This week, Lower Sixth Computer Science pupils visited Bletchley Park, former home to the Government Code and Cipher School during the Second World War. Following years of neglect, it is now the home to, amongst other things, the National Museum of Computing. If you’ve watched the film The Imitation Game, you’ll have a very vague idea of the story behind Bletchley Park. Contradictory to the film’s narrative, it was not just Alan Turing who ‘won’ the war but it was the work of thousands of men and women with great intellects. The museum has replicas of a Petard Machine and a Turin-Welchman Bombe, which is credited to breaking the enigma cipher.
Furthermore, there was the Tunny Gallery and the WITCH computer. The Tunny Gallery has examples of the machines that cracked the Lorenz cipher, a code used by German high command which had over 1.6×10^19 different combinations. Personally I found this section the most fascinating: it showed an accurate-to-era room with radios and punch cards all made for intercepting the data all the way up to the reconstructed Colossus 9, the world’s first computer, reconstructed to stand and run in the very same spot it had been 50 years prior. Passing through the museum itself is fascinating; there are racks of assorted electronics and rooms full of the din and high-pitched whistle of old CRT monitors or the oddly pleasing clicks and clacks of mechanical pieces.
Another display piece was WITCH, the world’s oldest still functioning computer, becoming functional in 1951, 68 years ago. We got to see the machine run through arithmetic calculations and our guide, Sheridan, explained it thoroughly. Though what kind of computing museum would it be without computer games?! The group got to play with old-school consoles and after a quick lunch break, were coding a Snake game on an old BBC computer.
Oliver H (Atkinson)