Knox Box of Miscellany

Dawn Knox – A rearranger of words into something hopefully meaningful…

23rd May 2019
by Dawnknox
Comments Off on Jaunt to the London Mithraeum

Jaunt to the London Mithraeum

Jaunt to the London Mithraeum.

Inside the London Mithraeum
The London Mithraeum

My cousin, Dave, and I went on a hunt for Roman remains in London some time ago and on our list of must-sees, was the London Mithraeum (click here to read about that particular jaunt). Unfortunately, although we saw some wonderful things, the Mithraeum wasn’t one of them because we couldn’t find it. That puzzled me because I knew I’d already seen it and it had been visible from the street.

Dave, however, discovered that the ruins had been moved into Bloomberg’s European Headquarters so, on the day we reserved places on our tour of Stationers’ Hall (click here to read about that jaunt) we also booked to see the Mithraeum.

If you’d like to visit, you need to reserve a slot (click here for details on the Mithraeum and for booking information) although the tickets are free. And even if you don’t book, it’s well worth a look on the Mithraeum website for some fascinating images showing the discovery of the temple and stone head of the god, Mithras, in 1954.

The entry is in Walbrook, EC4N 8AA and once inside, visitors can see a large wall covered in artefacts which were found in or near the site. Digital tablets give information about each object and my favourite, was a wooden writing tablet and stylus (AD 57). At one time, the wooden tablet had been filled with black wax and letters were scratched into this with the iron stylus which was inlaid with copper alloy decoration. If the writer pushed too hard into the wax with the stylus, it scratched the wooden tablet, leaving an imprint of the letters. This appears to have happened with this artefact, turning it into the oldest commercial record of a transaction in the City of London. It’s dated January 8th AD 57 and acknowledges the debt of one freedman to another.

Over the centuries, many of the artefacts were protected by the mud of the Walbrook and are in excellent condition, such as the leather open-work shoe (AD 70-125) and the pottery whose glaze is still shiny as if it had been made in modern times. The information on the interactive digital tablets can also be accessed outside the Mithraeum, by clicking here. It is best viewed on a phone or tablet although by adjusting the width of your browser on a desktop, you can still see the artefacts and access the information.

Having torn ourselves away from the wall of artefacts, Dave and I descended the stairs which displayed the different levels of London’s history. Centuries of living and failure to remove building debris or rubbish have led to the ground level rising, so the modern Walbrook, is up to 9 metres above the earliest Roman deposits. At the bottom of the stairs is the Mezzanine level where there is information about what experts believe Mithras symbolised and how his followers worshipped him. The head of Mithras is a model of the one found at the site in 1954.

Drawing of the Temple of Mithras
Artist’s impression of the Temple of Mithras by Judith Dobie

The artist’s impression of the temple is shown above with what the surrounding area in Londinium might have looked like. Note the wells which are square and in fact, in the corner of the temple you can still see the well which is also square (see below). This is thought to have been used to hold water which was used in rituals and may have been more of a tank than a well.

Temple of Mithras
The well can be seen on the left in the raised section.

It is thought the rituals took place in the central nave and the two aisles seated a congregation of around 30. The seating areas were separated from the nave by sleeper walls and seven columns on either side, the bases of which can clearly still be seen.

The rounded apse at the far end would have featured a statue of Mithras on a raised platform and the stone head found in 1954 is likely to have been part of the statue. The building appears to have had no windows and it’s probable that it was lit by torches, lamps and braziers. Pieces of the original timber flooring still lie in situ, where they would have been in the temple.

Original pieces of wooden flooring
Original pieces of wooden flooring

The central icon of the cult is an image of Mithras slaying a bull. No one knows for sure what happened during a ceremony but archaeological evidence suggests worshippers enjoyed chicken and wine, along with honey which was also used in cleansing rituals to symbolise purity. It is thought that initiation ceremonies may have incorporated chanting, shouting, music and the burning of pinecones as a form of incense.

Our visit allowed us about twenty minutes in the darkened Mithraeum which with wonderful use of light and sound, gave us a taste of what it may have felt like to attend a ceremony in the temple.

Dave and I were very interested in the artist’s impressions of a map of Roman Londinium which showed the position of the Mithraeum and also the Amphitheatre which we’d previously visited beneath the Guildhall. It showed an impressive rectangular building which didn’t appear to be labelled, so we thought that on our way home, we’d drop in at All Hallows by the Tower Church and look at their model of Roman Londinium to see if we could find out what it was.

