Jean Valentine and the Bombe

Bletchley Park veteran Jean Valentine demonstrates the Turing/Welchman Bombe

In 2013, Bletchley Park veteran Jean Valentine featured in a short 5-minute video where she gives a demonstration of the machine she worked on during the Second World War.

In a memoir published on her Bletchley Park Roll of Honour Page, Jean recalls:

I joined the WRNS in 1943 in a fit of pique because my application to join the WAAF as an MT driver had been turned down! How wise they were and how stupid I was to think that my little height and leg reach would have been of any useful purpose for driving anything but a saloon car!”

Bletchley Park was not put off by Jean’s stature, even though Bombe operators were supposed to be above a certain height. In the video, Jean explains the simple solution she used to give her a bit more reach.

Jean Rooke (née Valentine) 2015

Jean Valentine (later Rooke) spent time working on the Bombe machines in Hut 11a at Bletchley Park and Adstock, a small outstation located 3 miles south-east of Buckingham. Over 2,000 personnel – mostly women – worked in shifts in Hut 11a, whereas about 60 worked at Adstock.

Later in the war, Jean attended a course on Japanese codes and cyphers before departing for overseas service in Colombo (the capital of Sri Lanka), where she met and married Clive Rooke.

Read more about the Enigma-busting Bombe machine here.

Photos from Celebrating Bletchley Park event

On 19-20 March 2016 Bletchley Park veterans, authors, machine experts and enthusiasts gathered at Firle Place Riding School for the ‘Celebrating Bletchley Park’ event to talk about Bletchley Park – the work, the people, and the groundbreaking machines developed to break the German Enigma code.

I thought you would like to see some of my photographs from the epic two-day event. Check out the photographs on Pinterest here: or click on the photo below.

Celebrating Bletchley Park

I’ve also added the photographs (with a few extras to the Pinterest album) to Google+ here:

This photograph of Sir Dermot Turing signing a copy of Prof: Alan Turing Decoded for author Michael Smith is one of my favourites.

Celebrating Bletchley Park

Beware of some book-buying fans!

I went to the event as a guest of Charlotte (Betty) Webb MBE, Bletchley Park veteran. Betty was interviewed with another veteran, Mary Every by author Michael Smith.

Other speakers included Sir Dermot Turing, Elisa Segrave (the event host), Dr. Joel GreenbergSinclair McKay, and Gordon Corera. Margy Kinmonth talked about grandfather, Admiral John Henry Godfrey and shared some photographic treasures from the family archive.

The technical side of the Bombe Machine was covered by Paul Kellar, MBE from the Bombe Restoration Team. Phil Hayes from the National Museum of Computing delivered an accessible explanation of how codebreakers were able to break the complex Lorenz machine. I particularly enjoyed his talk as it was a light bulb moment in my understanding!


Phil Hayes, National Museum of Computing

You can read more about the event and the speakers who delivered fascinating talks then spent time mingling with the audience. Click here to learn more about Celebrating Bletchley Park and the speakers.

The event’s Bookshop was delivered by City Books of Hove. As advertised by Sir Dermot Turing below, the speakers with books for sale at the event signed extra copies. Contact City Books to see if you can get a signed copy of your favourite Bletchley Park book.

Celebrating Bletchley Park

Sir Dermot Turing signing books for City Books, Hove.

A special thanks must go to Elisa Segrave, John Warburton and Lisa Gordon for organising such a fantastic event.

Clicking on the highlighted names of the speakers will take you to their books on Amazon UK. If you purchase their book through these links, I earn a few pennies commission (this does not affect the price you pay) which goes towards running this site. If you prefer, you can exit and go to Amazon direct or buy signed copies from City Books.

Was this the first Bletchley Park Reunion?

I spent today with Bletchley Park veteran, Charlotte Webb and we made some interesting documentary discoveries.

While going through the papers Betty has collected over the years, we came across an invitation and programme for a Bletchley Park Reunion held on 14 October 1978.

Sir Harry Hinsley, Hut 4 veteran and official historian of British Intelligence in the Second World War, organised the event to bring together the WRNs of Bletchley Park.

Betty’s cousin (through marriage), who had served as a WRN at Bletchley Park during the Second World War, invited Betty to the reunion as a guest. Betty has kept the documents to mark the occasion when she first heard other Bletchley Park veterans share stories about their wartime work.

Images reproduced with the kind permission of Betty Webb. I think Betty is always amused by my wild excitement at seeing such items and wanting to share them here.

