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The Men and Women Who Cracked the Enigma Code at Bletchley Park

by Sinclair McKay

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 2012
ISBN: 978-0-452-29871-2
Publisher: Plume

A detailed, well-researched account of the people who ran the top-secret Government Code and Cypher School at Bletchley Park, whose work helped the Allies win World War II.

President Eisenhower once said that the work of the British codebreakers "shortened the war by two years.” But as Daily Telegraph journalist McKay (Ramble On, 2012, etc) reveals, official recognition has been slow in coming. Some of the participants—e.g., celebrated Cambridge mathematician Alan Turing, would go on to earn notoriety, including official, but always muted, recognition by the British monarchy. Most would go on to lead more or less anonymous lives. McKay notes that a large part of the problem had to do with the fact that, unlike those who had actually fought on the front lines, no one from GC&CS "was allowed to say a single word" about the years they spent deciphering the infamous German Enigma codes. Only after RAF officer and MI6 operative Frederick Winterbotham published a controversial book about the project in 1974, The Ultra Secret, did the veil begin to lift. Rather than attempt to glamorize what the codebreakers did, however, McKay attempts to demystify their world by highlighting the day-to-day realities they faced. With few exceptions, aristocrats mixed with academics, students and factory workers shared the same hardships: small, cramped billets, tasteless food and jobs that were as tedious as they were physically and mentally taxing. Interviews with surviving Bletchley Park veterans offer especially good insight into the remarkably vibrant culture and the ways they survived an invisible, hyperconfined existence on the edge of a world at war.

A well-deserved, long-overdue celebration of some unsung heroes of WWII.