I’ll tell you about that next time…

19th May 2019
by Dawnknox
6 Comments

Jaunt to Stationers’ Hall, London

Jaunt to Stationers’ Hall, London.

Stationers' Hall Sign
Stationers’ Hall Sign

I was invited to the Society of Women Writers and Journalists (SWWJ) 125th anniversary lunch, on 2nd May 2019, which was held in the Stationers’ Hall in London. Many well-known people attended the event, including the president, The Right Hon Baroness Benjamin of Beckenham, who you might know as Floella Benjamin, and best-selling author Kate Mosse (note the ‘E’ on the end of her surname – she’s the author, not the model!)

Guests at the anniversary lunch
Martin Cort, Guy Blythman, Me and Janet Howson (Photo courtesy of Sylvia Kent)

The picture is of actor and SWWJ drama consultant, Martin Cort, writer Guy Blythman, Me, writer and SWWJ member, Janet Howson. If you’d like to read more about the SWWJ, click here to go to their website and if you’d like to look at the excellent blog of SWWJ archivist, Sylvia Kent, and see more of her photos of the SWWJ 125th anniversary event, click here

Before the lunch, fellow writer, Janet Howson and I had a chance to explore the beautiful hall which was built in 1673 after the previous building was burned to the ground in 1666 during the Great Fire of London. When I realised it was possible to tour the building with a guide, I mentioned it to my cousin, Dave, who – like me – can’t resist an opportunity to look around anything historical, and we decided to book up.

So, on Thursday 16th May 2019, Dave and I joined a guided tour to look around the hall. It began, not in the hall, but in St. Martin Within Ludgate Church and continued through a door at the back of the building which leads into the garden of Stationers’ Hall. A surprisingly peaceful place which is right in the middle of London and just a short walk from St. Paul’s Cathedral.

Stationers' Hall garden
Stationers’ Hall garden

The guide explained that the Worshipful Company of Stationers was first formed in 1403 when the Mayor and Aldermen of the City of London allowed text writers and illuminators of manuscript books, booksellers, bookbinders and suppliers of parchment, pens and paper, to form a stationers’ guild, to protect their craft and trade.

So, why are they called ‘stationers’? Apparently, they traded from stationary stalls around St. Paul’s Cathedral – hence the name.

In 1557, it gained a royal charter as a Livery Company. After printing was introduced in England in 1476, there were great opportunities for printing material both speedily and in great quantities which also increased the possibility of piracy – undesirable to the stationers – and the likelihood of sedition and heresy – feared by the Crown. The Company’s charter in incorporation was granted by Mary Tudor in 1557 which allowed the members to restrict printing and to search for undesirable books. All printers had to join the Company and any books which were permitted were entered in the Hall registers. In 1559, Elizabeth I granted them a livery. No one mentioned what the livery looked like and a quick search on the Internet didn’t reveal anything! If you know, please get in touch.

Coats of arms in Stationers' Hall
Members’ Coats of Arms

Apparently, each member is allowed to have their coat of arms displayed and the guide pointed out the one with the crossed scimitars which he said belonged to a rugby fan – and specifically, a Saracens Rugby Club fan. How did he know? Well, the crossed scimitars is a clue and also if you look carefully, above them, is a rugby ball!

List of former members of the Worshipful Company of Stationers and Newspaper Makers
R. Barker – unfortunate printer!

There are many boards with recognisable names of current or former members of the Company, such as Rudyard Kipling, J.M. Barrie and W.H. Smith – all successful men. However, we were told the printer on the list above, for the years 1605 and 1606 – R. Barker should have been a wealthy man – instead, he lost all his money and died penniless. The reason Robert Barker should have been rich is because he was the printer to King James I of England and it was his job to print the newly authorised King James’ Bible. However, a typographical error resulted in him printing what later became known as ‘The Wicked Bible’ because the word ‘not’ had been omitted from one of the Ten Commandments, so it read “Thou shalt commit adultery.” He was fined a large sum of money and spent the rest of his life in poverty, finally dying in prison.

