Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The Churchill Series - Mar. 11, 2009

(One of a series of weekday posts about the life of Winston S. Churchill.)

Sunday, September 6, 1941

The Prime Minister journeys to Buckinghamshire where he enters a gated and heavily guarded area in the center of which sits a Victorian mansion surrounded by many smaller, recently constructed buildings.

Before the war the mansion and grounds were known as Bletchley Park; now the government owns them and the place is called Station X.

It holds secrets. Even John Martin, one of Churchill's principal aides who accompanies him that day, doesn't know it's here at Station X that a most unusual group which includes mathematicians, champion chess players, crossword specialists, linguists fluent in languages ancient and modern, debutantes, and even an actress has broken German codes.

Its success enables Churchill and a select few to read in almost real time many of the enemy's communications. Years after the war the world will learn about Station X, the heart of the Enigma Project.

As Churchill tours Station X he meets many people we'd call "unusual.” Some stare silently as he approaches and introduces himself. They're mentally calculating extraordinarily complex math problems and can't allow an interruption. Another was once so engrossed in explaining something to a colleague that he reached without looking for tobacco to fill his pipe and instead packed it with some of his lunch: tuna salad.

Some ways through the tour, Churchill turns and says to the officer who'd recruited most of the staff: "I know I told you to leave no stone unturned to get staff, but I didn't expect you to take me literally."

Later in the day Churchill addresses the staff and expresses his profound appreciation for their work.

He's very sincere in that. As the principal consumer of their intelligence, Churchill knows better than anyone the enormously important contribution the codebreakers are making to the war America will enter three months and one day following his visit to Station X.
Michael Smith's
Station X: Decoding Nazi Secrets (pgs. 106-107) contains all of the material found in this post except that concerning John Martin. That reference is found in Martin Gilbert, Finest Hour: 1939-1941. (pg. 1189)