The Grey Coat Hospital

Church of England Comprehensive School for Girls

10G Discover Women of Bletchley Park

10G Discover Women of Bletchley Park

On Tuesday 8th April, a group of students from Year 10 had the wonderful opportunity of visiting Bletchley Park, a site which until fairly recently was secret, hence nicknamed “Britain’s best kept secret.”

Having a go at the Enigma machine

Bletchley Park is the place where the English deciphered German codes to get an insight into what the Germans were planning to do with regard to the next attack and was Britain’s top code- breaking centre during World War Two. It was there that the infamous enigma code was cracked by the code- breakers including Alan Turing and John Jeffreys in January 1940 which was thought to have shortened the war by 2-4 years.

During the war, the Government Code and Cipher School worked on methods to ensure the Allied forces were able to decipher the codes and ciphers sent out by the Nazi military. Teams of code breakers (lead by Dilly Knox, with Alan Turing, Peter Twinn and John Jeffreys- all incredible mathematicians) set to work on cracking Enigma. With the cipher changing at least once a day, this was an awfully hard task. When it had finally been broken, in order to keep the fact that it had been deciphered hidden, the reports were said to have come from an M16 spy who had a network of (non- existent) agents in Germany. Wireless intercept stations were set up across Britain and the allies where the Nazis radio messages were listened in on. Operators logged these messages which were then sent back to Bletchley Park to be deciphered. Alan Turing and Gordon Welchman designed 'the Bombe', a complex machine which went through every possible Enigma cipher.

The people who worked at Bletchley needed to have a logical mind so being able to solve the Times crossword in less than twelve minutes was used as a recruitment test. As well as crossword experts, Bletchley also hired chess champions and great mathematicians to help solve the codes.

A large number of women also worked at Bletchley Park . As most of the men were out fighting in the war, Bletchley enlisted the help of many women to help crack the codes. They needed to be knowledgeable in Morse code, as they had to listen in to the German codes being transmitted, write down the coded letters and then give them to the code breakers. It was paramount that they got the letters exactly right otherwise the entirety of the code breaking would be incorrect. The women got so good at their job that they could hear, by the kind of Morse code they were receiving, if it was the same person sending the message from a previous day, like distinguishing people’s handwriting.

Bletchley Park was an exciting trip for us all which incorporated both Maths and History as we unravelled the story of the enigma code, discovered the women behind the scenes and even had a go at the maths ourselves.
Tabitha Minett 10H, Katharina Schulenburg 10H, Layla Link 10H and Abi Coates 10H

Who thought maths trips could be fun? No-one, until we went to Bletchley Park. This trip was different to the rest, it was interactive, fun and we learnt so much. The Enigma machine was especially intriguing, with the many complex ways to set it up, causing the code to be interpreted differently each time they used it. There were so many different possibilities for the way that the code was set, that the women at Bletchley had to work really hard to break it. Luckily for them, they managed to get their hands on an Enigma machine of their own, so they only had to work out the setting that the Germans were using in order to figure out what the Germans were planning. Finding out the setting was assisted by the daily weather reports, since if the weather was the same for a few days running, the women would see that the signals contain the same code. This meant they could figure out what it meant, by looking at the weather, and use that to find out how the Germans had set up their machine. We also found it fascinating how quickly the women had to learn Morse code, A huge responsibility was laid on their shoulders, because if they missed, or misinterpreted, a message, it could lead to the Germans having a major advantage.