Bletchley Park trip

If the computer scientists of the future must always reflect that they are standing on the shoulders of past pioneers, then it was appropriate that a 40-strong group of year 8 students should visit Bletchley Park, home of the WW2 codebreakers at the beginning of the month. The visit took place on June 6th – on the 80th anniversary of D-Day – and the contrast between the brave souls fighting amidst the sand and gravel of Normandy beaches, and those analysts working behind desks in the relatively plush splendour of a country house in Hertfordshire decrypting Nazi messaging was not lost in the film that introduces visitors to the Park. It makes clear that both fronts were equal to the cause of Allied victory in those darker days. It was the work undertaken here to crack the enemy code that foreshortened the war by arguably 2 years. Pupils were able to view the famous Enigma encryption machines, resembling antique typewriters and considered ‘unbreakable’ by the Nazis, as well as the imposing Bombe computer developed by Alan Turing and others. The latter machine worked through the thousands of possible combinations looking for clues to crack the enemy codes, and it is still possible to see it running as dozens of alphabetical ‘clocks’ continuously click round in monotonous fashion carrying out their computational work. There was a tour of the grounds from a Park volunteer who talked through the history of the venue : its location especially chosen so as not to be near London and the Blitz, but also to be fairly equidistant from Oxford and Cambridge and so to be able to pick from the brightest and the best. They were also able to view the different working quarters of the operatives who worked onsite. That work bears little in common with today’s digital environment, and so a workshop outlining the issues with personal online security coupled with learning practical ways to be more vigilant in the virtual world will stand them in good stead. And finally, with the threatened rain never arriving, the day was commemorated with a special fly past by the 352nd Special Operations Wing - an operational unit of the United States Air Force Special Operations Command currently stationed at RAF Mildenhall. A poignant end to a day rich in History and Computer Science ! Mr Forster Head of Computer Science