Sir Brian Tovey’s letter to Joan Clarke

Joan Clarke's retirement letter from GCHQ

Following the sad news of the death of Sir Brian Tovey at the end of December 2015, I thought I would share his letter to Joan Murray (née Joan Clarke) following her official retirement from full-time employment at GCHQ in 1982.

Sir Brian Tovey joined GCHQ’s fast stream in 1950 but was posted to an integrated post in the Defence Signals Bureau (DSB) in Melbourne from 1951 to 1953. On his return, he worked on the Soviet target and on planning for the development of GCHQ’s intercept sites.  He went back to the Far East in 1964 as GCHQ’s representative to the military in Singapore, and then became GCHQ’s liaison officer in DSB.  On his return to the UK, after leading a major Soviet reporting branch, he was promoted Assistant Secretary, heading the Planning Staff from 1970-1973, and the Communications Security Policy Division from 1973-1975.

He became a Superintending Director on promotion to Under Secretary in 1975, and was the Director of CESG, the part of GCHQ responsible for protecting the security of British governmental communications.  On the retirement of Sir Bill Bonsall, he was appointed as Director GCHQ in June 1978.  He retired on 30 September 1983.”

Quoted text from the GCHQ Press Release 31 December 2015

Joan Clarke re-joined GCHQ in 1962 and retired from her ‘Principal’ post on 31 August 1977. She was sixty years old but she was not ready to leave her codebreaking life behind and was re-employed the day after her retirement as a ‘Clerical Officer in H Division,’ where she continued to work for five years.

JELC-Retirement Letter

In 1982, while a secretary placed the neatly typed retirement letter addressed to ‘Mrs J E L Murray’ and waited for Sir Brian Tovey to add his signature, Joan was still at GCHQ to carry out a two-month ‘part-time appointment as a re-employed Civil Servant’, commencing 1 July 1982. Her employment contract specified a minimum of eighteen hours a week for a period of two months and paid at an hourly rate of £3.33. She finally left GCHQ on 31 August 1982, well until April 1985 anyway…..



If you wish to share the image, do not alter the image and you must include the following attribution as well as link to this page. Thank you:

‘This letter from Brian Tovey to Joan Clarke (Murray) dated 2 July 1982 is reproduced with the kind permission of the Clarke family via’.

Codebreaking In The Bathtub

At first sight an Edwardian roll-top bathtub may seem a little out-of-place in a major exhibition to explore codebreaking in World War One. The Road to Bletchley Park is now open at Bletchley Park, sponsored by BAE Systems and Ultra Electronics, celebrates the pioneering achievements of those who waged a secret war – and how they paved the way for the Codebreakers Bletchley Park.

Yes, there is a bathtub, and it is extremely relevant to the story of one of Bletchley Park’s key codebreakers.

copyright Claire Butterfield

The story of signals intelligence in WW1 is an untold but crucial one, because a large number of those involved went on to work with the newly formed Government Code and Cypher School (GC&CS) in 1919, which then relocated to Bletchley Park in 1939. Sarah Ralph, Bletchley Park’s WW1 Exhibition Research Coordinator, says “Their efforts from 1914 to 1918 allowed the Codebreakers to hit the ground running at the outbreak of WW2.”

The first phase of this fascinating exhibition, now open in the park’s Block C Visitor Centre, introduces the two very separate codebreaking organisations working in WW1: MI1(b), set up by the Army, and Room 40, established by the Navy. They were each fighting a secret war, behind the scenes in London offices.

The work of these two distinct organisations, each with their own hierarchies and objectives, was dependent on what was then brand new technology. One key exhibit is a replica of a Marconi crystal receiver listening set. Sarah adds “Both Allies and Central Powers used cable and wireless telegraphy to intercept messages and deduce enemy tactics and positions. Each side tried to break the other’s codes and gain valuable intelligence.”

At the centre of the exhibition is an Edwardian roll-top bathtub – a favoured codebreaking tool of Dilly Knox. Dilly’s small office in Room 53 of Admiralty buildings from 1917 had its own bath and he took every opportunity during the night shift to spend time in it, thinking through codebreaking problems. There is nothing better than codebreaking in the bathtub.

The bathtub is part of the exhibition exploring some of the key characters involved in codebreaking during both wars. Sarah says “One of my favourite exhibits related to the work in Room 40 is a copy of Jane’s Fighting Ships. I love this book. It’s an exhaustive catalogue of every nation’s warships. Every time a ship was sunk (Room 40 staff) would cross out the name. It’s a very physical way of marking the conflict’s progress.”

