Monday, 5 March 2012

Code Breakers & Quilt Makers

At the end of February I took a trip to Bletchley Park, home of the code breakers and enigma machines which played a vital role in winning the Second World War.

It's a fascinating place, crammed full with British history and, as you'd imagine, stories so many stories - about the people who worked there, the buildings themselves and the equipment housed there. Throughout the visit I learned a lot of interesting facts:
  • The Mansion (pictured above) is somewhat of an architectural pic'n'mix. It started out as farmhouse which was consequently added to during the late 19th Century by the owner, Sir Leon, who, possibly inspired by trips to Europe, decided to build the extensions in varying styles (Grecian columns, Dutch Baroque etc). The result is a rather bizarre but quirky building.
  • The enigma machine was first used by the Germans in WWII (apparently the Brits turned it down because it was thought that the machines wouldn't be secure enough). 
  • Over 8,000 people worked at Bletchley Park (most of whom were women) but no one lived on the premises. Service men and women stayed in nearby villages and housed by the local inhabitants.
  • Although it's not official that the code breaking which took place at Bletchley Park during the war was the reason why the allies were victorious, what is certain is that the work conducted there shortened the war by two years.
  • Alan Turing, who is probably one of the most well known names to be associated with Bletchley Park, was, aside from being an incredibly skilled cryptanalyst, the brains (along with Gordon Welchman) behind the bombe - a large electromagnetic machine designed to crack the German ciphers, the equivalent of 36 enigma machines! Despite his great achievements before, during and after the war and his influence in early computer science, Alan Turing came to a very sad end. He was found 'guilty' of homosexuality, which was still illegal in the UK, and was given female hormones (I'm guessing as some sort of 'treatment') instead of going to prison. He committed suicide age 41. What a way to treat a hero, or anybody for that matter!
  • On a lighter note, pigeons played a tremendous part in the war, not you're average Trafalga Sq pigeon but homing pigeons who fearlessly delivered messages - parachuting from aircraft, dodging gunfire and German Falcons sent to kill them. The success rate of the pigeons was incredibly high and some were even awarded medals for their valour!
  • Bletchley was bombed once, but not directly and certainly not intentionally. The Germans were never aware of it's importance as the centre of England's code breakers, if they had it would have been obliterated.
Also on site at Bletchley Park: 
All the old huts that were built to house the Government Code & Cypher School and their operations, a couple have been restored.
The National Museum of Computing where you can see the world's first semi-programable computer, Colossus.
A model railway courtesy of the Milton Keynes Model Railway Society.
A museum full of pre, post and war-time memorabilia. My favourite piece was a classic bit of make do and mend - a pattern from a magazine showing how to make clothes from a parachute - such resourcefulness!
Vintage vehicles - an ambulance, cars and motorcycles.
A quilting exhibition held by region seven of the Quilters Guild. Ok, so this one, unlike the others, isn't always there, luckily for me though I managed to have a look at the display of war themed quilts created for the event. Also on show was a small number of Canadian Red Cross Quilts which date back to between 1939-1945 and were sent from Canada across the atlantic to war-torn Britain. 

Bletchley Park was a super fun day out and I thoroughly recommend it! It has it's own train station and parking is ample, adult tickets are £12 and they hold events every now and again (like the quilting exhibition) so it's worth checking out there website for up-coming exhibitions and the like, One last tip, v.insightful tours around the site are available and run for about 90 mins. The man who lead our group was very engaging and informative, it's a pretty perfect way to take in the place!

In my own quilting adventures...the top is done and the wadding has been purchased, all I need now is the backing!

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