Bletchley Park

We are now back in New Zealand and after getting over jet lag, the flu, and sorting ourselves out, some of us are now back into the swing of things, although the male member of the touring party has now developed pneumonia so there will be a delay before he feels up to doing his bit. We are so far behind with blog entries and we have some serious catching up to do with our last few weeks of travelling. You can look forward to blogs on lots of museum and library visits, shows we went to see, people we farewelled, and a few days stopover in Singapore before getting home.

Here is the first of the catch up blogs.

Part of our journey was to make a trek to Bletchley Park near Milton Keynes and as we were visiting family up that way it was an opportune time to set aside some time to visit. We had attempted to visit Bletchley on our previous trip to these parts which was thwarted by heavy snow and the roads were blocked, you can read about that trip here

I’m sure most of you will know exactly the history of Bletchley but for those who are unfamiliar Bletchley is where during WWII some of the greatest minds collaborated on breaking codes, inventing machines, techniques and computers to form a major part in the Allies overcoming Hitler, all the while Bletchley was kept very secret even from the partners of those who worked there. You can read more about the Park here on their excellent website. Some of you may be familiar with a couple of movies which were made about some of the work done at the Park, one being Enigma and the other The Imitation Game. As an aside, as Lodge owners we hosted the main actors of Enigma a few years ago.

Back to the visit. We arrived at the Park straight from the train from London before midday and spent the next few hours wandering through the complex until closing time.

the entrance sign

The Park covers around 23ha made up of many buildings including the main mansion house. The huts, as they are known, housed the serious work that went on in code decryption and interception, cipher, and the associated technical machinery invented and modified as part of the intelligence work. As an interesting aside over half of the workers were women.

the mansion where the headquarters were located.

inside the main entrance was this room with its ornate glass ceiling.

The Park has had extensive upgrade over the past few years with displays and interactive modelling set in each of the huts explaining the workings and daily life of the people who worked there. Work went on in these huts intercepting not only German messaging but Russian, Japanese, Italian, Spanish and Portugese languages as well as naval, army, airforce and police intelligence.

decoding equipment

early enigma machine

As well as the small machinery, there is the Bombe, the large machine built to decode the Enigma machine. We managed to arrive at this point in the park when a 45minute talk on the history, the people and workings of the Bombe were carefully explained. As well, a working demonstration of the machine was given. It was totally fascinating.

the reverse side of the Bombe, the computer designed and built by Alan Turing and his team

I later asked how long a modern computer would take to decipher the same code as the Bombe (which took a couple of hours), and was told that it wasn’t until around the year 2000 when dual processors came into being that a modern computer could tackle such a feat.

Our walk around the many huts continued with lots to keep us entertained until closing time when Jackie & Hossein were arriving to collect us.

this sign piqued my interest, where female translators has the title of Lady Translator. I wondered why male translators did not have a similar gender classification?

The following morning Jackie returned us to Bletchley for the morning as we still had plenty to see. I wanted to peruse through a few more of the huts whilst a Roy wanted to visit the National Computing Museum which is also on the premises. This was to see, amongst other things, Colossus, the super computer built and used at the complex. I shall let Roy elaborate on this subject.

Even after having two good goes at seeing everything at Bletchley we could have easily spent at least another day there, and with more work being done on more huts, we look forward to a return visit in the future.

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