A WEARSIDER who served as a teenage spy in World War Two has died at the age of 91.
Former Bede School pupil Sheila Moore spent the conflict “eavesdropping” on top secret German messages - as part of the Bletchley Park code-cracking team.
Her family only learned of her wartime work decades later, as her vital role in helping Britain to secure victory required the youngster to sign a 30-year Official Secrets Act.
“She made us very proud - not only in her achievements in early life, but also in the courageous way she lived fiercely independently into her 91st year,” said Sheila’s sister, Florence Forsdike.
Sheila, the daughter of a River Wear Commission dredging worker, was born in 1923 and brought up in Bramwell Street, Hendon.
At 11 she won a full scholarship to Bede, then a private school, but left when war broke out - after her father found her work as an apprentice tracer at George Clark’s Engineering.
A job making pit props in Rothbury followed but, when severe winter weather shut the business down in 1941, Sheila ended up at the unemployment office.
“The lady behind the desk said ‘Sign on the dole? Why don’t you join the services?’ And that is what I decided to do,” she later recalled.
Sheila joined the Auxiliary Territorial Service - forerunner of the Women’s Royal Corps - and was hoping for a drawing room job after being posted to Pontefract.
Instead, she was called to see “a very posh lady” - who questioned Sheila about her education, before sending the teenager on a six-month course to learn Morse code.
Once using the code had become second nature, Sheila was posted to Beaumanor Hall, near Loughborough - a stately home requisitioned by the War Office in 1939.
Outside the building, in what looked like dilapidated huts, a secret listening station intercepting enemy signals had been set up. This was the base for Sheila’s new job.
“It was here that we worked four six-hour shifts in three days, sitting in front of wirelesses and listening out for signals sent in Morse code,” she said.
“I wasn’t allowed to tell anyone what I did, not even my family. We didn’t even know the significance of what we were doing, as it was so top secret we were told nothing!
“I suppose what I did was spying, so I’m a former spy. Nobody knew what we did; it was one of Britain’s best kept secrets. My family thought I was a wireless operator.”
Once Sheila and her Y Group colleagues had filed the messages - usually groups of five letters at a time - the notes were sent straight to Bletchley Park for de-coding.
And it was at Bletchley that the Enigma was finally cracked – a German code used to transmit war information – with Y Group the first link in this secret chain.
“Sometimes we’d hear nothing at all, but one day I found quite a loud signal. As I was taking the message down, the sender suddenly moved the signal,” Sheila recalled.
“I started twiddling around with the radio and eventually found what I thought was him again. I took down the rest of the message and thought nothing more about it.”
A few days later, however, she was summonsed to see the Lieutenant Colonel - who revealed the code had “something to do with the Krakow section of the Russian front”.
“More than that he couldn’t tell me, as it was all top secret, but he did say: ‘If you do nothing more for the war effort, you have done your bit”,” said Sheila.
“I was sworn to secrecy but, somehow, the news got out. Some people thought I’d taken the message that had sunk the Bismarck, but I don’t think it was that.
“I also heard it was to do with unearthing a German listening station hidden deep inside the Eastern front, but I still don’t know for sure.”
Sheila was demobbed from the Army in February 1946, using her £40 demob gratuity to buy civilian clothes and lessons at a commercial school.
She went on to work for a painting and decorating firm, then Simmon’s furniture store in Fawcett Street for 20 years and, lastly, the Gas Board.
“Sheila will be sadly missed by those who loved her - those to whom she was a mam, nana. sister, aunty, friend or workmate,” said Florence.
“She was, indeed, something of a free spirit.”
l Sheila, from Thorney Close, died on December 2 aged 91. Her funeral was held today at Sunderland Crematorium.