SVVS visits Bletchley Park Code Cracking Emigma Station X

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:: [  The Enigma of Bletchley Park -  SVVS Museum Visit - April 2002 ] ::

The following text is based on the SVVS Magazine report by Chris Cuss and the photos are by Bozi Mohacek. Please click on any thumbnail picture below to see the full size picture. To return to the thumbnails please click the Explorer "Back" arrow (top left of screen). Pictures have been prepared for speed of loading, and the page has been sized to be viewed on an 800 x 600 setup.

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On Sunday 14th April, rather than having a lunchtime pub meeting, we journeyed to the brave new world of Milton Keynes. Not to see the famous concrete cows but to visit Bletchley Park the wartime home of Station X and the team who decoded the Nazi's wireless messages. As some of our proper cars may have found the journey too arduous we all met at Merstham station and then travelled by coach. One or two members who were late in booking had to travel in their modern vehicles as such was the demand for the coach that seating was on first come first served basis.

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On arrival our group made straight for the Naafi for a tea and a wad before joining a guided tour gathering in the library. Here two of the volunteer guides told us some of the background story before leading us for a tour of the grounds that took about an hour. We were then free to visit the many rooms in the two huts that remain open to the public. We were advised that Bletchley Park was built in the 19th century by a wealthy Jewish businessman as a country retreat. He insisted that the house incorporated many of the architectural features that he had seen on his travels across the world. Hence the style is eclectic to say the least.

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By the 1930's the house was vacant and with war looming the government wanted to relocate its cipher and code-breaking department away from the metropolis. Bletchley was chosen as it was on the main routes from London to the Midlands, the A5 and the LMS mainline. Conveniently it was also midway between Oxford and Cambridge it being realised that the mathematical and analytical brains of these universities would have to play their part when hostilities commenced. Ultimately some 12,000 people, mainly women, worked in the grounds of the park in hutted accommodation. At first the huts were wooden but later sturdy blast resistant buildings were erected. Other than a few support staff everyone lived in the surrounding countryside. Nearby Woburn Abbey was home to the many Wrens employed as cipher clerks.

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The story of how the boffins succeeded in cracking the Enigma code used by Hitler's armed forces is well known so will not be repeated here. Suffice to say that it has been estimated that the war in Europe would have lasted at least another two years without this country's insight into its enemies' messages. The first atom bomb may well have first exploded over Berlin rather than Hiroshima. As a direct result of the machines developed at Bletchley we have the computers that have changed the way we work for ever.  Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones has recently financed a film based on the Enigma story and had had four decrypting machines reconstructed which were on display. In another room the Colussus, the grandfather of all computers, was being recreated.

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Naturally many of the rooms had exhibits relating to the wartime work of Station X but numerous other groups or societies also had space in the hut complex. Organisations and displays were as diverse as the Pegasus Bridge society, the local model boat society, the model railway society, a collection of Churchill memorabilia, cinema artefacts, even a post-war Riley could be unearthed as we pottered around. Near the main entrance there was also an interesting military vehicles section which included a Chieftain Tank, some concourse standard armoured scout cars and staff cars, including a batch of army motorcycles. Near the cipher exhibition was the conning tower section of a German U boat complete with anti-aircraft guns and machineguns.

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After the war the codebreakers who were not demobbed moved to Cheltenham to the building now known as GCHQ. Bletchley Park became a teacher training college, a GPO training college and finally an air traffic control training centre. Finally in 1991 the site was empty and ripe for redevelopment as part of the expanding town of Milton Keynes. Before the site was flattened the local archaeological society decided to hold a farewell gathering and invited as many former workers as it could find. Over 400 turned up and as a result it was decided that the site was too important to be allowed to disappear. With the help of the local authority preservation orders were placed on both the buildings and the trees making it impossible for a developer to clear the plot. A charitable trust was set up to preserve and maintain the historical aspects of the park and to allow the public to see where so much vital work took place during the war years.

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Perhaps the most intriguing display was in a building by the main entrance. Here was retold the on-going mystery of the stolen Abwehr enigma machine. This was the one that was stolen from its display cabinet on 1st April a couple of years ago. After some months it was returned to the TV presenter Jeremy Paxman but lacking its vital three rotors. A ransom was demanded for these and payment agreed. At the handover the police swooped and made an arrest. However the police are certain that the man arrested was not the thief but merely a pawn in some much deeper plot. They believe that the theft was an inside job and the perpetrator is still very much at large. Add to this the fact that the chief executive of the Trust has received hate-mail and even death threats and we realise that the place still has its share of mystery and intrigue. All in all a most successful new venture for our society. We thank the organisers and we look forward to next year's outing.

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