Recognising Bletchley Park's unsung heroines

Recognising Bletchley Park's unsung heroines

Summary: Codebreakers like Alan Turing have been rightly celebrated for their wartime work but, until now, the women of Station X have been largely overlooked

TOPICS: Security

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  • During World War II, around 6,000 women worked at the highly secretive Bletchley Park and its outposts. Bletchley Park, or Station X as it was mysteriously known at the time, was the intelligence centre behind the country's efforts to decode Germany's encrypted wireless messages.

    While newspapers and history books have devoted a lot of attention to high-profile codebreakers, including Alan Turing and Max Newman, who between them designed the two main codebreaking machines, Colossus (pictured) and Bombe, there has been little recognition of the work of the women of the time, even though they comprised two-thirds of the Bletchley Park workforce.

    Women played a critical role in ensuring the smooth running of the two machines, which have been credited as instrumental in the eventual defeat of Nazi Germany. Finally, almost 63 years after the end of the war, the achievements of these women have been recognised by a project headed by the British Computer Society (BCS).

    Credit: Bletchley Park

  • The project, launched on Friday, called the "Women of Station X" or the "Women of Bletchley Park", is the brainchild of Sue Black, chair of BCSWomen — a networking group within BCS that strives to support female IT professionals in the workplace — and the head of the department of information and software systems at the University of Westminster.

    Speaking at an event to publicise the project, Black (pictured) said she was horrified that, despite all their hard work, women's achievements at Bletchley Park hadn't been fully recognised historically.

    A visit to Bletchley Park's museum four years ago triggered the idea. Black said of the historical exhibits: "I found it fascinating, but it was all about the men that worked there. I thought: we can do something to show what a lovely job was done at Bletchley Park, and that it was done by women."

    Since that day, Black and project lead Jan Peters have been interviewing many of the women who worked at Station X, with the aim of documenting their stories for the web-based project, which is now live on the BCS' website. The project was initially funded by only BCS, but that funding has since been matched by the UK Resource Centre for Women in Science, Engineering and Technology and added to by the European Social Fund.

Topic: Security

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