 “We hope this exhibition, which runs until 2019, will help to shed light on a hitherto less well known story of WW1. As the title of the exhibition alludes to, the work of Room 40 and MI1(b) in WW1 laid the foundations of the success of Bletchley Park in WW2. Visitors will learn how these pioneers operated, and how their work led to the formation of the Government Code and Cypher School, the organisation that eventually set up Bletchley Park.” CEO of the Bletchley Park Trust, Iain Standen.

Photograph reproduced courtesy of Claire Butterfield (@BillTutte)

Women in wartime

Article by Sarah Dawood for The Guardian
8th November 2014 change the women’s roles and increased their career opportunities. But has that change been sustained?  Sarah Dawood discusses Women in wartime – the role of the female public servant.

[I get a mention and a little quote about women in World War 2 codebreaking].

My Engagement to Alan Turing by Joan Clarke (later Murray) is an extract of an 1992 Horizon programme about Alan Turing featuring the enigmatic Joan Clarke. In this short extract from the original programme hear Joan talk about Alan’s proposal of marriage and his revelation about his homosexual tendancies.

Can’t see the video above.  Click here to watch ‘My Engagement to Alan Turing by Joan Clarke’ on YouTube.

You can find out more about Joan Clarke and a new ebook celebrating the lives of 3 of the Women Codebreakers at Bletchley Park – Margaret Rock, Joan Clarke and Mavis Lever (later Batey) . The book will be available for pre-order on Amazon from 1 November 2014.

Joan Clarke, Mavis Lever, Margaret Rock,

You can watch the full progamme: The Strange Life and Death of Dr Turing at

With thanks to the programme’s Director Christopher Sykes for making it available to share

Secret Postings: Bletchley Park to the Pentagon, Charlotte Webb,

Secret Postings: Bletchley Park to the Pentagon (BookTower Publishing, 2014)

The extended second print edition of Secret Postings: Bletchley Park to the Pentagon is now available to buy on Amazon. The ebook version is available to pre-order and will be available on 17 November 2014.  Secret Postings: Bletchley Park to the Pentagon (Amazon UK), or Secret Postings on

The second edition includes lots more images, including extracts from a rare brochure Charlotte purchased at the Pentagon in 1945 detailing the design, construction and management of a building needed for the 32, 000 workers employed to work there in World War 2. (image copyright Department of Defence).

Secret Postings: Bletchley Park to the Pentagon

The blurb:

At 18 years of age Charlotte Vine-Stevens leaves college and volunteers for the ATS, the Womens’s Army. After basic training she is given a travel warrant and instructions to go to Bletchley Station. Between 1941 and 1945 Charlotte finds herself stationed at the Government Code & Cypher School’s codebreaking operation at Bletchley Park.

After working with Major Ralph Tester in the Mansion, she moves to the Japanese Section in Block F to paraphrase deciphered Japanese messages. In 1945 this work leads Charlotte to see out the war in the Pacific at The Pentagon. (Image copyright Charlotte Webb).

Secret Postings: Bletchley Park to the Pentagon

Secret Postings follows Charlotte’s life from a childhood in rural Shropshire, to a turbulent pre-war Germany, a World War 2 adventure at Bletchley Park, The Pentagon and beyond.

Secret Postings: Bletchley Park to the Pentagon (Amazon UK), or Secret Postings on Alternatively search for the book on your region’s Amazon site to buy your copy. Soon it will be available in other online bookstores and the ebook is available for pre-order.

Veterans’ Annual Reunion 2014 at Bletchley Park

Back in September 2014 I attended the veterans’ annual reunion at Bletchley Park. It was a busy visit as I weaved between the veterans and visitors gathering their views for the Bletchley Park Podcast. I love doing these interviews! It is fascinating and a reminder there is so much to learn from the veterans and hear what brings the visitors through the gates.

You can listen to the interviews I carried out as well as those collected by fellow roving reporter, Astrid Specht and the Producer of the podcast, Mark Cotton.

Shaun Armstrong (self-confessed professional lurker) is the official Bletchley Park photographer. He’s the man who sees all but is rarely seen. I was able to get a sneaky shot of him photographing Iain Standen, Bletchley Park CEO and veteran Gwendaline Page. You can hear him talking about the unique role of capturing history and Bletchley Park’s transformation.

Veterans' Annual Reunion at Bletchley Park,


Author Geoffrey Pidgeon (The Secret Wireless War) talks about his wartime work for the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6) and it really is a family affair. His father and brother also worked for MI6 and his mother was a nurse at Bletchley Park during World War 2.

Veterans' Annual Reunion at Bletchley Park,


In this group of visitors are four interviewees. Howard Craston, Eric Jacobson, George Keller and Fred Hampe all share their interest in the Bletchley Park and views of the its recent transformation. (In the photograph from left to right Eric Jacobson, Kerry Howard, Ian Richards, Charlotte Webb (Secret Postings: Bletchley Park to the Pentagon), Ann Keller, George Keller, Howard Craston, Fred Hampe).

