So this trip actually happened last fall but I try to play catch up when I can – mixing new adventures with some of our older ones!
For those of you that don’t know, Bletchley Park is/was home of British codebreaking and a birthplace of modern information technology. It played a major role in World War Two, producing secret intelligence which had a direct and profound influence on the outcome of the conflict. Those that worked at Bletchley through the war were the unsung war heroes, that only in recent years has the nation become aware of and recognised for the role in winning the 2nd world war. Not only did they help defeat the enemy but they saves countless lives in the process….all through brains vs brawn.
Bletchley has been restored and is now a museum dedicated to all those that lived and worked there.
This particular visit was a special occasion for us. As it happens, we know a code breaker!
My sister in laws mother was an original code breaker at Bletchley back in 1943/4. Her story only came to light in the past decade or so. She married, raised a family and lived her life without telling a soul of her war efforts and the role she played. Sworn to the Official Secrets act when she signed up for Bletchley, she maintained her silence for decades. No surprise really when she recounts the story of joining and signing up….pen in hand and a revolver on the table in front of her, reminding her of the severity and importance of the situation! Not even her family knew, telling her parents she was working at a clock factory. Edna was recognised as being particularly bright by her current employer at the time, thus recommending her for the job. Her travel to Bletchley was secret – cars and trains with no idea of destination and finally arriving and understanding the task at hand.
Many many folks worked at Bletchley and was a community within itself. Edna worked in the now famous Hut 6, breaking codes related to imminent threat. What a treat to visit this iconic location with her. We entered Hut 6 and Edna showed us around even taking us to her office space and desk/ machines. She was also kind enough to bring morse code and other code breaking info with her and showed the kids how to use the machines!
We accompanied Edna to a Veterans reunion. We got to hear more of her stories as well as others. Sadly, not many veterans are still with us and many went to their grave without ever disclosing their war efforts. About 10-15 years ago, the Bletchley workers began to be recognised thus Edna’s story coming out. Even then, some veterans opted still not to speak due to their loyalty to the country.
Stories of a time gone by not only included of breaking codes but also of life at Bletchley, socialiszing, work (they worked very long hours through the night at times), and stories of finding Churchills cigar butts in the hut after secret nighttime visits by him. A particular poignant story shared by Edna is picnicing with local servicemen one weekend on a rare day off. The men were off to battle… ‘see you soon’ were the servicemen’s words as they left. Edna knew of the battle they were to head to and knew she was never to see them again. The work was difficult in so many ways. They had the codes in hand and used them over years to defeat the Germans, but not everyone could be saved.
So as we know more now, and code breaking has become the feature of a couple of blockbuster movies, being at Bletchley allowed us to become fully immersed in the history. We watched the Imitation Game with the kids before we went so they had a good basic understanding of Bletchley…..much easier than text books and a history lesson. Funnily enough, we are currently settled just 2 miles from Sherborne so references to Sherborne and the Boys school also was of interest and we often walk past the Alan Turing building at the school.
Additionally, when we went, Bletchley had a large exhibition dedicated to the Imitation Game which the kids also enjoyed. The movie definitely helped with the younger ones maintaining engagement.
Bletchley is a full day out. So much to see and experience and quite interactive. The history is captivating and for science and maths buffs, you’ll love it.