Diversity at Bletchley Park

27 May 2015

During World War II, Bletchley Park was the location of the Government Code and Cipher School (GC&CS), a secret facility ran by the British government to break the encrypted Axis communications (History of Bletchley Park), most famously, the Nazi Enigma cipher (Captain Ridley’s Shooting Party). The Axis nations (Germany, Japan, etc.) used various “codes and ciphers” for military communications, and the intelligence that was recovered from breaking these codes “was of vital importance to [England’s] national security and ultimate victory” (History of Bletchley Park). It has been estimated that the intelligence recovered at Bletchley Park shortened World War II by over a year and saved millions of lives (Copeland).

Furthermore, the personnel themselves of Bletchley Park were demographically diverse. Scott Page, a writer about diversity, provides the analogy of Bletchley Park attempting to “cast a wide net… [to enable] diverse fishes [to] swim together” (Page 3). The actual work performed at Bletchley Park was an incredibly difficult mental task by itself as the ciphers were complex and computers had not been developed yet (cfh). However, the work was solely mental; anybody, regardless of their gender, country of origin, religion, or other factors, could be qualified to become a codebreaker. As a result of the difficult nature of the work performed at Bletchley Park and therefore the relatively few number of people fit to be codebreakers, diversity was essential to the success of Bletchley Park; if Bletchley Park was not diverse, far too many important people would have been overlooked in the recruiting process, and the codebreakers would be collectively under-qualified.

The roles of women at Bletchley Park provide a practical example of the necessity of diversity. During World War II, there were simply not enough men available, and women provided a new, untapped sector of the population to recruit. Outside of Bletchley Park specifically, the British government recognized this need, and in December 1941, some women were conscripted alongside of men to work in the “auxiliary units of the armed forces” (UK Parliament). While this act exempted many more women from service than men, it still shows the importance of women during war.

One example of a female codebreaker at Bletchley Park was Joan Clarke (Hinsley 113). In her memoir, Clarke reflected that, “the duller routine clerical work was [inevitably] done by women, since only men… could join GC&CS” (Hinsley 115). While Clarke was clearly able to evade conforming to these rigid, sexist gender roles, this first-hand account shows how sexism, at times, was unfortunately common. Furthermore, Clarke was treated as a normal codebreaker, but this treatment was “obviously because of [her] degree” because it was “before [Clarke] had any chance of proving [herself]” (Hinsley 113). While Joan Clarke did have a job as a codebreaker at Bletchley Park, she still witnessed sexism.

However, there were female codebreakers who had a much better experience with respect to their gender. For instance, Mavis Batey and Margaret Rock, alongside their boss, Dilly Knox, were two women whose work was critical to the Allied victory at D-Day (Telegraph). Their team was responsible for breaking the Abwehr Enigma machine, one of the variants of the Enigma machine used by the Germans, which allowed “the British… to read the high-level Abwehr messages” (Telegraph). Their work was notable as the decrypted messages were used in the Allied Double Cross Deception plan (Telegraph). These women had a direct, positive effect on the war by enabling the deception to work effectively.

Sexual orientation differentiated Alan Turing from many of his coworkers; in addition to being one of the most important people at Bletchley Park, Turing was a gay man during a time period where being gay was illegal (Wansell). This ironic position was summarized by another cryptanalyst who worked with Turing, Jack Good (Irving John Good):

[It] was a good thing that the authorities hadn’t known Turing was a homosexual during the war, because, if they had, they would have fired him– and we would have lost. (Wansell)

Despite Turing’s work for Britain, he was nonetheless “convicted of gross indecency with a[nother] male [sic]” and forced to take oestrogen injections as a result (Wansell). Turing unfortunately committed suicide as a result (Wansell), although there remains controversy as the cause of death, cyanide poisoning, may have been an accident and not a deliberate suicide (Pease).

Religion was another factor contributing to diversity at Bletchley Park. There were many high-ranking Jewish cryptanalysts (Sugarman). The most notable example was Irving John Good (birth name Isidore Jacob Gudak), a cryptanalyst who worked under Alan Turing (Sugarman). Another example was Walter Eytan, who, in addition to his work at Bletchley Park, was an Israeli diplomat and an active Zionist (Joffe). As antisemitism was ironically active during World War II in Britain (Goldman), it is particularly exceptional that these people were able to accomplish everything they did.

Furthermore, while Bletchley Park was British, there was collaboration between Britain and other Allied intelligence agencies. While not involving Bletchley Park directly per se, one example of collaboration between countries was the development of the original bombe, the machine used to break Enigma, created by the Polish intelligence. It was only later that the British developed their new, improved bombe machine (Kahn). These machines were one of the important tangible results of Bletchley Park as they enabled the codebreaking process to be greatly expedited (Carter).

