Colleagues of Alan Turing recall life at Bletchley Park

Veteran World War Two workers at Bletchley Park, the headquarters of British war time code-breaking, have revealed some of the day to day goings on at the crucial hub of British intelligence.

Elizabeth Balfour, who is now 88 and from Argyll in Scotland, was recruited into the Wrens during the war at the age of just 17. At the time her father had to authorise her work permit since she was under the working age of 18.

The Wrens were the female arm of the British Royal Navy. Elizabeth was posted to Bletchley Park and spent around a year and a half working at the base.

Elizabeth remembers how many of the rooms at the site were full of bizarre machines and that it wasn’t uncommon for the workers to hang their washing on and around the machines to ensure it would dry in the cold British winters.

Elizabeth recalls how the actual Enigma machine was the only part of the buildings that would be warm at night. Elizabeth and her colleagues would creep into the room where the Enigma machine was stored to hang out their washing. She says the machine would be covered with women’s underwear and clothes.

Early in the morning Elizabeth says they would sneak back in to remove their washing before anyone found it.

Elizabeth started to work directly under Alan Turing in 1944, but admits that she never really knew or understood what Alan and his close knit team were working on. Elizabeth’s role was to spend every day sorting through hundreds of cryptic codes sent over the radio by the Germans.

Elizabeth recalls how the project was so secret they even had to ask to leave the building to go to the toilet. Elizabeth was one of the team constantly cracking different individual codes coming through from the Germans, the Express reports.

Even after the war finished the success of Alan Turing remained a secret until 50 years later that the details of the operation were made public.

Even today Elizabeth says she always has a codewords puzzle book nearby and believes the puzzles keep her mind sharp.

World War Two British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, said that Alan’s efforts to crack the Enigma code was the single biggest act that contributed to the Allies’ victory over the Nazis.

The Imitation Game is a new movie starring Benedict Cumberbatch as Alan Turing, which depicts the story of Alan’s wartime mission to crack the code.

Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE