Mary Dejevsky: Dad and a family secret

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The Independent Online

"What did you do in the war?" was a question that somehow seemed to elicit an answer only from other people's fathers.

School friends knew about exotic parts of the world from fathers who had served in the Far East. A couple had fathers with lifetime friendships in tiny villages in rural France after serving as liaison officers with the French Resistance. Yet other fathers had trudged through Italy, or been part of the final advance through Germany. They all had tales to tell, as much slow-motion horror ilm as heroics.

With my father, the war was something that wasn't really raised around the kitchen table. My mother would very occasionally mention wartime trysts at Bletchley station, but he never mentioned anything. You might almost have wondered whether he had something to hide. He did. But it wasn't that sort of secret.

As we grew up, we gradually absorbed the fact that his war had been spent first fire-watching as a maths undergraduate at Oxford, then in top-secret intelligence work – code-breaking at Bletchley Park.

He never said a word about what he did there until the first book of memoirs appeared, as I recall, in the 1970s. I bought him a copy as a present; even as he read it, he inveighed against the author for what he regarded as treachery. I don't know what they did to them at Bletchley, but whatever it was, as a lifetime gag it was pretty effective.

His pride in Bletchley's success was matched by an equally restrained resentment that the continuing secrecy meant lack of recognition.

I visited Bletchley Park a year or so ago, as a "tourist". Scrappily tidied up and preserved, in a wonderfully amateurish British way, the site is frozen in that distinctive age of austerity and making-do. Alas, the secrecy that shrouded Bletchley all too quickly became neglect.