The Duchess of Cambridge has visited Bletchley Park today, the hub of intelligence during the Second World War.
Bletchley Park, located in Milton Keynes, played such a key role in WWII, that it is thought the work that took place there, intercepting and decoding intelligence, shortened the war by two years.
Bletchley Manor was chosen by ‘Captain Ridley’s Shooting Party’, as a code-breaking centre outside of London. The shooting party was the cover for a team of MI6 workers and members of the Government Code and Cypher School (GC&CS) scouting the area to see if a project in the Buckinghamshire countryside was viable.
The park was first opened in 1992 by Bletchley Park Trust to preserve the site for the nation, and has undergone one year of work to be restored to its WWII appearance. £8 million came from the Heritage Lottery Fund for the restoration, to help visitors experience what it was like to have been a codebreaker during the war, and The Duchess was there to mark the completion of this project.
Kate toured the newly refurbished centre with Sir John Scarlett, Chairman of the Bletchley Park Trust, and Iain Standen, Chief Executive Officer of the Trust.
Valerie, Kate’s paternal grandmother, was part of the intelligence staff at Bletchley, and so The Duchess spoke with Lady Marion Body who actually worked with her grandmother in Hut 16. As more and more people joined the codebreaking operations for the war effort, the various sections began to move into large pre-fabricated wooden huts set up on the lawns of the Park. For security reasons, these different sections were known only by their hut numbers. Lady Marion Body showed Catherine these refurbished huts.
Kate also met with the Design & Management Team who worked on the project of the estate’s restoration, to help recreate ‘station X’, as Bletchley was known, how it was over 60 years ago.
Those chosen to work at Bletchley, such as Catherine’s grandmother, Miss Glassborow, were tasked with cracking codes and ciphers from the enemy, including the famous Enigma code of the Nazis. They intercepted the messages of Germany and its allies, which were then decrypted, translated and analysed for intelligence to help quash the fascist powers in control in Europe.
Despite the Polish cracking Enigma in 1932, the outbreak of war meant the code changed at least once a day, giving 159 million million million possible settings to choose from, and so the breakthrough made at Bletchley was remarkable. To hide this information, reports were given the appearance of coming from an MI6 spy, codename Boniface, with a network of imaginary agents inside Germany.
John Jeffreys, Dilly Knox, Peter Twinn and Alan Turing – who was given a posthumous pardon from The Queen last year for the crime of homosexuality in 1952 – all worked on Bletchley’s code-breaking as brilliant mathematicians. Turing and Gordon Welchman created ‘The Bombe’: a complex electro-mechanical device, which sped up the eradication of the settings which would not work from those millions.
Special Communication Units were set up to feed the Bletchley Park intelligence to commanders in the field, first in France in 1940 and then North Africa and elsewhere from 1941. 1942 brought difficulties when the German Navy’s introduced a more complex Enigma cipher, but by the end of the year, this was also decoded. The codebreakers worked around the clock to intercept and decipher the intelligence they received.
The Duchess was shown the new interactive exhibitions at the park, such as the cyber security exhibition where she tried to crack a Morse Code message. Catherine also witnessed demonstrations of the sorts of decryption work that took place at Bletchley, much like what the public will see after the opening.
‘Station X’ was, of course, kept top-secret, and worked with the ‘Y’ Service, who monitored radio messages from the enemy; these listeners included civilians, but also Wrens, WAAF and the ATS, logging messages and trying to build a picture of the enemy’s plans; 80% of those who worked to help crack Enigma were women. ‘The Bletchley Circle’ was an ITV drama series centring around a group of women who had worked at Bletchley Park, and used their skills from the war to help solve murders.
The day was rounded off with Kate listening to speeches made to mark the reopening of Bletchley, and the planting of a tree to commemorate the completion of the work.