Saturday to Monday, September 12-14
After arriving that morning and settling JUANONA into a temporary berth at our winter marina, we were already planning our next adventure: watching the second-to-last stage of the UK’s highest ranked cycle race. Anne had mentioned it the day before when we met at the Pin Mill, and she followed it up with an email asking if we wanted to join them at the finish line and see some ‘hunky thighs’. I could do that, no problem.
So, early afternoon we headed towards the center of Ipswich with Anne and Peter and some other boaters, Ange and James and their daughter Gracie. We had arranged to meet up with Helen and Gus Wilson as well, bringing our group to ten amidst 100s of other spectators.
It was a zoo, but a fun one in spite of the yelling and nudging as everyone attempted to reach the barriers next to the finish lane.
Fortunately, they had a screen so everyone could follow the cyclists as they paced themselves.
Not knowing anything about cycle racing except it’s hard and, yes, it requires those hunky thighs, I was happy just observing everyone and absorbing the high energy of the crowd. It helped that it was a beautiful day and that there would be hunky thighs to view.
Sure enough, I saw heads turn from left to right, which was the only indication of racers crossing the finish line. Then the awards were given out of which I had no idea who was who and which prize was which; however, I did see hunky thighs:
And, I felt really bad for the poor soul who raced his heart out only to receive a stuffed doll. I felt almost worse for the unfortunate guy who had to dress like the doll and present this ‘prize’.
Upon the crowd dispersing we headed to a local pub to enjoy some quiet and pints on the back terrace. It’s also where Rudy showed his affinity for youngsters, and Gracie must have reminded him of his spunky little sister, Acadia. Must say it was a wonderful Ipswich welcome for Rudy.
Road Trip: BLETCHLEY PARK
Tuesday, September 15
Because this was Rudy’s first time in the UK and he had a couple more weeks to enjoy it, we wanted to show him a bit of the historical sites. Finding meaningful places to visit is easy here. From Roman times to post WWII we’ve toured some amazing places; so, we made a list of some we had seen and thought he’d enjoy then asked him to check out those plus any others he might like to see. The list then was culled down based on geographical area (primarily SE England) and time (back by Saturday night), and a road trip became a reality starting Tuesday.
When we do this, we find staying in an airbnb or VRBO-type place allows us to not only economize (generally less expensive than inns or hotels, sometimes even hostels) since we can cook our own meals and easily make lunches, but they’re also more relaxing (generally room to sit around after being out all day and don’t have to suss out any restaurants). So, Rudy and I researched plenty of apartment/condo/cottage offerings including homestay.com and other UK-focused sites, and we hit upon two places that would be fairly equidistant amidst the six or seven sites we’d been visiting over the next five days.
First we drove counterclockwise from Ipswich landing at Bletchley Park, located N/NW of London.
We began in the main museum where Max and Rudy tried their hand at code-breaking.
Next, we picked up audio guides and started our tour of the grounds.
Due to the movie “Imitation Game” released last year I had some familiarity with what Bletchley Park meant to the Allies during WWII; yet, seeing this site in person really made one understand the scope of the code-breaking operation.
It’s a huge area: it began in the mansion and quickly grew to take over the stables/cottages, then expanded to huts; over 9,000 people worked there with 131 daily buses bringing them in. Actually, it was a good opportunity for women to get good jobs. Unfortunately, the pay (of course) wasn’t commiserate with the men and jobs reverted back to the men post-war.
I had mistakenly assumed everyone lived on-campus but only one family did. All others stayed in the nearby towns, many boarding with local families. Yet, absolutely no single person could tell anyone what they did at Bletchley Park. They all had to sign the Official Secrets Act and it wasn’t until 1976 that they were released from that agreement. Many of them were astounded to learn the scope of what had gone on around them.
I also wasn’t aware of how important code-breaking was during WWI. Two separate organizations, one established by the War Office–‘MI1(b)’–and another one–‘Room 40’ were set up under the auspices of the Royal Navy. It was the intelligence gathered by Britain that led to the US getting involved in the war thanks to an intercepted telegram (see description of the Zimmerman telegram below). Prior to WWII Room 40 and MI1(b) evolved into Government Code and Cyper School (GC&CS), and in 1939 the codebreaking division took up residence at Bletchley Park.
