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The Home of the WWII Codebreakers

Posted: 20/07/2012 17:54

The estate of Bletchley Park can be found, enjoying regal respite, on lavish greens in Buckinghamshire. To the casual observer, there is nothing at all captivating about the site. But to the historian, or, fortunately, many a charming survivor of the old British Empire, this extensive manor is not merely a ramshackle corporation, it is the soul of our nation, hollowed ground, and the very embodiment of that uniquely British spirit, of resilience.

It was during the 1940s that this abode was to forever write its tale in our nation's history, as it anchored the empirical mind of a nation brought to the brink by atrocious war. "Station X", at it was known to British high command, was the epicenter of British military intelligence and operations when it housed the famous code-breakers for the duration of the war. Here, everything from German banter to the Führer's most guarded secrets was cracked and cracked again, saving millions of lives and shaping the path of a frightened and threatened liberty forever.

The focal point of Bletchley Park, that is the mansion itself, is a wild and peculiar phenomenon. Much like a Picasso work, this house is obtuse and defiant in its asymmetry; it's beauty is hideous. The original estate of Herbert Samuel Leon, the building is an archipelago of differing architectural influence: There is a lime green dome in Dutch Baroque style, quite ostentatious in its trampling on the more civilized Tudor mainframe. Meanwhile in the corner of the structure, Athenian-style columns have been built as props; the mansion is a behemoth for British eccentricity, and makes for fascinating artwork.

Upon our arrival we are ushered into the small library of the mansion. We are here for the preamble to our tour, delivered by our tour guide "Robert". On this occasion special emphasis is being put on the Polish aspect of BP , which means that, unsurprisingly, there are dozens of Polish people, ex-pats and Polish-Britons. Surprisingly, a sizeable majority of these are Polish nationals, and have travelled all the way from Poland simply to be here. Robert must be rather flattered, although somewhat intimidated, I muse, as it tragically transpires to me that perhaps, after all, my hour-long voyage was not as Homeric as I first thought. But such frustrations are quickly evaporated the second Robert starts to talk. He is confident and lively with his audience. I sometimes pity tour guides - daily regurgitation of facts, figures and fables with forced enthusiasm. But Robert is rather different to regular tour guides. In fact, one suspects he is rather enjoying the business. Perhaps it's the excited anticipence of an elusive foreign audience. A challenge. Whatever the case, Robert is clearly relishing the theater.

Twenty-five minutes pass and we find ourselves meandering around the Bletchley estate. It is not merely the exotic mansion that compromises this plot, there are countless huts and radio elements around the place, as well as museums (Bletchley houses the National Museum of Computing) to pass away hours. Exhibiting the grounds, you find that fun is to be found in the peculiar at Bletchley. Perhaps this is because Robert has no qualms whatsoever about colouring his histography with elaborate tales and anecdotes into daily life at Bletchley. Are they all true? He warns us of the potential for "Lie detector tests", but frankly, I don't care. His stories are amusing, and often seem quite believable. For example, he shows us one window below an MI5 bunker, and he informs us of Winston Churchill's frequent napping upon visits in the room beyond that window. We are also shown "the exact stone" upon which Churchill made his moral-boosting addresses to the 'bright sparks' of Bletchley. We are also informed about the application process for joining the codebreaking team. "Apparently", Roger huffs, "They were given a Times crossword, and if they could whack it out in under 5 min, they were in". Brilliant.

Later on, we finish lunch and the group concludes business with Robert to a rapturous applause. It's now time for the Turing memorial.

Nothing is left out here. Moving tribute boards are towering towards this great man. There are statues of him, smiling at his desk as he fiddles away on complex contraptions. Graphics show his academic discourse as it strikes everyone in the group of this young man's genius. And in the centre of all of this, behind a large glass box, lies a letter from Gordon Brown. The official apology made on behalf of the British government. Signed indeed by Brown himself, it is the last line that strikes most brutally - "we're sorry, you deserved so much better".

But, make no mistake, there can be no greater tribute to the man than this extraordinary estate. For computer geeks, historians, Turing-enthusiasts and patriotic souls, this whimsical maze of a World War 2 workstation heralds unbridled joy. For the politicos in the family, a visit to the Churchill exhibition - featuring half a million pounds worth of incredible gems in collection since 1947 - whets any appetite for brutish wartime leadership. Great volumes have been written on the trenches and troops of the second World War - and rightly so - but there is a certain front line to be found here in Bletchley Park, in the most unassuming of places.

 

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