25 years since Bletchley Park was saved

Bletchley Park this week (Wednesday 19 October) celebrates 25 years since the Veterans’ tea party that saved it from being bulldozed to make way for a housing estate and petrol station.

It was in 1991 that local historians got together a group of Veterans of the Government Code and Cypher School to say farewell to the secret wartime site that played such a key role in World War Two. The reunion, held on 19 October that year, formed the catalyst for a campaign that saved Bletchley Park. Although it would take until the late 2000s for its future to become secure, it is now a much-loved heritage attraction, welcoming over a quarter of a million visitors in 2015.

The party was timed to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the letter sent to Churchill by the Codebreakers, asking for more resources. His response – “Action This Day: Give them all that they need and report to me that this has been done.” – is on display in the Visitor Centre at Bletchley Park.

The 1991 reunion was the first time that former Bletchley Park staff had gathered together at the site since they left, and for many it was the first time they’d talked about codebreaking with their WW2 colleagues. Audio recordings of their conversations were recently discovered and give an incredible insight into how staff were recruited, the roles they carried out and the reality of working at the secret intelligence site and its outstations.

In one recording, Veteran Nancy Holderness comments: “We were a motley crew really, from all different walks of life – I was in the lingerie department at Marshall & Snelgrove. We were sworn to secrecy and we took it so seriously. In wartime everyone realised how serious everything was and if you were on secret work they respected it.”

From October to December 2016, the Bletchley Park Podcast will mark the 25th anniversary of the party that saved Bletchley Park with three special episodes made from the recently discovered tapes. Listeners can visit www.bletchleypark.org.uk to hear these Podcasts. To celebrate this key anniversary, the first 25 visitors through the doors on Wednesday will receive a free day pass.