Churchill’s appreciation of code-breaking was evident during WWI when he followed the work of Room 40 closely. In WWII when the head of Bletchley Park sent the Prime Minister an appeal for more resources, Churchill immediately signed off and made it a reality. Matter-of-fact he requested all important translated messages to be sent to him daily. And, trust me, there were a LOT of messages with thousands being derived daily to Bletchley Park from the radio interceptors located all over the UK and beyond.
What was truly mind-blowing to me was the code-breaking exercises and thought patterns used by these code-breakers. Even they (except for a few) appeared humbled by the magnitude and importance of their work.
Some were rather eccentric such as Dilly Knox who cogitated best when soaking in this tub.
Eisenhower said the codebreaker’s work shortened the war by two years; and, a German said thank god the war didn’t drag on, otherwise, Germany may very well have been hit with an atomic bomb like the one which horrifically decimated Hiroshima.
Thanks to the Poles who cultivated a German spy after WWI, the Brits were given a head start to some key elements of the Enigma machine. To see a sample machine used to break the code was mind-numbing. Especially when the staff started to explain what was what. [It was called the Bombe, so named because the Poles had built a precursor and called it after some ice cream they were eating (bomba); the Brits changed it to Bombe.] By the end of the war there were about 200 Bombes, mostly operated by Wrens (Women’s Royal Naval Service) and most of them at two other locations. Even the Americans had built some.
Unfortunately, all of us felt the suggested touring of the campus could have been better. For instance, at the end of our three hours of walking around, we reached Block B where there was an excellent display on the wall explaining the Bombe. We should have gone there first as the exhibits carried the clearest explanations of Bletchley Park’s work. Just to recap that linear display:
1. Y stations (located elsewhere in case of bombing) intercepted and listened to coded enemy communications.
2. The transcripts of the messages were all sent to Bletchley Park by teleprinter, underwater cable, and motorcyclists.
3. When received at Bletchley Park each message was meticulously logged and cross-indexed in the Registration Room.
4. From each batch of messages received from the Registration Room, one or more were selected to identify, if possible, the message’s topic. The messages were scanned looking for “Cribs” – frequently-used salutations or headings such as “To the Group” or “Weather Forecast”. The codebreakers were greatly helped by the fact that no letter could be encrypted to itself–in retrospect this was a fatal shortcoming of the Enigma machine.
Max observing Alan Turing’s tiny office in hut eight.
5. From the crib, electrical settings were derived and ‘plugged up’ on the back of the Bombe machine by the WREN operators. The Bombe would then test thousands of possibilities and stop whenever a possible rotor setting was found. One of these settings would be part of the Enigma key. The others were due to the effects of chance.
6. A separate machine called the ‘checking machine’ was used to test whether the possible solution worked (its rotors were set to the possible solution to see if messages typed in translated to German). The wrong rotor settings had to be identified first and rejected (are you confused yet? and, trust me, this is the simple explanation. I won’t even go into the addition of a fourth rotor…)
7. After the complete Enigma key had been found then all of the messages in that corresponding batch could be decrypted (by hundreds of women) using the British Type-X cypher machines, which had been modified to emulate Enigma machines.
8. The deciphered messages came from the machines in five-letter groups. The letters were divided into individual words so they could be translated into English, assessed for level of importance, and then forwarded to the appropriate people.
9. Before these intercepted Enigma messages could be passed on the information had to be rewritten and attributed to another source (reconnaissance plane, or a spy, for example) so the enemy didn’t realize their coded messages were being deciphered.
Max, who’s currently reading a book about the code breakers has even more information: “Since the Germans changed their Enigma rotor settings (the Enigma machine began with three, then the Germans added a fourth) every 24 hours, the entire codebreaking exercise had to be repeated daily. The codebreakers were often under tremendous stress, knowing that breaking the day’s code a few hours earlier or later could spell the difference between say allowing the RAF to intercept a German bombing raid, or having a city bombed with the corresponding loss of life. For more information go to https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bombe.”
