Less than an hour’s train ride from London Kings Cross (or just over an hour in the car from Central London) Bletchley Park has long been shrouded in secrecy. Indeed, it is this secrecy that enabled the Allies to win the Second World War.
The Secrecy behind Bletchley Park
Yet many of the intricate secrets of Bletchley Park only came to light a number of years ago, many years after the war had ended. Today, the park had been restored to its wartime glory and continues to draw intrigued visitors interested in learning about the amazing people who worked there; both listening in on the enemy’s secrets and also paving the way for major technological advancements. It is often noted that the work undertaken by the various teams at Bletchley managed to shorten the war by between two and four years, saving millions of lives.
Purchase by the GC&CS
In 1938 the mansion house, which occupies the site, alongside much of the land was bought with a view to turn the park into a housing estate. However later that year Admiral Sir Hugh Sinclair, Head of The Secret Intelligence Service (MI6), bought the mansion and 58 surrounding acres for use by the Government Code & Cypher School (GC&CS) in the event of war. Once war had broken out across Europe in 1939, the mansion house was used as a base, with the surrounding buildings being used for various personnel; the garages for dispatch riders, and the newly constructed Nissen huts dotted around the park dedicated to the breaking of codes by organised teams of intelligence personnel.
Much care has been taken with the parks restoration and it is clear to see that each item on display, even right down to the paintwork on the walls, has been painstakingly curated to ensure a fitting resemblance to the wartime days. And whilst there are further restorations planned, the park as it stands today is a magnificent place to visit; whether as an intrigued couple, or a young family. Walking through the Nissen huts, where enigma codes were broken over half a century ago, provides a thoroughly exciting experience. The displays of how the huts would have been furnished, the equipment which would have been present and of course, the sounds playing throughout give visitors a real feel of what daily operations would have been like during the war.
The Imitation Game
Indeed, if you have watched The Imitation Game, the fantastic 2014 drama starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Kiera Knightly, you may already know a little about Bletchley and its wartime operations. Cumberbatch plays one of the key figures of Bletchley Park and of the war in general; Alan Turing, a relative unknown to the mainstream and only recently commemorated and honoured for his work, despite his tragic death over fifty years ago. Turing, the father of modern day computing, was pivotal in breaking the German Naval Enigma codes, enabling us to win the war through his construction of the Turing Bombe; a machine based on an earlier machine constructed by two Polish men, who fled to England upon the outbreak of war.
Bletchley houses the only working Turing Bombe in the world; a replica which has been painstakingly built from limited GCHQ blueprints and intricate survivor descriptions. To see the machine work, which you can most days of the week, is truly inspiring; the whirring of the cogs, the dripping of the oil, the click when the codes have been deciphered is eerily exciting. The replica team conduct regular code-breaking marathons with GCHQ, wining each time; a testament to Turing’s hard work and legacy.
Visiting Bletchley Park
Entrance to Bletchley is really good value, at £16.75 per adult, with children under-10 going free. The admission price also includes a free audio/video tour; iPods which feature the stories of Bletchley Park, its staff and key periods during the war. There is a reasonably priced Costa Coffee in the main entrance area and Hut 4 has been lovingly turned into a cafe. The gift shop features a wide range of WW2 memorabilia, books on Turing and the code-breakers, alongside pottery, children’s toys and postcards; all at great prices.
Open daily, the park is a dynamic and beautifully curated reminder of how the teams employed at Bletchley fought the war from this unassuming area of Buckinghamshire. Not one to be missed by any avid WW2 enthusiast, or indeed, a great place for children to learn more about the war as part of their curriculum studies.