When our tour ended, Dave and I went back in St. Martin Within Ludgate Church and discovered that beneath our feet, was the foundation of the Roman city wall which later became the Medieval city wall, marking the western limit of the Roman city of Londinium. The west gateway to the city spanned the road outside (Ludgate Hill) which was known as the Lud Gate. The information suggested that it might be named after the mythical British king, Lud, but more likely derives from ‘fludgate’ (floodgate) or the old English ludgeat (postgate).

If you’d like a tour of the hall, you can find out more by clicking here to go to the official site and if you’d like to see more, I have other photos of our trip here

After our visit to the Stationers’ Hall, Dave and I set off for our next destination – the Mithraeum. On one of our previous jaunts, we’d intended to find it but failed. You can read about how Dave and I failed to find the Mithraeum, by clicking here.

Back soon…

9th May 2019
by Dawnknox
Comments Off on People’s Friend Writer of the Week

People’s Friend Writer of the Week

People’s Friend Writer of the Week

People’s Friend magazine – 11th May 2019

I was lucky to have a story selected for People’s Friend magazine in the May 11th 2019 edition, entitled ‘At the End of the Tunnel’.

My story in People’s Friend.

Although it is a fictional love story, it was inspired by my time working in a Virology laboratory in the London Hospital, Whitechapel in the 1980s. Now the Royal London Hospital, of course, but it was renamed that, after I’d left in 1988.

To my surprise, as well as having a story in the 11th May edition, People’s Friend editor, Alan Spink, emailed me to say that I’d been selected as their Writer of the Week, on their blog. You can see the result by clicking here

Some time ago, on my way home from London, I stopped off at Whitechapel to take a trip down Memory Lane and was very surprised to find the building where I’d once worked, locked and ready for demolition, just as Penny, in my story, found it. You can read about my thoughts by clicking here.

In my story, I also mention the tunnel which ran between the Institute of Pathology and the hospital. One particular day I remember in the tunnel was when the Queen came to the hospital to open the Alexandra Wing. Of course, I wasn’t on the list of people who would meet or even see the Queen although we did receive a memo telling us how to behave and not to call her ‘Marm’! I didn’t give the whole event much thought and that evening, I was surprised to see the hospital garden was packed full of people and I realised I was going to have difficulty getting into the main building and out the other side, so I thought I’d take a shortcut down into the tunnel,  intending to come up near the laundry in the main building, hoping to avoid the crowds. When I got to the bottom of the stairs, people were coming towards me and I was asked to stand by the wall and wait. Seconds later, Queen Elizabeth came walking along with her entourage! I’m not sure where she was going but she was only a few feet from me when she passed. I’m also not sure anyone in my lab believed me the next day when I told them who I’d bumped into in the tunnel. I scarcely believed it myself!

10th April 2019
by Dawnknox
Comments Off on Where are you, Dawn Knox?

Where are you, Dawn Knox?

Dawn Knox, where are you?

Dawn Knox, where are you?

Where are you Dawn Knox?

I’m not asking about me, obviously, I know where I am. I’m looking for the other Dawn Knoxes out there – and I know there are quite a few.

That’s very strange when you consider that Dawn isn’t exactly a common first name, nor is Knox a common surname.

So far, I haven’t met another Dawn Knox, although in the school I worked in, there were three Dawns which seemed quite unusual. But I have met the husband of a Dawn Knox, on a diving holiday, so I know there are at least two of us Dawn Knoxes in England. Perhaps you know more?

But over the last few years, I’ve been receiving strange emails to one of my email addresses. At first, I thought they were some bizarre phishing exercise – although, I couldn’t see what the angle of the scam might be since there were no strange links I was prompted to click on. Mostly, they were notification that I’d joined a loyalty scheme or informing me that since I’d bought a new three piece suite from a store in America, I might be interested in the matching sideboard, dresser or coffee table. Needless to say, since I live in the UK and have never bought a sofa nor chairs from a store in America, I don’t want the matching furniture, neither do I need a loyalty card from Australia. So, I ignored the emails, treating them as spam and didn’t click on anything.

But just recently, I’ve received emails from Wallsend, North Tyneside; Red Beach, Aukland, New Zealand; Frankston, Victoria, Australia; and the states of Wisconsin, Massachusetts and Michigan USA – all supposedly to a Dawn Knox.

