Fifty miles north-west of London is a property by the name of Bletchley Park which was, during the second World War, the site of the UK’s Government Code & Cypher School – a group of 12,000 people who intercepted and cracked multiple Axis codes and cyphers. It is most famously known, perhaps, as the site where Alan Turing and Hugh Alexander lead the team which cracked the German Enigma cypher with the use of the Bombe machine, designed largely by Turing (but built by Harold Keen – contrary to what is portrayed in the movie ‘The Imitation Game’.)
After decades of being held in complete secrecy (the work of Bletchley Park was only made public in the 1970s) the Milton Keynes Borough Council formed the Bletchley Park Trust in 1992 to maintain the site as a museum. And this is where Andre and I visited on a day trip about two weeks ago.
It is a somewhat expensive museum, I think, for what it is. (Around £15). However, if you travel via rail you can get in 2 for 1. You just need to print out the voucher before you leave, and show your national rail tickets with the voucher when paying your entrance fee. This makes it much more affordable.
Many of the huts and blocks used by the GC&CS have now been transformed into museum exhibits about the war, code- and cypher-breaking, the development of the Bombe machine, Alan Turing, and the GC&CS itself. Some offices still stay mostly as they were during the war. Currently there is also an exhibit about the filming of The Imitation Game, much of which took place on site.
We both loved seeing the reconstructed Bombe machine in action, although I found the presentation given by the staff member there completely useless as she gave no background information as to how the Enigma machine actually worked (not just what it did, but how – which is crucial to understanding how they reverse-engineered the Bombe machine). There is a video presentation in the same museum though which I felt gave a much better explanation. The fact there is a Bombe machine to see at all is an achievement – all of the original machines used during the war were destroyed, and this one has been reconstructed by the Trust and volunteers (and hasn’t yet reached completion).
There was also a section dedicated to Alan Turing personally, due to his enormous contribution as the primary designer of the Bombe machine. There were a few of his possessions on display (including the teddy, in front of which, he would practice his presentations) and a copy of the government’s official apology given in 2009, in regards to his conviction and sentence for homosexuality (which is largely believed to have led to his suicide).
We also loved being able to see inside the Bletchley Park mansion, which was where the officers were located and where much of the on-site filming for ‘The Imitation Game’ took place. The movie exhibition displays a few costumes, furniture props and sets, including one room which was used as the local bar (and has remained dressed accordingly).
Unfortunately we ran out of time to see everything, but we did stick our noses into Hut 8 on the way out in order to see where Alan Turing’s team had worked, and caught a glimpse of his office (below).
If you are into war history, computing, military intelligence or codes and cyphers I think you would enjoy this – although I do recommend taking advantage of the National Rail 2 for 1 offer.