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15 October 2014
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A Bristolian at Bletchley Park

by brssouthglosproject

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Contributed by 
People in story: 
Diana Neale, Gordon Welchman, Alan Turing, Stuart Milner-Barry, Hugh Alexander
Location of story: 
Bristol, Buckinghamshire.
Background to story: 
Royal Navy
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
21 August 2005

Diana Neale nee Spence, (aged 20 years old), at Woburn Abbey, 1943.

These memories were recorded for Diana Neale by a volunteer at Frenchay Village Museum, and she has given her permission to include her story, and is fully aware of the rules and regulations of the website.

I was born in Frenchay and when my father went bankrupt in the Depression during the ‘30’s we moved into Clifton. I was called up into the WRNs at the beginning of 1943. Then I had two weeks of training at a centre in London, and was then sent to work at Bletchley Park. On the first day I was made to sign the official secrets act and was unable to talk about my work until only recently. We were told never ever to tell anyone what we did, not even those close to us. My family could not understand what work I could possibly be doing, as I was stationed in the middle of England where I did not even see the sea! They accepted that it was clerical work; when I told them there were accounts to be done for canteens, uniforms and the WRNs pay!

We were billeted in Woburn Abbey, the home of the Duke of Bedford. Eventually 500 WRENs lived there and worked in Bletchley Park. We were taken to and from by bus, a journey of half an hour. Bletchley Park was manned twenty-four hours a day, so the shifts were 8am-4pm, 4pm to midnight and midnight to 8 am. I worked in Hut 4.

In Hut 4, we worked with brilliant linguists from Oxford and Cambridge. When we received the german messages which had been decoded, they translated them from German into English, and then sent these to typists be typed up. Then they were brought back, and we had to check them very carefully, with the handwritten translations, so that there were no typing errors. These decoded messages gave the positions of the U-boats out in the Atlantic, and so you can imagine that a number 3 altered to a number 5, and a number 6 altered to a number 8 could have fatal consequences; it could prove fatal to our shipping. Once these translations had been checked by the three WRNs on duty, the Head of our Department would take the most urgent to the Teleprinter room, to be sent immediately to the Operations Room at the Admiralty.

I particularly want it recorded for Bristol that Gordon Welchman who was the son of the Archdeacon of Bristol, was one of four top mathematicians recruited by Mr Churchill to get Bletchley Park started; as Churchill said "we must defeat the U Boats in the Atlantic or lose the war". His father was Canon Welchman at St Mary's in Fishponds before becoming Archdeacon of Bristol; he then had the living of Temple church in Victoria Street. Gordon wrote a book (still available) call 'The Hut 6 Story'. He died in 1985.

Gordon, Alan Turing, Stuart Milner Barry and Hugh Alexander, wrote to Mr Churchill a few weeks after arriving at Bletchley Park to tell him they were not getting the staff or resources they needed. Churchill replied to say he had ordered 'action this day' that they must have all they required and that this must be reported to him that this had been done. After making such a success of the Naval messages, Gordon changed over to the Air Force messages and Stuart Milner-Barry later wrote that 'if Gordon Welchman had not been there, I doubt if Ultra would have played the part it undoubtedly did in shortening the war'! Ultra is the collective term for intelligence as used by the Allies.

One day a notice went up on the board at Woburn, stating that all WRNs not on duty the following Sunday morning, must attend morning service at Woburn Church as the Naval Padre was coming. I went to the First Officer and asked if those coming off duty would have to attend. Normally we finished duty at 8 am, and then we had a half hour journey back to Woburn, and then had breakfast and went to bed. I was told in no uncertain terms that all WRENs not on duty must attend.. We marched in fours over two miles to the Church at the entrance gates to the enormous park.

When I saw him I just couldn't believe that the Naval Padre was Canon Percy Gay from St Georges, Brandon Hill. He had had been the curate at St Michael’s Church, Winterbourne when we lived in Frenchay and he often used to visit my parents so I knew him well! He was very surprised to see me and wanted to talk but the First Officer seemed very annoyed as this was an official parade in his honour!!

I think there used to be six vicarages for city churches in Berkeley Square! Temple Church and St Georges certainly were and the Archdeacon Welchman had a chauffeur driven car - I think a Daimler.

There was very little time for social life. Off duty was taken up with knitting, reading and writing many letters home. Occasionally we were invited to a dance at a local Air Force station.

Never having worked before, my mother went to work in 1942, dealing with ration books and stayed in the work until rationing ended in 1952.

Now a poem for you!

Bumph Palace

I think that I shall never see
A sight so curious as BP
This place called up at war's behest
And peopled by the strangely dressed;
Yet what they do they cannot say,
Nor ever will 'til judgement Day.

For six long years we have been there,
subject to local scorn and stare.
We came by transport and by train,
the dull and brilliantly insane,
What shall we do, where shall we be,
When God at last redunds BP?

The air Force types that never fly
soldiers who neither do nor die,
Landlubber Navy, beards complete
Civilians slim, long-haired, effete;
Yet what they did they never knew,
And if they told it wasn't true.

If I should die think only this of me...
I served my country at BP.

And should my son ask: 'What did you
In the atomic World War Two?'
God only knows and he won't tell
For after all BP was hell.

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