A CHANCE find in his own second-hand bookshop set Doctor Mark Baldwin delving into a subject that would change his life.
The book he found was Very Secret Intelligence written by Patrick Beesley and it referred to the Enigma machines whose code was so stunningly broken by the teams at Bletchley Park.
Such was the mystique surrounding the codebreakers — much of their work was only revealed long after the war ended — that public fascination has not dimmed in the intervening years.
All of which leads Doctor Baldwin to the Kenton Theatre next month when he will give a talk on the work of the brains of Bletchley. But none of this would have happened without that book about the Royal Navy Intelligence Department using Enigma decryptions.
“It was about 20 years ago that I came across it in my shop. I thought ‘I will read this before I sell it’ which I did. I then started talking about it in the shop. Some people had a vague idea about Enigma but it was not widely known,” he said.
The seeds of an obsession to learn everything about Enigma, Bletchley and the codebreakers were sown. It has taken him the length and breadth of Britain giving talks and round the world lecturing on cruise ships.
Doctor Baldwin has spoken to between 30,000 and 40,000 people about the subject and related Second World War. He is a regular visitor to Bletchley Park where the Duchess of Cambridge made front page news when she visited recently.
He got a degree in mechanical science, became a civil engineer and then took a PhD. Eventually he decided that he did not want to live in London and, with his family, moved out to live in Shropshire where he still runs the bookshop, does some publishing and gives his talks.
In the period that he has been working on the codebreakers he has seen changes — the opening of the famous Hut 6 where so much of the work towards breaking the codes was done and the development of Bletchley Park as a tourist attraction.Those going along to hear the doctor’s talk will also get the chance to see one of the Enigma machines. They were used by the Germans to send secret messages in codes that were changed every 24 hours.
By breaking the code the Allies were able to gather information about every enemy, troop and U-boat as well as aircraft movements, technical developments and military plans. It is thought to have shortened the war by two years.
He said: “No one knows exactly how many Enigma machines there were. But I would estimate about 30,000 to 40,000 although obviously 99 per cent were destroyed.”
Interest in the subject is only likely to increase given that a film — The Imitation Game starring Benedict Cumberbatch in the lead role — is being made about Alan Turing, the brilliant mathematician who was the key figure in breaking he Enigma code.
Turing was gay but suffered under the draconian laws that existed in his day. He died of cyanide poisoning at the age of 41. After a long campaign he was given a posthumous royal pardon for his 1952 conviction for homosexual acts.
Doctor Baldwin does not dispute the right of Turing to receive a pardon but feels it should not have applied to just one man. He said: “It was not a generic pardon. What about the hundreds of other cases which were just as plausible? We seem to have created one law for the clever, rich and famous and one for the rest.”
Nevertheless, Dr Baldwin’s talk centres on Turing and his brilliant work. He said: “2012 was the centenary of his birth and there were a huge number of events around the world, statues were erected.
“Quite rightly he received deserved recognition for his brilliant work. I think Turing would be very surprised to see all that has happened since his death.”
And does he still have that copy of Very Secret Intelligence?
“Of course I do, reading it changed my life,” he said.
• World War Two Codebreakers — The Enigma Story is on at the Kenton Theatre on Tuesday, July 8 at 7.30pm. For tickets go to www.kentontheatre.co.uk or call (01491) 575698.