8 March 2023
On International Women’s Day 2023, Portsmouth High School, GDST, was delighted to unveil a blue plaque to the late Margaret Rock MBE, a Portsmouth High School alumna and Bletchley Park Codebreaker.
The inauguration was attended by Portsmouth High School’s Headmistress, Mrs Jane Prescott, Chair of Governors, Mrs Krysia Butwilowska, staff, governors and the Head Girl Team as well as Councillor Suzy Horton, a Portsmouth High School alumna herself, Councillor Chris Attwell and other members of the Council and leaders of local groups including Ayelech Arthur-Kifle from the African Women’s Forum.
‘Happy International Women’s Day,’ said Councillor Horton which was met with applause. ‘I wonder what people like Margaret Rock would make of International Women’s Day. It is fitting to be telling her story to portray how women, despite the odds, have always been pioneers, trailblazers and leaders. Margaret was awarded an MBE for her war work in 1945. In reflecting on what an extraordinary life she lived I am reminded of the importance of education in opening doors, creating life chances, especially for women and girls today. I reflect with genuine emotion and soaring respect for women like Margaret and another Portsmouth High alumna Kate Edmonds, Portsmouth’s first female councillor, who is commemorated across the road, [Kent Road, Southsea] that they might find some comfort in each other as trailblazers for this city.’
The Headmistress, Mrs Jane Prescott and Chair of Governors, Mrs Krysia Butwilowska also spoke about the pride in the school’s alumnae and the current students who attend.
Deputy Head Girl, Ashlyn Khan, added:
‘I am proud to be following in a long tradition of successful PHS women. Margaret Rock and her success during World War 2 inspires me to strive for my journey in the medical field, so that someday, I too will develop a scientific breakthrough.
‘It is important to acknowledge the battles for female education that she and many women have faced during the male-dominated world of the 1940’s. Their dedication and hard work for equality encourages me to lead the way for future generations and give recognition to the extraordinary work of GDST women still waiting to be discovered.’
After the official ceremony, author and Margaret’s biographer, Kerry Howard, talked to students and members of the public about Margaret’s life and work; from her days of Portsmouth High School, to studying at Bedford College in London and ultimately to being a Code Breaker at Bletchley Park. ‘Dear Codebreaker’ explores the letters of Margaret Rock and her brother John Rock (British Parachute & Glider Forces Pioneer) and is a unique glimpse into the lives of a Codebreaker and a pioneer of the very first glider and parachute forces in Britain. The book, explained to us by Kerry, follows the family’s journey through happiness, loss, and great adventure through the Fall of France, the Blitz, the first British military parachute jumps as well as the exhausting secret work at Bletchley Park during the Second World War.
‘Like many of those who served at Bletchley Park, Margaret did not speak publicly about her wartime work up to her death in 1983. To understand this enigmatic codebreaker and her role in the Enigma code story, we catch glimpses of the woman, her work, and her life through family letters, photographs, and interviews.’