22 April 2015
22 April 2015
As we draw closer to the publication of Women Codebreakers, I wanted to share a previously unseen photograph of Joan Clarke (later Murray). More photographs as well as her letters and notes also feature in the book.
It was taken in 1936, the year she matriculated to Newnham College, Cambridge to study mathematics.
The book will definitely be out next week. Keep your eye on Amazon, or better still, sign up to the Bletchley Park Research Newsletter and I’ll drop you an email with the date. I will talk about the delays once it’s finally out.
Please feel free to share the photograph of Joan so we can all get to know her, but I ask that you also link back to this post or to http://www.
Inspire 2015 is a two-day international event at the Bord Gáis Energy Theatre in Dublin. The event ‘connects professionals interested in the future of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics with new perspectives on innovation, leadership and success. These perspectives are shared by inspirational women who are leaders in their field, and by advocates of meaningful diversity in education, research, business and society.’
It’s the biggest event I have ever spoken at but I try to settle the butterflies by focusing on the fact that it’s a great opportunity to meet inspirational women of our time while sharing the stories of inspirational women of the past.
I will talk about women like Joan Clarke, Margaret Rock and Mavis Lever who worked as senior codebreakers as well as the thousands of women who worked in every area of the Government Code and Cypher School’s codebreaking operation at Bletchley Park during World War 2. That’s a lot of inspiration!
Inspire 2015 is organised by Siliconrepublic.com, Europe’s leading technology and innovation news service. Silicon Republic was named Best Science & Technology Website 2013 at the Realex Irish Web Awards, and Best Technology Website for six years in a row at the Realex Irish Web Awards (2008 – 2013). They also run the highly regarded Women Invent Tomorrow campaign with industry partners Intel, Accenture, ESB, Twitter, Irish Research Council, Science Foundation Ireland and CoderDojo, to champion role models in the crucial areas of science, technology, engineering and maths.
I will share more details as they become available.
When author Michael Smith was asked first asked to write about the debutantes of Bletchley Park he firmly said ‘No.’
You can imagine the publisher’s raised eyebrows, and that moment of surprise, which eventually turned to understanding when one the most knowledgeable writers on the subject explained:
‘I said no because there weren’t that many – they weren’t all Debs, but I said I will write about the women of Bletchley Park. I think their story is important. I think we see things from a male perspective because that’s the way the world was seen in those days. We talk about the women being small cogs in a big machine, which is true to some extent but if you take the cogs out, the machine doesn’t work.’
So with the publisher’s blessing Michael Smith wrote a book that explores all classes of women at all levels of the Bletchley Park hierarchy, from Joan Clarke in Hut 8 who became one of the most senior codebreakers at Bletchley Park, Pamela Gibson (now Rose) in Hut 4 who worked in a top civilian rank as a senior Administrative Officer to a junior Wren laboriously manning the Bombe machine and the filing clerks, down to the lowest rung of a very important ladder.
‘The Treasury tried to keep them in junior ranks because that was cheaper and they were quite blatant about that. At one point commander Travis, the Head of Bletchley Park said to Joan Clarke “I think we might have to make you a Wren if we are going to pay you what you need.” So a junior Wren working on the Bombe was paid more than Joan Clarke who was one of the leading codebreakers.’
The book is entirely from the perspective of the women. Only three men get quoted – Neville Chamberlain, Winston Churchill, and the husband of one of the veterans, who went on to work as an actress.
‘He saw this “vision of loveliness step out on the stage.” It was such a lovely quote that I wasn’t going to leave it out.’
To launch ‘The Debs of Bletchley Park and Other Stories‘ Michael Smith introduced six of the women featured in the book to a frenzy of media interest gathered in the Bletchley Park Mansion:
Lady Marion Body, from Stanford Dingley in Berkshire, was a Foreign Office civilian working on Japanese encoded messages alongside HRH The Duchess of Cambridge’s grandmother and great-aunt. She recently briefed the Duchess on what her grandmother and great-aunt did at Bletchley.
Jean Pitt-Lewis, from Monmouth in Gwent, was a Foreign Office civilian and member of Dilly’s Girls, a group of young women who worked with Bletchley’s chief cryptographer Dilly Knox to brea Italian and German secret service Enigma messages. The secret service messages were vital to the Double Cross deception which ensured the success of the D-Day landings.
Betty Webb, from Wythall in Worcestershire, was a member of the Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS). She worked on German police messages in the Mansion at Bletchley Park. These messages revealed the beginning of the Holocaust with the massacres of thousands of Jews on the eastern front. Betty then moved to Block F to paraphrase intelligence reports based on Japanese Army messages decoded and translated at Bletchley.
Marigold Freeman-Attwood, from Haddenham in Buckinghamshire, was a member of the Women’s Royal Naval Service, the Wrens. She worked on Colossus, the world’s first digital electronic computer, which was used to break the coded messages sent by Hitler’s High Command.
Margaret Mortimer, from Bramble Edge in Dorset, was a Wren working in the Newmanry Registration Room receiving German messages from the intercept site at Knockholt, near Sevenoaks in Kent on punched paper teleprinter tapes, preparing them for running through Colossus and logging the results.
