Given that we woke to sunshine on Bank Holiday Monday we seized the opportunity for a day out and made the short journey to Bletchley Park, home of the WW2 code breakers and birth place of modern Information Technology. Despite a lingering head ache, which may or may not have had something to do with red wine the previous evening (I refuse to incriminate myself) it really was an excellent day out... something I had being saying I wanted to do for ages, so another 60 x 60 crossed off my list
Nearly 10,000 people worked at Bletchley during the war, 75% of them women. They came from a variety of backgrounds including many academics such as linguists and mathematicians and both civilians and military personnel. The work they did was highly secret and most just did their job not even knowing what the people in the next hut were doing never mind appreciating the magnitude of the importance of their work. And after the war, they moved on to other lives and no one knew anything about this highly secret operation until years later.
In 1938 a small group of MI6 personnel, scholars and academics who formed the Government Code & Cypher School, moved into the mansion in the park initially under the cover of being a shooting party. Away from London and the bombing they could work in relative safety. As more people arrived they moved into pre-fabricated huts, known only by their hut numbers, where they worked until 1942 before transferring to brick buildings on site... although these were also still known by the same hut numbers.
It really was fascinating to walk around the lakeside park where these men and women worked and to see the beautifully recreated rooms. The rooms in the mansion were relatively comfortable compared to the interior of the huts.
The impact that their work had on the outcome of the war cannot be underestimated and thousands of lives were saved by breaking the German Enigma codes.
The interior of the huts were really atmospheric and we could imagine how cold and draughty they must have been in the winter and equally how hot and stuffy in the summer, with very little light or ventilation. And of course in those days, everyone smoked which couldn't have helped the atmosphere.
As well as the thousands of men and women who interpretated the radio signals, operated machines and did all the other vital yet routine jobs, there were also the actual code breakers such as Bill Tutte, Gordon Welchman, Dilly Knox, Nigel de Grey and perhaps most famous of all Alan Turing. This is Alan Turing's office.
Heralded as one of the greatest figures of the 20th century, Turin was hardly known outside of academic circles until the 1970s when his critical contribution to the breaking of the Enigma code and the development of computer science became known, along with the details of his untimely death. Although awarded the OBE for his contribution to the war effort, Turin found himeself charged with gross indecency in the 1950s - basically he was being criminalised for being homosexual, something I find hard to comprehend these days. He was given the choice of a prison sentence or chemical castration and chose the later which involved a course of oestrogen injections. Designed to kill his sex drive, what they did was make him grow breasts. Sadly he took his own life in 1954 at the age of just 41 by eating cyanide on an apple.
I was so moved by his story that I have started to read Alan M. Turing written by his mother Sara.
Despite not really understanding her son on many levels, Sara gives a insight into his life and achievements, although fails to mention his homosexuality or his suicide, preferring to believe it was a case of accidental death. The style is a little stilted but what is undisputable is that he is a man who should not be forgotten.
If you get a chance, do visit Bletchley Park as it makes for a great day out with much to see and learn. I'm really glad I went despite the head ache... don't wait to do those things you've always said you'll do!