WHAT AN ENIGMA
Once clouded in secrecy, Bletchley Park has thrown open its doors to the public. Melonie Clarke applauds the women and men who worked there
In 1938, with war looming, The Government Code and Cypher School needed to relocate out of London, away from the threat of enemy air attacks. The 'shooting party' that arrived at Bletchley was, in fact, a group of code breakers.
As the saying goes, behind every great man is a great woman, and that was the case at Bletchley; 8,000 women worked alongside 2,000 men, many of them involved in cracking the Enigma code, some with little training. Indeed, it wasn't until 1970, when wartime information about the Bletchley code breakers was declassified, that the public was finally made aware of their contribution. Some people estimate that work undertaken at Bletchley Park shortened the duration of the war by two years. The exact nature of some of their work, however, remains a mystery.
With the emancipation of women in the workplace, women made up the majority of wartime Bletchley personnel. From cooking and cleaning to code breaking, women did it all. Alas, when war ended in 1945, most of them were made redundant, expected to return to their former lives with little recognition for the work they had done. Many went on to university or to marry, while others worked as code breakers abroad.
But some Bletchley women moved on to top positions. Jean Barker (née Campbell- Harris), for instance, now 89, succeeded in politics. She acted as Parliamentary Under- Secretary of State in the Department of Health and Social Security (1985 to 1988), and as Minister of State in the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (1989 to 1992): at the age of 69, this made her the oldest female minister to have held office. She became Baroness Trumpington in 1980 and was made Dame Commander of the Royal Victorian Order in 2005.
Until the 1970s, Bletchley Park had kept secret the amazing work women and men undertook during the war. Thankfully, the Bletchley Park Trust has now ensured the site's survival and the buildings are open for all to experience.
Bletchley Park is open daily except for 24, 25 and 26 December, and 1 January 2013. For further information: 01908640404, www.bletchleypark.org.uk
The Bletchley Circle Ladies (from left to right):
Rachael Stirling's character is fiercely independent, having travelled the world alone after Bletchley. Millie is feisty and the most modern of the quartet.
Played by Sophie Rundle, Lucy is young and naïve, married to an abusive and controlling man. Her photographic memory is essential to the quartet's successes.
Anna Maxwell Martin brings to life Susan, who balances her role as 1950s housewife and crime-fighter. Her family has no idea of her codebreaking aptitude.
Julie Graham plays Jean, the eldest of the four, who is a librarian. Jean is stern and stoic, exceptionally moral and committed, determined to do everything by the book.
Daily tip from the lady archive
“PEOPLE cannot help being influenced by their surroundings and their environment; therefore how all important it is that both of these should be healthy and cheery, for health and happiness both go hand-in-hand.”The Lady. The Blessing of Old Health, 18th November 1920