Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Station X

Jean-Luc and I have been away for a much needed break - we suddenly realised we hadn't had any extended time off together since February; and boy did we need some!  We were both getting snappish, tired and ground down.

We decided on Stratford upon Avon and Cotswolds.

So hold on folks 'cos we're gonna do this one backwards...... mainly because I can't contain my enthusiasm for this place.

Dear Reader we visited ......... Bletchley Park!

I have to admit to a fascination with this place ever since I found put about it. 
For those of you that don't know about it; Bletchley Park was Britain's primary code breaking base in the Second World War.  It was here that they broke the German Enigma encryption codes (and there were separate encryption codes  for each service - army, airforce, navy, secret service - as well as within each service ie U boats operated on a separate cypher from the rest of the navy.
On top of this the codes changed every day at midnight using a predetermined cypher book.  
Imagine the amount of work that took! Just as you thought you'd made a breakthrough the whole code would change and you'd have to start from scratch again.
Bletchley Park was also the birthplace of computers in the UK; it was here that Alan Turing developed the Bombes that deciphered Enigma and later worked with Tommy Flowers to develop the worlds (yes the WORLD's!) first programmable computer - the Colossus.

By the end of the war over 10,000 people worked there deciphering enemy transmissions and yet outside of the place only those with the right security clearance knew what was going on at the site.  It was Britain's best kept wartime secret and was instrumental in enabling the Allies to win the war and at least 3 years earlier than it might have otherwise done.

So let's go on a little wander.

A view of the blocks across the lake and Hut 6.

 Inside the huts.

The Bletchley Park Trust have done an amazing job in reconstructing the interiors of the blocks and huts.

These lovely young gentleman are volunteers who keep an eye on the huts and add a surprising touch of humour to the place.

The Trust also makes great use of video and audio clips of reconstructed conversation to add atmosphere to the rooms.

The place is full of little domestic touches like jumpers and shawls over the back of chairs, handbags and coats hanging on coat racks, tea cups and enamel mugs, crosswords, knitting patterns and magazines scattered around the desks.  It brings the place to life and gives a real insight to the lives of the people that worked there

This is the big office in the manor - the decor is a little more luxurious!

Ok now we're going to see some of the techy stuff....

 A lovingly reconstructed Bombe, the first proto computer used at Bletchley Park to decipher the Enigma codes.

The back of the machine, a fascinating mechanical and electronic maze of intricate technology. 
This was cutting edge stuff at the time and it's development was a massive step forwards in developing computing.

This is also a working machine and this lovely man gave a fascinating demonstration of how it worked.
By the end of the war there were about 200 of these machines being run by Wrens at various sites (they split them up as it would have been a horrendous set back if they'd all been destroyed in a bomb raid).
This bombe was reconstructed by a team of volunteers and took 13 years to build.
It was obviously a labour of love as is reflected in the enthusiasm of the staff who demonstrate it.
Jean-Luc (who works in high level techy stuff) was mesmerised.

 The evil Enigma machine.  This highly complicated encryption device was what all the above machinery was designed to decode.
I can't explain how it worked but this helpful Wiki page can.

I have to say, I'm not a techno geek but I found the information about both Enigma and the Bombes both understandable and engaging.  The whole site is an engaging mixture of the the art of cryptoanalysis and everyday life and the use of modern technology to bring it to life is very well used.  I particularly liked the touch screen table tops that let you play at being a code breaker and the whole place felt accessible and well thought out.

Now for some purely personal pleasures....
 Knitting at Bletchley Park!

This is a reconstruction of one of the more comfortable billets that the staff were housed in.  As numbers at Bletchley Park grew many of the staff stayed in rooms in the houses of local people - not easy when you're working the midnight to 8am shift.

Well chaps that's all for now.

Ta ta and don't forget careless talk costs lives!

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