Action This Day
Action This Day! In our historic anniversary-based series, It Happened Here, we look at a paper-based act of daring which changed the course of history.
Seventy five years ago Winston Churchill visited Bletchley Park, amid the utmost secrecy. He understood how important the intelligence being produced was, and valued it highly. He gave a morale-boosting speech to the Codebreakers, and we hear from Sir Arthur Bonsall, who stumbled across the PM on his way to lunch.
Once the euphoria of the VIP visit had worn off, a group of young men who were feeling the weight of the task on their shoulders cooked up a plan to try to channel Churchill’s enthusiasm for Bletchley Park, to help them overcome administrative and fiscal issues they were facing on the front line of codebreaking.
A letter signed by Alan Turing, Gordon Welchman, Hugh Alexander and Stuart Milner-Barry, politely outlined the need for more staff and resources. One passage read: “The trouble to our mind is that as we are a very small section with numerically trivial requirements it is very difficult to bring home to the authorities finally responsible either the importance of what is done here or the urgent necessity of dealing promptly with our requests.”
Stuart Milner-Barry of Hut 6 was volunteered by his colleagues to deliver the letter to Downing Street. It was 40 years before he saw the Churchill’s memo: “Make sure they have all they want on extreme priority and report to me that this had been done.”
The original memo lives in The National Archive and a copy is on display in the Visitor Centre at Bletchley Park.
Then we fast forward 50 years to 1991 and the party that saved Bletchley Park. The very first reunion for Veterans started as a fond farewell to a semi derelict site that was about to be bulldozed, but turned into a call to action to save it. Fourteen hours of audio recordings made that day that were feared lost, were in fact safely stashed away in Bletchley Park’s Archive, and digitised only recently. From next month, we’ll bring you highlights.
The episode also features an exclusive interview with Geoffrey Welchman, whose grandfather Gordon was Head of Hut 6 and reputedly the instigator of the letter to Churchill. Find out what happened when Geoffrey visited Bletchley Park for the first time, and discovered how well celebrated his grandfather is.
Visit Bletchley Park. It happened here. Book now.
Image: ©Bletchley Park Trust