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Codebreaking’s a Walk in Bletchley Park

Some of our students modelling military hats and caps from the codebreaking era.

As Notre Dame’s computing and maths students discovered during a visit on Wednesday 15 May, Bletchley Park is celebrated for two main reasons. Firstly as the home of the Government Code and Cypher School (GC&CS) during World War Two, and secondly as the birthplace of the information age.

During the war, Bletchley Mansion – and the now-famous wooden huts on the lawns of its Park – were used as a base for a variety of codebreaking operations. The aim was to decipher coded military messages, such as those sent using Enigma machines.

The codebreaking process would have been impossible if it wasn’t for the mathematical brilliance of the codebreakers, and the invention of machines like the Turing/Welchman Bombe and the world’s first electronic computer, Colossus (read more here).

For our students, their trip to Bletchley Park provided an opportunity to see where the codebreakers worked and get a close look at a wide variety of Enigma machines. They had a guided tour of the Park and Mansion, which took in several monuments and provided a realistic experience of wartime work in code-cracking and linguistics huts. Our students got hands on with multiple interactive exhibits, exploring how different ciphers worked and finding out about the history of Bletchley Park. They also found out more about cyber security thanks to brand new exhibits on the subject.

The visit was a hit with students, one of whom commented, I am a maths & science student with an interest in cryptography, so found the trip to be incredibly interesting and enjoyed learning all about Bletchley Park and its history’. Another added, ‘Very interesting and relevant. I learnt a lot about the history of computing and codebreaking as well as some more modern knowledge from the cyber security exhibit.’

Inside Bletchley Manor
One of the Enigma machines.
Our students on their tour of Bletchley Manor.