The one that goes deep into Bletchley Park

Michael Smith, The Secrets of Station X (1998)

I have a thing for Bletchley Park, yes I do! I don’t remember when I first heard about it, but my interest was rekindled a few years ago by the ITV mini-series “Bletchley Circle“, who focused on a group of girlfriends in the early 1950s, all apparently quiet housewives or secretaries, who actually had worked at Bletchley Park during the war. Lately there was a BBC program presenting Bletchley Park’s women, and also a movie about Alan Turing’s life (which I haven’t seen).

So I took the opportunity of an Amazon promotion to buy The Secrets of Station X, in order to know more about Bletchley. And I did learn a lot alright, and perhaps too much for my own taste! This book tells in excruciating details every single code that has been broken during the war in Bletchley, which means that there are a lot of repetition (like, they get a bit of information, then get stuck for a while, get frustrated and then there is a breakthrough and then it is all clear, so they can move on to the next code… ugh!).

Michael Smith obviously did a lot of research, and had a lot of first-hand interviews with people who worked at Bletchley Park (at the peak, there were no less than 10,000 people, many of them women). The result is a huge mish-mash of interesting facts, trivia, personal memoir excerpts, all put on the same level, or so it seemed to me. We can jump from the use of codes to help fight the El-Alamein battle, to the logistics of having so many people in a rather small place, to the memory of Americans and British playing together during breaks, to the different particulars of each hut of the Park.

At the beginning Smith took some time to explain how an Enigma machine worked and how the de-coding went, but I didn’t really understand and so I was soon out of my depth. I would have enjoyed a more synthetized approach, but I guess that’s probably in another book out there.

Enough already with the hard and down-to-earth realities of non-fiction! This book put me in the mood for a good spy novel. Any suggestion?

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2 thoughts on “The one that goes deep into Bletchley Park

  1. I have no suggestions but will keep an eye on this space to see if anyone else does. I don’t know that I’ve ever read a good spy novel — which speaks, I think, more to my reluctance to seek out spy novels than anything else. But I should try one! If I had a good recommendation.

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