Save wartime code centre, urge scientists

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The codebreaking centre which helped the Allies to win the Second World War is in danger of irreparable decay unless the Government steps in to help, leading scientists said today.

Bletchley Park, the historic site which also helped launch the modern computer, is in a "terrible state of disrepair" because of a lack of investment, experts claim.

The 97 signatories of a letter calling for action said the site, in Milton Keynes, should be made the home of a national museum of computing.

Bletchley is open to the public as a museum but receives no public funds.

The letter sent to The Times newspaper, from professors and heads of department at universities across the country, said: "Although there has recently been some progress in generating income, without fundamental support Bletchley Park is still under threat, this time from the ravages of age and a lack of investment.

"Many of the huts where the codebreaking occurred are in a terrible state of disrepair.

Bletchley, a Victorian mansion, played a fundamental role in winning the war.

The Government Code and Cipher School arrived there in 1939 and its mathematicians managed to crack the complex Enigma codes, which the Germans thought were unbreakable.

After the war was won, Winston Churchill, who told workers they were the "geese that laid the golden egg", destroyed all evidence of the codebreaking programme.

The letter, from scientists including the directors of both Oxford and Cambridge universities' computing laboratories, continued: "As a nation we cannot allow this crucial and unique piece of both British and world heritage to be neglected in this way.

"The future of the site, buildings, resources and equipment at Bletchley Park must be preserved for future generations."

By the end of the war, 63 million characters of high-grade German messages had been decrypted by the 550 people working on the Colossus machines at Bletchley Park.

Workers were sworn to secrecy but, in 2006, the Colossus machine was put back together using eight photographs of the machine taken in 1945, as well as circuit diagrams which were kept illegally by engineers who worked on the original project.

Authors of the letter included Professor Keith van Rijsbergen, chair of the 2008 Research Assessment Exercise, Computer Science and Informatics sub-panel; Professor Bill Roscoe, director of Oxford University's computing laboratory; Professor Jean Bacon, of Cambridge University's computer laboratory; Professor Ian Sommerville, of the University of St Andrews; and Professor Robert Churchouse of Cardiff University.