Jess says: After years of mum and dad promising to take us to Bletchley Park, home of the World War II code-breakers, we were finally deemed old enough to have a look round. I was thrilled – I love logic puzzles and trying to crack codes, and really wanted to find out about Alan Turing and the rest of the code-breakers. Furthermore, our family loved The Imitation Game with Benedict Cumberbatch, and I really wanted to see where it was set.
Robert says: First of all, we walked into the opening exhibition. I ran straight towards the video, which was about Enigma, what it was, and how it was cracked at Bletchley Park. In the beginning bit, there were also lots of facts that were displayed in different ways, and my favourite was when they asked a question and there would be a picture underneath the question. When you lifted up the picture, it would say the answer.
Jess says: What interested me most about the opening exhibition was that many code-breakers had to learn specific languages which were not taught in Britain (such as Japanese and Italian) to find out what the codes were saying. We even saw the flashcards that they taught themselves with. I also enjoyed looking at the Enigma machines, and learning how certain messages were encrypted with an interactive display.
Robert says: After we came out of the opening exhibition, we went to pick up our audio tours, which come free with your ticket. There was an option to get the family or adult tour on your machine. Mum, dad and Jess say that the adult tour was really good, and I thought the family one was brilliant. It had quizzes at the end of some videos and they all had three categories: the equivalent of easy, medium and hard. As well as questions, they also had word searches, anagrams to solve and fill in the blanks. One of my favourite things of the audio tour was a picture of the modern day building at Bletchley, and when you rubbed the screen, it changed into the old version.
Jess says: We walked outside before going into Block B. I was surprised by how big the exhibition was – although it looked tiny on the outside, we must have spent around 45 minutes to an hour looking around. However, I did find this slightly overwhelming, as there was just so much to see and do, and not many places to sit! We learned the story of the breaking of the Lorenz cipher and what the Bombe (an electro-mechanical device to speed up the Enigma machine) actually was. There were lots of people on hand to talk about the machines and other facts.
Robert says: As well as seeing the largest collection of Enigma machines in the world, we also got to learn loads about Alan Turing and his life and even managed to see his watch and teddy bear. That was cool. It also showed an explanation of what life was like during the war. There were posters and rooms to look into, showing what life was like.
Jess says: Finally, it was time to look around “The Mansion”, a 19th century house which was the headquarters of the Bletchley Park operation, and initially housed the code breaking sections. It was full of rooms to walk through, had information about the brilliant people who worked at Bletchley and included a special exhibition devoted to the “The Imitation Game”. We got to see the exact bar that had been used in the film and see where Benedict Cumberbatch had sat. Unfortunately, we were not allowed to buy drinks there!
Instead, we sat outside the mansion on benches and ate sandwiches from home. However, food is sold from Hut Four and there is a Tea Room in the Mansion.
Robert says: To get a little break from the Enigma, we went to the post office which the mathematicians would have used to send letters to family. There were two rooms to it, and one was really old and had interesting stationery. There were stamps, weights to weigh parcels and lots of bits of bobs that you would expect like paperclips and rubber bands. I really liked it, especially the person in the first room who let me have a go at stamping lots of pieces of paper. I even got to stamp a Top Secret one!
Jess says: Next, we had a look around the Huts. I really liked Huts 3 and 6, as they had been made to look like what people think they did in World War Two. We got to see real furniture and projections with actors, which made it much more lifelike. Once the day’s key was discovered, German messages were decrypted in Hut 6, before being translated in Hut 3. Hut 11 was fascinating, as it was home to the “Bombe” itself, and it was amazing to see Alan Turing’s office in Hut 8.
Robert says: I really enjoyed Hut 8, as there was never much queueing. There were so many interactive things to do and if there were two people in line for one thing, you could always just come back to it later. The interactive boards showed the parts of intercepting and decoding codes. You also learnt about the tiny possibility of getting the right combination you want in Enigma. You may not know that there were millions of millions of millions of different combinations in an Enigma machine, so some of the activities, like just flipping a coin or rolling a die, showed you that it was so hard to get what you wanted.
Jess says: Overall, the whole family had a fantastic day. Although there was a lot to take in, it was great to step back in time and experience what it was like to work at Bletchley Park during the war. There were some lovely touches, such as a kids’s playground, and everyone was very nice and friendly. I think that Bletchley Park is a must for everyone who lives in or near London.
PLEASE WATCH THE SHORT VIDEO I MADE ABOVE
The admission price for Bletchley Park is £16.75 for an adult ticket, £10.00 for children over 12 and free for children under twelve. These tickets allow you to visit Bletchley an unlimited amount of times for a year after their first use. It is located in Milton Keynes, about an hour or so from London.
Disclosure: we were given free entry into Bletchley Park. All our opinions and views, however, are our own.
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