Before I sign off on my laborious description of the codebreaking, one last panel that I hope helps explain the Bomba:
At times like these I wish for a mind like a friend’s daughter named Amy who would probably have been one of those figuring out a crib if she’d been born way back when.
Max generally asks after we tour a site, a city, a region, a country (I’ll stop here) what was/were the highlights each of us carried away. This exercise enhances the memories of a particular time we’ve shared. The answers also remind me of a particular, acute informational nugget I may have forgotten when overwhelmed by a site. Rudy mentioned one that I felt was particularly poignant: The guilt individuals felt at not being able to express how they were helping the war effort. Some said their parents were ashamed to tell others that their children were sitting (safely) at a country house doing office work of some sort (standard job description when a Bletchley Park staffer was asked). Hard to imagine the regret not being able to share such an important mission, one that helped thousands survive the ugliness of war.
Still, it was a beautiful day (only a few sprinkles) and a fascinating glimpse into the efforts of many who kept a secret. Oh, what a secret.
By the time we arrived at our airbnb several hours away it was dark, which meant we had a couple of missed turns before we actually found where we were supposed to be staying for the night. We were met by Chris who welcomed us warmly and ushered us into a fairytale abode.
The little home was charming (not the least due to some wonderful artwork adorning the walls,
along with a poster commemorating Chris’s wife’s father, the late John Crittenden, a well-known British sailor who competed in numerous around-the-world races–in both directions)
and perfect for the three of us to drop our bags and cook our frozen pizza (it was late, we were tired, and, hey, pizza can be wholesome :) and nosh on a fresh salad. But, not before we had received an email from our sailing friends Helen and Gus asking if Rudy would be interested in a possible crew position aboard some friends’ boat setting off for a winter’s crossing to the Caribbean from England. Can you tell what Captain Max thought of this? :)
Wednesday, September 16
The next morning we breakfasted on our usual yogurt/fruit/cereal and coffee with Max performing culinary geometry by building symmetrical lunch wraps…
then headed to Portlsmouth on the southern coast a half-hour away.
Max and I had visited the Portsmouth Historical Dockyards when we were working our way up the southern coast last summer. With Henry VIII’s flagship, the MARY ROSE, and Horatio Nelson’s HMS VICTORY and associated exhibits and museums, taking Rudy here seemed like a no-brainer.
Rudy was in his element with his knowledge of different ships and battles. He and Max went off to visit the two ships after the three of us had perused the Nelson museum (where we snapped a shot of Nelson’s chair from HMS VICTORY. He had difficulty sleeping and often napped in this chair).
I ensconced myself happily in one of the several coffee shops leaving the boys to their boats as I enjoyed a lovely hot cup of coffee and read. Oh, it had started to pour rain, so you can imagine I was doubly happy not to be out and about. Fortunately, most of the exhibits involve inside tours so they didn’t get too wet either.
One notable fact (out of many) I’lll mention here is Nelson’s inventing a new signalling system using flags. He assigned each flag a number associated with a word noted in a special code flag. The most famous message is the one he sent prior to the famous Battle of Trafalgar located off of Cadiz, about two hours west of Gibraltar. The message “England expects that every man will do his duty” is flown even now.
An excellent exhibit in the museum covered the British attempt to halt the slave trade. The true horror of this evil business is difficult to portray, but it’s always a strong reminder of how prejudices and racism twists human souls and minds to the nth degree.
The obligatory “Nelson died here” photo
and, those from Henry VIII’s flagship:
Max and Rudy also did a quick tour of M33, the last remaining ship of its kind from WWI.
The docklands are still in use today for current naval operations, which is why some gates are guarded by police with guns. Although, when we were there, the gates were being sandbagged, which left us with a bit uneasy feeling. But, all turned out fine.
Back to our English cottage for our second and last night, we arrived early enough for Rudy to put on his chef hat and prepare an amazing, and, I mean AMAZING, homemade Ragu alla Bolognese sauce.
We gorged ourselves and just writing this makes me wish that was our dinner for tonight. Afterwards, we enjoyed the lit fire and played our nightly OH HELL game. Life was brilliant :)