Random thoughts from an unusual company

Ada Lovelace Day

Gabriella Davis  24 March 2009 20:20:36
Today is Ada Lovelace day and in celebration of one of the world's first computer programmer I had signed a pledge to blog today about a woman in the field of technology who inspired me.  So I'd like to celebrate the work and commitment of the amazing women who were stationed at Bletchley Park during WWII and worked on the codebreaking machines as operators, morse code readers and transcribers working in isolation from each other with technology they hadn't been educated to use, didn't understand and couldn't talk about.

Extracted from the website of the British Computing Society and their research into Women at Bletchley Park including audio and video recordings
Read more about their incredible work here:  http://www.bcs.org/server.php?show=nav.9960

Civilians, WRNS, WAAFS and ATS provided the skills, expertise and person power to intercept, decode, translate and understand the meaning of messages being sent between German field officers and command. The contribution of several thousand women was central to this effort.   The atmosphere of secrecy was maintained through several measures. Women were recruited after observation in basic training for 'jobs they wouldn't be allowed to speak about'. New recruits were sent a long way from home for training.   When they were sent to Bletchley they might be collected from the station in a Black Maria. They signed the official secrets act and were reminded daily never ever to speak of who they were or what they did. Security was tight, at the gate, in the huts and access was controlled across the park.

Oliver Lawn says that '... the compartmentalisation of knowledge was particular to Bletchley Park and they [the workers] knew nothing about what anyone else did'.

WRNS were the first operators, with nearly 2000 being employed by the end of the war. At the end of the war the WRNS worked with the engineers to dismantle and discard every last piece of the machines to protect the secret. Stories circulate of the last set of blue prints being hidden inside a machine and being bricked up... somewhere. But it has never been found.
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