Winning With People

Thousands of allied decoders spent long days at Bletchley Park during World War II.  The job required considerable attention to detail and discipline.  In between twelve-hour shifts, workers had to sit under UV lamps; it was their only chance to encounter sunlight after working in smoky huts adorned with blackout curtains to protect them from axis bombs. In the park’s ornate mansion-turned museum, an exhibit featured recordings of the women who worked there. One woman noted that she wished she was married and having children, but she knew that her country needed her contributions. In the 1940s, the park was full of employees who put their lives on hold to contribute to the war effort. To me, Bletchley Park represents the “People’s War”:  British society mobilized on and off of the battle field, contributing to the war in masses. As our guide walked us past the mansion, through the gardens, and among the primitive huts where the decoders worked, this theme kept returning to my mind. Historians estimate that Ultra intelligence from Bletchley shorted the war by two to three years.

As we learned more about Bletchley, I asked myself—if my country became enmeshed in total war, would I give as much of my time and talent as the British did? The Leon family, British Aristocrats, realized the need for an intelligence epicenter. They rallied other wealthy families behind the cause and funded the property’s purchase. Aristocrats began intelligence operations at Bletchley, so it was natural that aristocratic women were the first to be hired there. Most of the park’s employees were women, and as demand for workers increased, searches were expanded to all reach all social classes. Women were recruited as they completed crossword puzzles in the newspaper and sent them to the government. After completing an interview, they agreed to work for the government without knowing any details about the work they would be doing. Instead, they waited for code words on the radio as their cue to report to their top-secret jobs. It’s estimated that Ultra intelligence, a product of Bletchley Park, shortened the war by two to four years, and the people who worked there made groundbreaking and war-shortening intelligence break throughs possible. Today, the park pays tribute to the allies’ secret weapon, an army of focused workers at Bletchley.

To learn more about Bletchley Park, checkout their website.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *