life to volunteering for good causes. This is her story.
In 1940, teenager Dorris Moss (nee Moller), her mum, sister and pet cocker spaniel Rita, fled their home in Belgium to escape the Nazis.
Their journey was long and arduous. One of the trains they travelled in was bombed en route to the South of France meaning they had to travel to the next stop on foot. From there, they made their way across Spain and on to Lisbon where they arrived just too late to board a ship taking refugees to the UK. Just days later the ship sank, leaving no survivors.
The family remained in Lisbon for six months before being able to continue on to Gibraltar where they were finally able to set sail to England to join their uncle in Kent.
“[During the journey] we were told to hold our passports and stand next to the lifeboats because we were going through a minefield,” Dorris told the Bletchley Park podcast in 2018.
She explained that on arriving in England she felt they ‘had to do something’ to help the war effort and so their uncle, who had contacts at Bletchley Park, arranged for them to be interviewed by a key figure at the codebreaking centre. Moss told the podcast she didn’t ‘have a clue’ what the top secret work would involve.
Early on in her time there she was trained by one of Bletchley’s key codebreakers Mavis Batey and later took over her role.
Mark Cotton, a freelance producer who worked with Bletchley Park to create the podcast Dorris is featured on, says that despite how important Moss’ contribution was she was incredibly modest about her achievements.
“Dorris worked in all three naval sections during the war, first in the German section and then in the Italian one at a time when what was happening in the Mediterranean was as important as the battles in the Atlantic… This was some of the most important work happening at Bletchley. She then moved to the Japanese section.
“She just laughed when I spoke about how important this all was, she kept saying ‘anyone could have done it’. She was so modest, which is something I find with so many of the veterans I have interviewed, I’ve never heard any of them brag, they never tell just their own story but that of their colleagues as well.”
Dorris was one of around 9,000 people to work at Bletchley Park - 75% per cent of whom were women. Their codebreaking had a major impact on the war, but for many years due to the secrecy surrounding it, it went largely unknown. In recent times however there have been films, books and TV programmes made about the work the women did.
After the war, Dorris worked in a bank in Bedford where she met her husband David. When he was later promoted and transferred to an office in Northampton, the couple moved to the town and raised their family there.
But Dorris’ service to others didn’t end with her war effort. She went on to volunteer for both Northamptonshire Age Concern and the Hope Centre. When she died earlier this month, the poverty and homelessness charity wrote on their website that she had been a long term volunteer for them, helping in their kitchen right up until Covid hit.
Speaking to the Express newspaper in 2015 she said:
“Well, yes, I suppose I am older than quite a lot of the people there but I enjoy it. I get in at 9am and do the teas, coffees, the raffle and the lunch.”
“Dorris really was amazing, she was a joy to be around. Bletchley Park recently opened a new exhibition The Intelligence Factory and around half of it is about the naval section,” Mark says.
“I was really looking forward to taking Dorris around and looking at what she had been doing, it would have been so nice. My big regret is that I won’t be able to do that now.”
A funeral service will be held for Dorris on June 17th at Kingsthorpe Cemetery at 12pm. Family flowers only. Donations for Warwickshire and Northamptonshire Air Ambulance can be sent to Hollowells Funeral Directors 148-150 Beech Avenue, Northampton.