Sunday 3 September 2017

Code Breakers

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!


  1. That must have been a fascinating day out. How very sad that Alan Turing never received the recognition he so richly deserved. His mother must have been heartbroken by his early death.

  2. What a fascinating place and it is totally amazing the work they did during those times and without the technology that we now have today. So sad about Alan Turing though, to treat a national hero in such a way was appalling.

  3. Did I say on Facebook? We went to Bletchley several years ago on a very cold winter's day so we got a taste of what it must have been like when snow was on the ground and they were having to work in those brick outbuildings. Did you see Alan Turing's enamel mug chained to the radiator :-) It is an impressive place and Turing's own story is desperately sad. I think the state has recently apologised haven't they? A bit late really.

  4. What an amazing visit. Thanks for taking us along on your visit, wonderful recap. We probably still don't know enough of those code breakers in-spite of the secrecy act time limits. We did get the TV series 1 & 2 called Bletchley Square about the ladies, on this side of the pond. It made me want to know more.

  5. An amazing story. I saw the film 'The Imitation Game' a while ago -an excellent film. Would love to visit Bletchley Park too. It's on my list!

    1. It was the Imitation Game that first aroused my interest. Just book and go!

  6. What a wonderful visit, thanks for sharing with us all. I have always been fascinated by Bletchley Park. Unfortunately we were never near enough to visit on our trips to Britain and we are unlikely to be back again. Must see if I can get the biography of Turin on audio.

  7. It's a fascinating place and there's so much to take in. Did you go to the computer museum too? One of the volunteers who had worked at Bletchley in WWII explained to me how the punch tape worked ... I understood at the time, I really did! But it's flown away like a butterfly you hold for a moment.

  8. Always wanted to go there. A good friend of mine's mother was there and quite high up I believe. Another good book is Dilly by Mavis Batey.

  9. Really interesting post Gina. You have skilfully made the visit ours as well as yours. Thank you x


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