A Conversation for Bletchley Park, Milton Keynes, UK

A Touching fact...

Post 1

Hoovooloo


... that I learned from a trip there this year was that, when the Bletchley Park Trust were attempting to collate information to fill the museum with, they traced many former workers from Station X, and asked to interview them about their roles there... and many of them refused to talk, even sixty years on, or claimed (even though they were known to have been codebreakers) to have been mere gardeners or similar. Many of them had never, ever told anyone - even their families - anything at all about what they'd done, and even decades later when a museum was being set up about it all, they still refused to spill the beans.

Makes you proud to be British...

SoRB


A Touching fact...

Post 2

Ictoan

My grandfather went to his grave with what he did at bletchly. All we ever got from hi was that he was there, and then he'd shut up. He once told me about it being there they invented the computer, but that was not long before he went. We have since found out a bit more, he wasn't even on the code breaking staff. Some sort army logistics organizer for the whole base I think.
Amazing isn't it?


A Touching fact...

Post 3

Alfster

Would anything they were to say now actually be of use to a future enemy? If no, then it is a damn shame that some of the work carried out to win WW2 will ever be known. At a time when children are moving away from science, engineering and maths it might be just the hook for some kids to go down a path towards that sort of role or just study further how the codebreaking was done.


A Touching fact...

Post 4

icecoldalex

Apparently the method for cracking the codes and even ,if i remember rightly, the technology, or method of technology was stil being used until about 20 years ago. That is why they could not 'let on'about Colossus.

It was fabulous to meet those guys there. They were mostly retired and taked on the rebuilding of Colossus just like other people do restoring steam engines. The difference is they had very little to go off. Not even blue prints of Colossus. Just photographs and the vague knowledge of what it was supposed to do.

I even hav some tape from the reproduction machine.

Fascinating!

smiley - ok

Alex.


A Touching fact...

Post 5

Alfster



Wouldn't mind seeing that.

Some people like restoring steam engines some like restoring difference engines.


A Touching fact...

Post 6

Rod

smiley - applause A good entry - I enjoyed it.

One of the tests for potential new recruits to the actual codebreaking was to solve a Daily Telegraph cryptic crossword puzzle, I believe.

Is it true that enigma wouldn't allow a letter to be coded as itself? The thing was basically a many-step mechanical scrambler and it doesn't seem likely that the necessarily large amount of work would be put into detecting, changing, and inserting extra characters as a signal for the decoding enigma to know about it? Wouldn't that have been just too complex for a system that was designed to be impenetrable anyway?

Anyway, well done.

p.s. 2nd sentence under heading Station X - it should be 'discreet'.


A Touching fact...

Post 7

Recumbentman

Discreet, yes -- I noticed that and put a note in Editorial Feedback before reading your post. That's where corrections have to go if they are to be acted on.


A Touching fact...

Post 8

Ictoan

Rod, yes the crossword thing was one of them. If you want to know more, even more than above!, then I can highly recommend the 'Station X' book. Can;t remember who by, but its a slim book going over all the code breaking stuff. Did you know, fgor example, that one of the very high ups (although not involved in the enigma programme) in the UK code breaking sector was a Russian spy?
All sorts of fascinating stuff in there, and interestinglty given the first post, a lot of the people who actually served there thought the book should never have been written or published.

Another good book on such stuff is "The Code Book" by Simon Singh which covers coding and code breaking from its dawn to modern times and a bit of future stuff. But it does give one of the best explanations of how Enigma worked, and how it was developed through the war. Very interesting stuff.


A Touching fact...

Post 9

Cyzaki

The mechanics of the enigma machine meant that letters couldn't physically be encoded as themselves.

smiley - panda


A Touching fact...

Post 10

Rod

Recumbentman: Thanks and...Sorry!

Ictoan : I must look up the books (test my local library?). A touch of semantics and possible politics - was it a russian spy, or a spy for the russians? At the time them n us were on the same side... Never mind, I'll try the books.

Cyzaki: Now that's fascinating. The books should help... Perhaps I'll find out if it was deliberate design or simply a side effect. In retrospect it looks like a weakness - was it seen as such by the designers? They were no numkins.
Don't tell me.


A Touching fact...

Post 11

Recumbentman

I see there is a new breed of hootooer called "curators" who undertake to trawl through just these conversations attached to edited entries and look out for corrections and suggestions. smiley - applause

On the undying oaths of secrecy, it is a particularly British thing; I have always fantasised that had Turing been American instead of English he wouldn't have eaten a poisoned apple and died at a tragically young age, not only unrecognised for his enormous contribution to winning the war, but positively persecuted . . . he would have had the right and the encouragement) to publish the work he had done, and he would have gone on to develop the computer (he first defined the concept of computability; the job landed on Von Neumann instead) and would have lived to be as rich and famous as Bill Gates, with more concrete achievement to justify his being a household name.