Group at Veterans Reunion


Iain Standen, CEO of Bletchley Park addresses the veterans in the freshly decorated Teleprinter Room about the progress made in 2014 as well as an overview of Project Neptune – the codename given to the Heritage Lottery funded restoration.

Veterans' Annual Reunion at Bletchley Park,

The Teleprinter room was formerly occupied by the remarkable Churchill Collection, which is where I found the inspiration for my novel The Milliner’s Spy. The Churchill Collection has a new home at Stratford Armouries.

All photographs copyright Bletchley Park Research 2014. They can be used as long as attribution to Bletchley Park Research is given.

Reader Review: Howard Craston’s Top 6 Bletchley Park Books

Today Howard Craston, Bletchley Park Research reader and Friend of Bletchley Park shares his top 6 books on Bletchley Park., Bletchley Park

Howard Craston in Block C at Bletchley Park, June 2014

I first got interested in Bletchley Park after reading the Robert Harris novel “Enigma”; I had really enjoyed his previous book “Fatherland”. Although Enigma is a fictional book the decrypted messages used in the book are real. Channel Four (UK TV station) did a great four part documentary called Station X in 1999 and I bought the accompanying book by Michael Smith.

I was fascinated that such a secret could be kept for so long. My book collection has now expanded to well over 70 books on Bletchley Park and Codebreaking.

My top 6 books on Bletchley Park:

The Secrets of Station X: How the Bletchley Park codebreakers helped win the war  (Amazon UK link) ISBN 9781894940957

The Secrets of Station X on

This is an updated version of the original book that accompanied the Channel Four TV series, and includes information that has been declassified since the original book was published.


Seizing the Enigma: The Race to Break the German U-Boat Codes, 1933-1945  (click title for the Amazon UK link) ISBN 9781848326361

Seizing The Enigma at

I think that this is the best book on the battle against the naval Enigma and the U boats. It is extremely well researched account written by the world’s foremost cryptanalysis historian.


Codebreakers: The Inside Story of Bletchley Park  (Amazon UK link) ISBN 0192801325

Codebreakers on

A collection of Bletchley Park stories written by some of the key personnel of Bletchley Park during World War 2.



Alan Turing: The Enigma by Andrew Hodges (Amazon UK link) ISBN 0045100608

Alan Turing: The Enigma on

A brilliant biography of Alan Turing, Mathematician and genius, who is probably the most famous codebreaker at Bletchley Park. Subject of the new film ‘The Imitation Game’.

Click here to watch the trailer for The Imitation Game.


The Hut Six Story : Breaking the Enigma Codes by Gordon Welchman  (Amazon UK link) ISBN 9780947712341

The Hut Six Story on

Written by the head of Hut Six, This book when originally published was the first book to actually tell how the Enigma Cipher was broken.



Colossus: The secrets of Bletchley Park’s code-breaking computers by Jack Copeland & Others (Amazon UK link) ISBN 9780199578146

Colossus on

The definitive history of the worlds first electronic computer, built to help crack “Tunny” the codename given to the messages of the German High Command, encrypted on the fiendish Lorenz cipher machine, which was much harder than Enigma.


I have picked these books because they give a very good picture of what happened at Bletchley Park during World War 2. The secret was kept for 30 years after the war and although a lot of veterans have written accounts of their time at Bletchley Park, the very nature of the secret work during the war and the “need to know” culture prevents them from giving an overall view of what went on, as they can only write with any detail about the section that they actually worked in.

Please be aware that there are many other good books on Bletchley Park and the ones I have listed are purely my personal choice for a good starter reading list about the best kept secret of World War 2.

I will be writing further reviews on Bletchley Park books and other World War 2 codebreaking books and codebreaking in general.

You can find Howard on Twitter @borneobat

Do you have a favourite book on Bletchley Park that you’d like to share?

Leave a comment below – we’d love to hear your recommendations.

Cournswood – A Day at Dilly Knox’s House

 John Gallehawk, Bletchley Park Research contributor shares our the story of our day out to see Cournswood House, the home of Bletchley Park Codebreaker, Dilly Knox.

On Monday 9th June 2014 two inveterate and intrepid investigators left the urban parts of High Wycombe and ventured forth into the wooded and hilly village of Naphill and in particular to the Village Hall where we could look again at the Memorial plaque to Dilly Knox set near the large Atlantic Cedar tree that he donated in 1936 .This plaque had been unveiled by Mavis Batey in 2009., Dilly Knox

John Gallehawk & Ian James at Naphill Village Hall, Bucks

We were met by an enthusiastic and knowledgeable Ian James, estate manager at Cournswood House. We travelled a short distance through the village of Naphill before turning right down a lane to the entrance driveway to the house we had come to see .

