Tag Archives: Bletchley

Synchronicity, Bletchley Park, History Unfolding

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Colossus valves Bletchley Park

It was in the 1920’s that the Swiss psychologist Carl Gustav Jung first described the the terminology of synchronicity, saying that when two or more events occur together or are linked when there is no apparent reason for them to be linked at that time, things come together by what seems chance, this is synchronicity.

It was early one Sunday morning, the British clock system had been adjusted back to GMT (Greenwich Mean Time) that morning, that meant that my clock showed 7:30am, but my body said it was 8:30am, and I had nothing meaningful to do and wide awake.
As a Radio Ham (G8YJQ), I had heard of the RSGB (Radio Society of Great Britain) National Radio Centre based in Bletchley Park, the war-time home of secret code breaking and the birthplace of the first modern computer. I decided to visit the National Radio Centre.
I often like to revisit the basics, to start again to review, as if I knew nothing about a subject, as it reinforces the foundations of expertise, to pick-up knowledge missed along the way of learning a subject.
I joined a group of visitors, as toured the radio exhibition very quickly, leaving me in their wake as I read the documentation written about the displays, which they skipped over. The exhibition was quite small and a little disappointing to me, so I had finished my visit very quickly, even after a long conversation with a guide and another radio ham.
I decided to visit the rest of the Bletchley Park facility again as I had travelled a long way, to see if the model aircraft of the Italian aircraft (Savoia-Marchetti SM.79 Sparviero) I had donated, had been used in their exhibition, and no it had not been used, to revisit, to reinforce and relearn what I knew about the site and its’ history.
I joined another small group of people of many nationalities, and we met in the main house to hear the initial opening lecture about the code breakers, setting the scene for the tour. Even though I had heard this talk before, it had been with another guide, and he gave us information new to me. As we wondered around the site, new information was being imparted, especially about the decoding Bombe machines, I had never understood how they worked, I had a concept, but now after the guides talk, I was beginning to understand.
That reminded me of something I had learnt when I first started in the computer field in 1963, sometimes you don’t need to know how something works to use it.
We eventually visited the National Museum of Computing housed in buildings of part of Bletchley Park.
Here the guide explained about Tunny code breaking machines, or as it is also known, the German Lorenz SZ42 cipher-machines.
Two new “Ah Ha” moments came to me, that the cipher machines Enigma and the Lorenz used by the German’s to encrypt messages ran side by side in the Second World War, being two separate systems or methods of transmission of a message, one being morse code the other being teleprinter.
The second “Ah Ha” moment came as I realised that I had heard and read about Lorenz in two different contexts, one was for the equipment to encode messages I was viewing, and the other was for the beams of radio waves the German aircraft to fly along and used to locate targets to bomb in the UK during the war. Both the encrypting machine and the beams were made by the German manufacturer Lorenz, but people had when speaking about the systems, had truncated or missed off what Lorenz model they were talking about, just like saying it was a Ford, but what model Ford, was it a car, was it a transit van?
As we walked around listening and learning, a couple in our group were talking about papers and artefacts that had been left to them by the husband’s now deceased mother and father, and that some of the letters were now making sense, they now realised that they had been written to and by people who had worked in Bletchley Park. These people at Bletchley Park in the Second World War had been sworn to secrecy at to what they were working on, what they were doing or even where they were, many taking their secrets with them to their graves many decades later. I now regret not asking my now departed Uncle Frank about his work in the 2nd World War, because as I research more, I believe he may have had had some dealing with the Bletchley Code Breakers.
Also, the couple told me that they had in their possession, left by the father, many old thermionic valves and parts used by the Post Office in the UK who used to run the telephone service.
Passing on from the Tunny Gallery, we passed into the Colossus Gallery, showing a reconstructed decoding machine, the worlds first digital semi-programmable computer, designed and built by Tommy Flowers, a telephone engineer, who took standard telephone switching gear, thermionic valves and other bits and pieces, to build this worlds first computer of it’s type.
As we listened to our guide about how the British Government, after the finish of the 2nd World War, did not want the secret be known by other powers and especially the Russians of Colossus, and apart from two machines which were sent to the Secret Service’s headquarters at GCHQ, all other machines were destroyed, along with paperwork, designs and drawings.
Colossus Bletchley Park

Colossus Bletchley Park

It was only a few years ago that a group of enthusiasts led by Tony Sale, who gathered information from photographs, people who worked on the Colossus, and those you built and maintained them, that rebuilt what we can see today, a working Colossus which can decipher and work as the originals did, and does so for visitors to see today.

