As I posted earlier to break up the drive down from Yorkshire to the New Forest we called in at Bletchley Park.
It is a nicely presented modern museum, telling the story of the site as you move round the complex. To make the most of the visit we used the free audio guide and followed the suggested route.
The modest scale of the code-breaking work at Bletchley was such that at the start of the war the country house and its various outbuildings were all that was required. Very quickly this was insufficient and the sprawl of huts was built up.
As I’m pretty sure that you are all aware of the stories of Bletchley Park I won’t go into too much detail of what happened there. The thing that really surprised me however was the absolutely massive scale of the operation that was there. Round the clock large scale breaking of German and other Axis codes. It required thousands of mostly women working very hard with no recognition for decades afterwards to produce a quality of signal intelligence that shortened the war by several years.
The audio-guide led me to this memorial to the work that the Poles did before the war that enabled so much to be done during the conflict years. In general I feel that the Polish contribution and sacrifices to WW2 has been undervalued for many years and it was nice to see this tribute to that nation.
The majority of the museum is made up of the huts with little displays set up in them to given an idea of the spartan conditions people worked in there.
The audio-guide leads you through the huts and you can listen to the development of the site and the functions of each hut. It is a good use of the buildings and in someways reminiscent of Eden Camp. However they do get a little same-y with the 1940s style set dressing, but that is a small price to pay for the preservation of the site. The majority of the artifacts are held in a separate building. The centrepiece of this is a magnificent rebuilt bombe that was used to decode the engima intercepts.
This wonderful machine (not a computer) is demonstrated by the staff there- the gent who did our presentation did a great job and was very knowledgeable, especially passing this on to the younger people there.
These two example in different conditions were what it was all about: The Enigma Machine. Used by The Germans in their thousands, the encrypted messages were transmitted in Morse and picked up by listening stations, transcribed and then sent to Bletchley. So fast was the process , that by the end of the war, Allied commanders were getting decrypt translations at about the same time as the intended Nazi recipient had got it.
The bombe didn’t produce a definitive answer: machines such as this were needed, as well as plenty of brain power to test possibilities that the machine threw up.
Sadly our visit was cut short by the closing of the museum. Fortunately the entry tickets are valid for a year so I plan to go back down there to have a decent look at what I missed sooner, rather than later. I also might visit the National Musuem of Computing that shares a site with Bletchley Park.
Next- on to France….