Shy GCHQ agent asked girlfriend to marry him via top secret tube system

By Flora Thompson, PA Home Affairs Correspondent

A former GCHQ agent was so shy he proposed to his girlfriend using a top secret messaging service, the organisation has revealed.

The intelligence officer met his future wife at the organisation in the 1950s but struggled to pluck up the courage to ask her to marry him.

So he ingeniously decided to deliver his message via a pneumatic tube system.

The former RAF serviceman, who joined GCHQ as a linguist, wrote a letter to his girlfriend and sent it off through the system known as Lamson tubes before nervously awaiting her response, according to the organisation’s historian.

The network of tubes spanned the different buildings across the intelligence and security agency’s former offices in Oakley, Cheltenham, to send sensitive documents up to 400 yards away in a matter of seconds, saving staff up to a 10-minute walk at a time.

A Lamson tube from the 1950s (GCHQ/PA)

Rather than reply in the same manner, his girlfriend – who worked in the same building as an analyst on the Soviet air force – walked around to his office and accepted the proposal in person.

The pair were happily married for more than 30 years, the organisation said.

GCHQ historian Tony Comer, who met the officer and learned of his romantic gesture, said: “He was the shy and retiring type and never quite found the right moment to ask her face to face.

“So he drew on the GCHQ tradition of finding ingenious solutions to the toughest of problems to pop the question.

“They married, and lived happily ever after, and all thanks to the aid of a Lamson tube.

“We’ve always prided ourselves on our ability to think outside the box.”

GCHQ, which rarely speaks publicly about its work but has tried to become less secretive in recent years, decided to reveal the heart-warming story to mark Valentine’s Day.

A diagram of the GCHQ Lamson tube network (GCHQ/PA)

The identities of the couple have been kept secret because of their work and the contents of the letter remain private.

After being set up on November 1 1919 as a peacetime “cryptanalytic” unit made up from staff from the Admiralty’s Room 40 and the War Office’s MI1(b), GCHQ moved to Bletchley Park during the Second World War to decrypt German messages, most famously by breaking the Enigma code.

Lamson tubes were used throughout the Second World War, including at Bletchley Park, and during the Cold War until the late 1980s.

Notes would be rolled up into the Lamson carrier, sent in the tube with directions to the exchange room, and then sent on their way to the relevant room known as “tube stations”.

While the tube network was largely used to send top secret documents, it is said chocolate eclairs were sometimes piped down the network due to their convenient shape.