The important wartime role of Bletchley Park and Bletchley railway station next door has been recognised by a special postage stamp only available from Bletchley Park Post Office.
The limited edition first class stamps commemorate the vital part played by code breakers and intelligence experts working at Bletchley during the Second World War. Staff at Bletchley Park and Station X managed to crack the codes generated by the German Enigma and Lorenz machines giving vital information to the Allies.
This helped the Royal Navy defeat the U-boat menace and win the Battle of the Atlantic. Gaining control of these waters changed the course of the war and in turn contributed to the practicality of the Normandy landings in 1944.
Before the invasion of Normandy was launched, the allies knew the location of all but two of the 58 enemy divisions on the Western Front. Together with the brave actions of the French Resistance this directly contributed to the success of the liberation of Europe.
Artist Natalie Orchard has created the image of Bletchley Station as it might have looked in 1943 from a combination of archive photographs.
1943 was a special year for Bletchley Park on several fronts. From January to December 1943 the Foreign Office reported receiving 14,050 decrypted messages from Bletchley Park.
In May 1943 Britain and the USA began to exchange intelligence. This marked the start of the Special Relationship between the two powers. American personnel were stationed at Bletchley Park. Links between American and British intelligence endure to this day.
In December 1943 the first Colossus computer was installed at Bletchley Park. An estimated 10,000 people worked at Bletchley Park at its peak and used Bletchley Station to get to work. Many travelled up from London during the worst of the bombing. Others travelled across from Oxford and Cambridge universities making use of the Varsity Line, much of which is to be reopened between Bletchley and Oxford.
Bletchley Park was recognised in a loco naming in 1999. Staff, several of them women, who had worked at Bletchley Park – and Station X – attended the ceremony. Local MP and rail supporter, Dr Phyllis Starkey, named a Class 31, Bletchley Park Station X. The loco, 31601, was on hire from Fragonset Railways for use on Silverlink’s Bedford-Bletchley line. This was ahead of the introduction of refurbished Class 150 units from Scotland.
Work at Bletchley is thought to have shortened the war by between two and four years.
RailStaff editor Andy Milne was at the loco naming. ‘Watching these elderly ladies arriving at Bletchley and walking carefully across the footbridge to the old manor house where they were once based was one of the most moving scenes I have witnessed on the railways.
‘These people were not like James Bond but as intelligence officers their work was invaluable and saved the lives of thousands. Interestingly railway staff at the station and depot, according to the BRSA club across the road, all knew what was going on but never breathed a word.’
The day had its light hearted side as well. The loco naming took place just as railway privatisation was bedding in. Few among the general public quite understood it. The new system at first glance appeared confused. British Rail had been divided into 400 separate companies.
‘One of the women asked me if I worked for the railway. In that case, she said, could I explain to her and her friends how railway privatisation had been organised and how it worked.’ Milne checked they were on the staff at Bletchley Parkduringthewar.‘OnceI knew they were code breakers – the sort of people who do the Times crossword in the time it takes to drink a cup of tea, I sat down and we talked through the whole process, both its theory and how it panned out. They were happy to talk to railway staff but remained very modest about what they had achieved.
The intelligence they produced was so highly prized the military code-named it Ultra. We all owe them a deep debt of thanks.’
Wartime premier, Winston Churchill, called the Bletchley staff, ‘The geese that laid the golden eggs and never cackled.’
The stamp issue is only available direct from Bletchley Park Post Office as a numbered limited sheet of 20 1st Class Royal Mail stamps. Each sheet costs £50 plus £3 post and packing. The sheet can be viewed and ordered from bletchleycovers.com