Bletchley Park was Britain's first line of defense for deciphering the secret ciphers and codes of the World War II Axis Powers, notably against the German Enigma and the Lorenz cipher machines, arguably shortening the duration of World War II by two years, saving numerous lives.
Over the course of 1939-1945, around 12,000 men and women worked the wireless interception at Y service and at Station X or Bletchley Park. Their work was so top secret that Winston Churchill called them the "geese that laid the golden eggs but never cackled." Only in the 1970s did the British government begin to open the classified files. Those who served at Bletchley could not talk about it until the 1990s.
Women outnumbered the men eight to one, both living in blacked out huts where no one spoke of what they worked on. Some staff lived in grander housing than others, but all lived by breaking their sections of code. No surveillance cameras were around to keep the workers honest. Their diligence and silence created unique opportunities to save lives in such arenas as Normandy.
The founding father of computer science, mathematician Alan Turing, was instrumental in his contributions in cracking the five letter combinations sent by the German code machines Enigma and Lorenz. Britain's own decryption machines pivotal in intercepting and decoding messages were the Bombe and the Colossus. No one but those associated with Bletchley Park ever knew of the Colossus's existence until its declassification in the 1970s.
Today Bletchley Park, now known as the Bletchley Park Trust, provides families with countless learning opportunities. From World War II toys for the seven to 14 year old set; to history, mathematics and computer science themes for the adults. Bletchley Park is struggling to keep the sacrifices and stories of thousands alive to the next generations.
The National Museum of Computing housed at Bletchley features a number of exhibits and displays, including large computers, microcomputers, as well as the world's first programmable computer: the Colossus. An interactive exhibit of vintage personal computers is scheduled to open in July 2009.
The museum is open free of charge to paying visitors of Bletchley Park. Hours are 1-5pm on Thursdays and Saturdays. Tours are available.
The Bletchley Park National Codes Centre located in Milton Keynes, England approached the British Parliament for funds and were refused in late May 2009.