It’s not everyday that you find out that your grandad worked alongside a world renowned genius.
I’m not sure how much you know about Milton Keynes, the city in which I live, but it continually astounds me that it is actually world famous. Not in an obvious way because plenty of people in the UK wouldn’t know where it is let alone any one elsewhere in the world.
Everyone though has heard of the Enigma machines, the amazing work at Bletchley park during the war and the Hollywood films that shared the story with the world and how a mathematical genius shortened world war II and also created the worlds first computer.
That is just one of this beautiful cities many treasures and it was to Bletchley park that we trekked this weekend. I have been there before but knew far less of the story behind the site so I hadn’t really paid much attention. Since then I have seen at least two of the movies, Enigma and the imitation game and I walk past the newly named Alan Turing building at the OU almost every day. So I have begun to appreciate the man and the legend.
What makes the story so much more personal is that it was at my grandads funeral my father thought it right to finally tell me that the old man had actually worked at Hanslope park for many years before he retired. That explained a lot to me about my upbringing because I hadn’t realised the secrecy under which I had lived.
I had always been taught not to question authority or ask questions so it had not dawned on me that I had no idea what my Grandad had done for a living. I just wasn’t a child that asked those kinds of questions but that comes as less of a surprise when you find out that people in your family have signed the official secrets act and the penalty for revealing anything is quite severe. It’s considered treason and really, really frowned upon (to put it very politely).
You see I had no idea that there was a secret military base just a few miles outside of Milton Keynes, I knew about Bletchley park but not its sister and it got me thinking.
Is that why I encountered a Chinook helicopter flying just meters above me one day on one of my long walks just a mile from Hanslope, is that why an Apache Helicopter was flying over the OU on its way to London just before the Olympics. Where had they come from is my question because helicopters don’t have long ranges and military helicopters have a very distinct, imposing sound (yes I am a flight nerd that can identify plenty of military craft by sound or sight, busted :-)).
The more I researched Hanslope park the more intrigued I got and I found those who knew about it didn’t want to take much about it so I was confused about what that meant.
So this weekend we took advantage of a community offer Bletchley park made that all MK residents could visit for free and I for one had a blast. The play park just past the manor house was wonderful for our wee man because it has a wonderful climbing frame and a nice wood walk behind it where we found some sticks and climbed verges and got muddy jumping on things, all in a country days work and loads of fun.
The visit to the enigma machines was the highlight because I got to ask the tour guides the questions I have been slowly building up and the answers really amazed me. Not only is Bletchley park still a working code breaking unit but Bletchley park and Hanslope park routinely worked hand in hand. As you would expect military installations must be duplicated so there is never one single point of failure so the knowledge and skills are always shared and different installations often work together.
I glanced through one of the books in the shop on our way out and looked for Hanslope park. Sure enough Alan Turing worked at Hanslope for several years. It’s unlikely my grandfather met him but highly likely he met some of the codebreakers themselves. I had always wondered if my grandad himself had worked on important projects and it seems likely he did though of course I will never know.
Writing this down it seems like I may be making a bit too much of this but it’s really about the wider history. People from elsewhere generally mock Milton Keynes for all sorts of reasons without realising that all computer devices from that which I am writing on right now, to your smart phone, dvd player and all the web servers that allow blogs like this to be seen rely on the work of this genius in a shed in Bletchley Park, Milton Keynes.
That my grandad was working on related things I now have the right to wonder what he added to the world. He used to talk to me about his specialty, the wireless which, to his generation, meant radio. I wonder what amazing contributions he made given that radios now underpin everything wireless from bluetooth and wifi to tv and wireless charging. Radio waves have revolutionised our world.
What I do remember is how much he encouraged my little mind in oh so subtle ways. I have always enjoyed fixing things, taking them apart first of course :-). I really enjoy encouraging others creativity and I pride myself that they rarely notice me doing it. So much of what I do is too subtle and I learnt it from my grandad. This visit to the home of computing simply reminded me of one of my first great teachers and the way that great people bring greatness out of you. He really could do anything when it came to engineering and even when I was young he encouraged me to explore, never limit my mind.
So it was quite poignant to me that I was visiting the home of computing with my son as I encourage him to explore the world and learn its secrets in just the same way that my father and my grandfather encouraged me. That I have such a world renowned treasure quite literally on my doorstep and that my grandfather worked at its still working sister site makes it even more special and exciting.
Isn’t life fascinating!!!