World War II Codebreaking Center Is Reborn After Being in Disrepair

During the war, the center in England was an invaluable resource for deciphering encoded enemy communications. Now, it's a museum that showcases that history.


At the peak of World War II, a key ingredient that contributed to the success of the Allied powers was the critical help of Allied codebreaking techniques, which provided information on the movements and activities of the Axis powers.

Bletchley Park was the home of the historic World War II codebreaking center in England, and after the war it was left to decay and rot. Now, through the help and contributions of Google and others, Bletchley Park is undergoing a renaissance and has become a museum that is showing off the codebreaking technologies that were done there and that helped win the war.

The renovation work and rebirth of the old facility was highlighted by Lynette Webb and Megan Smith of Google, in a July 22 post on the Google Europe Blog.

"Twenty five years ago, the historic World War II codebreaking center Bletchley Park faced demolition," wrote Webb and Smith. "We have supported its restoration, culminating in last month's opening of Block C by the Duchess of Cambridge. Her grandmother, Valerie Glassborow, worked as a duty officer and managed the interception of enemy signals for decryption at Bletchley."

Today, the facility has been "reborn as one of England's most evocative museums," they wrote. "Bletchley Park is a fitting place of pilgrimage for both history and technology fans alike. The extraordinary code-breaking feats that took place in its spartan wooden huts were crucial to the Allied victory, and helped lay the foundations for the computer age."

There is plenty of history here for rediscovery.

"Bletchley Park is where Alan Turing's theories were first put into practice, in the Bombe machines used to break Enigma, operated by women like 93-year-old veteran and grandmother of one of our colleagues in Google London, Jean Valentine," wrote Webb and Smith. "It was also home to Colossus, the world's first electronic programmable computer."

During the war, they wrote, "Bletchley Park was a melting pot of brilliant minds set free by an atmosphere of tolerance. Societal norms were swept aside because of extreme need and circumstances. What mattered was what a person could do—not their gender, sexual orientation, religion, national origin or any supposed eccentricity. By removing these artificial constraints, Bletchley Park brought out the best in the fullest range of talent."

A majority of the workers at the facility during the war were women. "In this sense, Bletchley's codebreaking success came not in spite of people's differences, but because of them. It's a compelling role model for the power of diversity that resonates still today," wrote Webb and Smith. "Overall, at Bletchley Park thousands of talented people, more than half women, made heroic contributions that were kept secret until the 1970s."

Google had long championed saving Bletchley Park along with other people, including Dr. Sue Black, Stephen Fry and Sir John Scarlett, wrote Webb and Smith. "We've donated money, hosted events, created videos to help preserve and promote its story. But nothing beats the experience of visiting this hallowed place in person—it's just 45 minutes by train from London Euston—do go if you can. We promise you will be inspired by these technical heroes and early founders of our industry."

Exhibits in the museum at Bletchley Park are available online through the Google Cultural Institute. The digital exhibit features material from Bletchley Park's Archives, providing a vivid snapshot of the work that went on cracking secret messages and the role it played in shortening the war, according to Google.

In June, Google's Cultural Institute commemorated the 70th anniversary of the D-Day invasion on the Normandy coast in France with a series of special online exhibits to illustrate the emotions, power and destruction of an epic and successful World War II battle that likely changed the course of the war. The online exhibits include an in-depth look into the Normandy landings on June 6, 1944, featuring some 470 new documents and images.

The Google Cultural Institute, which was established in 2010 to help preserve and promote culture online and to make important cultural material available and accessible to everyone and to digitally preserve it to educate and inspire future generations, has been actively adding to its growing collections.