Saturday, 20 February 2010

We've come a long way?

A quick but hopefully poignant post. Today I spent the day at Bletchley Park with my Dad, whose father was in the RAF during World War II (and for the remainder of his life) and as a family we've long maintained an interest in the history of the war. Admittedly for my brothers it has been about the planes, boats and guns, and to me it's more about the roles of women in the war and "ration fashion" but nonetheless the interest is there.

Bletchley Park is a wonderful story of top (and ultra!) secret goings-on, charming characters and only recently known astonishing history. Including the story about Alan Turing, a Cambridge University mathematician who worked at Bletchley Park for a number of years and in government intelligence for many more. Last year a public apology by PM Gordon Brown was made to Alan Turing, who was arguably one of the most important code-breakers at Bletchley Park, to whom many breakthroughs and technological developments have been attributed to. Because of Top Secret Bletchley Park's fiercely loyal staff at the time and in the following decades, there is still gaping holes in the full understanding of what went on there and how much was achieved. However Mr. Turing's story highlighted to me a very different historical development. Alan Turing committed suicide in 1954 after being convicted of the then crime of gross indecency of having a sexual relationship with another man. Following his conviction he was prohibited from continuing to assist in code and cryptological work for the government and subsequently took his own life. I truly hope that even the most (wrongly and ignorantly) opinionated individual can see how deeply and morally wrong this story is: a highly intelligent and qualified man who was so central to the safe-guarding of our national security being prevented from continuing to do so, effectively because of who and how he loves (and in my blissfully rose-tinted yet steadfast opinion any love is good, wonderful, amazing love.)

I'm not naive enough to think that this story is now an unheard of concept in the world. However, I would like to think that as well as UK law having made considerable progress, so have our attitudes as a society where cultures, religions, backgrounds, sexual orientations and lifestyle choices mix wild and free.

As it is LGBT History month this February, I recently had a conversation with a friend of mine who has reluctantly joined a LGBT union at his work and is getting involved with events this month but not because he enjoys flying the rainbow flag or shouting about his sexuality. He explained to me that it's because he believes by doing this and fighting for necessary equality, one day he won't need to, or maybe the next generation won't need to. I nodded along in agreement as I also don't think there should be any ceremony by anyone in terms of announcing who they are and who they sleep with. However we don't yet live in that ideal world. Furthermore, after learning more about Alan Turing today, I realised the very presence of active LGBT organisations and a LGBT History month is a direct consequence of his and similar stories and this is itself an achievement which should not be belittled or dismissed. It is a sign that times have changed, and will continue to change so we still need voices to be heard and unions and events in order to keep changing in the right direction. The saddest reminder of this fact is how embarrassingly and shamefully long it took for a public apology to Mr. Turing's to be made.

I have no idea if Mr Turing was "out and proud" during his time at Bletchley Park (though I secretly hope he was as I imagine it was a place of discreet honour and respect). What I do know is that it didn't make a damned bit of difference to his fine ability and outstanding contribution to the code-breaking and gathering of enemy intelligence which occurred at Bletchley Park, which directly contributed to ending World War II and for that, as the granddaughter of a WW2 rear gunner in a Lancaster Bomber who may not have survived many more flights let alone years, I am deeply grateful.

You can make a much needed donation to Bletchley Park by clicking here and I thoroughly recommend a visit.


  1. A lovely post. I totally agree.

    Alan Turing was an incredible man, it's shame that the memory of his services to the nation were blighted by the same nation’s intensely regrettable response to his personal life.

    But then, perhaps we wouldn’t even know who he was now, if it wasn’t for this. After all, can you name another code breaker from Bletchly?

  2. Thank you B und S! And that is a very wise and true observation...

    I think what most enthralls me about the history of Bletchley Park is the secrecy and unknown about it because the thousands of staff who worked there were so incredibly loyal to keeping completely and discreetly quiet about it for so long afterwards. I'm not so sure this would apply in this day and age... or maybe it does - I just don't know about it cause it's a secret!

    Please keep reading and commenting,

    Bird x

    P.S. Your website and collection are fantabulous - am slightly confused about etsy tho - available in UK/££s?