Codebreaking in the English countryside
We finally made it. I was so looking forward to visiting Bletchley Park. Come on, who doesn’t love the thought of spying, espionage and secrets?
The Mansion, Bletchley Park
The incredible work that was undertaken by the women and men at Bletchley Park, during World War II, was invaluable to our future.
It was so secretive at Bletchley that even the families of the people that worked there were unaware of what was unfolding behind the closed doors.
Who would expect back in the late 1930’s that a charming Mansion set within the English countryside would hold so many secrets?
So, armed with our annual ticket, we enter the world of codebreakers. First, you stroll through the visitor’s centre where there’s an introduction to Bletchley Park and all its goings-on. Here you can test your own codebreaking skills and interact with the exhibits.
The Importance of Bletchley Park
This is not just for the little kids amongst us!
Cross-referencing in multiple languages
We grabbed our audio guide, which is included in the price of the ticket, and went to uncover the hidden enigmas for ourselves.
Their lips are sealed
It’s hard to imagine in the times we live now, how this whole operation was kept such a secret. At its height, nearly 10,000 people working here, most of which were women. The codebreaking factory ran day and night, the staff worked 6-days a week, across three shift patterns.
Very hush hush
All level of skills were required to keep this well-oiled machine running. A large number of employees were Oxbridge educated and were sought after if they spoke different languages. Particularly the Italian, German, Japanese and French speakers.
Making it lighthearted
Head to Block B
There’s no set route at Bletchley Park, you are free to wander around as you wish. We headed to Block B first, which now houses the main museum, the world’s largest public display of Enigma machines and an exhibition to Alan Turing.
Bomb-proofed Block B
Block B was built along with Block A in 1941/2 and was bomb-proofed. These blocks were created due to how quick the codebreaking factory was expanding at Bletchley Park. They had outgrown the Mansion and The Huts.
You’ll need to allow quite a bit of time here as there’s a considerable amount of interesting information to absorb in the museum, we were pleased we headed there first.
There’s detailed information on how the incredible mathematician Alan Turing, and his colleagues, broke the codes on the Enigma and Lorenz machines, along with other ciphers. Fascinating stories into people’s lives as double agents and spies.
Statue of Alan Turing
Enigma I cipher machine
Enjoy the outdoors
After our self-guided lesson into codebreaking, we headed towards the Mansion and strolled around the picturesque lake. Bletchley Park has catering facilities, however, bringing your own picnic and enjoying the surroundings is another way to go.
The Mansion & relax in the shade
Grab yourself a bench or a deckchair and sit back and immerse yourself in all the whisperings and secrets, that would have been circling around during World War II.
Bletchley Park lake and Mansion
What is fun to listen out for as you wander around Bletchley Park are the different sounds being played out. You can hear planes flying overhead, steam trains running by and balls being hit on the tennis court. They sound like they are happening right next to you.
Where it started
The Mansion dates from 19th-century. This is where the codebreaking began, on the ground floor of the beautiful manor house.
Office in Bletchley Park Mansion
Along with Commander Denniston’s office, you can wander through the rooms reading some of the intriguing personal stories, of the men and women who worked at Bletchley Park. It really is fascinating the lives that they lead and the secrets they kept.
The Personal Stories
Day & night
We then headed onto the Stableyard and cottages, where the groundbreaking discoveries were made by Alan Turing and his colleagues, of the daily changes on the German Enigma.
Dispatch riders would also arrive at the Stableyard gate to deliver hundreds and hundreds of messages, day and night.
The Polish Memorial
There’s a lovely Memorial here to commemorate three Polish mathematicians, who also worked on the Enigma code in 1933 and who handed over their findings to the British in 1939.
Deciphering in The Huts
In huts around the park during WWII the magic was taking place. Specific huts would be responsible for deciphering information from particular forces. For example, Hut 6 was used for decrypting the Enigma messages from the German Army and Air Force.
Deciphering within the huts
Hut 8’s responsibilities were for the Navy; these huts would then have additional staff working with them to translate and analyze the information. Hut 3 worked in conjunction with 6 for Army and Air Forces and Hut 4 operated along with 8 for Navy translations. A chute was built between the two so that they could send messages to each other. Quite crude in construction, but hey, it worked.
Don’t Help the Enemy
Manual, repetitive tasks
Huts 11 and 11a were built to house the Bombe machines developed by Alan Turing, Gordon Welchman and Hugh Alexander. These machines were continually maintained throughout each day by the Wrens codebreakers. Repeatedly changing settings and running each drum through its 17,576 positions.
Replica of the Bombe machine
The ciphers that the codebreakers produced could only be useful for decoding messages that had been received within the 24-hour window. As the Enigma machines settings would be changed by the Germans at midnight every day.
Bombes operated by Wrens
This whole process was continually challenging, and we owe a great deal to the codebreakers at Bletchley Park. I could easily return here again as there was so much to digest, and it was incredibly interesting.
Inspired to visit Bletchley Park?
Why not pack a picnic and come along and enjoy the fun?
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