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Dora K. Crawford

Dora K. Crawford
Dora K. Crawford, 90, deciphered messages during World War II that had been encoded by Germany's Enigma machines as part of Great Britain's Project Ultra. (Baltimore Sun)

Dora K. Crawford, who during World War II deciphered messages that had been encoded by Germany's Enigma machines as part of Great Britain's secret Project Ultra, died April 13 at Johns Hopkins Hospital of cardiopulmonary and renal failure.

The Catonsville resident was 90.

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The daughter of Matthew Pyne, a former Baltimore Sun Linotype operator, and Frances Corderoy Pyne, a homemaker, the former Dora Kathleen Pyne was born and raised in Ilford, Essex, a municipal borough of London.

She attended Mulley's Commercial College and with the outbreak of World War II, volunteered with the Women's Royal Naval Service.

"Then only in her teens, she was based at one of the Bletchley Park outstations, where she joined the band of women who, sworn to secrecy, used Colossus, also known as Eniac, the world's first electronic computer, to decipher messages encoded by the Enigma encryption technology used by the Nazi military," said a son, Brian D. Crawford of Arlington, Va.

"Bletchley's project Ultra operations were so efficient they could read coded messages from German generals on the battlefield before they were even seen by Adolf Hitler in Berlin," her son said.

Dr. Crawford said his mother brought both her stenographic skills and knowledge of German to the job.

Mrs. Crawford was later sent during the war to Colombo, Ceylon, now Sri Lanka, where the Ultra team engaged in decoding Japanese messages with "admirable skill and good fortune," said her son.

Prime Minister Winston Churchill called the Ultra effort his "'goose that laid the golden egg and never cackled,'" said Dr. Crawford.

In keeping with Great Britain's Official Secrets Act, Mrs. Crawford did not reveal her wartime exploits to family and friends until the 1970s, when the role Bletchley Park played during the war began to emerge publicly.

Mrs. Crawford, who was one of a handful of surviving code breakers, received a commendation in 2009 from Queen Elizabeth II on the 70th anniversary of when Alan Turing and his colleagues first arrived at Bletchley Park in 1939. Mr. Turing was the subject of the Hollywood movie "The Imitation Game" last year.

While Mrs. Crawford knew of Mr. Turning, she was much closer to Thomas Harold "Tommy" Flowers, an electrical engineer who designed the computer, which he named Colossus, that was used to break the German code.

After the war, Mrs. Crawford emigrated to Baltimore and in 1947 married Henry L. Crawford, a precision machinist, and settled in West Friendship.

Her mother and father later moved from England, which was still suffering from the wartime bombing of London and rationing, to Baltimore to be near their only child.

She became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1953, and in the early 1950s, became a communicant of St. John's Episcopal Church in Ellicott City, where she also served as an administrative assistant to the Rev. Albert Rich.

In 1965, after her children reached school age, Mrs. Crawford took a job with W.R. Grace Inc. at its chemical research facility in Clarksville, and subsequently became an executive administrative assistant in the office of the president of the company's Davison Chemical Co. in downtown Baltimore.

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"She was known for her discretion, polite and poised demeanor, and keen attention to efficiency and detail," her son said.

After retiring in 1985, she and her husband moved to Queenstown, where they enjoyed sailing on the Chesapeake Bay and were members of the Kent Island Yacht Club. She also liked to travel, cook and garden.

In 2008, after her husband's death, she moved to the Charlestown retirement community in Catonsville.

"While she treasured her adult life in the country that welcomed her, and later also both of her parents, she often said longingly that her heart would always remain in England," said her son.

A memorial service will be held at 10:30 a.m. July 10 at her church, 9120 Frederick Road, Ellicott City.

In addition to her son, Mrs. Crawford is survived by another son, Roger L. Crawford of Winchester, Va.; a daughter, Jacqueline V. Harrington of Ellicott City; 10 grandchildren; and six great-grandchildren.

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