About Volunteer Voices
Volunteer Voices is an area dedicated to giving those who volunteer at Bletchley Park the voice to speak about their experiences and why they love what they do. There are many different reasons why people volunteer; it might be a personal, connection to Bletchley Park, interest in history, or to develop skills that will help towards finding work. Whatever the reason, our volunteers are as varied as our volunteer roles.
Claire Coldwell's Story
I have been a volunteer since 2014. I became involved through a friend in my village who had been a ‘listener’ at Chicksands during World War Two. Through her I became a Friend of Bletchley Park and then, when the Oral History Project requested more volunteers for interviewing Veterans, I thought “Well, I’ve been interviewing most of my working life” (via a career in HR), so I applied and was taken on.
The area I cover is the South West, which is huge! It seems that many Veterans have retired to Dorset or Devon, so it keeps me busy enough. It means, of course, that I’m out and about visiting Veterans in their homes. Often, family members attend the interview which makes it a very special event/. I’m always thrilled to be part of that and enjoy hearing about their different experiences. Each one is like a piece of the jigsaw that is Bletchley Park.
I recall that one Veteran, who lives in a nursing home, had said to me when I called to make arrangements, “I’d better move my car – we only have one parking space and you’ll need plenty of room for your recording equipment”. I told her she’d laugh when she saw it – Jonathan Byrne (Oral History Officer) had supplied me with a highly efficient dictaphone, smaller than my mobile phone, on which I capture the interview and then email it to him when I get home. Isn’t technology great! It makes the process quite straightforward. I often say that I have the very delightful job of having a cup of tea and a Garibaldi biscuit, listening to the Veteran, and someone else does the hard bit of transcribing.
I adore the world that I enter when I’m talking to Veterans. Jonathan supplies a list of questions to aid the memory recall but I also love to hear whatever comes up. One Veteran, who had been based in the Far East, told me how each week she handed over her unopened pay packet to a tailor, along with a sketch of an outfit to be made. Her board and lodgings were taken care of and her social life was also taken care of by gallant male officers, so she spent her money on clothes.
I’m not based at Bletchley Park itself, but usually visit about four times a year. My spine tingles when I drive in – the legacy is so powerful. I know that it’s a hard balance to strike between catering for the wartime generation, who want to see an authentic portrayal of what happened, and the youngsters, who want to actively engage with the story in a way that captures their imagination. I consider that Bletchley Park has got it just right. Last year I brought my niece, her husband and six children ranging from 1 to 15 in age. I have a delightful photograph of them all plugged in to the audio guides and exploring in a way that suited, all engaged and understanding the unique Bletchley Park story.
Neville Budd's Story
Bletchley Park holds a very personal and special place in my heart. I am one of the four Budd children, Bobby, Jean, Faye and me, who grew up in Cottage number 2. I lived in the Cottage from 1940-1950, and we are the only family to have lived on the Bletchley Park site in World War Two.
Really there was no reason for me NOT to be a steward. As a volunteer in this position at Bletchley Park, it is a privilege to be able to ‘go home’ and walk the beautiful gardens, looking at the magnificent magnolia trees (which I have known all my life). I always remember the many things that happened there and what fantastic work the people who worked there did.
For me, it’s a privilege to meet so many visitors who have travelled from so many different countries to learn and understand what the Codebreakers and so many others achieved here. I enjoy passing on my memories after all the years of not being able to talk about our lives living there during WW2. Mum always told us to be quiet as the girls were working next door (Cottage number 3). We were also told never to say where we lived or what our father was doing. For very young children, that could be very frustrating! As children our lives were very protected as we never did manage to talk much about what was happening. We just took our lives to be normal. It wasn’t until after WW2 I realised what people were suffering, when Mum and I visited London and saw the devastation that had occurred.
Nowadays I come back and visit the park to volunteer. It’s wonderful after all these years of secrecy to be able to talk about what went on here and give those who worked here the recognition they deserve. I enjoy telling the public the story of Bletchley Park and marvel at their surprise when they hear some of the things I have to say – things that to me as a child were normal but I know now that they weren’t. To volunteer, to speak with the public, and to keep their story alive, is a pleasure and a privilege.
Geoffrey Snowdon's Story
My wife, Christine and I had been very happily married for 57 years when she was struck down by Pancreatitis and in less than a month she died. We are a very close family – three of our children live within a 20- mile radius and, by contrast, the eldest lives in Australia. The entire family, including my eldest, immediately rallied around me and after four weeks they suggested that I needed to keep active. Bearing in mind my earlier years in The Fleet Air Arm, they had arranged a meeting for me with the Volunteer Recruitment Officer at Bletchley Park, to explore any possibilities.
That meeting lead to an interview with the head of the ‘Bombe Squad’ and for the next 12 months I learned and assisted in demonstrating the intricacies of this amazing machine. However the opportunity to progress further was not very promising. I suffer from an ‘innocent tremor’, which might have led to damage to one or more of the rotors I was obliged to handle. It so happened at that time there was a shortage of Stewards whose principal duties are to greet visitors and inform them about the displays in the various buildings, answer any questions they may raise, have a complete knowledge of the geography of the Park and a willingness to involve themselves in many of the first aid and health and safety courses on offer, so my duties changed.
After a year of stewarding, I enjoyed the job but I found standing for long periods of time uncomfortable. When the opportunity came along to train to be a Guide, I took it. After almost two years I knew this was what I really wanted to do and once again I was fortunate in so much as a new training schedule was being introduced. The knowledge I had gathered both as a Bombe Operator and a Steward stood me in good stead, coupled with the new changes which were being introduced for guided tours. There have been significant changes during my six or so years volunteering at the Park and there is no doubt they have all been for the better.
What do I enjoy about volunteering here? High on my list is being part of a thriving and progressive organisation. Pride that this is one of the top visitor attractions in the country. Pride in the appearance and upkeep of the Park. Sharing the ambition of staff and volunteers in the future of Bletchley Park, meeting people, imparting information, answering questions. There is also that quiet satisfaction that comes when visitors express their enjoyment of a tour both verbally and through their applause. Possibly most important for me, although it is often taken for granted, are the many new friends I have made whilst volunteering at Bletchley Park and secondly the kudos I gain when people learn I am a volunteer guide at Bletchley Park.
Pam Wignall's Story
I started volunteering at Bletchley Park in January 2015 as a Steward. With a life-long interest in World War Two, I was very excited to be helping at a place which had such an important role during the war. The fact that the work and importance of Bletchley Park has become known only in recent years added to the excitement. I was so interested to find out as much as I could, I chattered away to my fellow Stewards, asking questions and learning all the time, not to mention using the Library we have access to. In fact, I used to refer to myself as Bletchley Park’s most enthusiastic volunteer!
I have spoken to huge numbers of visitors in the past three and a half years and never tire of answering their questions or being amazed at the wide range of people who visit, and enjoy, Bletchley Park. There is so much at Bletchley Park to get involved in. Having started my volunteering as a Steward, I have also volunteered in many other areas of the Park. I have helped in the Archives cleaning old record cards and scanning copies of some of the messages received during the war; doing this really brought history to life. I now also interview veterans and produce transcripts of the interviews for inclusion on their Roll of Honour entry and I help with the administration of the Roll of Honour.
Volunteering anywhere is an amazing thing to do. I have made some lovely friends at Bletchley Park. Here, in particular, you get to know people who have the same deep interest as you in what you are doing, which helps to create the enthusiasm visitors comment on when writing reviews of their visit.