IT was the base of the brilliant code-breakers who helped the Allies to World War II success. The legacy of Bletchley Park was discussed by two eminent Warwick University professors and an award-winning author in a sell-out event recently. Catherine Vonledebur reports.
At a drinks’ reception prior to the Bletchley Park event at Warwick Business School a petite, white-haired lady walks in gasping for an orange juice.
Eighty-seven-year-old Sheila Howes has caught a bus from her Coventry home to Warwick University and spent an hour walking around the campus searching for the venue.
The lectures have a particular relevance to the widow, who studied German at Birmingham University.
Aged 15 during the Blitz in 1940, Sheila was evacuated to Atherstone after a landmine exploded in her street killing up to 12 of her neighbours.
She recently visited the museum at Bletchley Park and is fascinated by the secret code-breakers.
“It is quite interesting they cracked the code so early. They had to keep Bletchley Park a secret until comparatively recently – I only discovered it existed a couple of years ago,” she said.
A key-speaker at the event, best-selling author Mike Smith told a packed lecture room he is convinced there is no truth in the myth that Winston Churchill allowed Coventry to burn in the Blitz.
The rumour suggested that a captured German airman mentioned Coventry as a target and that Churchill failed to respond, partly lest the Germans realised their codes were being cracked.
The award-winning investigative journalist, who lives in Henley-upon-Thames, said: “The people I asked at Bletchley Park said it was nonsense, they simply knew the target was in the Midlands.” Mike, a member of the board at Bletchley Park, writes on defence and security issues for the Sunday Times and the New Statesman.
He interviewed many former codebreakers while writing the book of a Channel 4 television series on Bletchley Park, called Station X, the code name given to Bletchley by MI6.
An unfortunate incident occurred while Mike discussed his latest book, The Secrets of Station X: How the Bletchley Park Code breakers Helped Win the War. He misread the date of the Blitz in his notes.
Immediately Sheila, from Green Lane, Coventry, raised her hand to correct him. “The Blitz was not in 1941 but in November 1940. I should know, I was there!”
Laughter and applause ensued. Mike apologised profusely.
Mike continued to tell the fascinating story of how Oxbridge dons and civilians worked night and day at Station X to derive intelligence information from German coded messages.
They managed to crack the Enigma cypher used by the Germans for high-level communications.
The high-level intelligence produced at Bletchley Park, code named Ultra, provided crucial assistance to the Allied war effort. Sir Harry Hinsley, a Bletchley veteran and the official historian of British Intelligence, said it shortened the war by two to four years. Mike explains why.