One of the best aspects of living in London is that I frequently get to indulge my interest and curiosity in WWII history with the many fantastic museums and archives dedicated to this tumultuous yet victorious period in Britain’s history. My brother-in-law Chris is also a fellow WWII history buff so while my family was recently out visiting London we made the very quick and easy train trip from London’s Euston station up north to the town of Bletchley to check out Britain’s secret intelligence nerve center during WWII, Bletchley Park. You may have heard of this small, unassuming but extremely important locale from the recent movie Imitation Game starring the dashing Benedict Cumberbatch as Alan Turing, the pioneering computer science genius behind the deciphering machines used to crack military codes.
The code breakers, linguists, mathematicians, scholars, and support staff based at Bletchley Park from 1938-1945 were members of Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service referred to as MI6 and the Government Code and Cypher School (GC&CS), whose mission was to crack Nazi codes and ciphers. This amazing group of individuals are responsible for one of the greatest achievements of the war and curtailing the war on the western front by two years, cracking the German military’s Enigma code.
By breaking what the Nazi’s considered to be an unbreakable code, staff at Bletchley were able to decipher German wartime communications, giving them considerable tactical and strategic advantages that played a crucial role in the final defeat of Germany. Neat side note: Alan Turing’s childhood home is located only a few blocks away from our own flat here in Maida Vale.
Once you enter the main visitor center of the park and walk through a few introductory exhibits providing an overview of the history of WWII and Bletchley, you can pick up a cool complimentary multimedia guide with videos and audio clips to help you explore the rest of the restored grounds, buildings, exhibitions, and galleries at your own pace. Wander through the park’s mansion to see early GC & CS offices as well as a temporary exhibit dedicated to the recent film Imitation Game, the Turing-Welchman Bombe Huts 11 and 11A, the codebreaking Huts 3, 6, and 8 (including Alan Turing’s office), and Museum B which houses reconstructed Turing-Welchman Bombe and Enigma machines.
Even without the multimedia guide, there are plenty of informational plaques and interactive displays in the various huts and buildings to engage and educate. Another cool feature were the projected skits on the walls of realistic scenes of staff hard at work breaking codes as well as various sounds and noises emitted from speakers designed to take you back in time to wartime Bletchley Park. Even the tennis lawn emitted the sound of balls being bounced back and forth!
Interested in checking out Bletchley Park? Britain’s National Rail has partnered with Bletchley Park to offer a sweet 2-for-1 admission ticket deal at the museum when you show your train ticket. Even better is that all Bletchley Park admission tickets are good for an entire year so you can visit multiple times if you’d like. There’s quite a bit to see so we weren’t able to fully explore the entire park in one afternoon. Luckily we can use our tickets to come back a few more times!
*If you are interested in learning a bit more about the code breaking center and the remarkable men and women who worked at Bletchley Park, I just finished reading Sinclair McKay’s The Secret Life of Bletchley Park and highly recommend it! For more information about the park, check out their website http://www.bletchleypark.org.uk!