One of the privileges of being related to someone voted to be Britain’s iconic person of the twentieth century is that you get to meet some really remarkable people. One of those days was Tuesday 14th May, when HRH the Duchess of Cambridge graciously visited Bletchley Park to open the new D-day feature – in time for the 75th anniversary of the Normandy Landings.
Perhaps you might expect this to say how splendid it is to meet royalty, and so forth; undoubtedly HRH did a very charming and professional job, and it would be wrong to suggest anything to the contrary, not least because of the glamour reflected on Bletchley (where her grandmother was one of the many women working during the war years). But – while HRH is by any measure a remarkable person – it was some of the other people I met on Tuesday who were even more remarkable.
Some were offspring of codebreakers, whose stories of their parents were ones I hadn’t heard before; and four of the guests were Bletchley Park veterans, with whom HRH spent a sizeable chunk of her schedule, talking about their own recollections of Bletchley. Each of these ladies is well into her 90s but that doesn’t stop them having the most positive and uplifting outlook on life, and pride in their varied roles which contributed to the war effort all those years ago.
It may be hard to imagine, but the day went from amazing to better still. In the evening, at the Józef Piłsudski Institute, I met the sole surviving Polish codebreaker who worked in Britain in 1944-45. I hope to hear more of his story soon – a perspective, probably unique, on a lesser-known part of the history of World War II codebreaking.
It’s only because I am related to Alan Turing that I get to meet such interesting figures. Another of them, who was at Bletchley Park, was Kenneth Flowers. His father, Tommy Flowers, was the electronics engineer behind the Colossus machine at Bletchley, itself the father of post-war stored-program electronic computers. His perspective on the famous ancestor issue was rather good: ‘What did I do? I got born.’