The Enigma Vacations

Last Sunday, a crack team of mathematicians, linguists, computer programmers and wildlife illustrators was assembled at Bletchley Park. Drawn from all walks of life, this group of oddballs and eccentrics had but one purpose: to have a nice day out, with a break for lunch.

At the height of its operation in World War II, Bletchley Park was home to nearly ten thousand workers, all dedicated to breaking the Axis codes. Though much deserved attention has focused on the incredible contribution of Alan Turing, it was interesting to discover that his work was built upon the exploits of Polish cryptanalysts, who had broken earlier versions of the Enigma codes, and that equally important to the construction of the Bombe (the machine that helped break the codes) were the insight of brilliant colleagues like Gordon Welchman and the mechanical skills of Harold Keen. Also, regardless of the generally simplistic portrayal in hit film ‘The Imitation Game’, there were a number of key female cryptanalysts in addition to Turing’s one-time fiancé Joan Clarke.

The eighteen Sunday Assemblers (and assorted family) who came on the trip perhaps didn’t quite manage to recreate the physical and mental intensity of the exploits of the Bletchley Park code-breakers, but I think that we all had fun and learned a lot. It was nice to assemble on a Sunday, even though it wasn’t a Sunday Assembly, and I look forward to more such activities.

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