Figuring It Out at Bletchley Park

Britain’s wartime cipher cracking centre has been an obsession of mine for about 20 years. I first visited the museum, which now occupies the wartime site, at the tender age of thirteen. When I was eighteen, I got a job as a gardener and general dogsbody with the Bletchley Park Trust, which manages the site today. When I was twenty-two, I decided that what the world really needed was another historian and chose to focus my research on Bletchley Park.

Shortly after undertaking this project I attended a public lecture by the journalist, historian and all-round doyen of all things Bletchley Park, Michael Smith. Shortly before the talk started, I perused a book-sales-stand and saw a strange, self-published volume entitled Figuring It Out at Bletchley Park, 1939–1945. Edited (is that the word?) by Kerry Johnson and John Gallehawk, it is a list of spreadsheet tables, compiling various historical data regarding the day to day operation of that institution.

These tables include all manner of information, from staff numbers, to the number of meals served, to the mileage covered by the various drivers ferrying staff to and from work to their billets. As a piece of raw research, I have rarely seen a piece of work like it. It is a compendium of statistics, reproduced directly from the archival sources, which must have taken many months of studious transcription of raw data.

It lacks entirely in the way of analysis, but that is not its purpose, it exists solely as a resource for researchers to do with as they please. As a Doctoral candidate, studying Bletchley Park, it was a text which proved its weight in gold. If you’re seriously interested in Bletchley Park, it is a must have book.

UK based academic historian. Lecturer