National Cyber Security Centre
Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and GCHQ
We reflect on Her Majesty's long association with GCHQ and the NCSC.
Like so many across the UK and around the world, all of us at GCHQ and NCSC were deeply saddened to hear about the death of Her Majesty The Queen. Our thoughts are with the Royal Family at this difficult time. Since last Thursday, we have been reflecting on our collective memories of Her Majesty.
It is well known that Her Majesty was the longest-lived, longest-reigning British monarch and longest-serving female head of state in history. When the Queen turned 18 she joined the Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS) where she trained as a truck driver and mechanic during the Second World War – the first female member of the Royal Family to have served in the Military. It is perhaps less well known that she was also the longest-serving recipient of GCHQ’s intelligence reporting – even receiving this material before her accession to the throne when she was acting as Counsellor of State in 1943 when the King was on a tour of Italy. It was always important for our new members of staff to understand that the first copy of the Weekly Survey of Intelligence, produced by the Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC), was sent to the Queen. It reflects the link of the work we do as Crown Servants and the Monarch. She was a constant for the country and also for our organisation.
Throughout her life of service, she always took a great deal of interest in the world of intelligence and we were lucky enough to welcome her on numerous occasions.
Her Majesty first visited GCHQ in March 1995 to tour our site at Oakley, Cheltenham. This was the first official Royal visit to GCHQ. She left GCHQ after lunch in M Block to visit the Birds Eye Walls factory in Gloucester. Oakley was decommissioned a decade later when our new iconic headquarters opened, also in Cheltenham. HM The Queen officially opened the ‘doughnut’ on 25th March 2004 and a few years later returned to the Benhall site in 2009 for an official visit. That same year she unveiled a new plaque in the Cloisters of Westminster Abbey, commemorating all three of the British Intelligence agencies.
In July 2011 Her Majesty unveiled a permanent memorial at Bletchley Park which GCHQ had funded. During the speech the Queen highlighted the pride the nation has in what was achieved at Bletchley and taken forward in the modern-day GCHQ, ‘…to those veterans who remain, I offer nothing but praise. You were history-shapers and your example serves as an inspiration to the intelligence community today, as they continue the vital work to protect the people of this country.’
In February 2017, Her Majesty helped us start a new chapter in GCHQ’s history when she opened our National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) headquarters at Nova South in London. In 2019, she played an important part in our centenary celebrations when she unveiled a plaque at our first home at Watergate House.
On all of these visits, Her Majesty always showed a keen interest in the latest events and how we were using our capabilities to keep the country safe. She would receive briefings on the national security issues of the day and be shown historical artefacts from our museum’s collection. One familiar artefact is the NOREEN cipher machine used onboard the Royal Yacht when Her Majesty was overseas or her BRENT key (numbered HM000001 – the first one made) for the secure telephone system.
At each of our GCHQ sites across the country, by the entrance there is a picture of the monarch. Every day we step through the doors we are reminded that we serve Queen and country. So it meant a lot that when Her Majesty visited, she always wanted to take time to meet those who were working to help keep the country safe, hear their stories and thank them for their service. Over the years and numerous visits, she met many of our people and left a lasting impression on them.
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