By Isabella Fraser
Throughout the Fringe, the Assembly Rooms has run various lunchtime talks and spoken word events under the banner of ‘Entertaining Ideas’. An Audience with the Bletchley Girls is one of these, which plays to a packed house, hosted by Tessa Dunlop who has recently written a book about ‘The Bletchley Girls’. Now in their nineties, these women are finally able to acknowledge the impact their work had on the war effort and how remarkable their stories are.
It is impressive to see these women who were involved in intelligence work during the Second World War – three who were part of the famous Bletchley Park intelligence team, plus a sibling who was working on ciphers but placed abroad. Still active and engaging in their memories of that time, Tessa Dunlop skillfully leads the discussion with the women about how they became part of that world, what they were involved in and when they finally realized what that work had meant. Dunlop informs us that 8 million women in Britain were involved in the war effort, the largest number of women involved in any one country at that time. It is a sharp reminder of the impact that women had and how vital they were to the success of the war effort. From spring 1941, all women between ages 18-60 had to be registered and interviewed for a range of jobs related to the war effort.
The women interviewed on stage were teenagers during the war – images of them in uniform highlights their youth, yet they were part of important work, chosen for their skills rather than qualifications – their ability to do crosswords (paraphrasing messages, ciphers) and speak languages learned by ear rather than from books (listen to conversations, translate messages), for example. One of the women was even transferred to the Pentagon for a time to help with the Japanese war, due to her skill in paraphrasing, despite her youth.
The event could have run longer, such is the fascination with the backgrounds and history of The Bletchley Girls. They all emphasize that having recognition for that work, which they had had to hide for so long and, as women after the war, at a time when they were expected to go back to being ordinary housewives, this is now the most exciting part of their lives. The women were given a much deserved standing ovation, a dedication to all the women who worked during the war.