A few years ago we discovered that my grandma had worked at a ‘Y Station’ at Chicksands, Bedfordshire during the Second World War as a Teleprinter Operator. This was one of many listening posts that recorded raw data of enemy signals which were then sent to be decoded at Bletchley Park, the centre of British & Allied codebreaking. As Grandma began to tell us about her wartime experiences it fascinated the whole family who had known little of this for 70 years.
Whilst the Y Station at Chicksands no longer exists, last summer we visited Bletchley Park which now houses a fantastic museum with many exhibits on the crucial role the site played in deciphering enemy communications.
Amazingly they have also re-built a replica Bombe machine which during the war was able to decode the German Enigma encryption device used by all branches of the German military. The replica at Bletchley is in operational form and volunteers at the site run fantastic demonstrations of it in full swing, it’s well worth a visit.
Grandma (Back Row, Far Left) near Chicksands circa 1944-47
The work done at Bletchley Park has been commemorated on a few stamps over the last ten years and makes a nice area of collecting. Firstly Alan Turing was recognised by the Post Office for his role in 2012. Turing is generally recognised as the father of theoretical computer science and he designed the Bombe machine. Whilst his legacy rightful lives on now, his achievements were never fully acknowledged during his lifetime because of his homosexuality for which he was prosecuted in 1952.
It wasn’t until 2009 that Gordon Brown issued an official apology for his treatment on behalf of the British government, followed in 2013 by the Queen granting him a posthumous pardon. For the release of his stamp in 2012 as part of the Britons of Distinction issue we produced a cover featuring Turing and the main mansion at Bletchley.
Our cover has five of the stamps from the set including Turing’s which shows the Bombe machine and is cancelled by a Bletchley Park Post Office postmark.
Britons of Distinction – A Tribute to Alan Turing BC440A £30
Also in 2012 the second part of the UK A-Z stamp issue was released and the letter X saw Station X at Bletchley Park featured. This is a great stamp as you can see the mansion peeking through the surrounding trees, keeping the feel of a top secret location.
Station X initially referred to the wireless room at Bletchley housed in the mansion’s water tower (named as it was the Secret Intelligence Service’s tenth station); however the term is now more widely used to describe the whole of Bletchley’s codebreaking work.
For this A-Z issue we produced a matching set of three Bletchley covers which have the full set of 30 stamps from the composite sheet, each cancelled by a special Bletchley Park postmark.
Set of 3 Bletchley Park Covers BC444CSET £60
Now we jump to 2015 when the Inventive Britain stamps were released, and the Colossus machine featured on one of the eight stamps. Colossus is considered the world’s first programmable and electronic computer whose existence was kept secret until the 1970s. Colossus was used at Bletchley specifically to crack the Lorenz cipher which allowed the reading of top level messages between the German High Command in Berlin and their main bases throughout Europe, some of which were so top secret they were signed off by Hitler himself.
Our set of four PSB covers for this issue not only has the Colossus stamp but one of the panes shows the machine also, a fantastic set.
Inventive Britain Prestige Booklet Set BC519PSB £75
Up until 2015 the old Bletchley Park Post Office was part of the experience for those visiting and it had strong links to philatelic collectors. From there the popular Bletchley Park FDCs were spearheaded by John Chapman & Terry Mitchell who started the series with the 1994 D-Day issue and ended with its closure in 2015. Their FDC series raised money for the preservation of Bletchley and have retained their popularity, being sought after still by many collectors. We have a very limited stock of covers from the series available including these two military related ones below.
2005 End of the War FC4288E £25
2009 RAF Uniforms FC4350A £25
If signed covers are more your collecting area then we were fortunate at the end of last year to buy in a small batch of covers signed by Jean Valentine. Jean was an operator of a Bombe decryption device in Hut 11 at Bletchley during the war and in more recent times was involved in the reconstruction of the replica Bombe where she ran public demonstrations. This is a lovely cover paying tribute to Jean and all of those whom Winston Churchill described as ‘the geese that laid the golden eggs’.
Jean Valentine signed cover CS3688 £9.99
The Second World War, and military in general, are strong thematics for cover collecting and Bletchley offers a truly fascinating element to branch out your collection. Please let us know in the comment section about any covers or collectables you have linked to the codebreaking work at Bletchley and around the county during the war.