Saturday, 24 October 2020

Henley Rotary Club and The Rotary Club of Henley Bridge

ON Tuesday, October 29 Henley’s two Rotary clubs held a joint meeting at the Red Lion Hotel.

Henley Rotary Club and the Rotary Club of Henley Bridge are frequent visitors to each other’s meetings and co-operated to stage the Henley half marathon last month. The highlight of this meeting was a talk on code breaking at Bletchley Park by Ian Lowry, an experienced and immensely knowledgeable volunteer guide.

Ian’s witty and polished presentation was a fascinating account of the genesis, history and achievements of the Bletchley Park code-breakers.

British military code breaking dates back to the turn of the last century when a small team was established within the Admiralty.

By 1938 the Bletchley Park house and grounds were purchased on the initiative of Admiral Sinclair, head of MI5, as the home of the Government Code and Cypher School.

Ian explained that the location of Bletchley Park, away from main targets of German bombing, was ideal as it was adjacent to Bletchley station where the Varsity Line from Oxford to Cambridge met the main West Coast line from London.

The A5 trunk road was nearby, as was a telephone and communication station, giving access to high volume telephone links.

Code breaking gave access to the plans of the enemy and was crucial to the war effort.

The Germans had sophisticated Enigma and Lorenz ciphers and believed their codes unbreakable. A small team of academics, technicians and administrators at Bletchley began producing high value Ultra intelligence and went on to devise automatic machinery to help with decryption, culminating in Colossus, the world’s first programmable digital computer.

The significance and importance of the work at Bletchley Park continued through the war and by 1945 10,000 people were engaged in code breaking, 75 per cent of them women.

Their vital work remained clouded in official secrecy until the Seventies when the story of code breaking at Bletchley Park gradually emerged and the names of those most closely involved in the production of Ultra intelligence, Alan Turing, Gordon Welshman, Hugh Alexander, Stuart Milner-Barry and Tommy Flowers, became known.

The preservation of Bletchley Park as a museum and monument to these achievements is in large part due to the work of volunteers such as Mr Lowry and the Rotarians were privileged to have him as their guest speaker.

• Henley Rotary Club will hold its annual Christmas bingo night at the town hall next Friday (November 15). The event is in aid of local charities and all are welcome. Doors opens at 6pm and “eyes down” is at 7.15pm. Early arrival is advised.

Nigel Hay

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