Jean Tocher, from Poole in Dorset, was a Wren in the Bletchley Park Naval Section working on the ‘Allied Plot’. This was a chart of the world covering all four walls of one room on which a number of Wrens plotted the movement of all the allied ships and their German, Italian and Japanese opposite numbers.
The book is different to Michael Smith’s other books on Bletchley Park. I love his books because they are a detailed blend of the technical art of codebreaking and the eclectic mix of characters who inhabited the secret wartime site. He has gone out of his way to make the bookaccessible to a wider audience by ‘dispensing with all the techie stuff.’ The book explains the technical aspects such as Colossus and the Enigma busting Bombe, but in simple terms. To broaden the appeal he has kept the focus on the human story and personal testimony of the women who continue to fascinate us. After all it is their experiences that continue to fascinate us.
Michael Smith told me that laid down his Bletchley Park pen for the time being (or possibly permanently) to finish his novel. The novel is in the final stages of completion and he’s keen to get it back to it. Michael even gave a top-secret hint, saying ‘It’s second world war and one of the main characters is a woman working in a very secret job’.
I don’t know about you, but now I’ve devoured The Debs of Bletchley Park and Other Stories published by Aurum Press, I am eager to read his novel.
You can listen to my interview with Michael Smith on my new Retro Researcher Podcast on Audioboom. The interview is a fascinating insight into the story of the book and the women who feature in it. The interview includes the quotes found in this article.
You can also listen to Episode 31 of the Bletchley Park Podcast to hear more about the launch of Michael Smith’s book and hear the stories directly from the women of Bletchley Park. The episode also includes my interview with Michael Smith and Jean Pitt-Lewis. Click this link to listen at https://audioboom.com/boos/2882464-the-bletchley-park-podcast-e31-telling-the-world.
Thank you to Jessica Duncan for allowing me to reproduce the group photograph of the Bletchley Park women.
The last week has been hectic and very exciting. I’ve worked hard on the planned launch of ‘Women Codebreakers – The Story of Margaret Rock, Mavis Lever and Joan Clarke’. The relatives of Margaret and Mavis have been fantastic with their support. But something very exciting has happened.
I’ve had an exciting breakthrough and finally made contact with Joan’s family.
In the last few days I have interviewed two relatives who have been amazingly helpful. Joan’s niece, who I interviewed yesterday is sending some photographs. I am hopeful that I’ll be able to speak to another nephew over the next few days.
The result of the interviews is an added depth and richness to my understanding of Joan Clarke. I had been able to peek under the curtains of the past, dig under the stones of related material to build a picture of Joan’s life for the book. So when I set the date for publication I had a story of Joan utilising facts from published work as well as new information I have obtained from the family history research and interviews. But finally speaking to family has blown that out of the water in the way that only personal detail can.
It explains the reasons behind Joan’s shyness as well as an insight into her quirks, relationships and passions. I now need to finish weaving these details into the existing narrative of the book so readers can understand the real Joan Clarke too. It also means reformatting the eBook ready for launch.
For anyone who has pre-ordered the book that launch date was today. I’ve agonised over what to do – do I release what I have today on the day of The Imitation Game’s release in the US and do a later update, or do wait so that I can have Joan’s full story in the book from the start? I’ve changed my mind a million times, left it to the last minute but I’ve finally decided….
I’ve decided that the real Joan Clarke is worth waiting for.
This means the book isn’t going to be available today as planned. This is painful to say as it will disappoint, and possibly alienate people who are expecting the book today. But I think I will be short-changing them when I know I can offer more in light of the family interviews.
It’s all well and good that I work through the ‘eleventh hour and three quarters’ to get it finished (we’ve all been there before – I know I have), but I need to give Joan’s family time to revisit the memories of Joan as they go through papers and photographs to send over. The book will be better for it.
At this point I am going to delay the book by just over a week, so it will be the 7th December. I hope to get some of the photographs by then.
For those eagerly waiting to read it – I am very sorry and I hope you understand. Your support in this is much appreciated. I love the hunt of the research, but you can never tell when something special turns up. These last few days have been very special and I want to do justice to the new information so that this tribute to three inspirational women is the best it can be.
Photograph at the top of the page is taken from the 1992 Horizon programme ‘The Strange Life and Death of Dr.Turing’. Reproduced from the programme with the kind permission of its director, Christopher Sykes.
Relatives of Poland’s codebreaking geniuses have visited Bletchley Park to celebrate their contribution to the battle to break Enigma. The families of Marian Rejewski, Henryk Zygalski and Jerzy Rozycki toured the heritage site on Wednesday 19 November 2014 and laid flowers at the Polish memorial in the Stableyard, adjacent to the building where the early British wartime work on Enigma took place.
“One of the biggest regrets of my life is not being sufficiently aware of his work at an age when I could ask him about it, because he never talked about it spontaneously. At the age of 60 he had a stroke and for the next ten years until he died he was less and less able to communicate, so I missed a valuable opportunity to find out more about what he did.”
