War propaganda amuses me greatly. Women were called upon to perform “man’s work” while also maintaining the home in the face of rations and the need to be spendthrift, and men were advised to watch their tongues in their presence, as presumably all women were spies, too. After the war, of course, women were reduced to homemaking. Sigh.
But for a special group of women working at Churchill’s secret intelligence headquarters at Bletchley Park, though, there was no such thing as “man’s work.” In 1932 a group of Polish cryptanalysts cracked the Enigma Code, which forced the Germans to change the cipher periodically. In 1939, with an invasion of Poland imminent, the Poles asked the British for help in code breaking.
Enter the “Bletchley Girls,” or “Bletchleyettes,” the women who worked alongside the men. They represented an impressive 75% of the code breakers, and included the Duchess of Cambridge’s grandmother! Working tirelessly in dingy huts, they developed cipher tools by hand to decode messages from both the Germans and the Japanese.
Handmade flashcards to learn Japanese characters.
Our own little Math Nerd Bletchley Girl could not get enough of the experience. Did you know that there are 17.000 different ways to encode the German word, “Eins” (One)? The Bletchleyettes created an entire Eins Catalogue, on display at the mansion.
While the women (and men) worked in the dingy huts, the big cheeses managed the war from the mansion.
In the mansion garden, a lovely memorial to the Poles who first broke the Enigma Code.
Pigeons in War! Bletchley Park also had a well-curated exhibit on the use of carrier pigeons in WWII.
Though much faded with time, this map of pigeon flying routes was worth a few minutes of study.
The American 4-Pigeon Carrier. Go big or go home, it’s the American way.
Mary of Exeter was an exceptional war pigeon, flying while wounded and eventually requiring a brace to support her neck in retirement.
We also took the occasion to tour the Churchill War Rooms in Central London, housed below the Treasury, as a complement to Bletchley Park, a surprisingly easy target that was never hit. This was the main conference room; I found the map display intriguing.
Room 63, the Transatlantic Telephone Room.
Clementine and Winston Churchill had a wonderful kitchen installed in the bunker, from which dinner for up to 10 persons could be prepared.
The Churchill’s private dining room in the bunker. Cozy, all things considered.
Next to the kitchen, of course, the map room held much of my fascination. To think that the war was managed manually, with the Chief Map Officer moving the pins regularly to chart the war’s course. I so could have done this job. When I wasn’t being a Bletchleyette, that is.
Every war room needed an “automatic” cigarette lighter.
To end, a little more wartime propaganda that is still relevant today.