Colossus valves Bletchley Park

Colossus valves Bletchley Park

 

When our guide had finished his talk, the couple’s eyes were alive, as they had some parts, letters, paperwork, documents and some knowledge from the father, who they now realised had worked with Tommy Flowers on the original Colossus, and I urged them to go and speak to one of the guides who I knew had worked on the rebuild and was now sitting in a small office near to the working computer.
I think at first reluctantly the guide listened to them, but he became interested, as here was new knowledge being delivered, and so off they went to another area of the exhibition, only to return with a framed photograph of Tommy Flowers, and in that photograph was the father.
I was witnessing the discovery of new knowledge, the recovery of history.
Leaving Bletchley Park, and a almost two hour journey, I arrived home and settled down to a wonderful hot chilli con carne meal I had made, and switched on the TV. To my surprise the BBC were showing a Timewatch series, “Codebreakers: Bletchley Park’s Lost Heroes“, the story of code breaking and the Colossus, reinforcing what I had learned not a few hours earlier.
Synchronicity. If I had not been bored and decided to rekindle my Ham Radio interests, to visit the National Radio Centre, which happened to be at Bletchley Park, and if I had not continued to do another tour of the park, I would not have had those “Ah Ha” moments, seen many more things, and learnt so much more, meet the couple who had a direct connection to Colossus through the father and Tommy Flowers, then see the TV program.

Savoia-Marchetti SM.79 Sparviero Update

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Savoia-Marchetti SM.79 Sparviero

In the past I have written about the Italian Second World War aircraft, the Savoia-Marchetti SM.79 Sparviero, or Sparrow Hawk.

It was my privilege to talk to Gianni Golfera’s Grandfather, who had flown this aircraft during the war, and how he had shot down two British Hurricanes.
It was on one of my trips to research my interests, that I visited Bletchley Park, once home in the Second War World to the Code Breakers that were able to break the secret Enigma Codes of the Germans, plus the home of the world’s first electronic computer, Colossus.
In Bletchley Park’s many displays, there are models of many aircraft that flew and fought in WWII, but one aircraft that was missing was the Savoia-Marchetti SM.79 Sparviero, and as I had found as in my articles on Part of My History is Missing, I wanted other visitors to be aware of more of the WWII history.
Savoia-Marchetti SM.79 Sparviero

Savoia-Marchetti SM.79 Sparviero

So, to honour a great man, I donated my little plastic aircraft to the museum. I hope others will see it and wonder what has been missing from their learnings.

Churchill Museum within the Cabinet War Rooms

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Cabinet war rooms

Ever seeking more knowledge, some people say I am full of useless information, and my visit to the Churchill and Cabinet War Rooms in Central London, gave me the opportunity to learn more about one of the greatest leaders of British history, Winston Churchill (1940 to 1945 and again from 1951 to 1955).

The secret underground bunker which served as the Cabinet War Rooms in the Second World War, where the Chiefs of Staff and the Prime Minister worked continuously from 1939 to 1945.

Within the facilities, Winston Churchill, as well as other person holding high positions in the armed services, had his own bedroom, office and other amenities. There was a kitchen which catered for his eating requirements, and also a bedroom for his wife Clementine. To keep in touch with other world leaders but especially USA President Roosevelt, within Shefridges on Oxford Street, a special room called the Transatlantic Room was created, with a secure telephone/radio connection using a scrambler device called Sigsaly installed.

Cabinet war rooms

The Transmission Room in the Cabinet War Rooms, London

Sigsaly
was 40 tons of equipment, shipped from the USA and installed in the basement of Shefridges on Oxford Street. Another Sigsaly was installed in the Pentagon in the USA, and it was said the scrambled signal generated was “almost” impenetrable. Having now learned of the secret decoding work by the British at Bletchley Park, I wonder if the Germans had broken Sigsaly.

Within the bunker of the Cabinet War Rooms, is a very large space which was partitioned off for use by various departments of the Chiefs of Staff and the War Cabinet during WWII, as since 2005 become the Churchill Museum.

Sir Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill was born at Blenheim Palace into the Spencer family on 30 November 1874, he came from a aristocratic family, his father being Lord Randolph Spencer-Churchill being the 7th Duke of Marlborough, his mother was an American.

Churchill was sent away to boarding schools, and had little contact with his parents despite his repeated requests for his mother to visit him. He was not a good student other than English and history, and his poor results could be attributed to him having dyslexia. Churchill also had a speech impediment, especially noticeable was his lisp, having difficulty pronouncing the letter “S” and, it has been said a stutter. All these problems did not deter Churchill, as he said, “My impediment is no hindrance“, and he became a great author and speech maker.

Despite having to take the entrance exam three times, he was accepted into the Royal Military Academy, better known as Sandhurst, to become an officer in the 4th Queen’s Own Hussars, using his family connections to be posted on active duties. It was from these campaigns that the public started to know him through his writings as a war correspondent, and writing his own books on the campaigns.

Throughout his life he was a world traveler, and in the military his campaigns to him to Cuba, India, Malakand (now Pakistan), Sudan and South Africa. He became First Lord of the Admiralty at the start of World War I.

