Alice in ID25 republished as WW1 Exhibition Launched

Today Bletchley Park’s Royal Patron, HRH The Duke of Kent, will officially open a major new exhibition telling the story of Codebreaking in World War One, The Road to Bletchley Park. The Duke will meet representatives of the exhibition’s sponsors, BAE Systems and Ultra Electronics, as well as visiting new displays and exhibitions updated since his last visit in 2009.

Timed to coincide with the exhibition opening, the Bletchley Park Trust is delighted to republish a unique parody of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Alice in ID25 poked fun at the wartime work of the Naval Intelligence codebreaking section Room 40, which became known from 1917 as ID25.

Originally written by the Codebreakers Frank Birch and Dilly Knox at the end of WW1, it was performed privately as a pantomime in London in December 1918. The parody described life in Room 40 and the people who worked there, and remained under wraps for many decades afterwards.

Unseen for decades, it was not until 2007 that Lewis Carroll expert Edward Wakeling and World War Two Codebreaker Mavis Batey MBE, who worked with Dilly Knox at Bletchley Park, brought this fascinating script back to life and provided new introductions.

Wakeling says they both enjoyed its chopped logic, the parody’s most impressively Carrollian trait. Alice is confused about the whereabouts of the Directional room. “Silly girl,” she is told, “why, it’s called the Directional room because it’s in that direction.” The two authors “knew their Carroll” and could mimic his deceptively clever wordplay.

Offering thanks to them for reviving it, and to the Churchill Archives Centre for supplying some of the original images, the Bletchley Park Trust hopes to complement its visitors’ WW1 experience with this fantastically clever piece of writing by some of Britain’s first Codebreakers.

Their singularly stressful work saved lives, and many WW1 Codebreakers died without acknowledgement. As more comes to light about them, these peculiarly private documents offer a picture not only of their work but also their intellects, humour and friendships, which would certainly have been lost otherwise, and help us understand the very human endeavour that was wartime intelligence.