So far, I’ve been reminded to make an optician’s appointment, prompted to pay outstanding school fees, informed I now have access to a college portal and urged to log in immediately, warned my child hasn’t handed in her homework and asked to pick up a child from school – all in America.

I have been warned that a fast food meal is on its way to my house from Wallsend.

And apparently, in March, I had a beauty parlour appointment for Botox and other fillers – in Australia… To name but a few.

I think the problem is that when I selected a name for my email account, I didn’t use a number. So, the other day, I wrote an email explaining that I was obviously receiving mail for other Dawn Knoxes around the world and sent them to my email address but added numbers. Three of them bounced back because they weren’t actually email addresses and the others? Well, I have no idea. Certainly, no one replied. I expect those other Dawn Knoxes around the world thought the email was some sort of elaborate phishing scam.

So, if you’ve stumbled on to this post and your name is Dawn Knox and you live in any of those places I’ve mentioned, please check with anyone from whom you should be receiving emails – and aren’t, that they have the correct email address. And if you want to get in touch, This is where you can find me.

A Touch of the Exotic set during 1940s

8th April 2019
by Dawnknox
Comments Off on A Touch of the Exotic – New Release

A Touch of the Exotic – New Release

A Touch of the Exotic - New Release

A Touch of the Exotic – New Release

A Touch of the Exotic – New Release of Large Print Romance Novel

Well, despite the worrying release date of April 1st, my new romance – A TOUCH OF THE EXOTIC, is now out. It’s the second book in the Plotlands Series and is published by Linford Romance Library, following on from WELCOME TO PLOTLANDS.

Welcome to Plotlands book

Welcome to Plotlands

Much of the romance takes place in a fictional house in Laindon, Essex (which, of course, is a real place!) and one particular location is particularly important to the main characters is Vange Well No. 5 – a rather unpromising name for quite an unusual structure. I visited Vange Well No. 5 to get some photos and try to soak up the atmosphere while I was writing this story and you can see my post about it by clicking here

Vange Well No. 5 today

Vange Well No. 5 today

Vange Well No. 5 today

Vange Well No. 5 today

Vange Well No. 5 today

Vange Well No. 5 today

Vange Well No. 5 today

Vange Well No. 5 today

Just in case you’re not familiar with Basildon’s hidden gem, it’s in Martinhole Wood, One Tree Hill and unfortunately is in rather a poor state of repair as you can see from the pictures. I was unable to find out what the roof would have been covered in but it was obviously dome-shaped and I think it would have looked fabulous in its heyday – and rather exotic – hence the name of the book. If you want to find out more about the well, also known as Cash’s Well, after the man who built it, you can find out more on the Thurrock website by clicking here.

So, what’s the book about? Here’s the blurb:

From India to war-torn London to an estate in Essex, Samira’s life is one of rootlessness and unpredictability. With her half-Indian heritage, wherever she goes she’s seen as ‘exotic’, never quite fitting in despite her best efforts. To add to her troubles, her beauty attracts attention from men that she’s not sure how to handle. But when she falls for handsome RAF pilot Luke, none of her charms seem to work, as it appears his heart is already bestowed elsewhere…

A romance, set in a romantic location!

And where can you buy it? You can get it from Ulverscroft, click here for the email address

Or, why not get along to your local library, look for the large print romance section and find it there? Libraries need all the support we can give them!

27th February 2019
by Dawnknox
Comments Off on A Jaunt to the Imperial War Museum

A Jaunt to the Imperial War Museum

Outside the Imperial War Museum - 15 inch guns and shell

Outside the Imperial War Museum – 15 inch guns and shell

A Jaunt to the Imperial War Museum, London

Carrying on with my research into World War Two,( see A Jaunt to Biggin Hill,)    for a romantic story I’m writing which is set during that period, my cousin, Dave, and I set off to London to visit the Imperial War Museum in Elephant and Castle, (click here for the IWM website).

Dave and I are never certain if we’ll end up at our destination when we go to London because we’re very easily sidetracked! Within minutes of leaving Fenchurch Street Station, we’d discovered St Olave’s Church, on the corner of Hart Street and Seething Lane and as we’d never visited it before, we thought we’d take a quick look inside. A notice on the wall listed points of interest, the first being a Crypt Chapel and Well 1182AD which sounded very interesting although there was no information about the entrance and after examining the Grinling Gibbons pulpit, the diarist, Samuel Pepys’ memorials and various stained glass windows, we decided the crypt wasn’t open to the public. And then just as we were leaving, we spotted a gate in a corner of the church. Stone steps led down to a small room containing artefacts and from there, a narrow passage led to more steps going down into the chapel.

