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Sunday, 24 April 2016

Visiting Bletchley Park to check my research before publishing, The 9:45 To Bletchley, on June 1st.

On April 22nd I went down to Bletchley to visit Bletchley Park, not on the 9:45 train, but the 9:59.

I went down to check out details and descriptions while writing the fourth novel in the Dudley Sisters Saga, The 9:45 To Bletchley. Ena Dudley, the youngest of the Dudley sisters works in an engineering factory making dials and rotors for a secret location, which she only knows as station X. I also went down because I am fascinated by the inventions and the work achieved during the Second World War.

Bletchley Park housed the codebreaking operation during WW2 and was the birthplace of modern computing.  Historians have estimated that the work done by the codebreaker's at Bletchley Park shortened the war by two years at least, saving thousands of lives.

No one is certain how many people worked at Bletchley Park and its associated outstations, but at its peak the estimated number is around ten thousand. They tackled complex tasks: Intercepting, deciphering, analysing and distributing the intelligence derived from radio signals, while their work was shrouded in the highest levels of secrecy.

Some photographs taken during my day at Bletchley Park.
The first is me arriving. I was excited to be there. 

When I walked up the drive to the mansion (not the original drive that was on the left looking at the mansion), I was amazed at how small it was. It's a big country house, of course it is - and it is almost as deep as it is wide, but I imagined it to be huge and ugly, which is how so many people have described it. I thought it was rather beautiful.

The inside felt big, but warm. Panelled wood decorated the entrance hall walls and the ceiling was stained glass in an ornate lead (and iron) design. It was beautiful. The first room on the right was called, The Churchill Room and had a huge bust of Winston Churchill on the mantle shelf. 

Other rooms were put back as far as possible the way they had been during the war.
The admin office and the library. 

Other rooms;
A general office and the Naval Office lead me down the long hall.

At the end of the hall was the Ballroom. I mentioned to a lady steward that while I was researching I had read many accounts by women who worked at Bletchley during WW2 and I remember one had said she went to a dance in the ballroom of the mansion. My worry with was, out of the hundreds of accounts, there was only that one that mentioned a dance in the mansion. Had I dreamed it? I hoped not. And I hadn't. There were dances in the ballroom, not many, but there had been dances around the time that a dance occurs in my novel. Again, rich panelled wood and a beautiful ornate ceiling.

It was while I was in the ballroom that I met Jean Cheshire, nee Budd.
 Jean's father was Head of Works Services at Bletchley Park from 1938. 

Jean Cheshire, nee Budd, in the ballroom, Bletchley Park.

'We came to Bletchley in 1938, when I was six. There were three cottages and we lived in the middle one - number 2 cottage. I lived there with my mum and dad, older brother and twin sister. When we came home from school mum would say, "Be quiet children, there are ladies working next door in number 3 cottage." It wasn't until 1992 that I found out those ladies were Dilly Knox's ladies working on breaking Enigma.

Charles Skevington who looked after Bletchley's homing pigeons used to let Jean and her sister feed them. The famous carrier pigeons received messages from occupied Europe.

Jean and me in the ballroom. 


I invited Jean to lunch, but she said she was too busy. She was going to have a quick sandwich in the staff room, and said would find me later. And she did. She was dashing to do so something, but stopped and asked me how I was getting on.  An incredible woman. 82 years old and so energetic.                                                  
Hut 4 is now the cafe
Hut 4 originally housed German Air Force and Naval sections.  From mid-1940 the main function  of hut 4 was translating German Enigma messages, deciphered by hut 8. Both huts provided day-to-day intelligence in the desperate battles between the Allied convoys and the U-Boats which were determined to cut Britain's vitally important supply lines across the Atlantic.

The only decoration in the cafe

Fortified with fish and chips and a cup of tea, I set off for 'B' Block to see the Bombe and Enigma machine. As luck would have it, one of the stewards was giving a demonstration. It was mind blowing. He explained the workings, demonstrating so well that I was able to understand the principal of how it worked.

Having read about Alan Turing, I was pleased to see the recognition he was given. Too little, too late, but as we can't go back in time... Below, left, Alan Turing's statue, on the right, his Teddy bear. 

Below, the posthumous apology given to Alan Turing by Gordon Brown 
on behalf of the government in 2009.       

The Clock Tower - 
One side the cottages, stable yard and stables. The other side, the garages. 

Car and bike sheds.
HUT 3 is a huge hut. It houses a number of offices including, the Duty Officer's room, a teleprinting officer and other secretarial offices.

There was a holograph on the wall. It was quite weird. Below is a Typex machine and a teleprinter.

Leaving the park I passed Hut 12 - The Entertainment Hut. It wasn't the first entertainment hut, there had been several, but as far as I could tell, Hut 12 had been the theatre hut for most of the time. Many young working and wannabe actors gave up their careers to work at Bletchley.  

I arrived at Bletchley Park at 10am and it was 4.15 when I realised my legs would take me no further. I had half an hour to wait for my train, which was a five minute walk away, so I went to the shop and bought lots of goodies. Then I had a large and much needed cup of tea, a strawberry muffin - naughty I know, but healthier than a chocolate one - and I sat down.   
Oh dear, that was meant to be a photograph of my cup of tea!

During my day at Bletchley Park, I visited all the blocks and went into all the huts, but I need to go again, and I will. I defy anyone to be able to take everything in in one day. It was wonderful. I loved it, and I am grateful to those amazing people who contributed to making our world what it is today. 

My Dudley sister, Ena, works in an engineering factory making discs and rotors that go to a secret location that she only knows as, Station X. She becomes involved with Bletchley Park (can't say how without giving away the plot) and spends quite a lot of time there. As with my other books, I've researched extensively. In The 9:45 To Bletchley I want to do Ena and Bletchley Park justice by getting what is written in the novel, right. Thanks to several very helpful people, I think I have. 


I looked back and couldn't resist taking a couple of photographs,
 before my wonderful day at Bletchley came to an end.