Brits sure do like to mention the war, especially so on the telly. That is however, how I learned about the existence of Bletchley Park; through a riveting WWII documentary on TV.
Bletchley Park was a code breaking centre established in 1938 by Winston Churchill in an historic mansion located in Milton Keynes. It played a hugely important role in WWII. This is where encoded messages from ‘ze Chermans’ were intercepted and deciphered.
Nerdy as I am, I was glued to the TV and when they mentioned that the mansion still existed and had been turned into a museum. I promised myself I’d go and visit someday. Well, someday turned out to be last week, when I dragged a friend onto the train to Bletchley.
The centre is expansive with the mansion, barracks and huts surrounding a tranquil lake. The displays and exhibits are scattered throughout the ground. Visitors learn how the messages were intercepted, how they were deciphered, and how they were encoded again. They see how the work spaces were laid out, what a billet looked like and what Bletchley Park employees did for fun.
The absolute highlight of our visit, however, was the vast collection of Churchill memorabilia in one of the huts. Probably the biggest one in the world. It’s the personal collection of Jack Darrah who built the collection over a period of 30 years, keeping it in his house. He had to store it in boxes when he moved from a villa to a flat and was very happy to be able to unpack them in Bletchley Park. The room is stacked front to back, top to bottom with Churchilliana ranging from Churchill playing cards, Churchill piggy banks to Churchill Russian matryoshka dolls. There are cushion covers, posters, plates, book rests, lamps everywhere you look. Draped over furniture, hung on the walls, perching in the display cases, on top of them or underneath them.