Bletchley Park codebreaker who went on to run A. E. Poston silversmiths in London celebrates 100th birthday in Worthing
A codebreaker from Bletchley Park who went on to run a successful silversmiths in London has celebrated her 100th birthday at her home in Worthing.
Doreen Gibbs was surrounded by family and friends on Thursday afternoon for her party at Amelia Court, Union Place, where she has lived for about seven years.
Asked for the greatest moments in her life, she said her business and her wonderful daughter, Jan.
Doreen said she was ambitious and had always been very business minded.
“I still am,” she said. “I don’t like cooking or sewing.”
As much as she loved working with her father, Arthur Poston, in his firm A.E. Poston & Co, it was only because her brother died in the war that she got involved.
“I don’t know what I would have done otherwise,” Doreen said.
“I asked my father if he would like me to work with him and he was delighted. I don’t think the others liked it because you didn’t get women in business in those days.”
She soon won people round with her approach, getting to know every department and appointing a head of each one.
Doreen was born in Dagenham on July 8, 1921, and following finishing-school in Switzerland, where she studied French and German, she was called up to serve at Bletchley Park at the age of 19. She was a codebreaker from 1940 to 1945, assigned to the Japanese naval section.
When she was asked to sign the Official Secrets Act, she said laughed, because she was only young, but she was soon made aware how serious it was.
“We were told if anyone asked, we were to say we were typists,” said Doreen. “Nobody knew what anybody else was doing. You had three or four of you in the room with little bits of paper and a tube to pass it through - you didn’t know who was in the next room.
“I never knew if I had shot an aeroplane or sunk a submarine, my bit was just a little part of it. I really only learned about what I did after the war, from reading books.”
Doreen’s father had set up his business next to Cannon Street Station after the First World War and built it up to become a famous name.
She said: “When I came into it, I started driving around the American bases and taking silverware to sell. In the end, we had all the Americans coming up to the salesroom and buying up things. They had a lot of money to spend.”
Doreen’s favourite pastime was golf and she played for Wimbledon Park Golf Club for many years, following in the footsteps of her mother, who was once crowned Essex champion. It was a sport she took up at Bletchley Park, where there was a nine-hole green.
Doreen was married to Tony Gibbs in 1959. They had grown up together as children but they had not kept in contact through the war, when he was serving as a pilot in the RAF. In fact it was not until the silver wedding party of a school friend that they met again and started courting.
Doreen said: “He turned up in his full air force uniform. He was very handsome.”
Tony died in 1992 and a few years later, Doreen moved from Surrey down to Worthing to be near Jan and her grandson.
Jan said: “Her greatest achievement was being my mum. I am so proud of her and I wouldn’t have it any other way.”