Patricia Owtram (née Davies, 1951, BLitt English) manned a covert listening station on the South Coast during World War Two, helped to produce University Challenge and Coronation Street, and recently won a 7 decade-long battle to have her plagiarised BLitt thesis finally recognised. Now 100 years old, Patricia was recognised this month as ‘Oldie Secret Agent’ of the year by magazine The Oldie.
Patricia joined the WRNS in 1942 aged only 18, following her father’s capture and internment by the Japanese army. As a German-speaker, she was selected for work manning wireless intercept stations around the coast. At the stations, German military communications were intercepted and transcribed, with encoded messages sent to Bletchley Park. Patricia and her fellow WRNS worked in pairs around the clock. Later in the war, she was posted at the Supreme Headquarters of the Allied Expeditionary Force in London where she was tasked with reading official documents from Germany to detect names and evidence for war crimes trials. After the war’s conclusion, she was offered a role as a translator in the Nuremburg Trials, but instead chose to return home to her newly-reunited family.
The magazine’s annual ‘Oldie of the Year Awards‘ were ajudicated by a panel including Gyles Brandreth, Sir Tim Rice, Rachel Johnson, Dame Maureen Lipman, James Pembroke and Harry Mount. The awards were presented by Brandreth at a London ceremony on the 23rd November, with fellow winners including Dame Janet Baker and Angela Rippon. In her interview on accepting the award, Owtram joked that she was “probably the only centenarian in Chriswick who knows how to use a Sten gun”.
If you would like to learn more about Patricia and the remarkable story of her 70-year fight to gain recognition for her BLitt work, an edition of 17th century The Lady Mother, you can read more about it in this year’s The Somerville Magazine: https://issuu.com/somervillecollege/docs/somerville_magazine_2023_-_issuu/12
Patricia Owtram interview by Gyles Brandreth after receiving her ‘Oldie Secret Agent’ Award from the Oldie magazine’s annual awards. Photo: Michael Crick