Role of Women at Bletchley Park

2021-05-18 14:07:01
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Bletchley Park was of supreme importance to the Allied Forces during the World War II. It was the central site by which the British Intelligence services would intercept communications from the Axis Powers and decode the meaning behind them. At the core of this operation was the mandate to intercept the German Enigma and Lorenz communication systems (Winterbotham, 2001). However, while the operation was unique in itself, a standout feature of the operation was its impeccable workforce that stood at 12,000 strong by the time the site was shut down. Of these, approximately 9,000 were composed of women who assumed various roles and responsibilities (Norburn, 2015). While little information is known due to statutory implications such as the Official Secrets Act of 1939, Bletchley Park was central to ensuring the Allied Forces were always a step ahead against its forces. Additionally, the women at Bletchley Park helped to support seamlessly a complex operation that included intercepting communications and breaking code (Fessenden, 2015).

Alan Turing, the father of the modern computer, had envisioned a massive complex that specialized in intercepting complex communication systems and designing programs and systems that could decode them. While they were not involved in any form of physical combat, their weapons were based on mathematics in its advanced forms (Norburn, 2015). In her book, The Bletchley Girls, Tessa Dunlop is keen to point to the fact that the period in which the World War II took place was a male-dominated era. Women were required to act as second fiddle to the will of men. However, the war had the effect of making women crucial members of the military strategies and endeavor. Such an effect was reflected in the U.S economy, whereby the women left behind in the homeland worked hard in various industries that directly affected the war efforts abroad. In similar fashion, the women of Bletchley Park worked hard to ensure their efforts bore fruit and brought victory to the Allied Forces (Rainey, 2015).

While many of the women who worked at the site chose to remain silent as to the details of the operations, those who shared their stories point to the mundane and monotonous nature of code breaking activities (Norburn, 2015). As mentioned, the women had to follow a strict schedule that was designed to deliver vital intelligence data to the military. At times, the women had to go to 16-hour shifts so as to capture as much information as possible from the enemies (Fessenden, 2015). They were required to intercept communication systems and bring these messages to the code breakers. In turn, these were tasked with the objective of breaking the codes using Bombe and Colossus machines. The women who did these jobs were some of the brightest in the nation as they were sourced from the universities while some came straight out of school (McKay, 2011). Most of them were aged between 18 and 24 years old. Women were also central to ensuring many of the processes at Bletchley Park went as smoothly as possible. They took care of the administrative functions in the organization in addition to cooking and cleaning. Some of them were also trained in combat affairs as there was the possibility of being attacked by the enemies (Fessenden, 2015).

The women of Bletchley Park had to commit to their roles, and they were under strict instruction not to share any information with anyone, including colleagues. Such an organizational posture reveals the main intent and focus of the operations conducted at the site (Norburn, 2015). Every woman had to commit to fulfilling her duties, and this perspective was deeply ingrained among all members of staff throughout the organization. Personal interviews with some of the remnants of Bletchley Park reveals that people had set aside their dreams and ambitions to contribute to the war effort (Black, 2016). Perhaps, this mentality is best reflected in the fact that all those who worked at the site were contented with the lack of recognition and secrecy associated with the organization. One of the women, Rozanne Colchester, reflects on the immense pressure to work and produce results. Indeed, some women could not handle the demanding work schedules as the pressure broke some of them out of the code breaking site. However, in the end, these brave women got the job done and ensured military strategists had an advantage over their enemies (Norburn, 2015).

The women were able facilitators in the war against the Axis Powers. Bletchley Park enabled many other vital processes to proceed on with accuracy. It has been estimated that the incredible work that was done at Bletchley Park had the effect of shortening the war by two to four years (McKay, 2011). Without the code-breaking exercises at the site, the outcome of the war would prove to be uncertain. Additionally, thousands of lives were also saved as a result of the incredible work done at the site (Rainey, 2015). The entire operation signaled the advent of a new form of warfare, whereby information was more valuable than ammunition. In one instance, a British convoy was saved from a German submarine that was in hot pursuit as messages had been intercepted and tactics revised with complete wireless silence (McKay, 2011). Bletchley Park was responsible for the development of sophisticated computers and computer programs that helped the British forces in the war. The operations also helped to develop other intelligence operations in the British Intelligence services, thus, helping the Allied Forces to bring the World War II to a close (Rainey, 2015).

In conclusion, it can be seen that the women of Bletchley Park had to operate with clearly defined rules and regulations. Tasks were assigned according to the capability of the women, and this served to ensure the operations at the site ran as smoothly as possible. The women had to concentrate for hours so as to find valuable and actionable information (McKay, 2011). Those who worked there attest to the fact that the job could also be fascinating, considering that they would come into contact with notable people such as Ian Fleming among others (Winterbotham, 2001). Women held numerous roles and responsibilities at the site that included administrators, dispatch riders, card index compilers, and code-breaking specialists. The Womens Royal Naval Service (Wrens) was also brought in to assist in the massive operations that took place at the site (Rainey, 2015). Bletchley Park helped to develop better intelligence structures and networks that could collaborate with one another, thereby helping to create a cohesive unit to face against enemies such as the Germans and the Japanese.

References

Black, S. (2016). The Women of Bletchley Park. ITNOW, 58(2), 10-11. http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/itnow/bww033

Fessenden, M. (2015). Women Were Key to WWII Code-Breaking at Bletchley Park. Smithsonian. Retrieved 14 July 2016, from http://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/women-were-key-code-breaking-bletchley-park-180954044/?no-ist

McKay, S. (2011). The secret life of Bletchley Park. London: Aurum Press.

Norburn, B. (2015). The female enigmas of Bletchley Park in the 1940s should encourage those of tomorrow. The Conversation. Retrieved 14 July 2016, from https://theconversation.com/the-female-enigmas-of-bletchley-park-in-the-1940s-should-encourage-those-of-tomorrow-36640

Rainey, S. (2015). The extraordinary female codebreakers of Bletchley Park. Telegraph.co.uk. Retrieved 14 July 2016, from http://www.telegraph.co.uk/history/world-war-two/11308744/The-extraordinary-female-codebreakers-of-Bletchley-Park.html

Winterbotham, F. (2001). The Ultra secret. London: Orion.

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