Google Backs Bletchley Park Restoration

I’ve written here previously about Bletchley Park, the home during World War II of the UK Government Code and Cipher School, also known as Station X.  The work of the cryptanalysts at Bletchley Park, led by Alan Turing, was responsible for the breaking of the German Enigma machine encryption on a large-scale basis, as well as the more difficult Lorenz cipher, used by Hitler to communicate with his field commanders.   Some historians estimate that this work shortened the war  in Europe by two or more years.  The site is now run by the Bletchley Park Trust, and also houses the UK National Museum of Computing.  Numerous restoration projects are underway, including a reconstruction of the Tunny machines, used to crack Lorenz messages, and a reconstruction of the EDSAC computer, arguably the first modern stored-program machine.  Separately, there is also a film project underway to produce a documentary on Turing’s life and work.

The Telegraph newspaper in the UK is now reporting that Google is taking an active role in the ongoing project to  restore the Bletchley Park  facility.   Jean Valentine, one of the original computer operators during WW II, and now a guide at the site, put it this way:

Looking around, you can see why we need Google. Some of the huts are just dilapidated, there’s no other word for it. With their help we’ll get things restored so people can go into these places and get a sense of history.

Google’ charitable arm, Google.org, also donated about $100,000 earlier this year to buy Turing’s papers at auction, so that they could be kept at the museum.

Much of the work that was done at Bletchley Park was kept a closely-guarded secret, not only during the war, but for decades afterward.  (One historian has observed that the British gave captured German Enigma machines to some of its colonies after the war — without telling them they’d already cracked the code.  Just an oversight, I’m sure.)  The site was used for various government purposes, and had become mainly empty, and under threat for redevelopment,  by 1992, when the Bletchley Park Trust was formed.  The site was opened for visitors in 1993, although there was not a lot to see in those early days; most of the wartime equipment had been carted off or destroyed.

I am glad to learn that the restoration project is going forward, and gaining significant support.  It is amazing how much ground-breaking work was done there, and kept secret for so long.  And it also means that the people who accomplished so much there can have their work publicly recognized.

Update Monday, 8 August, 14:55 EDT

The BBC News site also has an article on Google’s support for the restoration project.

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