Bletchley Park

The world of code breakers

I loved the Famous Five books as a child, and my favourite all time children’s books were the Swallows and Amazon series by Arthur Ransome. (I realize this makes it seems as though I’m ancient, BUT, these books were republished constantly. I just noticed Swallows and Amazons in a book shop the other day.) I loved the adventures, both series had codes and secrets as major plot enhancers. I memorized morse code thanks to these books, could also draw a message in Semaphore (learnt from the Arthur Ransome books!). Now that we’ve established my geekiness as a child, let’s move on to adulthood and a fascination with the code breaking of World War II. Due to last year’s movie The Imitation Game, quite a lot of publicity has been given to the work of the code breakers based at Bletchley Park during World War II.

A visit to Bletchley was placed on my agenda when planning this trip. The easiest way to get to Bletchley was to drive so I hired a car for 2 days to get around in. Driving in London, due to the traffic, is horrific so I tend to pick cars up at the main airports surrounding London. I’ve found Stansted the easiest as it’s quite a small airport, and arranged to pick the car up from there again, I was flying out of Gatwick so organized to drop the car at that airport. (And play extra to do that, helpful hint it’s cheaper to pick and drop off at same airport!)

Driving to Bletchley involved some planning on my part since I’m too cheap to pay extra for a satnav! I rely on maps, memory and planning! UK road system is numbered, it’s a case of take this number road to that, follow signs to that one. All went well until I got close to the town of Bletchley then a complete tangled spaghetti of roads (with no numbers!) had me frustrated and the challenge of finding what I was looking for wasn’t fun!

Stopped checked map, found the town of Old Bletchley (apart from Bletchley) and from there, there were signs to Bletchley Park, small discrete signs, but I knew it was opposite the Train station so that helped find the entrance.

I almost thought I was in the wrong place as the entrance really looked like one to a secret military installation!

This is the entrance and there was a sentry at the boom gate when I arrived, it did have me questioning if I were in the right place!

Once I parked the car, I looked around blankly and couldn’t see the entrance, went up the hill, saw the sign for the Computer Museum and went in there. (I’ll leave that for another post) Helpful man at Computer Museum told me where the entrance to the Visitor centre was, again very discrete sign!!! (Needed to have gone down the hill from car park, not up!)

The actual complex was terrific, the past few years some major work has gone into it (and is continuing) which all makes for a really interesting visit.

This estate was bought by the government in 1938 especially to base their code breakers here, previously they were housed in a building in London which was thought to be too dangerous in the event of war. (They were proved right)

This is the mansion where the administrative staff were housed and initially those working on codes.

The office of Commander Denniston who ran the whole department. (Contrary to the movie, he was supportive of the whole project and actively recruited, bright young mathematicians to work at Bletchley)

The Library in the mansion, set up the way it would have been during the war.

Love the bust of Winston!

In 1938, the original staff that worked on the codes did so in a series of cottages just behind the main house, but by 1939 there were already 180 people working at Bletchley and so huts were built in the grounds.

This is the inside of Hut 8 which is the one where Alan Turling worked, his reconstructed office is here. Different huts worked on different areas, Hut 8 worked on breaking the German naval enigma codes. (Other huts worked on the army codes, Japanese codes)

The reconstructed Alan Turling office, nice touches with the brief case and cardigan!

Reconstruction of a German communications post.

In the Museum shop I bought a copy of the book The Secret Life of Bletchley Park by Sinclair Hill, I'm reading it at the moment and it has the background on the work and life of the people at Bletchley Park during the war. It ended up being quite a large community with people working in shifts 8am to 4pm, 4pm to midnight, midnight to 8am.

For anyone who has an interest in history, particularly what can be seen as recent history, I can highly recommend a visit to Bletchley Park. I've barely scratched the surface of what I learnt from my visit there. A well spent afternoon!