On Saturday I visited Bletchley Park, the mansion house estate that became the Enigma-cracking, computer-building hive mind of the second World War. I’d been wanting to go for ages; partly because of the family connection (my great uncle worked there) and partly because I’m an almighty geek and the following things fascinate me: computers; code-breaking; Alan Turing; the 1940s; train journeys through the country.
I joined a guided tour and learned about the ‘wrens’ who did a lot of the leg work (women outnumbed men 3:1), the attacks thwarted because of their work, and got to look around working models of some of the very first computers.
There was also a reconstruction of Alan Turing’s office, including a mug an enamel mug chained to the raditor – one of his many quirks being that he was convinced someone would steal it.
The most fascinating thing for me was the way the Turing Bombe worked, the machine that was used to find out the day’s setting for each Engima code. Huge, complex and awe-inspiring. The same goes for Colossus – the first prgrammable computer, and built entirely out of GPO parts! I could have watch it wirring around for hours.
What realy suprised me was learning that Bletchley Park was kept a secret right up until the 1980s. I’d always known my great-uncle served there, and I just assumed it was common knowledge what the place was used for, or if not, I never imagined it’d be 40 years until it all came out. That’s a long time for 8000 people to keep a secret!
Here’s some pictures:
Two of the huts where the Wrens would work
Reconstruction of Alan Turing’s office
The mansion house
Looking across the lake to the mansion house
One side of a Turing Bombe
The other side of a Turing Bombe, being explained by a now-retired Wren
Statue of Alan Turing