Sunday, July 12, 2009

Bletchley Park Veterans Honored

Exactly 70 years after the Government Code and Cipher School (GC&CS) began its codebreaking work, the veterans that served in Bletchley finally received official recognition. Finally! Finally!!!

During the Second World War, Bletchley Park was the center of all British codebreaking efforts and employed more than 7000 people. They were a remarkable mix of military and civilian cryptanalysts, mathematicians, students, women and men. Anyone they could find with skills that could help in the breaking, analysis, registration and distribution of the millions of messages, intercepted by the many Y stations. The intelligence, produced by GC&CS and codenamed ULTRA, played a decisive role in the outcome of the Second World War by providing vital information to the commanders at the battlefield.

Unfortunately, all the magnificent work at Bletchley was top secret and remained secret for many years after the war. Churchill called the codebreakers the geese with golden eggs that never cackled. The British Secrecy Act prohibited all personnel to reveal their excellent work and how important it was for their county. For outsiders, these people were ordinary citizens that did not enlisted in the armed forces or served their country during the war in any other way. The ignorant couldn't be more wrong, but the people involved couldn't tell the truth. Most of them took the secret with them in their grave.

After the war, GC&CS relocated to Cheltenham and most of the documents, equipment and eight of the ten Colossus computer were destroyed. Bletchley stayed the best kept secret of the Second World War until the 1970's, when information slowly trickled into the public. In 1991, Bletchley Park was saved from demolition and the Bletchley Park Trust was formed to maintain the site as a museum, devoted to the codebreakers. The site opened to visitors in 1993.

Some of the most brilliant people made important contributions, not only to the codebreaking but also to science and technology in general. People like Alan Turing, regarded as father of modern computer science, who designed the bombe, a machine to crack Enigma. Gordon Welchman made important contributions to cryptanalysis of Enigma and refined the bombe. Tommy Flowers developed Colossus, assisted by Max Newman. Colossus was the first ever digital computer. Of course, there were many more nameless people at Bletchley who helped in many different ways to break the huge stream of German message traffic.

And now, finally, their work is officially recognised. These people, at least in their 90's now, are eligible for a commemorative badge. The Foreign Secretary told he was delighted that the vital and secret work of Bletchley Park in the Second World War is being recognised. On 16 July, a ceremony will be held in Bletchley Park in the presence of His Royal Highness The Duke of Kent. More about this event in this press release. More information about Bletchley and its history is found on the Bletchley Park National Codes Centre website.

To give you an idea of how Bletchley Park looks now, just watch the video below. Use the maximize button on the video to view it full-screen! I can highly recommend a visit to the museum!

And here's another short video, honoring the secret work of the Bletchley Park codebreakers.

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