Jeremy Russell, Henryk Zygalski’s nephew
In July 1939 representatives of British and French intelligence met their Polish equivalents amid secrecy in the Pyry Forest outside Warsaw. Three weeks later the Government Code and Cypher School (GC&CS), the forerunner of today’s GCHQ, moved to Bletchley Park.
Much to the surprise of the British, the Poles were much further forward than their British and French counterparts in unravelling the mysteries of the Enigma encryption machine. The work of three brilliant young mathematicians, Marian Rejewski, Henryk Zygalski and Jerzy Rozycki would prove to be invaluable to their Allies and contribute significantly to the ultimate success of Bletchley Park. The Poles generously shared their groundbreaking work with the British and French, including versions of their own replica Enigma machines.
“It was like a relay race. The Poles had run the first lap and had got much further and much faster than anyone had expected. They then passed the baton to the British and French cryptanalysts. It’s a story of partnership.”
GCHQ Departmental Historian, Tony Comer
I am very excited to share with you the smashing cover for the Women Codebreakers of Bletchley Park book cover. Designed by the fabulous Mark Stephenson at Launch Creative, the cover is everything I hoped for.
Mark transformed my idea of a wartime propaganda style poster bringing together the images of Margaret Rock, Mavis Lever and Joan Clarke brilliantly. It’s eye-catching and fun with a little nod to an era of hand coloured photographs.
I actually felt emotional when I saw it.
My plan to launch in line with the release of The Imitation Game didn’t go to plan (see the post ‘Waiting for Joan Clarke’ for an exciting update & the reason for the change of date).
As a special pre-order reward for those of you who buy it from this website. When it goes live on Amazon, the price will jump up to £3.99.
UPDATE: Pre-orders direct from this website has now ended. It will be available to purchase from 10th January 2015.
Launch creative also designed by Bletchley Park Research logo and can wholeheartedly recommend them to you for any design work. You can contact Mark at www.launchcreative.co.uk.
Time Traveller Danny and the Codebreaker (Seven Arches Publishing, 2012)
With the adult world experiencing a dose of long overdue Turingmania, I thought I’d share Time Traveller Danny and the Codebreaker by Paul Morris – a gem of a book, introducing the younger reader to Alan Turing and Bletchley Park.
This engaging fictional adventure about a boy who travels through time to Bletchley Park in World War 2 appeals to the young – and the not so young – reader. It captures the imagination and makes history exciting.
Danny Higgins is taken into the amazing, secret world of Bletchley Park during the World War 2. Danny must pass himself off as an operative working towards decoding secret German messages.
On Tuesday 4th November 2014 I wondered around the Bletchley Park Mansion with a clear picture in my head of Alan Turing in the ballroom with a bombe machine.
Although I would like to see a Bletchley Park Cluedo game (it’s my favourite board game), I am actually talking about the beautifully arranged Imitation Game Film Exhibition in Bletchley Park’s ballroom.
The exhibition opened after the special preview of The Imitation Game. The guests, wearing evening dresses and black ties strolled over to the Teleprinter Room for the special screening of this highly praised and much-anticipated film. I was very excited to get an invitation to the event (I may even have squealed when I pulled the invitation from its gold envelope).
I have to admit that I was apprehensive about my reaction to the film. The trailers look fabulous and I adore the warm colour and tone, but I worried that I would not like Keira Knightley’s portrayal of Joan Clarke or that the stretch historical facts to create a dramatic film would leave me cold.
Turns out, I loved the film. I think Joan’s character has less social awkwardness than is true and Alan’s quirks are downplayed, but it doesn’t matter, the actors capture an endearing warmth of both characters. It makes you care about them and their battle to break the code.
My favourite part is when Alan gives each of his Hut 8 colleagues an apple because Joan said it was a good idea. It’s an awkward but sweet moment, superbly acted by Benedict Cumberbatch.
The film also made me reflect on the overriding essence of the relationship played on screen by the two main characters – a closeness that stems from intellectual companionship. Alan and Joan bond over picnics, codebreaking problems and botany in an atmosphere fizzing with intellectual chemistry. I like the interpretation.
When Joan did married in 1952, she married John Murray, a retired Army Officer who had trained as a Russian interpreter and worked in military intelligence for the War Office during World War 2. They met at GCHQ after the war and moved to Scotland and worked together in companionable and highly respected scholarly study of old coins. So, it seems that Joan relished working alongside a partner in the pursuit of similar interests and as intellectual equals. Suddenly, the reasons for the relationship portrayed in The Imitation Game seem credible.
The story of the nearly 9,000 people who worked at Bletchley Park and contributed to its success during World War 2 is squeezed into a story of a handful of people in The Imitation Game. I am in no doubt that it will inspire people to learn more about the characters and discover the full and rich history of Bletchley Park. A film that is both entertaining and creates historical interest gets the thumbs up from me.
My favourite line in the film goes something like this:
‘Some people think we were at war with the Germans. We weren’t, we were at war with the clock.’
The Imitation Game is on at UK cinemas from today. The Imitation Game Exhibition displaying props from the movie is open daily at Bletchley Park.
I will be going to see The Imitation Game again, this time with popcorn.