Ann Storrs, 89: Was code breaker during World War II

Ann Gillis Storrs always loved a challenge.

Wanting more than a career as a secretary while growing up in England, she joined the Women’s Royal Naval Service and became a code breaker at Bletchley Park during World War II.

She later moved to the United States and retired after a career with the Girl Scouts of America.

Storrs died of complications from a respiratory illness at her Atlanta home on Aug. 13. She was 89. Her memorial service was Aug. 21 at the Saint Anne’s Terrace retirement community, where she lived.

Born on April 15, 1926, in Johannesburg, South Africa, Storrs grew up in Luton, England. Her parents were in South Africa for two years while her father was performing there with the BBC Dance Orchestra of England.

Her parents returned home to Luton when Storrs was an infant. At age 16, she attended technical school and worked as a secretary. With World War II waging in Europe, her family had to take cover several times in air raid shelters.

She wanted to enter the military but was rejected on her first attempt to join the elite women’s naval service because she was too young. A friend in the Royal Navy later intervened to help her gain entrance when she turned 18.

“The Wrens were difficult to get into. You had to be recommended to go through the rigorous physical and mental testing,” said her sister Jean Rich of San Antonio, Texas. “She loved being in the Wrens and felt fortunate to get in.”

Upon acceptance, Storrs was tapped to work as a code breaker at the United Kingdom’s Government Code and Cypher School at Bletchley Park.

The site, now a historical and educational attraction, decrypted secret communications of the Axis Powers, particularly the German Enigma and Lorenz machines.

A British war historian credited intelligence gathered at Bletchley Park with shortening the war by two years and helping to save millions of lives.

“Until recently, they had to be silent. So she really did not talk about it,” said her daughter Ginny Meadows of Smyrna. “It was pretty tedious work, going through lines and lines of code. The code breakers actually helped win the war.”

During the war, she met Royal Navy officer John Edgar Stockton Storrs at a dance. They married in 1947 and settled in Luton, where her husband operated a motorcycle and bicycle shop.

In 1956, they emigrated to the United States on the RMS Queen Elizabeth, entering through Ellis Island and moving to Maryland to live near family.

During her career, she worked for several regional councils of the Girl Scouts, as her husband’s engineering job relocated the family to Pennsylvania, Connecticut and Georgia. He died in 2003.

Storrs loved gardening, traveling, cooking, crafts, fishing and trips to the beach. She also enjoyed playing poker with her family and bridge with friends and participating in sing-alongs with other Saint Anne’s residents.

“Mrs. Storrs was a fun-loving person with a great personality,” said Saint Anne’s courtesy officer Isaac Vaughn, who read a poem he penned for Storrs at her memorial service. “I will most remember her smile, and I loved her British accent.”

A gifted linguist, Storrs was great at Scrabble and would get every question correct while watching the game show “Jeopardy!”

“We always managed to make the most of things,” said her sister. “We talked every weekend. We had a happy life.”

In addition to her daughter and sister, she is survived by her son Richard Storrs of Atlanta, her brother John Gillis of Langford, Bedfordshire in England, eight grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.

Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.

Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.