Thursday, 2 July 2009

Programming, History and Bletchley Park

Today at europython we listened to a keynote about Bletchley Park. This was the centre of British and allied codebreaking activities during the second world war, and where the first digital, programmable computer was built, Colossus. We heard about the current financial plight of the museum there, and the need for investment to renovate the huts that amongst others Alan Turing worked in. Dr Sue Black told us about her experiences trying to help lobby the government for more money for Bletchley park, using social networking, blogs and twitter. She recounted that she had recently met an elderly gentleman, one of the surviving codebreakers. She told us how close she felt to history when he related a story about when he was decoding a nazi message during the war, and his shock when he got to the end and discovered the message was signed “Adolf Hitler, Fuhrer”.

As a professional programmer, I think the site where the first digitally programmable computer was built has to be a place worth preserving. I hope that people will be able to visit there and see the reconstructed Colossus computer and be inspired by the stories of innovation and codebreaking that it enabled.

It was particuarly poignant for me to think about this when in the next session I checked my email and found a message from my mother saying that my grandmother died this morning. She was a living link to the history of the second world war for me. During the war she was a wireless operator, transmitting and receiving messages in morse code. And now she is not there any more. I am kind of in shock. But it just confirms for me that we need museums like the one at Bletchley Park to retain contact with our history.

(I wrote this post yesterday)