Voices of the Code Breakers: Personal Accounts of the Secret Heroes of World War II

By Michael Paterson | Go to book overview

FOREWORD

George Steiner once hailed the British code breaking effort at Bletchley Park as ‘the single greatest achievement of Britain during 1939–45, perhaps during this century as a whole’.

The claim will doubtless strike many as ridiculous. Surely, however precise the information about the enemy which Bletchley provided, it would have been useless without the courage of the sailors, soldiers and airmen who had to act upon it? True; nevertheless, I still think Steiner’s dramatic assertion is justified. While all the major combatants in the second world war had navies, armies and airforces often as good as, if not superior, to ours, none had anything to compare with our achievements in intelligence. Bletchley was Britain’s singular contribution, not just to victory, but to the development of the modern world.

I met my first pair of Bletchley Park veterans by accident over dinner with a friend’s parents in 1980, when I was twenty-three. Typically, they were the daughter of an earl, and a grammar school boy from Keighley, who had gone on to become a famous historian. By the end of the war, he had helped compile a set of records of the Luftwaffe, so voluminous they had to be housed in an aircraft hangar, and which eventually proved to be more detailed than those held by Goering’s Air Ministry in Berlin. She had operated a Type-X decryption machine – a simple clerical job – but the nature of her work meant that, at nineteen, she held in her head the greatest British secret of the war: a fact of which she was acutely conscious, she said, every time she ventured out in public.

I listened, enraptured, to their stories, and fifteen years later wrote a novel, Enigma, which tried to convey something of the atmosphere of this haunting place, which had cut across the traditional barriers of sex and class. I had the good fortune to conduct my research at a time when some of the key players were still alive and able to answer questions: Sir Stuart Milner-Barry, former junior chess champion of Great Britain, and subsequently head of Bletchley’s Hut 6; Sir Harry Hinsley, expert in signals traffic analysis, who later became the official historian of British intelligence in the second world war; and perhaps the most memorable of them all – Joan Murray, one of Bletchley’s few women codebreakers, who had worked on the U-boat ciphers in Hut 8, had been briefly engaged to Alan Turing, and who was now living, widowed and solitary, in a small house in north Oxford.

All these three are now dead; and the sad truth is that within the next decade virtually everyone who played a significant role in Bletchley will have gone, too. Hence the need for this book, which skilfully draws together the voices of the past. The wartime code breakers not only produced the most astonishing cornucopia of intelligence in the history of warfare (at its peak, Bletchley was decrypting 10,000 enemy signals per day); they not only pioneered the development of the computer, and so helped give birth to the information age, they also represented the triumph of a peculiarly British blend of genius, discretion, amateurism and eccentricity, which seems to be vanishing with them.

Whenever I think of Bletchley, I think of shiftchanges at midnight and chilly wooden huts, of glowing orange valves and clanking electromagnetic machinery; I think of Alan Turing cycling to work in his gas mask during the hayfever season, and of sunlit games of rounders in front of that hideous Victorian mansion; I think of chess-players, crossword-puzzle addicts, Egyptologists, numismatists, philologists, lexicographers, musicologists – in short, of that particular kind of quiet, self-absorbed, recondite intellect, which is often overlooked or even mildly despised in the modern world, but which, for a few years, came together in a suburban park in the dreary midlands of England, and helped save western civilisation.

-vi-

Notes for this page

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this book

This book has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this book

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this page

Cited page

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited page

Bookmark this page
Voices of the Code Breakers: Personal Accounts of the Secret Heroes of World War II
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page i
  • Contents iv
  • Foreword vi
  • Introduction 1
  • 1- Codes and War 3
  • 2- Bletchley Park 26
  • 3- 1940- A Fateful Year 46
  • 4- Battle of the Atlantic 60
  • 5- North Africa and Italy 78
  • 6- The Resistance 102
  • 7- Towards Victory in Europe 130
  • 8- War in the Pacific 149
  • Endnotes 175
  • Chronology 176
  • Bibliography and Sources 179
  • Acknowledgments 181
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this book

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen
/ 181

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.