Thoughts from the Study

Posted: 6th March 2023

Mr Anstey’s Thoughts from the Study, are inspired this week by a visit to Bletchley Park.

Last Saturday, we took a family trip to Bletchley Park, the once stately home commandeered by Head of MI6, Hugh Sinclair, just before the outbreak of World War 2. It was chosen to house the Government Code and Cypher School, now known as GCHQ. The work that took place there, is believed to have shortened the war by two years, after a team of cryptologists, mathematicians, linguists and computer scientists, succeeded in breaking the Enigma cipher, the complex system used by the Germans to encrypt communications. The standout fact for me was that each day, the cipher key would change, leaving only short window for the cipher to be broken and messages converted into usable intelligence. The Enigma machine had over 180 million million permutations, and without the brilliance of the Bletchley Park mathematicians and engineers, the code may never have been broken.

 As I write this on an Apple computer, I see the apple with a bite taken out of it (the Apple logo), and am reminded that it is a homage to Alan Turing, one of the most well-known members of the team that solved this very complex puzzle.   

 Before my move to London, I would often walk past a statue of Turing at Sherborne School (his alma mater) in Dorset. Apparently, Turing was rather introverted in school, but sometimes it is the people who no one imagines anything of, who do the things that no one can imagine. His determination was evident when he rode his heavy push bike, carrying his school luggage on his back, so he did not miss his first day at Sherborne in the face of a huge storm and the absence of his parents. It appears he was destined to go that extra mile and rise to the challenge even at early age.  

 Breaking the Enigma code was the key challenge of the time and resulted in Turing building the very first computer.  His creation pitted machine against machine, using a systematic search method to determine rotor order and starting positions. Essentially, his device was electrically powered cogs and rotors searching for patterns in code, not dissimilar from decryption devices today.  

 Broomfield values non-verbal reasoning skills and problem solving so our curriculum gives pupils these important tools and techniques. As Turing achieved success through resilience and self-belief, we also want our children to be equipped to overcome and achieve what seems impossible.  

 As we left Bletchley Park I was, of course, enticed by the gift shop and the range of code breaking books on offer. Inspired by Turing I chose One Minute Ciphers, planning to complete one each morning.  After spending ten minutes on the first puzzle and a further ten on the next, either the book title is a false representation of the difficulty level, or I have some serious work to do on my own decrypting skills! Fortunately, thanks to Turing, I have a computer to help me when I get stuck, exactly in the spirit of the original 1940s machine.  

Categories: Academics