Pamela Rose, who died at the age of 103, landed her first major role as an actress on the London stage in 1941, under her maiden name, Pamela Gibson, but it would take another 60 years before she did. its debut in the West End.
Instead, she took her language skills to the wartime secret decryption center at Bletchley Park in Buckinghamshire, where she ran the indexing section of Naval Hut 4. Later she got a small truck. with the media glare Bletchley drew: “It was kind of a bummer for a young lady and certainly a comfy bunk”, but conceded that “a common enemy brings people together like nothing else”.
As part of the Ensa Forces Entertainment Program, Pamela had started WWII in a reserved occupation, performing in Bournemouth and then at the Prince of Wales Theater in Birmingham. She was frustrated with Ensa’s sub-par productions, so it was good news that she was offered her first West End role in Watch on the Rhine.
In the meantime came an approach by a family friend: “I know you do a wonderful job entertaining the troops, but there is a place where they want girls just like you. Here’s the address…”
Part of the social network through which Bletchley Park recruited her cohort of civilian women and with good German, Pamela impressed her interviewer, Frank Birch, a comedian-scholar working in naval intelligence. Torn between the West End and the prospect of unspecified secret war work, she turned to Birch for advice. His answer was unequivocal: “The scene can wait, the war cannot. “
Pamela initially thought, “I was going to be dropped from a plane in Germany. God knows my German wasn’t really good enough for that, but you have elated ideas when you’re young. Arriving at Bletchley Park was a stall for the 24-year-old, but its usefulness was not in question.
Linguist in the indexing section of Naval Hut 4, she was the recipient of decoded German messages from which all important information was to be recorded and indexed. It was hard work that required a good memory. “Requests regarding the latest movements of a German battleship had to be consulted and referenced along with all other relevant information. “
Pamela was quickly promoted to lead indexing for this unprecedented data system (pre-chip and card-housed) and tasked with managing a handful of former debutantes including the savage Jean Campbell-Harris, later Lady Trumpington. .
She attended the section chiefs meetings and was aware of a level of knowledge about the breaking code link that most women did not have. Among her female classmates, many of whom had just graduated from school, she made a strong impression. Bletchley recruit Rozanne Colchester recalled a woman “on the verge of being a rebel.” She was more than stylish, she had her own style. And she was terribly smart, creative, and very quick at learning languages. “
Pamela was born in London to a family where musical performance was the dominant force. Her father, Thornly Gibson, was an opera singer and her mother, Dolly (née Coit), was also passionate about music. Growing up, Pamela remembered PWE – “pleasant Wednesday evenings” – when her parents orchestrated musical gatherings on golden chairs and sometimes she and her brother had to perform.
She was sent to boarding school at the age of six, to Broadstairs Preparatory School, then to Westonbirt Girls’ School in Gloucestershire, and speaking lessons bolstered her ambition to become an actress. As an independent child, she said to herself: “Whatever happens, I’ve always had myself. I remember thinking it was quite heartwarming. A reluctant newbie, Pamela left the 1936 season early to cycle to France, where Moulin Rouge singer Yvette Guilbert taught her French and her cabaret show.
Staying in Munich a year later to perfect her German, with characteristic candor she later said: “I’m ashamed to say I don’t think I knew about the horrible things that were going on. I was like so many young people, preoccupied with myself. I wanted to go back to London and play.
She signed up for a Webber Douglas course and did just that, and even at Bletchley Park, she channeled her acting into theatrical journals. “I made Candida, by George Bernard Shaw. I didn’t want anything too experimental; we had to keep in mind the capacity of the actors.
She may have returned to the stage after the war, but meeting Wing Commander Jim Rose at the park was a game-changer. They married in 1946. After the war Jim became a journalist and founded the International Press Institute in the 1950s.
Pamela remembered telling her, “’If you go back on stage, you’ll come out to work as I come in’ so I stopped playing. I wanted to spend my life with Jim and I thought we couldn’t have it all. I doubt I would have thought that way now, but one is conditioned by the way other people think and I was a product of my time.
She ran a mentoring program for Afro-Caribbean children at a comprehensive school in London, was vice-president of the NSPCC and was president of the Stroke Association.
Jim passed away in 1999 and she eventually appeared on the West End stage later that year on Lady Windermere’s Fan. “It was terrifying but a lot of fun and it helped control the grief.”
I met her while writing The Bletchley Girls (2015) and that year she appeared castaway on Radio 4’s Desert Island records at the age of 97. She attributed her long life to “luck, optimism and a great belief in the human spirit”.
Pamela is survived by her daughter, Harriet, and her son, Alan, five grandchildren, Chloe, Charlotte, Matthew, Claire and Hannah, and six great grandchildren.