A Touching fact...

Post 12

Ictoan

Rod, it was someone feeding info back to the russians. We may have been on the same side but the ptb's at the time were very sensitive about what they let on.

For example, after the war, the UK, specifically, had a load of Enigma machines. And they knew how to crack them. But nobody outside of the govt. knew this. So the British Govt. very kindly handed out all this leftover enigma machines to various of the ex-colonies. And if these countries happened to think that enigma was, as per the hype, unbreakable then the British Govt. did nothing to disabuse them of this. Meaning the British Govt. had full access to anything sent by these countries.
Indeed, when the first book was written about this, one of the reasons that the author gave to the Govt. to be able to write it was that all the countries who had been given enigma machines no longer used them, so we wouldn;t be compromising our intelligence services by telling everyone that we knew how to crack enigma, and had done for quite a long time.

As for the unable to encrypt as itself, this was a feature of the design. You may be aware of the wheels used which would click round each time. Inside these wheels were bits of wire. Without going into it in depth, each wheel had so many inputs on one side and the same number of outputs on the other side. These were internally wired to each other, but not in a direct fasion. So. No.1 input did not go to No.1 output, but to maybe No.5. Each wheel was like this. Since they were together, the output of one fed the input of the next. But you had to get the signal back to the display. Thus the last wheel of any enigma machine was what was called a reflector. This basicaly connected two of the outputs of the last wheel together, thus sending the signal back through the wheels via a different route.

Because the route was different, it couldn't come out at the same input that it came in on. Therefore, the one letter it couldn't encrpyt to was the letter that was pressed.

That probably doesn;t make much sense in textr, read Simon Singh's book (local library should be able to get hold of them, no probs. The Code Book is fascinating in both its breadth and depth, covering everything from ceaser ciphers to RSA encryption and quantum encryption, as well as the navajo talkers in WW2 (and the British Welsh talkers!) through the cracking of hieroglyphs and linear B languages).


A Touching fact...

Post 13

Ictoan

Recumbentman, the USA was tolerant of homosexuals at the time? One quote I remember from a contemporary of his at Bletchley went something along the lines of 'luckily the military was unaware of his homosexuality, otherwise we may have lost the war'. As it was, he was one of the most atrociously mistreated heroes of British society.


A Touching fact...

Post 14

Recumbentman

No, that's a point. In Ireland homosexuality was always treated with silence and tact if the people involved were important enough (the actors and theatre managers Edwards and MacLiammóir for instance).

I'd had the feeling that that held for England too, though they were still reeling for decades after Oscar Wilde. I reckon they just didn't take care of their boffins; the police weren't told "don't hassle this man, he's the saviour of the nation" because Churchill didn't want it known.

I'd have thought the Americans would have realised (admitted, celebrated) his importance and made life easier for him . . . but then again maybe not.


A Touching fact...

Post 15

Ictoan

Ah, I see. No, the armed forces just about tolerated the bunch of misfits at station X, their odd modes of dress and complete lack of understanding about the military hierarchy. But they didn't know Turing was homosexual. This came out, by accident, due to some other involvement with the police (after the war) during which Turing admitted having a homosexual affair. The police then had no choice but to arrest him. He was forced to undergo various 'treatments' which ended up making him very overweight and extremely depressed. And gawd knows what else. Various mandatory drugs and so forth administered. It was this that led to the suicide.

The sleeping beuty/apple thing was a recurrent metaphor for him. He had used it earlier as (in another way, obviously!).

At the time, only other cryptographers in his unit at station X, and the senior cabinet like Churchill, even knew that he held such a pivotal role. Certainly his family thought he was just doing some thing administrative in the army and he said his mothers reaction to this was dissappointment that joining the army hadn't resulted in a better haircut and smarter appearance for her son!


A Touching fact...

Post 16

Rod

Ictoan, post 12: Thanks - I've ordered 'Station X from the library. The other on later, perhaps. I'm overloaded with things to read... retirement ain't all well-earned-rest, you know. Well earned yes, but...


Key: Complain about this post

Write an Entry

"The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy is a wholly remarkable book. It has been compiled and recompiled many times and under many different editorships. It contains contributions from countless numbers of travellers and researchers."

Write an entry
Read more