Well there is plenty so see and do at Bletchley Park and only fifty miles north of London, the museum is very accessible.
Visitors immediately become conscious of the secretive nature of the base. At arrival they are greeted at the barrier by uniformed guards. Once past security, guests find themselves on the railway platform, the first arrival point for many of the former employees of Bletchley Park.
Then visitors find themselves drifting back in time to the period between 15th August 1939 and demobilisation, when Bletchley Park operated as an ultra secret decoding and radio interception base. Easy to do as the drone of a Spitfire engine echoes across the sky above, ghostly tennis balls whiz across the tennis courts and ancient conversations drift across the boating pond and mowed lawns.
Inside the mansion, a carved wooden staircase sweeps upstairs from the marble pillared hallway and the bay windowed library has been restored to replicate the working conditions of the top Bletchley staff.
“Station X,” or B.P. as the site was affectionately known by those who worked there at its peak was home to around 10,000 staff and read over four thousand intercepted messages a day. All staff were required to sign The Official Secrets Act 1939.
They were constantly reminded of the danger of careless talk and many took the secret of the nature of the work they carried out at Bletchley to their grave.
Operations at Bletchley Park remained a closely guarded secret until the 1970’s when books began to be published on the subject of the code-breaking work carried out there during the war. Although there were some security leaks the maintenance of the secrecy of the base was a considerable achievement in itself and led Churchill to refer to Bletchley staff as “the geese who laid the golden eggs and never cackled.”
There are many exhibitions to watch out for, full details of the Bletchley Park web site but check out . . The Bombe Breakthrough Hut 11A – houses a replica of the first electro mechanical deciphering machine invented by Marian Rejewski in 1936 and capable of discovering Enigma settings within two hours.
The Polish Memorial – attributes first Enigma code break to the Polish team.
Bond at Bletchley – reveals new research into author Ian Fleming’s connection to Bletchley Park and suggests how his work with Naval intelligence inspired the creation of the James Bond series of novels.
Codebreaking Past Present and Future, Codes and Ciphers – one day course for adults and older children offering the opportunity to get to grips with a real World War 2 Enigma machine (these reach over £300,000 at auction)
Other huts have been restored to their original state, colossus clanks on its codebreaking journey in one, whilst in another empty desks with strips of codes await attention. There are interactive displays from tables with codebreaking conundrums to ghostly sephia projections of former codebreakers reliving their dilemmas for today’s visitors.
All in all, a great British day out especially as The National Museum of Computing is also housed on the site.
For anyone suffering an information overload there is always the afternoon tea but you do need to book ahead and at around £36 a head with an extra £6 for a glass of Prosecco the prices are not 1940’s.
Bletchley Park – a Great British Secret.
Author The Cypher Bureau