News Article

What was life at Bletchley Park really like?

Last Updated: 14 Dec 2017
While serving at Bletchley during the war, Basil Cottle kept a diary. It doesn't describe his secret work but gives an insight into the daily routine of those working there.

News article - 14 Dec 2017


Bletchley WWII
Bletchley Park during WWII. ©Used with permission
In recent years, many Bletchley Park veterans have published memoirs of their wartime experiences, adding a personal dimension to the technical story of interception and code-breaking. But actual contemporary diaries from wartime Bletchley Park are rare indeed, so the recently-published 'A Grand Gossip: The Bletchley Park Diary of Basil Cottle' is worth drawing attention to. 

Cottle arrived at Bletchley in September 1943. He worked in Hut 6 (Block D) on Enigma material, staying on after VE day to work on intercepted Albanian traffic, before a long career at the University of Bristol. He was a man for whom conversation was the essential oil of daily life, both inside and outside the office - and he was an assiduous diarist.

Well aware of Bletchley Park security rules, Cottle usually refers only obliquely to the content of his work - but gives free rein to his opinion of colleagues, landladies, and anyone he bumps into on his days off. We're left in no doubt who he gets on with, and who is a pain. He records amusing scraps of conversation, arguments won and lost, lunch-time diversions, the strains of shift-working, the impact of the newly-arrived US Army contingent, and a host of detail about getting by in wartime conditions. It will strike a chord with anyone who has ever worked in a large organisation.

Cottle's diary has been transcribed and edited by GCHQ retirees Judie and James Hodsdon, with notes and comments on the hundreds of names mentioned. Proceeds from sales go to the Bletchley Park Trust, where Judie is a trustee. It can be ordered online or from bookshops (ISBN 978-1906978440).