The United States Department of War also collaborated with the Government Code and Cipher School. Bletchley Park was mainly responsible for decrypting the “German Machine Ciphers”; a now declassified document from the National Security Agency details the organization of codebreaking agencies across international borders (United States War Department 6-8). International collaboration, by definition, allows even more people to work on a particular problem; a larger workforce is, ultimately, the benefit of diversity.

The unconventional recruiting process used at Bletchley Park took into account the critical need for diversity. The process focused on finding minds capable of performing this highly difficult and unconventional work required, as opposed to simply finding people with degrees in relevant fields (Budiansky 138). As traditional résumés clearly were little aid to recruiters, social circles were frequently leveraged (Ettridge) as a usable but non-ideal alternative to more objective methods of finding employees.

In response to the need to find large amounts of capable people, rather obscure recruitment practices developed. One notable example of this phenomenon was the use of a crossword puzzle competition organized through the newspaper, The Daily Telegram. Crossword experts who claimed to have completed every puzzle from The Daily Telegram were invited to a timed competition. After, some contestants received letters in the mail recruiting them to work for the Government Code and Cipher School, although they were not told the ulterior purpose of the letter immediately due to security concerns (Budiansky 137-138). Similar to the strategy used at Bletchley Park, the United States intelligence agencies recruited their cryptanalysts through puzzles and cryptograms (Budiansky 138).

In addition to diversity being essential, diversity was somewhat transparent due to the culture at Bletchley Park; this transparency was a direct effect of being in a state of war. Regardless of potential minority groups, everyone was normalized by both the omnipresent sense of a “common enemy” (Grey 114) and also the secrecy, perpetuated by propaganda slogans such as “careless talk costs lives” (Grey 113). These factors arguably simplified the lives of the people in minority groups at Bletchley Park by forcing potentially bigoted workers to focus on only their work as opposed to their coworkers.

In normal conditions, during a normal time period, prejudice and discrimination is highly unethical. At war time, however, prejudice is detrimental and potentially lethal. The GC&CS needed the skills of anyone who could assist their work, regardless of who they were or traditional bias. For example, in England during 1933, there were three hundred thousand Jews (Jewish Population of Europe in 1933: Population Data By Country); inevitably, there were some Jewish cryptanalysts; clearly half of the population was female; inevitably, there were some female cryptanalysts. Sexism, antisemitism, and similar prejudices had to be overcome, as the most brilliant cryptographers could have been hidden in any one of these minority groups. Unfortunately, none of these factors were eliminated entirely. Joan Clarke, for instance, still experienced some degree of sexism, and Alan Turing was forced to stay in the closet as his very identity risked both his job and his life. However, conditions were still better for these people than they would likely have been during a less urgent time period. When a country is in active danger and at war, people are forced to change, positively or negatively.

This phenomenon was clearly present at Bletchley Park during World War II as well as the general Allied nations during this time period. One notable example of this effect in other Allied nations was the idea of ’Rosie the Riveter’, a symbol of feminism that called American women in the workforce when many jobs were left unfilled due to male conscription in the United States (Rosie the Riveter). Fundamentally, during times like World War II, diversity is essential in all aspects parts of life, and the progressive workforce at Bletchley Park was no exception.

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“Captain Ridley’s Shooting Party”. Bletchley Park. Bletchley Park Trust. 2015. Web. 17 May 2015.

Carter, Frank. The Turing Bombe. The Rutherford Journal. The Rutherford Journal, n.d. Web. 16 May 2015.

cfh. “Mathematically, why was the Enigma machine so hard to crack?”. Mathematics. StackExchange, 18 Apr 2015. Web. 19 May 2015.

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Mavis Batey - obituary. The Telegraph. 13 Nov 2013. Web. 16 May 2015.

Page, Scott E. The Difference: How the Power of Diversity Creates Better Groups, Firms, Schools, and Societies. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 2007.

Pease, Roland. Alan Turing: Inquest’s suicide verdict ’not supportable’. BBC. BBC, 26 June 2012. Web. 17 May 2015.

“Rosie the Riveter”. History. A&E Television Networks, 2015. Web. 19 May 2015.

Sugarman, Martin. World War II: Jewish Personnel at Bletchley Park. n.p, 2015. Web. 04 May 2015.

UK Parliament. Conscription: the Second World War. UK Parliament, n.d. Web. 08 May 2015.

United States War Department. Agreement between British Government Code and Cipher School and US War Department in regard to certain “Special Intellignence”. National Security Agency. NSA, June 1943. Web. 05 Apr 2015. Declassified 07 Apr 2010.

Wansell, Geoffrey. How Britain drove its greatest genius Alan Turing to suicide… just for being gay. dailymail. 11 Sep 2009. Web. 16 May 2015.

Author’s note: This paper was originally written for my combined English-History class. It was adapted for blog publication on 5 Feb 2017. I thus thank my teacher for forcing me to wr– supporting me throughout the writing process and helping me grow as a thinker, as well as my parents for doing the same.

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