Tag Archives: World

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.

Spies in the Sky, Taylor Downing

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After reading Target Tirpitz, Dam Busters, and other books on the history of World War II, (WW2), and realising how much was missing from my knowledge, my interest has been ignited to find other information, other gaps that need filling in.

One area mentioned was the intelligence which was gathered about targets prior to missions, and then post mission, the information which was made available as to the success or failure of the missions.
I came across Taylor Downing’s book, Spies in the Sky, which like many books being publish at this time, gathers together facts, figures, information, stories, history about what I was looking for, “the secret battle for aerial intelligence during World War II“.
This well written book tells in a near chronological sequence how and why the need for intelligence started in the 19th century, through the First World War, primarily the Second World War, even through to today, from the air.
It tells how Sidney Cotton, perhaps a maverick, an unconventional thinking person, used his knowledge and love of flying, to create methods of gathering aerial photographs of places of interest for military needs. It follows the story of how, despite opposition by some in power, the initial drive by Cotton was developed to a point where there were thousands of people gathering information, analysing and interpreting it to be made available just from aerial photographs, to the leaders, generals, admirals and air marshals, the planners, for battles that would follow.
The book tells the stories of pilots flying often alone for long hours, deep behind enemy lines, in unarmed reconnaissance aircraft, risked their lives, many never to return or unheard of again, just to photograph the land below them as they flew above, throughout the world.
Based in a country house, Danesfield House, Medmenham, in the Thames Valley near London, men and woman, civilians in uniform, academic people, gathered to process and analyse the millions of photographs taken by the reconnaissance pilots. Everyone, like those, the code breakers at Bletchley Park operated in total secret, unaware what others in other sections were doing, and their secrets were hidden from the public for many years.
This book tells the story of aerial intelligence during World War II, a good read.
But even more questions have been planted in my mind now.

The Churchill Museum and Cabinet War Rooms

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English Afternoon Tea

In my article “I am still learning more on history” I mentioned the Cabinet War Rooms in Central London.

My interest in visiting the Cabinet War Rooms came about by reading R.V. Jones book Most Secret War, because in his writing, Jones reported his various meetings in this secret underground bunker with the Chiefs of Staff and the Prime Minister of Great Britain during WWII, Winston Churchill. I wanted to verify the information he was giving, and experience what had taken place some 70 years previously. His whole writings seemed to imply he was the most important person in the Second World War apart from Churchill.

I was not to be disappointed in what I learnt and saw, although gained no reference or mention when asking guides to R.V. Jones having worked there.

Located near Horse Guards Parade, opposite St Jame’s Park, and under what is now The Treasury Building, it was decided in 1930’s, because of the impending war with Germany and the probability of aerial bombardment, to build a central emergency working space for the War Cabinet and Chiefs of Staff of the military. One week before the outbreak of the Second World War, on 27th August 1939, the secret bunker was opened, and was in continuous until the end of the war in 1945.

At the end of the war in 1945, staff left their desks, control rooms and living quarters and returned to their normal working places, leaving the secret underground bunker as is, to be used as stores. But in the late 1970’s the Imperial War Museum was tasked with preserving this historic site, and to open the site to the public. From 2005 this site was fully open and included the Churchill Museum dedicated to the life and work of this great British Prime Minister.

A new entrance was opened allowing public access to the Churchill Museum and Cabinet War Rooms, the old access being in what is now The Treasury Building.

To protect the people working in the bunker, (it is stated that over 500 people worked at any one time in the facilities), extra wooden and steel girder reinforcements were built into the bunker, and a steel and concrete two-metre deep slab lain in the void above the bunker.

Cabinet War Rooms Churchill Museum

Cabinet War Rooms Churchill Museum

Cabinet War Rooms Churchill Museum



Among the many rooms and facilities is a room called the Map Room, it is said to be in the same state as it was left in 1945, with the original maps on the walls. One wall shows the Atlantic Ocean, and was used to chart the progress of the merchant shipping, more often being in convoys, still showing the tiny pin holes marking the ships positions. This room was staffed 24 hours a day by officers of the navy, army and airforce, to keep track of the war.

A link from the Cabinet War Rooms Map Room was back to another famed wartime site I have visited, The Battle of Britain Operations Room, at RAF Uxbridge. (click to see article). It was from this Ops room, that information would be fed to the Cabinet War Rooms. as can be seen by a board giving details of flights during the Battle of Britain.

RAF Uxbridge, The Battle of Britain Control Room

RAF Uxbridge, The Battle of Britain Control Room

Links would also be to other war time facilities, including Bletchley Park. The German encrypted messages made on the Enigma Machine would be decoded in Bletchley Park, which helped the Navy plan and fight the Battle of the Atlantic, against the German naval fleet and submarines.

The museum also contains as stated the Churchill Museum, more on that later.

I spent about four hours in the Cabinet War Rooms, so I was somewhat hungry and thirsty, and had an English Afternoon Tea, in the Switchroom Café. Finger sandwiches, (I eat one before taking this picture), made of cheese and cucumber and smoked salmon, a cup of English Breakfast tea with milk, and a piece of cake just like my mother used to make, with strawberry and cream filling, not like mass made factory cake. Paradise.

English Afternoon Tea

English Afternoon Tea in the Switchroom, Cabinet War Rooms.