Jan and I recently watched The Imitation Game, which has inspired me to finally write about the day we spent at Bletchley Park last year! As I’m sure you know, Bletchley Park was the home of the WWII code-breakers. Really, I only had the vaguest idea of what went on there – something to do with decoding the German military’s secret messages? Likewise, although I had heard of Alan Turing, I had no idea who he actually was. Yes, clearly I was very ignorant.
Located in a the grounds of a mansion in Bletchley, a small town that’s part of Milton Keynes, Bletchley Park was the home of home of the Government Code & Cypher School – now known as the Government Communications Headquarters – during the Second World War. Nobody actually knew that at the time though – the work being done at Bletchley Park was highly secret and only started to be discussed publicly in 1974. The site has been a museum since the 90’s and was restored to what it is now in 2014.
The exhibition starts in the welcome centre, where they have a short film and some information about the history of Bletchley Park. Once outside, you can enter some of the restored huts, which have partly been set up as they would have been originally and partly contain some interactive exhibits. Then the main exhibition is in Block B. There, you can read about the history of the Enigma – the machine the Germans used to write their code. Early models had been used commercially, so everybody knew they existed, but of course the military version was more complex. Block B also has an exhibition about Alan Turing, which is where I learned all about him and his sad fate for the first time. He was, of course, part of Hut 8 at Bletchley Park and instrumental in the invention of the machines that were used to crack the Enigma’s codes (although not quite to the extent depicted in the film!), but to computer scientists he is mostly known as the father of computer science and artificial intelligence.
In a way, the exhibition at Bletchley Park was the perfect combination and Jan’s and my interests – the codebreaking, Colossus machine used for breaking ciphers (considered to be an early computer), and Alan Turin stuff for computer scientist Jan, and the linguistic component for me: obviously it wasn’t enough to just decrypt the messages… somebody had to translate the German (and later Japanese) text into English as well!
The exhibition was really interesting – it’s fascinating to think of all that happening not even that long ago, certainly within our grandparents’ lifetimes. But there was so much information. We were there for about 5 hours and didn’t even manage to see everything properly. We left right before closing time and I was actually pleased they weren’t open any longer since, by then, I was all museumed out. It was definitely a good start to our holiday though and I can highly recommend it to anyone who is at all interested in history, cryptography, computer science or languages. Tickets are valid for a year, so those who live closer can go back time and again. I feel like smaller doses will make it easier to take everything in 😉