Leading article: Save Britain's code of honour

Click to follow
The Independent Online

One of the greatest of all the wartime stories of dedication and self sacrifice was played out in what are now the neglected, rotting buildings of Bletchley Park. In these rundown, weed-infested old huts, teams of code breakers, linguists, typists and file clerks worked in fantastically difficult and demanding conditions to decode, record and analyse thousands upon thousands of radio messages exchanged by enemy personnel. Their achievements saved countless lives, and may have shortened the war by two to three years.

This is a monument to a different type of dedication from the raw courage needed during the Battle of Britain or the Normandy landings. Bletchley's secret weapon was abstract thought. In an age when we struggle to interest our children in mathematics and the sciences, we have here a unique monument to what these branches of learning can achieve. In Bletchley Park, the power of analytical reasoning comes alive.

It is also a monument to the dedication of a mostly female support staff, who carried out very repetitive tasks that required undeviating concentration, because there was no room here for error. Wartime secrecy prevented them from knowing the importance of their work. For decades afterwards, they were not even allowed to answer questions about what they had done during the war years. This is where our grandmothers' generation helped to bring down fascism.

But Bletchley has never had the status of a museum. The Bletchley Park Trust has to scratch together an income, supplemented by occasional private donations, just to maintain those parts of the site that are fit for use as a visitor centre and business park.

An application for funds is now being considered by the Heritage Lottery Fund. If it is granted – and let us hope it will be, and soon – that will resolve some of Bletchley's financial problems, though not all. In May, Bletchley Park's application for funds was rejected by the Gates Foundation on the grounds that it is not relevant to internet technology, to which the foundation is committed. That is true. What is on display in Bletchley is pre-internet technology. It is the place where the very first computer was put to use, decoding the private messages between Hitler and his Field Marshals. All the knowledge on which the fortunes of IT companies such as Microsoft were built originated in the wooden huts and brick outbuildings of Bletchley Park.

Now that the Gates Foundation has said no, then surely that other internet giant, Google, could step in and dedicate a small fraction of its wealth to rescuing the birthplace of the computer from rack and ruin.