Wartime Office where US "Special Relationship" was Born

Now Open to Visitors: Commander Denniston's Wartime Office

The wartime office which bore witness to one of the earliest engagements in the UK's “Special Relationship” with the US has been returned to its WW2 appearance in the Bletchley Park Mansion. Visitors to Bletchley Park will now be able to enter the office of Commander Alexander (Alastair) Denniston, the first Operational Director of the Government Code and Cypher School (GC&CS), to experience the authentic wartime setting and, from its elegant bay window, enjoy the view of the parkland Denniston had ordered be retained to encourage innovation from the Codebreakers. It was from this window, in early 1941, that Denniston watched the first US mission arrive, before they had entered the war, and told his secretary, Barbara Abernethy, to bring in the sherry and then depart and never breathe a word that they had entertained Americans. (In another special relationship Barbara would later marry Joe Eachus, one of the three hundred “Ultra” Americans who arrived at Bletchley Park before D-Day).

In this newly-opened room Commander Denniston welcomed all new recruits to the Top Secret Bletchley Park. Following meetings with the Polish Cypher Bureau in 1938, Denniston had recognised the need for academics and in particular mathematicians, to be involved in cryptographic work. He subsequently began planning for a proposed expansion of GC&CS by drawing up a list of so-called ‘men of the professor type’ who agreed in the event of war, to report to GC&CS’s new wartime base at Bletchley Park. This list included Codebreakers Alan Turing and Gordon Welchman but also, intriguingly, The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings author, JRR Tolkein who declined his place at GC&CS. 

Image: Iain Standen, CEO of the Bletchley Park Trust, and Judith Finch, granddaughter of Commander Denniston, in his wartime office.