Sunday, September 1st, was a wonderful day. Men and women who had worked at Bletchley Park, or at secret locations – outstations – all over Britain and abroad, were invited to Bletchley Park to be officially thanked and honoured for the work they did in WW2. And, for the first time veterans talked about their experiences on camera as part of the Bletchley Park Trust’s oral history project.
During World War Two 12,000 people worked at Bletchley Park. On September 1st 2019 around 80 of them, men and women who had worked on signals intelligence during the war, codenamed Ultra, attended a reunion to coincide with the 80th anniversary of Nazi Germany’s invasion of Poland
I visited the Mansion at Bletchley Park. It’s an original Victorian mansion and houses a number of temporary and permanent exhibitions including:
- The Office of Alastair Denniston, Head of the Government Code and Cypher School, and the room where the US Special Relationship was born
- The Library, atmospherically dressed as it would have looked during WW2 as a Naval Intelligence office
- Veterans’ Stories exhibition
- Wartime Garages, complete with WW2 vehicles. And information on how top secret intelligence material was transported
I was lucky enough to met some remarkable people. The first was Mervyn Evans, a veteran was with The Royal Signals. Mervyn spent much of WW2 working undercover in Italy, sending vital information back to Bletchley Park using morse code.
Another remarkable man was, Pat Field. Pat was a Japanese translator. He said some of his colleagues went out to Japan, but he spent most of the war at Bletchley. Pat was recruited from the Army. A lovely guy who was full of fun. I think his smile shows that.
Last, but by no means least, I met an incredible woman named Beryl Middleton. Beryl was a codebreaker at Bletchley in the war and worked with Alan Turing and Dilly Knox. She was accompanied by her grandson and his wife. Thinking about it, there were a lot of young people with the veterans. But I digress. Beryl told me she didn’t write much now, but she loved to read. I told her about the novel I’d written, The 9:45 To Bletchley, and she asked her grandson if he would get the book for her. I told her I would be honoured to send her a copy. It was in the post the next day.
When I was researching my fourth novel The 9:45 To Bletchley I met Jean Budd, the daughter of Robert George Budd, a retired Naval Petty Officer who, in 1938, in the guise of Head Grounds Man was charged with the task of employing builders, electricians, plumbers, carpenters etc. to fit-out the mansion and to build and furnish buildings and huts in the grounds. Jean told me that after school, when she and her sister and two brothers were doing their homework, they had strict instructions not to make a noise because uncle Dilly’s ladies were working next door. Jean and her family lived at Number 2 Cottage, The Stableyard. Dillwyn Knox – and a team of codebreakers known as Dilly’s Fillies who Dilly called his Harem – worked in Number 3 Cottage. (The code used by the German Abwehr was cracked by Dilly and his ladies in 1941).
I looked for Jean Budd on Sunday. She was there, still fit and still full of life I was told, but I didn’t find her. I have a lovely photograph of Jean that I took the last time I was at Bletchley Park. I shall add it to the post when I find it.
I bought a sandwich and a cup of coffee from the cafe in hut 4 and ate it sitting in the sunshine by the lake while I waited for 2 o’clock when a WW2 Lancaster was going to fly over the park.
Waiting for the Lancaster I met a very interesting guy called Martyn. He was the National Radio Centre Coordinator. He was a mine of information and took a video of the flypast which was a heck of a lot better than the photographs I took with my mobile camera. I have a dozen photographs of the sky and clouds, but only three of the Lancaster.
I had a wonderful time. There was filming going on in the mansion, so I wasn’t able to look around the library or Commander Dennison’s office, but I visited Block B Museum where the different cipher machines, including Enigma and codes of WW2, are exhibited. My favourite huts are 8 – the German naval codebreaking hut where Alan Turing’s WW2 office has been recreated, and 11A – The Bombe hut. It’s a permanent exhibition that explains in detail how the team during WW2, led by Alan Turing and Gordon Welchman, helped solve the challenge of Enigma with the creation of the Bombe machines.
In 2009, Gordon Brown – Prime Minister at the time – issued an unequivocal apology on behalf of the government to Alan Turing who took his own life after being sentence to chemical castration for being gay.
Describing Turing’s treatment as “horrifying” and “utterly unfair”, Brown said the country owed the brilliant mathematician a huge debt. He was proud, he said, to offer an official apology. “We’re sorry, you deserved so much better.” Most famous for his work in helping create the “bombe” that cracked messages enciphered with the German Enigma machines. He was convicted of gross indecency in 1952 after admitting a sexual relationship with a man and was given experimental chemical castration as “treatment”. His criminal record meant he couldn’t continue his work for the UK Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) because his security privileges were withdrawn. Two years later he killed himself. He was 41.
Before I left I called into the gift shop. I love notepads and notebooks, especially the ones at Bletchley Park because they have codes on the covers. However, on Sunday I bought two bookends of Sir Winston Churchill, to sit on either sice of the novels I have written.
Foxden Acres: http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B00BCX59LE
China Blue: http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B00XD85NQW
The 9:45 To Bletchley: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B01GEVW3Z8
Foxden Hotel: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B071LDYD2D/
Chasing Ghosts: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/1718701225
There Is No Going Home: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/1073705897
Member of the RNA, SoA and Equity
On Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram.