World War Two heroes reunited at Bletchley for Engineering Heritage award

By Culture24 Staff Published: 25 March 2009

two women standing next to a machine

Jean Valentine and Ruth Bourne with Bombe machine. Picture courtesy Institution of Mechanical Engineers

World War Two heroes were reunited with the Bombe machine used to crack the German Enigma code when it received a special Engineering Heritage Award at Bletchley Park.

The award is the 48th to be made by the Institute of Mechanical Engineers in recognition of a piece of significant engineering importance that has made a contribution to society and the world of mechanical engineering.

All of the original Bombe machines were destroyed after the Second World War, but blueprints were discovered at Bletchley in the 1970s and volunteers spent a staggering 13 years putting together a working replica of the machine.

Mathematical geniuses Alan Turing and Gordon Welchman thought up the original machine, and the concept was then passed on to the British Tabulator Machine Company, who built 210 machines - a rate of one machine every week.

It is estimated that the machine cut the war short by around two years and saved thousands of lives by cracking and decoding up to 5,000 messages a day.

The Germans believed that their technology was far superior to the British and had no idea that Bletchley Park existed or that some of the country's most intelligent young men and women were working to decode these vital messages.

Simon Greenish, CEO of Bletchley Park, said: "The Bombe is just one of a number of incredible historic pieces that we are proud to hold. Unfortunately, many of our iconic buildings at the park are now so dilapidated that within two years they could be lost.

"By raising awareness of projects like the Bombe we are highlighting how important the park is and remembering just how indebted we are to the brilliant minds of the men and women who worked here. We are delighted that we can reunite some of these people with the Bombe."

a woman operating a machine

Ruth Bourne with Bombe machine. Picture courtesy Institution of Mechanical Engineers

The Germans used the Enigma machine during the Second World War to encipher messages within their own army, navy and Luftwaffe. The machine made the code by using a series of cross-wired wheels that converted each letter into a cipher, with the wheel position changing after each letter.

The Bombe machine managed to break the code by trying out every possible combination of wheel settings until a match could be found for the code.

Without the machine there would have been a truly infinitesimal chance of breaking the enigma code.

Bletchley needs to raise a further £4million to help preserve and restore the buildings on the a site for future generations. For more information visit Bletchley Park