June 19 – A Trip to Bletchley Park

Happy Birthday Peter and Francesca

Hello from 1066 – A Medieval Mosaic

Today we decided to go to Bletchley Park as it has been on our “To Visit” list and now we are quite close. It was only about an hours drive away and it was a lovely warm day with blue skies. We found the place reasonably easily and were greeted by a security man who waved us through the gates into a big car park.

The first building – Block C, contained a modern exhibition by MacAfee “Secrecy and Security; Keeping Safe Online” which talked about cybersecurity and how to safely navigate cyberspace. How we are protected using the internet and mobile phones and the different types of jobs involved in the industry. There was also an encrypted puzzle to do. We found eight of the nine letters required and guessed at the ninth and broke the code. Our geocaching skills came in quite handy while searching for the letters but I don’t know where they hid that last one.

There were two other exhibition spaces where there was information about “The Road to Bletchley Park” which explored codebreaking during WW1. There was also a shop selling all sorts of souvenirs including some really good puzzle books and a cafe where we had some lunch. Then we moved on to the main grounds after picking up our audio units which gave vast quantities of information about the facility and how it functioned.

We walked around the lake listening to how the men and women who were stationed here, lived and worked. They worked very long hours with very little time off in difficult conditions, too cold in winter and too hot in summer, doing confidential work which even then they could not talk about, even to friends and marital partners. After initial training at the Inter-Service Special Intelligence School set up by John Tiltman (initially at an RAF depot in Buckingham and later in Bedford – where it was known locally as “the Spy School”) staff worked a six-day week, rotating through three shifts: 4 p.m. to midnight, midnight to 8 a.m. (the most disliked shift), and 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., each with a half-hour meal break. At the end of the third week, a worker went off at 8 a.m. and came back at 4 p.m., thus putting in sixteen hours on that last day. The irregular hours affected workers’ health and social life, as well as the routines of the nearby homes at which most staff lodged. The work was tedious and demanded intense concentration; staff got one week’s leave four times a year.

Then we moved into the original Victorian mansion with Commander Denniston‘s office and the Library recreated as they were in WW2. Numbers of people working at Bletchley Park rose as the war went on, from a relatively small team in 1938 to something like 10,000 people – code-breakers, Wrens, WAAFs, posh debutantes working on the cross-indexing system etc. Three -quarters of them were women. All these people, mainly young, were billeted around the town and nearby villages.

Next, we went to Hut 12 which housed a temporary exhibition of Ian Fleming and James Bond related paintings, books and other memorabilia. This was very interesting as his wartime service in Britain’s Naval Intelligence Division and his career as a journalist provided much of the background, detail and depth of the James Bond novels. The Bond stories rank among the best-selling series of fictional books of all time, having sold over 100 million copies worldwide. After visiting the cottages and the stables where the first breaks into the daily changing German Enigma were made we visited the Polish monument which acknowledges the work of Marian Rejewski, Henryk Zygalski and Jerzy Różycki who worked at breaking German Enigma-machine cyphers before and during World War II.

We then visited Hut 1, 11, 11A, 3, 6 and 8 where we were able to get an idea of how difficult conditions could be as it was particularly hot by now and quite airless inside the buildings. However, there were some interesting exhibits and more puzzles and cypher examples to examine and attempt to solve. This definitely reminds me of some of the cyphers used for geocaching puzzles. Huts 11 and 11A showed how the team during WW2 helped to solve the challenge of Enigma with the creation of the Bombe machines and what it was like to operated them. Huts 3 and 6 were restored German army and airforce codebreaking huts and Hut 8 was a German Naval Enigma codebreaking hut with Alan Turing’s WW2 office recreated.

Block B was a two-story building featuring different cypher machines including Enigma and Lorenz and codes of WW2. Also an exhibit about Alan Turing which had a lifesize model of Turing built from half a million pieces of Welsh slate by Stephen Kettle from 2007. It was amazing! I am sad that Alan Turing died so young as he gave so much and had so much more to offer as one of the pioneers of the computing industry. This exhibition was so very interesting but I am afraid I was getting too tired and having trouble taking it all in as we had walked too far today. Luckily our entry ticket allows us free reentry for a year so we will come back to do this building more thoroughly and the National Museum of Computing is just around the corner too with its Colossus computer.

As we were looking around the shop the lights dimmed and we realised that they wanted us to leave. We could not believe we had been there for over 6 hours. No wonder we had sore feet. What an exceptional day we had!