“The geese that laid the golden eggs – but never cackled.” – Winston Churchill
This fine Sunday, I went to FindingAda’s first public event: Women of Bletchley Park. Having never been to Bletchley Park before, I was quite keen to see the place as well as learn about the role women had to play during it’s wartime efforts.
The day opened with an intro from the leading ladies: Suw Charman-Anderson, founder of FindingAda, Sue Black, Head of the University of Westminster’s School of Information and Software Systems, Kelsey Griffin of Bletchley Park itself, and last but certainly not least: Jean Valentine, Bombe operator at Bletchley Park during the war and our tour guide today.
Jean covered the somewhat random history of Bletchley Park, which is nicely documented on their website. Kelsey explained Bletchley’s problematic funding situation, which has been covered in the media over the course of the past year. Sue explained her personal involvement and gave some colour to the Saving Bletchley Park campaign that she has spearheaded.
We then relocated to the Enigma ABC Cinema to watch The Women of Station X. I think one of the oddest – and nicest! – parts of the day was to realise that half of the staff at Bletchley Park during the war were women. That’s… equal representation. Obviously, women would have been doing vastly different roles compared to the men, but they were still there. The sad part is to hear how the men were able to leverage their Bletchley experience in their post-war lives, while the women sadly returned home, unable to tell a soul about the work that they did.
We had a wonderful tour with Jean, a fantastically enthusiastic and spry woman despite her age. One thing that hadn’t occurred to me was how many different things are hosted at Bletchley: from the Churchill room to the Toy Collection to obviously the rebuilt Bombes and Colossus, to my personal favourite: the Bletchley Park Post Office. They produce first day covers of Royal Mail stamp issues, so while this is the original Women of Distinction collection, I grabbed myself the Bletchley version, featuring 6 of their heroines, one of which is Jean Valentine – our tour guide that had signed it.
All in all, it was a lovely day out. Go and see what it has to offer if you can!