I was particularly thrilled to visit Bletchley Park earlier this year. It was my interest in the Polish Codebreakers and Marian Rejewski in particular which took me to Bletchley.
The memorial to the Polish Codebreakers in the grounds reads:-
“This plaque commemorates the work of Marian Rejewski, Jerzy Rozycki and Henryk Zygalski mathematicians of the Polish Intelligence Service in first breaking the Enigma code. Their work greatly assisted the Bletchley Park Codebreakers and contributed to the Allied victory in World War II.”
This year The Bombe Breakthrough exhibition opened in Hut 11A. The exhibition will run until 2028 and features the first electro-mechanical deciphering device-the bombe machine invented my Marian Rejewski in 1936, a device combining 6 Enigma rotors which was capable of working through possible settings for an Enigma machine and reaching a solution within two hours.
There is of course something for everyone at Bletchley. The mansion house itself is worthy of a visit, with intricate carved staircase, sweeping entrance hallway with marbled pillars and oak panelled rooms. The mansion was constructed by Sir Herbret Samuel Leon. The British Government moved their on 15thAugust 1939 when the site was established as an ultra secret code breaking base- Station X. All staff were required to sign The Official Secrets Act 1939 and were constantly reminded the importance of secrecy and not to discuss their work with anyone. Not their colleagues, not their spouses, not their friends. At its height, during WW2, there were around 10 000 personal operating from Bletchley and despite some security breaches, the secrecy of the operation was maintained following the war up until 1973 when books began to be published on the subject. Notwithstanding that many of the Bletchley staff took the secret of their codebreaking work with them to the grave. The extraordinary success in maintaining the secrecy of the operation at Bletchley led Churchill to refer to the Bletchley staff as “the geese that laid the golden eggs and never cackled.”
In 1992 Milton Keynes Borough Council declared the majority of the park as a conservation area. The Bletchley Park Trust was formed and the site was opened to visitors in 1993. In June 2014 a substantial renovation project was completed.
Present days guests pass through a guarded barrier with first port of call a war time train station- the method of arrival for many of the staff at Bletchley. As visitors wander the grounds, it is all too easy to drift back in time as the sounds of ancient conversations can be heard, a spitfire drones in the sky above, tennis balls whizz across the tennis courts and voices call from the boating pond.
In the huts, some of which are set up as they were during the war years, wooden desks with sephia figures tell their stories, in another, colossus clanks through her work.
Current exhibitions include Bond at Bletchley which reveals new research into author Ian Fleming’s connection to Bletchley Park and suggest how his work with Navel Intelligence helped inspire the creation of the James Bond books!
The National Museum of Computing is also housed on the Bletchley site. All in all there is a lot to see, however if you begin to suffer information overload-there is always afternoon tea !
author The Cypher Bureau (How the Poles solved Enigma)