Front view of Cournswood House

Front view of Cournswood House

That house is Cournswood House – the home of Bletchley Park codebreaker, Dilly Knox until his death in 1943. The gates opened as we approached and we continued to a magnificent home set deep in the woodlands in wonderful surroundings.

We approached Cournswood House with a mixture of awe, humility and excitement, for very few people have seen this house. We had passed a couple of dwellings and took a sharp left turn to take us past the front of Cournswood House.

This is a large house, extended at both ends since Dilly’s time here but it still has a strong sense of the past.

We were taken on a tour around the outside and had pointed out to us where windows had been added, a wooden workshop removed and the earlier septic tanks covered over. We took a picture from outside the Library where Dilly had worked.

Dilly Knox, Bletchley Park,

Kerry Howard & John Gallehawk outside Dilly Knox’s library at Cournswood House


The immediate views from the back of the house are superb, one of two small lakes with carp and ducks and woodlands from which two deer and a fawn appeared later on. There are pictures of the house showing this aspect and photos were taken in an attempt to replicate this., Bletchley Park, Dilly Knox

John Gallehawk photographing the rear view of Cournswood House

We were told the story of how Dilly would ride his motorbike from the house down to the rail station at High Wycombe to travel to London, allegedly studying Greek papyrii while other passengers read their newspapers. He apparently had a very bad accident on the bike and thereafter had a limp. He subsequently had a small Austin car to make the journey.

Dilly Knox, Bletchley Park,

The drive leading to Cournswood House

The garage housing Dilly’s prizedAustin has now been converted into a cottage set within the woods surrounding Cournswood House. He is reputed to have coasted down the hill from the garage to see how far he could go before having to start the engine. He also had a rather unique way to traverse crossroads – straight across as fast as possible.

As we completed this stroll around the exterior the owner of the house, Sharon Constançon, came down the stepped path from the large Conservatory and Office, beside the lawn that had probably been a grassed tennis court in past times. She invited us into the luxuriously appointed home.

We saw Dilly’s Library from the inside, now also used as an office. A drawing of Cournswood hung on the wall. We were enveloped by history at this point as the reader can imagine, an unforgettable experience. Most intriguing was the safe hidden behind the oak panelled wall. Its key is long-lost. It was hard not to imagine a stack of papers, a lost pipe or glasses., Bletchley Park, Dilly Knox

We had pointed out to us some of the alterations that were thought to have been made since Dilly’s time in the passage way and the now considerably enlarged lounge.

We were indeed privileged to be shown the upstairs rooms that enjoyed a magnificent view over the grounds and lake. As we looked, the delightful sight of two deer and a fawn came out of the woodland into the paddock just below the house and seemed quite unconcerned.

After these memorable hours we were invited to walk out of the immediate estate and across into the woodland where a memorial stone to Dilly is located to mark where his ashes were placed along with those of his wife, Olive. The woods were Dilly’s passion, he planted the trees that now stand there and guard his resting place., Bletchley Park, Dilly Knox

Sharon Constançon, Ian James& John Gallehawk at Dilly’s memorial stone

Back at the house, our host bade us goodbye and we strolled back to the car, we had been talking there for a while when our host re-appeared, rather excited to say that back in her office she had come across, by chance, some documents about past details of the house and we were so fortunate to be invited back to take a look at these.

Dilly Knox, Bletchley Park,

Dilly Knox 1884 – 1943

We mentioned that we ought to be able to locate the Finance Act 1910 survey records for the house. This was in fact subsequently done and there was the bonus that a sketch plan with measurements had been included in the Rating assessment of the time. (There will be more about the Finance Map for Cournswood in a future post).

What a memorable day!

Images were tumbling though our heads as we eventually made our way back towards Naphill.

John Gallehawk Profile

Bletchley Park Margaret Rock

Margaret Rock was one of the few women codebreakers at Bletchley Park during World War 2.

Margaret was a bright mathematician, quiet and modest but with an adventurous streak. Within a few months of arriving at Bletchley Park in April 1940 she received a promotion after legendary codebreaker Dilly Knox recognised her abilities.

You can download a free copy of an original letter written by Margaret from Bletchley Park in September 1940. She describes her night-time adventure through a London bombing raid as she tries to get back to Bletchley. Enter your email address in the box on the top right of this page to get this fascinating letter.