One of the first things we did was to sign the Official Secrets Act, which meant ‘silence for ever’. We swore we would never talk about what went on there, never, ever. Still, so much has been revealed now, in newspapers and television especially, that I don’t think I need fear being whisked off to the Tower for anything I may say today.
If you’ve seen these programmes you know as much as I do about Bletchley Park. We were told nothing about what we were doing.
How did I happen to be there in the first place? I was studying for a degree at Exeter University, and in those days graduates were subject to something called Direction of Labour instituted by the Government, so that everyone could be slotted into a job where the best use could be made of them to help the war effort.
First, we were interviewed by some men in black who came to Exeter from London to sort out the field. Those who passed this initial interview then had to go to London to the Foreign Office for a final selection.
Eventually a letter of appointment arrived saying I had been appointed to the Foreign Office and had to present myself at Bletchley Park. Travel arrangements were given. So my friend and I arrived at Bletchley station where we were picked up and driven to the Mansion, the administrative HQ of this most famous place.
We were allocated to work in Hut 6, and billeted in Woburn, a nearby village. Our landlady was the wife of the valet to the Duke of Bedford, the owner of Woburn Abbey. Conditions were rather primitive – a bath in front of the fire in a zinc bath, once a week.
We worked in shifts, three a day – 8am to 4pm, 4pm to midnight and then midnight to 8 the next morning.
The job we did was very boring and we didn’t really know how it fitted in with the overall picture.
We sat at long tables and were fed with piles of paper through a hole in the wall in front of us. We sorted them into more piles, according to the time and call signs and according to the code or key such as ‘ocelot’ or ‘jaguar’. We had to look out for any differences we could spot as the codes were changing constantly.
Somehow and somewhere in this process we noted groups of five letters on suitably ruled sheets. These were placed in a tray and passed through to unknown people in the next Hut. The secrecy was intense – nobody knew anything about anything, least of all the Germans, who didn’t know of the existence even of Bletchley Park until the 70’s when the British told them.
Our only entertainment was to attend Saturday night hops in the Corn Exchange. Many American soldiers turned up. I remember one funny incident as we waited for the transport to take us back to our billets after the dance. One American who’d had a good evening was muttering, ‘The drunker I stand here, the longer I get’.
In the last months of the war we had some frightening experiences from the Doodlebugs. Bletchley was within range of the doodlebugs targetting London, and we’d lie in bed hearing their engines overhead. If the sound of the engines cut out then we’d wait in fear and trembling for the bang as they exploded in the vicinity.
Working as we were in the heart of activities, we were the first to know when the war was ended. What a wonderful moment that was!
The message came in early morning and my friend and I (with many others) jumped on the first available train to London. The excitement was great and coming from the train we could see people coming out of their houses and waving from their gardens at the passengers in the train and at everyone in sight.
Once in London we made our way to Buckingham Palace and were amongst the millions who were going mad with joy as the King and Queen, accompanied by Churchill, came out on to the balcony to wave to the crowds. It was an unforgettable moment.
(written in the early 2000s)