In The Footsteps Of Heroes

Into the rain we go, hi-ho, hi-ho! Still not cold, but very much a wet one today. We loaded up the van and took off, heading west again as we continue to criss-cross the country. We passed through Bury St. Edmunds to have a look and it was another lovely town. I love places that pedestrianise their streets, so there’s no traffic in the centre of town and people can walk easily through the streets and lanes. It was lovely. We thumbed our nose at the rain, layered up and went for a walk to Bury St. Edmunds Abbey and through the abbey gardens. The abbey itself was established in 1020 and in 1214 it was the location for the historic meeting between King John and his disgruntled earls and barons. The result of that meeting was the signing of the Magna Carta at Runnymede the following year.

The Great Gate, which originally gave access to the Great Court
The Great Gate, which originally gave access to the Great Court
Rain schmain! We're used to it!
Rain schmain! We’re used to it!

The gardens were a lovely place to stroll and there was even some colour to look at, with hardy little flowers showing their style, despite it being winter.

Colourful flowers!
Colourful flowers!

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The remains of the abbey

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Our onward journey was taking us towards Milton Keynes and to a special place I had wanted to visit on our last trip, so was determined to get there this time…Bletchley Park. I’ve read a bit about the work that went on there during WWII and of course seen a few films and documentaries about it and it’s always amazed me, the incredible work the code breakers did.

I wasn’t disappointed, it was an amazing place to visit. It was incredible to be walking through and seeing the place, pretty much as it was when when that hugely significant, secretive work was going on during the war. Just seeing an Enigma machine was amazing enough, but the whole place was just brilliant.

An Enigma machine
An Enigma machine

I put my eavesdropping skills to good use, right from the start. As we walked through the grounds, up to the mansion, there was a man walking in front of me, with an elderly lady beside him. I heard the man say to her, “This must look quite different from the last time you…” I didn’t here the end of the sentence, so I quickened my pace and caught up to them and tried to hear if the lady actually had first-hand memories of Bletchley Park.

“Oh, there used to be a post box there,” I heard her say. I could have been walking behind someone who had a connection to the place and maybe even worked there. Amazing!

Bletchley Park Mansion
Bletchley Park Mansion

We looked through the mansion, where some of the offices were during the war and then on to the huts where the code breakers worked. It was set up, just as if they were still working there, which made the experience very authentic and even more memorable. I don’t use the word “hero” lightly because it’s used so commonly now (sorry, I don’t consider a footballer a “hero”, even if he did kick a winning goal! Stop using that word to describe those people, you commentators!). I use it here though, because that’s what these people were. Looking at the work they did, their notes and the codes and cyphers they were dealing with and the Bombe decryption machine that Alan Turing created, I just could not process the scale of the genius of those people. It was simply mind boggling to think of what they were dealing with, the conditions under which they worked and to have the brains and creativity and tenacity to achieve what they did, against the odds.

A Bombe decryption machine
A Bombe decryption machine

I was quite moved to be walking the floors and corridors of the huts and rooms, where those amazing people worked. It didn’t look the way I had expected though. From the images I’d seen, I’d pictured quite large rooms, a little like classrooms, with rows of desks with people working furiously on codes and cyphers. It wasn’t like that at all though. The huts all had a long, central, narrow hallway, or corridor, with the rooms coming off that. The rooms were tiny and freezing cold and it was like a series of rabbit hutches, where people sat and worked through cyphers and information, just sitting in a small, dark, cold little room. They were incredible people.

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One of the reasons I’ve always been so interested in the work at Bletchley Park is because of the work done there by women. I learnt today that three-quarters of the people who worked there, were women. I just loved that women were recruited for their intelligence and skills and worked alongside men, doing such important work, seen as invaluable, rather than decoration. I just felt so sorry for them and what their life would have been like after the war. They would have returned to their pre-war life and the expectations of raising children, cooking the meals and doing the washing, with no one, not their families, husbands, children, or anyone knowing what they had done. To have to lead a mundane life and not be able to talk about the work they did at Bletchley Park and to hold on to that secret for years, must have been excruciating for many of them, especially considering the brains and intelligence they had, which they had been able to use for such important work during the war.  Then, almost overnight, it had to be suppressed, in favour of cooking and cleaning. They were amazing women, who worked alongside amazing men and I had such a memorable experience today, walking in their footsteps at such an important place. I think one of the saddest things is what became of Alan Turing and how he was treated after the war. No one knew what he’d done at Bletchley and the hero he was. Then of course to die so sadly and tragically. A tragic end for such an incredible individual.

Alan Turin's office
Alan Turing’s office

We spent a few hours at Bletchley Park, but it wasn’t long enough, so hopefully we’ll go back and see some more before we leave the area. It has become one of my favourite places, of all the places we’ve visited. So incredibly interesting and moving.

We found our accommodation, just a short trip up the road, and we’ll be staying in Milton Keynes for a few days, to explore Buckinghamshire and do some more planning and organising for our trip home. I’m learning so much on this trip, big things and small things, learning all the time and learning new things every day. Today was some more history learning and thinking about the lives of some incredible people. Life is about learning, always seeking to add something to the thoughts, ideas, knowledge and understanding that we have. Travel is such an amazing way to expand that learning and I was grateful again today, to be able to visit another place that left me richer for having learnt some incredible stories and thought deeply about the lives and experiences of some heroic people. Sometimes expanding isn’t a good thing (like when we expand a little broadly after Christmas food!) but the best way of expanding, is just expanding the mind. Adding some weight to those little grey cells, is always good. Seek…listen…read…think…LEARN! I love it!

2 thoughts on “In The Footsteps Of Heroes

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  1. Heidi what a coincidence! We’ve just finished watched the Bletchley Circle shows a couple of days ago, which we didn’t get into when they were first on. Fascinating wasn’t it? I also felt for the women who had to go back to their boring, humdrum lives without any recognition for the vital work they did! I didn’t know anything about Alan Turing so I had to look him up. Even though we’re not on the grand tour, we are learning a lot too!!

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    1. I loved The Bletchley Circle! Alan Turing was one of those unsung geniuses who was so instrumental in ending the war. A sad life after the war though and tragic end. If you want to watch a fantastic film about him, watch The Imitation Game. Brilliant! Benedict Cumberbatch plays Alan Turing and it’s about the work he and others did at Bletchley and then a bit about his post-war life. It’s a fantastic film and Benedict Cumberbatch it awesome as always, he owned the part he played. I think he was nominated for an Oscar for it but lost to that other genius, Stephen Hawking aka Eddie Redmayne.

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