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On 18 September 1938, the first GC&CS and SIS personnel arrived at Bletchley Park in order to ensure that they were ready if war were to break out over Czechoslovakia. Staying for 22 days, this short deployment involved the Army, Navy and Air Force Sections and Chief Cryptanalyst Alfred Dillwyn ‘Dilly’ Knox’s Research Section. By the time war broke out on 1 September 1939, GC&CS were well prepared. Staff had already begun to evacuate from their London offices to Bletchley Park, and some of the insufficiencies which had occurred during the 1938 mobilisation had already been addressed.


This Collections Uncovered album was first published on 1 September 2019. You can find out more about the early years of Bletchley Park’s wartime story in our Early Days exhibition in the Mansion.

Francis Harry Hinsley, known as Harry, was only 20 years old and completing his degree at St John’s College, Cambridge, when he was recruited to Bletchley Park in 1939. This letter is from Martin Charlesworth, President of St John’s from 1937, who acted as an agent recruiting suitable people for Bletchley Park. Charlesworth himself had been earmarked for Bletchley Park, but preferred to remain in his position at St John’s. Here he persuades Hinsley by intriguingly stating that he believes Hinsley would like the work and that it would be very useful.

This letter from Commander Denniston, Head of GC&CS, confirms that Hinsley’s references are being taken up and that he should arrive at Bletchley railway station on Monday 27 November 1939. Hinsley would play a pivotal role in establishing effective cooperation between Naval Section and the Admiralty, and later serve as Private Secretary to the head of GC&CS Edward Travis. In 1946 he married fellow Codebreaker Hilary Brett-Smith of Hut 8, who had joined Bletchley Park in 1940. After the war Hinsley returned to St John’s and would go on to write the official history of British Intelligence in WW2.

Vera Jocelyn Bostock joined Bletchley Park in September 1939 and worked in Hut 4 and Block A on intelligence analysis with Elspeth Ogilvy-Wedderburn. This photograph shows Bostock [left] with Elspeth Ogilvy-Wedderburn and Harry Hinsley who all worked together in Bletchley Park’s Hut 4 during 1939-1940.

Head of GC&CS from 1919-1942, Commander Alexander Guthrie “Alastair” Denniston [pictured], was instrumental in the expansion of Bletchley Park and recruited many of the most well-known Codebreakers of WW2 including Gordon Welchman, Peter Twinn and Alan Turing. Denniston himself had been a major codebreaking figure during WW1, and head of GC&CS since its formal inception in 1919.

Ellen Elizabeth Langstaff [pictured] started work at Bletchley Park on 16 October 1939, when she was 23 years old. Langstaff had studied German and French at Cambridge University before the war so her language skills qualified her to work for Military Section in Hut 5. After around six weeks Langstaff moved to Hut 3 where she worked on translating decrypted German messages. Remembering her time at Bletchley Park, Langstaff recalls that she wasn’t told the importance of the messages she worked on, but she did deduce that when the workload increased it usually meant the Germans were advancing.

Joan Wingfield was one of the few staff members to arrive at Bletchley Park during the 1938 occupation of the site. Having started work with GC&CS in 1936, by 1939 she was working in the Italian Naval section at Bletchley Park. Wingfield would go on to marry Arthur Bonsall, who arrived at Bletchley Park at the end of 1939. In 1973, Bonsall would become Director of GCHQ. Very few photographs exist showing the early days of Bletchley Park but this rare photograph shows a scene of Joan Wingfield at her desk around 1939-1940. Image courtesy Judie Hodsdon.

During 1939 Alan Turing and Gordon Welchman reported to Edward Travis, who was responsible for the Enigma decryption effort. Edward Travis took over from Alastair Denniston as Head of GC&CS in 1942, having been Denniston’s deputy since 1919. This slightly blurred photograph from January 1940 shows Commander Travis with one of his daughters, Betty, who also worked at Bletchley Park. Image courtesy Judie Hodsdon.

The Mansion at Bletchley Park housed several GC&CS sections on their arrival in 1939. This photograph shows the library in around 1940 when it housed the Italian Naval Section. Pictured are Edmund “Scrounger” Green, a WW1 signals intelligence veteran, and John “Jock” Murray. Both men worked in the Italian Naval Section in the early days at Bletchley Park and had previously been part of the September 1938 workforce. Image courtesy Judie Hodsdon.

Polish research on Enigma in the 1930s was of paramount importance to the British codebreaking effort in the early days of the war. Jerzy Różycki, Henryk Zygalski, and Marian Rejewski were the primary cryptanalysts recruited by the Polish in the early 1930s to work on understanding Enigma. Zygalski was responsible for inventing the ‘Netz’ system, as it was known by the BP Codebreakers, which exploited weaknesses in German message procedure to deduce the rotor settings. This technique formed the basis of the successful British attack on Enigma in January 1940. Known as a rogatywka, this traditional Polish military cap belonged to Zygalski during WW2 and features the Polish military eagle.

The early days at Bletchley Park were a period of rapid growth and development. Bletchley Park staff were accommodated (billeted) in local people’s houses from the start of the war. In 1941 an order was issued by the Government to ensure that any spare accommodation within local homes was made available for Bletchley Park workers. No persons apart from householders, their relatives, and war workers, could reside at a house in Bletchley without consent from the Lodgings Restrictions Appeals Committee, and departments other than Bletchley Park were forbidden from billeting staff in the area.

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