His first try in politics in 1899 was in the English constituency of Oldham, where he stood for the seat to the British Parliament, and lost the vote. But, in the 1900 General Election he won his seat to Parliament in the same constituency of Oldham. In the 1906 General Election he had changed his political party from the Conservatives to the Liberals, and stood for the Manchester North West Constituency which again he won, only having the seat for two years, when he was elected as member of Parliament for Dundee. He became a high powered member of the Liberal Government, helping to pass many reforms.

During World War 1, Churchill again rejoined the military to fight, having the rank of Colonel in the Royal Scots Fusiliers but still being an MP (Member of Parliament).

In 1922 he lost his Dundee parliamentary seat, and despite standing for other constituencies, was not returned to Parliament until 1924 for Epping.

Throughout the following years, Churchill had many positions in the British Government, but also he feel out of favour sometimes, and had periods of obscurity. It was after the start of the Second World War, that Churchill again gained power being given the job of The First Lord of the Admiralty.

When the then Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain resigned due to the lack of confidence the county had in him in his handling of the outbreak of the war, Churchill was asked to become Prime Minister. 10 May 1940.

Throughout the Second World War, Churchill led the British nation with inspiration, his speeches were well thought out and rehearsed, that rallied the nation to fight on to the end. He formed good working relationships with other world leaders, Roosevelt, Truman, Stalin.

Some of Churchill’s greatest speeches contained now famous lines which rallied and inspired the embattled people of Britain and the world:-

I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears, and sweat“.
“….… we shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.

Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.

At the end of WWII, the British people voted Churchill’s Government out of power in the 1945 election, and he would lead the opposition party until the General Election of 1951,  he resigned in 1955.

All this history and more is on display in the Churchill Museum, along with his famous jump suits, his awards, his medals. They are displayed in such a way that it is as if one is having a personal tour. For example, his many famous speeches, which I have never appreciated before can be heard, by standing is one spot, the clever sound system delivers Churchill as if he is standing in front of you. You can sit and watch films and hear the commentary which hardly interferes with the other visitors.

Although as a young boy, not being old enough to have really experienced his leadership first hand, I remember vividly his State Funeral, not often given to commoners in the UK, after his death at the age of 90 on 24th January 1965. The whole nation stopped to view it on the TV’s. There, in the Churchill Museum were the same pictures, and I felt the emotion of the time once again, as tear welled up in my eyes.

Throughout his life Churchill wrote many books and articles. His speeches are orinspiring and are I have now found out, worth listening to for their content and construc
tion, In 1953 was award the Nobel Prize in Literature.

Here again there is a physical link back to the Bletchley Park in the 21 Century, for in one of the buildings is the Churchill Collect, a vast private collect of Churchill memorabilia. Winston Churchill visited Bletchley Park many time and said of the workers that they were :-

The geese that laid the golden eggs – but never cackled.”

I am still learning more on history

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In the past I have had to admit that there is much missing from my knowledge, my history.

I realised how much is missing from my family history, when after getting together recently with my daughter Vanessa in Southampton, and I was relating what knowledge I had to her, how little I really did know. I had heard stories from my father and mother, uncles and aunties, but this information was limited and nothing had been written down, and now knowing what I do know now about human memory systems, there was much missing.

Visiting so many countries, and listening to their understanding of their history, I realise that it differs from my understanding of the same history from a British point of view. My experience of talking to Gianni Golfera’s Grandfather as a WWII Italian Savoia-Marchetti SM.79 Sparviero (SM.79) bomber pilot and his recollections of fighting the British Hurricane fighter planes, gave a different point of view to my reading of British history of that time.

Having an inquiring mind, trying to understand the background of information, and often asking “why“, I sometimes need and search for information, for example, looking at the history of the WWII British fight plane, the Hurricane and its’ connect to Kingston upon Thames where I have a home.

Part of my research has been through reading, thank goodness I know PhotoReading, part of my research through talking to people, and part of research has been through visiting museums and actual sites the history took place.

My recent interest has taken me to Bletchley Park, north of London, home of and historic site of secret British codebreaking activities during WWII and birthplace of the modern computer, Colosus. This led me to reading many books on the history of Bletchley Park, and to a book by R.V. Jones called Most Secret War. Reading this book led me to wanting to find more about the history of the Cabinet War Rooms, Britain’s secret underground shelter for the War Cabinet and Chiefs of Staff, in Central London.

A tour guide at Bletchley Park when informing us of the work initially undertaken by Polish scientists on the secret encoding of the messages by the Germans and the Enigma Machines, was that once a year a special visit was taken by Polish nationals to the park, and that their guides tell a different story than he does.

Now I have found so much more insight into my own and others history, that I have had to completely rewrite some my understanding of my knowledge, also reaffirming my realisation that we are only told by higher authorities and others what they want us to know.

I also realise that I should have asked my relatives who are now no longer with us more about their history and thus Vanessa’s and mine.