gordon.dewis.ca - Random musings from Gordon


UK Trip Day 10: July 6, 2003

July 07, 2003 @ 10:19 By: gordon Category: Travelling, UK Trip 2003

Today was our first excursion out of London. A couple of days ago, Rob said “Hey, would you
like to go to Bletchley House?” to which I responded “Of course!”. He ordered tickets on the
Internet and we took the train from Wandsworth Common to Clapham Junction (the busiest train
station in Britain) to Watford Junction to Bletchley. It took about 1:45 to get to Bletchley.

For those of you not up on your cryto-history, Bletchley House is where the German Enigma code
was broken during World War II. Breaking the code required at its peak about ten thousand
people working at Bletchley House. Bletchley is located at the junction of two rail lines,
one running out of London and the other between Oxford and Cambridge.

For much more information about the history of Bletchley House, visit the website.

While we were there, we saw some of the actual buildings used by the code-breakers during
the war. Some of the buildings have been destroyed, but a number still exist to this day,
rescued from the wreckers ball by the hastily-formed Bletchley Trust.

There are museums in most of the buildings, with exhibits about the code-breaking activities
themselves or about life at Bletchley House back then. Included among the exhibits were
mock ups of the Bombes used to recover the daily Enigma rotor settings and even a working
Enigma machine. There are only a handful of Engima machines in existence today and most fetch
a price of GBP 30000 or more at auction. I’ve been fortunate in that I’ve seen and played
with two of the very small handful in collections available to the general public: the one
at Bletchley House and the one at the NSA museum in the US.

Also on display was a Bombe that’s being built from scratch based on the original plans and
another machine called Colossus. When Bletchley Park was decommissioned after the war, all
of the machinery was dismantled or destroyed (except, of course, for one or two examples
“just in case” — but these were destroyed years later) so no examples remain. Building these
machines from scratch is a tremendous undertaking. The amount of wire in them is incredible!

Anyways, there are always activities going on at Bletchley House. When we were there, there was a gathering of
old and/or fancy cars and more impressively a fly over by a Spitfire. The Spitfire did two
low-level fly-bys at a few hundred feet. On board was a small packet of special-issue covers
from the Bletchley House Post Office. (Yes, there’s a real post office there.) They arranged
to have forty covers specially flown in the Spitfire. I ordered one and it should arrive in
two or three weeks.

I mentioned that it took us 1:45 to get to Bletchley from Wandsworth Common. Well, our return
trip took a little longer. Somewhere between Sudbury Junction and Clapham Junction, the train
came to a stop. This would not have been unusual, except for the fact that the train never
moved again! We learned from the announcements and from the conductor when he walked through
our car, that the pantograph (the bit that touches the overhead lines for power) had damaged
the overhead line equipment (OLE) from around Sudbury Junction to where we stopped. And, because
of engineering works on the tracks behind us, it wasn’t possible to deploy an engine to rescue

After spending about three hours on-board in an increasingly stuffy car, they finally decided
to detrain everybody. So, we exited the train with the aid of the local fire brigade and walked
back along the tracks to the nearest bridge where there was yet more confusion.

Eventually, a bus showed up and took us to Clapham Junction after stopping at one or two
other stations in between. The fact that it took a circuitous route was bad enough, but a
few people had to stand because there weren’t enough seats. To top it off, the bus driver
didn’t actually know where the stations he was driving to were located.

Needless to say, we were not amused.

We finally arrived home between 22:30 and 23:00 after catching a cab from Clapham Junction.

Rob’s going to submit our tickets and food and taxi receipts to the train company for

Still, people were remarkably calm, though nerves were starting to get stretched a bit thin near
the end of the ordeal. There were quiet rumblings about using the emergency door opening lever
to get some fresh air into the cars.

Click here to view pictures from Day 10.

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