Friday, August 21, 2015

Mary Nichols: We'll Meet Again

We are thrilled that Mary Nichols has found time in her busy schedule to join us today. Even more so as she is writing about her latest work which is set around Bletchley Park. Welcome, Mary.

We’ll Meet Again is about the secrets people were expected to keep in WW2, secrets they could not even tell their nearest and dearest.

The story surrounding the Government Code and Cypher School or Station X, better known as Bletchley Park, is fascinating, awe-inspiring and almost incredible. Thousands of people worked there, everyone of whom was sworn to secrecy. That the secret was kept by so many for so long is truly amazing.

They were recruited from all walks of life and were a mixture of civilians and people from all three services. They ranged from incredibly clever mathematicians, linguistics and puzzle solvers to typists, telex operators, messengers, cooks, cleaners and motor cyclists. The motor cyclists were an important part of the operation. They brought in coded German messages from outlying radio listening stations to be deciphered at Bletchley, travelling at high speed in all weathers, often through the night. No one was allowed to receive mail at Bletchley Park, it all had to come through a box number at the War Office and no post left Bletchley Park. It was taken by the motor cyclists all over the country to be posted. Imagine the puzzlement of your family receiving letters from you posted all over the place. It would make them wonder what you were up to, wouldn’t it?

Bletchley Park
The work was done in huts built in the grounds of the park, and each had a separate function. The enemy used a very clever machine called an enigma to encipher their messages and it was the job of the decoders at Bletchley Park to unscramble them. They used a modified Typex machine made to work like an enigma, and other more complicated electro-mechanical machines called bombes. They couldn’t work unless they had a crib to start them off, things like call signs, transmission times, the length of the message and the mistakes of the German operators. One apparently habitually used the name of his girlfriend.  Without those there were 58 million, million, million possibilities.
The work was further complicated because there was no universal setting, every section of the German intelligence services, army, navy and air force, all used different machines and different settings and they were changed every twenty-four hours.  Then everyone had to begin all over again.  How on earth did they manage it? It needed the genius of men like Alan Turing, ‘Dilly’ Knox, Gordon Welchman and a host of others, to come up with the answers. The intelligence gathered was sent to whoever needed to know, but the recipient was only told it came from ‘a reliable source’.  It won battles, sunk enemy ships, tracked u-boats and saved thousand of lives. All in secret.

Since the secret was revealed in the 1980s There have been many books written about it and I acquired a few of them. Hut Six by Gordon Welchman was the one that broke the silence. It goes into some detail about how the enigma code was cracked with logic, though mathematics certainly came into it. I tried to follow it but figures have never been my strong point and though I could see vaguely how it was done, that was as far as I could go. It did not stop me enjoying the story it told and wondering what it must hve been like to have a secret like that and not be able to tell a soul, not even your nearest and dearest. There is a tale of a couple being shown round the Park by a guide, at the end of which the lady said, 'Very Good. You’ve almost got it right.’ Her husband turned to her in astonishment and said, ‘You were here?’ and when she confirmed it, he said, ‘So was I.’ It was the first that either had known about the other. Hard to believe, and it may be apocryphal, but who would not be fascinated by it, especially an inquisitive writer looking for something to write about?

The work done at Bletchley Park is mentioned frequently in other books I have researched for my WW2 stories. Its influence on the conduct of the war was far reaching, but its legacy is even more widespread. The first ever computer, a huge affair called ‘Colossus’ was built at Bletchley Park. Today’s computers, microchips and the hundreds of gadgets we use every day, were born in the huts of Bletchley Park.

We’ll Meet Again tells the story of two girls who work there, Prue, the daughter of an earl, and Sheila, a girl from the East End of London who has lost all her family in the first big air raid of the blitz. Together they face the challenges of wartime Britain and the secret they must keep.

We’ll Meet Again is published by Allison and Busby and is available from bookshop and online. Paperback ISBN: 9780 7490 17040.


Thank you so much for visiting the blog today, Mary. We both look forward to reading We’ll Meet Again.

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Wendy's Writing said...

A fascinating post, Mary. I've never been to Bletchley Park but after reading this, I'd really love to visit. Not before I've read your book though.

Georgina Troy said...

An intriguing post. I've been fascinated by Bletchley Park for a few years but haven't managed to visit there yet. I love the sound of this book and have just bought a copy. Looking forward to reading it.