During the war, Bletchley Park was the workplace of 10,000 people. Eagerly battling away 24 hours a day to decode enemy messages, these people worked under such a heavy blanket of secrecy that many of them were unaware of the overall strategy, focusing only on their own tiny, yet hugely important, part of it.
Communication took place via teams of bike riders scooting around the countryside, and carrier pigeons – some of whom received awards after the war for their bravery. The birds, I mean. Imagine how social media would have affected that war. We take our communication streams for granted today – phone, text, email, Facebook, messenger, Twitter, Viber, Whatsapp – to name just a handful of the most common channels we rely on to get our messages across quickly and accurately.
If you’re any sort of code-breaking lover (crosswords, Sudoku, the Mastermind game that we played as kids) you must visit Bletchley. Its rich history and the vivid way its story is told make for a wonderful day out. In fact, I’m going back. We spent so long in the two cafés that we ran out of time to see the whole museum properly. (I’m standing on the stone where Churchill congratulated the Bletchley staff!)
Alan Turing was an incredibly talented man who suffered a tragic end. He is credited with skills that not only led to the war ending two years early, saving thousands of lives, but as being the father of the computer as we know it. He took artificial intelligence to a higher level than most of us can begin to comprehend, even today in our advanced technological society, decades before anyone could imagine the influence computing would have on our lives.
Coincidentally continuing the war theme, we watched a short documentary that evening about a wonderful pianist named Alice Herz-Sommer, the last survivor of the Holocaust. She died two years ago, aged 110 – and it’s been some while since someone has made me speechless with admiration. This lady was filmed at the age of 106, playing the piano and socialising with her friends. She had the most cheerful, life affirming demeanour and an amazing warmth. She bore no grudge against those who had devastated her family and placed her in the vile ‘town’ of Terezin, a concentration camp where her life was saved simply by her ability to play the piano in an orchestra created for the nazi’s entertainment.
The boys and I heard about Terezin during our recent tour of Prague’s Jewish Quarter, but our short trip left no time to visit the horrific site. We saw the misery, despair and curtailed legacy in the Synagogue museums though. Alice Herz-Sommer lived an unthinkable life during the war years, yet her beautiful spirit, resilience and optimism could not be broken. She’s quoted on Wikipedia as saying, “I look at the good… When you are pessimistic, your body behaves in an unnatural way. It is up to us whether we look at the good or the bad. When you are nice to others, they are nice to you. When you give, you receive.” It’s so true.
Sometime back in the 80s, long before we’d met, Philip was invited to photograph a breath-taking event. Survivors of Terezin’s orchestra gathered at Canterbury Cathedral to be reunited for the first time since the concentration camp’s liberation. He says the atmosphere was electric, tangible – and never to be forgotten. Reports I’ve since read say the concert did not dwell on misery, oppression and death, but on hope, optimism and survival. Not a bad life plan, by anyone’s standards.
Rumours is my all-time favourite album, and this seemed like a positive end to a blog that details hope and personal endurance: “Don’t stop thinking about tomorrow, don’t stop, it’ll soon be here. It’ll be even better than before; yesterday’s gone, yesterday’s gone.” Gone but not forgotten.