Bletchley Park. For most of us these days the name evokes a world of secrets and codes, the Enigma machine and the breaking of the German code, intelligence work and an important contribution to the Allies' winning World War II.
But from the end of the war in 1945 until the 1970s almost no one knew what had gone on there, what the 12,000 or so people who worked there did during the war. As they left, the employees were asked to sign the Official Secrets Act and forbidden to tell anyone what had been done at Bletchley Park. And they kept their word. Until a book by Frederick Winterbotham told the story to the world.
Beginning years before the war British Intelligence began seriously working to unscramble German codes and when war broke out this became a priority. Admiral Sir Hugh Sinclair, who helped set up the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6) was instrumental in moving the codebreaking enterprise to Bletchley. When the government was slow in approving his request that they purchase the Bletchley Park estate he bought it with his own money. Many years after the war when the government was contemplating selling the estate they discovered to their surprise that they didn't own it. The sinclair heirs did. It has been made into a museum of computers and codebreaking.
In The Secret Lives of Codebreakers Sinclair McKay has gathered hundreds to interviews, letters, government reports, and other sources to paint a picture of life at Bletchley Park during the war. Originally the people working there were either dons and their students, mathematicians and German language specialists, brilliant people like Alan Turing and Gordon Welchman. Also recruited early were debutantes, who mostly did the excruciatingly detailed work of creating card files from German messages intercepted and working the so-called "bombe" machines which were proto-computers that were able to read intercepted messages. These upper class girls tended to know German from having been "finished" on the continent and they proved invaluable. Eventually WRENs and others joined them.
I've read a few books about British intelligence during the Second World War. Most of them are pitched a bit above my head. But this book deals more with the human side of Bletchley. Where did the people working there live, how did they get from the park to the town of Bletchley, what was the mess like, what food did they eat, what social activities did they enjoy? Not surprisingly quite a few marriages were made there.