Life in the Huts at Bletchley Park

LINKS to other pages in the Bletchley Park site and to the Colin Day Travelling Days series:

1 : Bletchley Park Estate to 1939
2 : Enigma and GC&CS.
3 : The Poles and Enigma
4 : Turing and the Bombes
5 : The Huts: An overview
6 : German Naval Codes
7 : Huts 3,4,6 and 8
8 : Blocks A,B,C,D,E and F
9 : Views of the Estate (1)
10 : Views of the Estate (2)
11 : Lorenz and Colossus
12 : Finale, Links, Bibliography
Bletchley Park Guest Book:
Bletchleycentre.jpg - 56649 Bytes


    M                    Mansion
    C                    Croquet Lawn
    L                    Lake
    1,4,3,6,8        The Wooden Huts
    11                  Block 11
    S                    Stable Yard, Gateway and Cottage
    A,B                 A and B Blocks
    T                    Tennis Courts
    G                   Garage and Motor Museum

    (NORTH is to the right of the picture.)

THE BLETCHLEY AREA was selected because many academics who were working on ‘Enigma’ were associated with the Universities of Cambridge and Oxford, and the village lay mid way between them. Bletchley Park itself was selected because the house was only a short walk from the railway station which was on the LMS (London, Midland and Scottish) main line from London to the North and from which branch lines served both Oxford and Cambridge. The property also had its own water supply and electricity generators. Additionally, new telephone cables to London and the North had been laid in the vicinity and a new repeater station had been established close by.

Bletchleyext4a.jpg - 49831 Bytes

   As the number of code breakers employed at Bletchley grew from the original 200 the original buildings soon proved inadequate. Makeshift wooden huts, served by a maze of permanent driveways, were tranported in sections from Guildford and erected in the grounds to accommodate the additional staff. The construction was of Canadian pine and the outer walls were covered with asbestos sheeting or 'shiplap' boarding. They were labelled pragmatically as "Hut 3", "Hut 6", "Hut 8", or whatever number had been allocated to them.

BletchleyHut.jpg - 52158 Bytes

   Most of the huts were partially (or almost wholly) surrounded by brick anti-bomb blast walls sited about two feet from the outside wall of the huts and extending upwards to the eaves of the building. Both sunlight and ventilation became somewhat restricted by these walls and artificial lighting was in permanent use by the workers inside. In summer the huts became almost unbearably hot. During winter nights the fumes from the coke-burning stoves, unable to escape because of the blackout screens on the windows, produced truly nauseating conditions for the workers to have to endure. The blast-proof construction, however, was never really put to the test. On 20 November 1940 six bombs fell in the neighbourhood, probably intended for the nearby railway station and sidings or the railway's Wolverton Works some four miles away. One bomb fell close to Hut 4 doing just minor damage to an extension, and another bomb landed near the stable block but failed to explode. This was the only time throughout the war that bombs fell within the park boundary.

   Each hut was responsible for carrying out a particular task, and generally paired with another. For instance, Hut 6 specialised in German Army Enigma, and passed the decrypts to Hut 3 where operatives with linguistic skills translated the messages and attempted to correlate the information. Hut 8 specialised in decoding German Navy Enigma messages; the decrypts were sent to Hut 4 for translation and intelligence assessment.

Bletchleyext15a.jpg - 46923 Bytes
   More substantial concrete and brick buildings were built two or three years later and many of the personnel performing the various duties in the wooden huts were transferred to them. (The original hut numbers were also carried through into the new blocks.)

   The Park also needed its own domestic services such as fire brigade, maintenance engineers etc.. Too much of value could have been destroyed by the time the village fire engine arrived, and secrecy may have been compromised if outsiders were able to see classified material.

   The park eventually employed over 12,000 people, most working in continuous eight hour shifts to keep the decoding system running for twenty-four hours a day. Organised leisure activities included dancing, fencing, drama, music and choral societies, and bridge and chess clubs. On Churchill's orders, two tennis courts were built on the site of the old maze, close to the mansion.

   Strict security was enforced throughout the war and for many years afterwards. Everyone who worked there had to sign the Official Secrets Act. Various parts of the establishment were isolated from other parts; many of the employees were unaware of what their fellow-workers were doing. Bletchley Park and the work performed there remained top-secret until the last of the mechanical Enigma-type machines in foreign countries had been replaced by more modern systems. Fifty years after the war a husband and wife, who had married shortly after the war, were each completely unaware that the other partner had worked at Bletchley Park until they received separate invitations to attend a reunion!

   It was Winston Churchill who, during his only official visit to the Park on 6 September 1941, described the workers at Bletchley as "the geese that laid the golden eggs and never cackled." This was a reference to their productive and importantly secret work. Churchill had also, on an earlier occasion, used the word ‘ultra’ when referring to a source of secret information; it was later used more particularly to describe the intelligence supplied by the Enigma and later decrypts.

   Workers were not billeted in the Park but were accommodated with families and in hotels and public houses in towns and villages situated within a twenty mile radius of Bletchley. Private buses and public transport were used to transport them to and from their billets. Many travelled by bicycle, and a number of substantial cycle sheds can still be seen within the Park.

Bletchleyext12a.jpg - 49182 Bytes

Between Hut 6 and Hut 1 looking towards Hut 8. (Right)

buttongo.jpg - 7212 Bytes
buttonnext.jpg - 5586 Bytes