(Gwendolen) Betty Stilgoe and Henryk (Henry) Elwertowski

 Rob Forsyth

Betty was born 16 March 1921Betty-hatfashionshot.mod.red

After being educated at a French speaking convent she joined the Civil Service  in the Statistical Department of The Ministry of Labour.

She would recount that early on in WWII many of the Civil Service were sent by train to Southport, not knowing where they were going,  and accommodated in some very basic holiday accommodation - 1 toilet to 28 girls and the bathroom door locked to save hot water.  She was soon appointed as Personal Assistant to Sir Edward Appleton, Chief Scientific Officer, and as his driver. Sir Edward was closely involved in the British side of the Atomic Bomb project. From her position she was well aware from the papers she typed and conversation around her of the Manhattan Project and was one of the few people not surprised when the bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. Sir Edward avoided publicity so the press took pictures of her instead - the photo above perhaps shows why.

Betty's office shared a canteen with the Admiralty and it was there she met her husband Henryk (Henry) Jerzy Elwertowski (pdf) (b.1910), a Pole who had escaped from his country at the start of the war. They married in January 1946 and Betty had to give up her Civil Service job. Henry was stateless at the time so Betty also became stateless  and had to sign the Aliens register at the local Police Station when she went to see her parents. It took some 20 years to get a full passport.

Henry, like her former Civil Service boss, was a very clever scientist who eventually became Chief Scientist at the Admiralty Compass Observatory. His most significant contribution from this post was to oversee the design of the Ships Inertial Navigation System (SINS) which was a critical component of the navigation system for the Resolution class submarines built to carry Polaris missiles following the US/UK Nassau Agreement in 1962. Modern RN submarines are still fitted with follow on variants - including HMS Sceptre the submarine I commanded from 1977-79.

On Henry's retirement in 1972 he was  appointed CBE.  An article at the time in The Journal of the Royal Naval Scientific Service (pdf) contains a very full account of his life including his escape from Poland, his career thereafter and the major contribution he made to naval navigation systems. The photograph on the right may have been taken at the time of his retirement.

Henry died a short time later on 14 February 1973. 

Betty continued living in London for a while but they had no children and eventually she came to live with her relative Robert at Adderbury Grounds until her death in February 2018 at the age of 97.

Stilgoe Family

Deddington Stilgoes