Bletchley Park Manion
A bit of an eyesore!
This weekend, my Dad and I finally got round to making a trip that we had talked about for a number of years, a day at 'The Home of the Codebreakers'... Bletchley Park. Why it took us so long is a mystery, given that the place is little more than 45 minutes by train out of Euston.
Whilst we both have a mutual interest in the Second World War, my Dad's interest in the place is a little more personal. A keen radio amateur for many years he had maintained a lifelong enthusiasm for wireless communication. Moreover, as an employee of the then Ministry of Aviation he was to undertake a six week training programme at the Park. That was in 1966, when the Park was still the property of the GPO. Back in the '60's of course, the significance of Bletchley Park was unknown to all bar those in the highest echelons of certain Government Ministries and Armed Forces and some of those who were employed on the grounds in those dark days of the early 1940's. The wall of silence imposed by the Official Secrets Act was not breached until the mid '70's, with a change in classification of related documentation only occurring in the late '70's.
Much to my Dad's pleasure, Block D where he spent his weeks in training is still there (he was under the impression that this particular block had been demolished). This was also true of Hut 4 where we had a cup of tea. By 1966 it played host to weekly dances on a Friday night (a reminiscence too far for my Mum by all accounts!)
Other than to upload a few of the photographs that I took on the day before my camera battery died on me, it is pointless to attempt to repeat the history of Bletchley Park here since it is documented widely and with far greater clarity and accuracy than I could manage. My account would undoubtedly be messy as I think that a brief explanation of the working principles of an Enigma machine had induced in me something of a 'Brain fog'!
Instead, for those interested, I have included links to a few sites that provide more information on the work undertaken at the Park and on a couple of the central characters involved.
Bletchley Park Official Site
One of the many models of the Enigma machine
Rebuilt of the Colossus Computer
That done, I only wanted to comment on two aspects of the day that troubled me.
The Condition of Bletchley Park
Being relatively close to my home town, our local news has occasionally carried stories over a number of years that has highlighted the ever increasing state of decay of the site and its buildings. The original codebreakers' huts (of wooden construction) and the concrete blocks (constructed later in the war) are falling to pieces irrespective of their materials of construction. Certainly for the wooden huts, being 'temporary' structures (no-one anticipated the war to be as prolonged as it turned out to be), the decay is not surprising. Now all of these buildings have been standing for 70 years, exposed to the elements of the British climate (over time, surely as effective an agent of destruction as the Luftwaffe!) and they are in a pitiful state.
One of the early wooden huts sadly in need of attention
So this is my issue, since the end of the war or perhaps since the function of Bletchley Park during the war finally became public knowledge, why has this site been allowed to crumble as it has?
I believe that the site is now owned by English Heritage. This was something of a surprise as I would have expected the site to have been affiliated with the Imperial War Museum. But regardless of that, whoever owns it is strapped for cash. I am pleased to say that our guide did inform us that lottery funding had been granted to allow renovation work to commence (removal of asbestos in the huts being an obvious priority). In addition, Google has donated money for the preservation of the site (on the grounds that Google consider the 'Colossus' machine to be the world's first search engine). That is great, but without wishing to come across as jingoistic, British money should have been invested to save the site at least 30 years ago!
The Treatment of Alan Turing
The irrefutable genius that was behind the 'bombe', the bit of kit that enabled the Enigma encryptions to be cracked, died in 1954 after taking his own life by cyanide poisoning. He was 41. For Alan Turing was a homosexual and had been prosecuted in 1952 for 'gross indecency' (in this case having a sexual relationship with another man). Found guilty, Turing faced the alternatives of prison or chemical castration, he chose the latter option and underwent injections of female hormones in order to knock out his libido lest he do it again!
Now I appreciate that at the time homosexuality was a criminal offence in Britain and whilst I believe (perhaps rather naively) that the law should be applicable to all, I also believe that under such exceptional circumstances higher authorities with a knowledge of his massive contribution in the war years should have intervened and somehow quashed the case against him. Alan Turing was after all a man whose actions (along with thousands of his colleagues) reduced the duration of the was by a minimum of 2 years (and some historians are now saying 4 years) and in doing so saved 100,000's of lives that would otherwise have been lost. That in my opinion is more than ample justification for any Government to bend the rules a little.
Alan Turing received a written apology from then Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, in 2009.
A brilliant mind
In closing for anyone remotely interested in the history of WWII, mathematics, computing or just British eccentricity and tenacity please take the time to pay a visit to this extraordinary wreck of a place!