I was given the GCHQ Puzzle Book for Christmas, and while I’ve only solved the first three puzzles so far, it reminded me that I’ve not yet blogged about my visit to Bletchley Park, the centre of Britain’s code-breaking activities during the Second World War.
I have an incredible amount of respect for the men and women who worked so hard to crack the secret messages being sent by enemy forces during the war, largely because I’m so appallingly awful at deciphering codes and am in awe of those who can unravel the seemingly indecipherable series of letters, symbols and numbers.
So on a crisp November morning, I caught the train from Euston to Bletchley Park to visit the famed site. The museum is made up of a series of blocks and huts, each housing different exhibitions on aspects of code-breaking and the war, as well as the grand mansion house and quaint village adjoining it.
I started my visit in Block C, the modern visitor centre opened in 2014. After a spot of tea and cake, I made my way to an interactive exhibition, hosted by McAfee, that looks at the effects of code-breaking on cyber security today. Entitled Secrecy and Security – Keeping Safe Online, I had great fun having a go at the interactive activities, before moving onto another exhibition that acted as an introduction to code-breaking.
Feeling suitably primed, I then visited Block B, the museum home to enigma machines, Hitler’s ‘unbreakable’ cipher machine and a replica of the bombe, the famed machine that helped computing legend Alan Turing and co. break the enigma code. The bombe was huge and I was amazed by its size and complexity.
I was also really interested in a display dedicated to Alan Turing’s life and works. I hadn’t known much about the founding father of modern computing before seeing The Imitation Game, but the exhibition was really informative and insightful, and helped further my understanding of this great man. There were lots of really good exhibits within Block B and I spent ages looking at them all, inspecting the objects and reading the various display panels.
On leaving Block B, I walked around the edge of the lake to the mansion to take a look around the grand building. Inside I found replicas of how the offices within would have looked during the Second World War – in short, very attractive. Then I had a stroll around the charming little village that adjoins the mansion, including the old fashioned Post Office and a garage home to vehicles from the 1940s.
Then it was on to my last stop of the day – the code-breaking huts, the pre-fab buildings where the code-breakers worked during the war. The huts were full of displays aimed at giving visitors an insight into how the code-breakers worked.
One of the huts was home to a series of interactive games around topics such as probability to help further your understanding of code-breaking and I enjoyed having a go at the activities. There was also a replica of Alan Turing’s office, as well as a display dedicated to pigeons and the way in which they were used to send messages during the war. All in all, the exhibits were interesting and again, there was quite a bit to see.
I really enjoyed my day at Bletchley Park. There were so many exhibits, it pretty much took a full day to get around them all. I came away even more fascinated then I already was by code-breaking (hence, the puzzle book for Christmas) and the men and women who did it for a living. Seriously fascinating stuff and well worth a visit.
The Mansion, Bletchley Park, Sherwood Drive, Bletchley, Milton Keynes MK3 6EB
Open 9.30-5pm, daily (Mar-Oct), 9.30am-4pm, daily (Nov-Feb)
£17.25 adults, £15.25 concessions, £10.25 children aged 12-17 years, free for children under 12 years