While movies like The Imitation Game celebrate people like Alan Turing, few people realise that 70pc of the 10,000 people at Bletchley Park were women, says Kerry Howard, author of a new book on the subject.
In the movie The Imitation Game, one of the core members of Turing’s team was Joan Clarke, a cryptoanalyst and numismatist who went on to work at GCHQ after World War II and was awarded an MBE. She was portrayed by Keira Knightley in the movie.
Howard points out that little was known about Clarke, and other female codebreakers who made a big contribution to the war effort like Margaret Rock and Mavis Lever, until 1974.
It was after reading Robert Harris’s Fatherland that Howard read another book by Harris called Enigma and became “absolutely fascinated” about the story of codebreaking at Bletchley Park.
“There were 10,000 people there and it was all kept a secret. I was just fascinated how many people were able to keep that secret, especially since the secret didn’t come out until 1974.”
Cracking the Enigma code
Wandering through the archives, Howard was literally able to smell and touch the past and came across a myriad of untold stories, especially the work of the women codebreakers
“At Bletchley there were 10,000 people, 70pc of which were women and there is a diverse range of women with fabulous stories to be told.
“Women went through the entire hierarchy at Bletchley Park but very few matched their male peers in cryptographc roles and those who did were Wikipedia, Wikipedia and Wikipedia and the book focuses on their stories and their contribution to Bletchley Park’s codebreaking past.”
In terms of today, where there is a shortage of female talent in the burgeoning tech industry – a shortage that could be dealt with if more young women were encouraged to take up STEM subjects – Howard says it is important to keep telling the story of women’s contribution to tech, from the earliest programmer Ada Lovelace to the women of Bletchley Park and beyond.
“Keep telling those stories in a way that encourages and inspires people to get women to get together and show that women can come together and try new things.”
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