29 Oct A trip to Bletchley Park
Written by Holly and Lucy, year 9 student reporters
Winston Churchill described the code-breakers at Bletchley Park as ‘the geese that laid the golden eggs and never cackled’.
For your information, Bletchley Park was a series of top secret buildings in Buckinghamshire during World War 2; and the first sessions of code-breaking started there in September 1938.
On Wednesday 3rd October, year 9 pupils started the day off by gathering in our school assembly hall at around 8:25am, before being split into two groups. We were then marched off to board the nice yellow Johnsons coach. The journey was rather uneventful but noisy, our excitement levels had started to rise!
On arriving at the park, our group was given a guided tour by the amazing Harold, our tour guide, and through a mixture of questions, role play, and observation, we learned many things about the awesome place that played such a key part in the victory of the Second World War.
Do you know that….
Alan Turing; who was born in 1912 and a Cambridge Mathematician, devised the brilliant techniques used to crack the German Enigma code, which the Germans used to sent encrypted messages during the war.
Historically the Enigma machines were invented for banking purposes. In 1932, the German army worked on the machines and started sending coded messages.
During the war, the Germans changed the Enigma machine key sets daily and it was done before mid-night! Consequently it caused a massive challenge to the code-breakers in Bletchley Park.
The Enigma machine had a very quirky keyboard on the front; and if a key/letter was pressed, it would generate 150 million million million options or possible combinations. It was obvious that the Germans did not think the British would be able to decode their highly complex encrypted messages.
At the height of the war, there were around 20-30 thousand enigma machines.
Thanks to the breaking of the ciphers of the German Secret Intelligence Service, the British military managed to confuse Hitler over where the Allies were to land on D-Day Landing in June 1944.
We then learned about the ‘Double-Cross System’. It started in 1941 when the British Security Service (or MI5 in today’s name) used ‘double-agents’. It might sound a bit Hollywood fiction, but it was true that during the war, the captured German agents were given the offer to feed false information back to Germany or to be shot. Most of them chose to be ‘double-agents’. We now understand how ‘agents’ in today’s world come to be ‘double-agents’.
At the end of the tour, we were shown to a room where our workshop was to begin! We got to touch a real Enigma machine and we had to decode a series of cyphers that were clues to discovering who the spy in our midst was. Very quickly we realised that you had to type in a letter and a different coded letter would light up if you used an enigma machine.
The day was full of so many amazing facts, but the highlight of our learning had to include Alan Turing’s contribution to the world of statistics, and his very own introduction of Bayesian techniques to cryptography during the 2nd World War.
Back to our day’s activities…
We ate our pack lunches outside in the fresh air, enjoying the scenery and the exquisite mansion view. We even saw a cute kitten wandering around the green grass around us! Lunch was over all too soon and we were off again to discover more exciting things.
Next, we were on a self-guided tour to fill out information booklets. We visited the huts where hundreds of people used to work for eight hours straight in cramped, dark and dirty conditions. Alan Turing himself had worked in these huts. We then visited the mansion, which was huge, elegant and elaborately decorated. There was the office, where you would’ve had to go and sign the secrecy act, promising not to tell anyone about the secret work you were doing there. There was also the Library, which was filled wall to wall with books and desks, one where you could stamp your very own code-breaker booklet.
We then met up, took the final register and hopped back on the coach back to Coventry. Finally, just before 4PM, we safely arrived home. The day’s memories will remain in our thinking for a long while. Thank you for reading our blog and bye for now!