Watters, Jean Annette (Briggs)
October 15, 1925 – September 15, 2018
Jean Annette Watters (Briggs) passed away on Saturday, September 15th at the age of 92. She was born in Bury St. Edmunds, England, and attended the Cambridge School of Art. Despite showing great promise as an artist, after turning 18, Jean declined the offer of a deferment from her school and immediately entered military service to help defend her country in World War II.
After joining the Women’s Royal Naval Service (WRNS), Jean was recruited into the highly classified ENIGMA code-breaking program (codenamed ULTRA) where she served until the end of the war. The ULTRA program was one of the most consequential and closely-guarded military programs in history, a huge responsibility for a teenager. The program has been estimated to have significantly shortened the war and saved hundreds of thousands of lives. Jean never revealed her actual wartime work, even to her US Air Force husband, six children nor anyone else until the program was declassified in the 1970s. Her father passed away never knowing her actual clandestine and most significant role in the war. Over six decades after the program had completed, Jean was finally recognized by the United Kingdom’s Prime Minister and decorated for her contributions to the war effort while in the ULTRA program.
During the war, Jean met her future husband, the dashing John Watters, who was serving in the U.S. Army Air Corps, flying dangerous strategic bombing missions in B-17 bombers. With dogged persistence, John eventually won over the beautiful Jean Briggs, who like many English, initially had a negative view of “Yanks.” Immediately after the war, they were engaged to be married. John received special permission from the British government for Jean to leave the WRNS so they could start their life together. They were married shortly thereafter in England, starting a marriage that spanned 72 wonderful years, ending only in June of this year, when John passed away.
Jean and John raised six children, with John’s career in the U.S. Air Force taking them to live in several states, as well as England and Guam. They retired as a military family and settled in Bellevue, Nebraska, where they have lived since 1969. Despite already having six children, her home was always a magnet for other children – a welcoming second home of warmth and joy. Jean continued her painting, producing works of art of such quality that she regularly received art show honors – and offers to buy her paintings – which she always refused. Her handmade children’s birthday party cards were original works of art. She was also a volunteer public school librarian and tutor, often opening her home in the summer months to assist children who needed her help. Additionally, Jean was an accomplished chef, mastering a broad culinary range. Her recipes live on in many homes across the globe. She loved gardening and was also a formidable bridge and mahjong player. And this sweet, soft-spoken lady with the English accent could and would cut you off at the knees while playing the card game of hearts.
Jean leaves behind six children: John Jr., Duncan, Christopher (Lori), Jennifer Ricou (Ernesto), Robin (Pamela), and Peter (Amanda). Jean is also survived by eight grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.
Despite living in the US for over 70 years, Jean remained a British citizen, steadfastly loyal to her country and Queen. But she loved her brave and heroic all-American husband, her children, and America itself. Jean was kind, generous, and graceful, but like many of her generation, had the mental toughness and dedication to help preserve freedom as we now enjoy it. The way she lived her life and her big heart positively impacted the many dozens of young people who were fortunate to be part of her life. As with all World War II and other veterans, we are in her debt. As a remarkable wife, mother, grandmother, family member and friend, we will greatly miss her. Jean will live on for all who loved her in their special memories of her life well-lived.
Visitation Sunday, September 23rd from 4:00 – 6:00 p.m. at Bellevue Memorial Chapel, 2202 Hancock Street.
Visitation resumes Monday, September 24th from 10:00 a.m. to Noon followed by the Funeral Service at Noon both at Church of the Holy Spirit, 1305 Thomas Drive, Bellevue.
Interment 2:00 p.m. at Omaha National Cemetery, 14250 Schram Road, Omaha.
Memorials DAV PO Box 14301 Cincinnati, OH 45250.