I first visited Bletchley Park a few years ago. I was there as Chair of the BCSWomen group, which I founded in 2001, at a meeting convened by the British Computer Society. After the meeting I wandered around the site finding myself falling in love with the place. I had not really realised, before visiting, what had happened at Bletchley Park, or its importance. During my wander around I met John Harper who was working with his team to rebuild a Bombe machine. I had a good chat with John about what they were doing, finding their dedication and application to the task in hand incredible. I mentioned to John that I was Chair of the BCSWomen group which is a network for women in computing. John then told me that half of the people that worked at Bletchley Park were women, until that moment I had not realised that any women had worked there! There had not been much information around Bletchley Park about any women working there at all. I found myself feeling amazed that so many women had worked there and at the same time dismayed that this fact was not represented in any way. I went away determined to do something about it.
On the way home I chatted to various people about the ideas forming in my head, I wanted to make sure that the women of Bletchley Park were recognised for the work that they had done during the war and celebrated for their efforts. After several years of talking to people about getting some funding to record the experiences of female veterans for posterity I applied for some money from the BCS 50th Anniversary fund, and was successful. The UK Resource Centre for women in Science, Engineering and Technology matched the funding. A project was set up by to interview, record, and transcribe the recordings of some female Bletchley Park veterans project managed by Dr Jan Peters. This work is now part of the British Computer Society history of computing website.
I was invited back to Bletchley Park again in July 2008. I went along on a guided tour of the buildings and was appalled to see the state of some of the buildings including huts where the codebreakers worked during World War Two. I discussed the state of the buildings with Simon Greenish the Director of Bletchley Park. Simon told me that around £10 million was needed to bring the buildings up to a reasonable standard and to keep the site going for a couple of years. Again I left Bletchley determined to do something. The first thing that I did was to email the Heads and Professors of computing in the UK (CPHC) telling them about my trip to Bletchley Park, the state of some of the huts and the need for both public awareness of the problem and money to sort it out. I attached a photo of hut six covered in a blue tarpaulin and sent a link to the online petition to save Bletchley Park. I was amazed by the response. Many people emailed offering support and saying that they had signed the petition. Others emailed to say that they were telling everyone they knew who might be able to stump up some cash. I was overwhelmed by the response. I had a chat with a colleague John Turner who had come to Bletchley Park with me a few days earlier. I asked him what else we could do to create awareness of the problem and to capitalise on the support from CPHC. He suggested writing a letter to the Times newspaper. A great idea :-)
John drafted a letter which I sent around CPHC. Within a couple of days 97 Professors and Heads of computing in the UK had signed up. The letter went into the Times on the 24th July 2008 and the story was picked up by the BBC, the national and international press.
Our campaign continues now to get government funding for Bletchley Park. Without solid funding from government the Bletchley Park management team will always be wondering if the site has a sustainable future. Bletchley Park needs to be saved, please help.