Crypt Chapel and well in St Olave's Church

Crypt Chapel and well in St Olave’s Church

At the front, next to the altar was the well. There was quite a spooky atmosphere down there and when we heard the gate rattle, we thought we’d better investigate, imagining we might be locked in and forgotten! But it was two more visitors who received a shock when Dave and I appeared like magic, out of the chapel!

One more slight detour took us past the Monument, to St Magnus the Martyr Church, outside which is a piece of wood that was once part of the Roman London Bridge. Inside the church, is a model of London Bridge, circa 1400 with houses built on either side and street running through the middle.

Model of London Bridge circa 1400

Model of London Bridge circa 1400

We also noticed a sign which said the following:

AD 1640 Mrs Susanna Chambers by her last will and testament bearing date 28th December 1640, gave the sum of twenty-two shillings and sixpence, “Yearly” for a sermon to be preached on the 12th day of February in every year, within the Church of Saint Magnus, in commemoration of God’s merciful preservation of the said church of Saint Magnus from ruin by the late and terrible fire on London Bridge. Likewise annually, to the poor, the sum of 17/6

By chance, it happened to be February 12th on the day Dave and I visited but there didn’t seem to be anyone there ready for Mrs Susanna Chambers’ sermon. Or perhaps her money had run out.

Dave and I decided that if we were going to get to the Imperial War Museum at all, that day, we’d better stop wandering around churches and get on the train, so shortly after, we finally arrived in the Elephant and Castle.

The book I’m currently working on takes place during the evacuation of Dunkirk, so I was very interested to see the smallest surviving ‘Little Ship’ which helped rescue the British Army from Dunkirk in May and June 1940. The Tamzine is a 4.6 metre (15 foot) long fishing boat which was built in 1937 and used for weekend fishing near Margate.

Tamzine, exhibit in the Imperial War Museum

Tamzine, exhibit in the Imperial War Museum

Lancaster Bomber in Imperial War Museum

Lancaster Bomber in Imperial War Museum

The Lancaster Bomber entered service in 1942 and the one on display in the museum, served with 467 Squadron RAF. it flew 49 operations between November 1943 and March 1944, each one recorded by a new roundel on the fuselage. It was known by its aircrew as Fred the Fox.

One of the most memorable exhibits for me, was the trunk in the following photograph:

Trunk - exhibit in Imperial War Museum

Trunk – exhibit in Imperial War Museum

Considering the vast array of items in the museum, that’s probably a strange choice but the information next to the trunk stayed with me:

Lost Property
Jewish couple, Leonhard and Clara Wöhl, sent their belongings out of Germany in this trunk during the summer of 1939. The outbreak of war meant that they could not follow it. They died in Auschwitz.

There were too many exhibits to mention here but to see other photos of what Dave and I saw on our jaunt, click here

The next jaunt for research purposes, is likely to be Leigh-on-Sea in Essex…

 

25th February 2019
by Dawnknox
1 Comment

A Jaunt to RAF Biggin Hill

Stained glass window in St George's RAF Chapel of Remembrance, Biggin Hill

Stained glass window in St George’s RAF Chapel of Remembrance, Biggin Hill

A Jaunt to RAF Biggin Hill Memorial Museum, Kent.

Just before Christmas, I was invited to write several romances set during World War Two and I’ve been busy ever since thinking, writing and researching. It was with that in mind that Jamie, Mum, Andrea, Dave and I set off on a family jaunt to RAF Biggin Hill Memorial Museum in Kent. The museum has undergone renovations and only opened the previous week, details can be found here if you would like to visit.

There are two airplanes outside the museum – a Hurricane and a Spitfire, both of which were flown by pilots out of Biggin Hill during World War Two.

RAF Biggin Hill - Spitfire

RAF Biggin Hill – Spitfire

At the entrance, visitors are provided with a discovery tablet which features photographs, film and additional story-telling, enhancing the whole experience. Inside the museum, the collection tells the story of the airfield, the people who served there, the local community and its residents from 1916 to 1951. It focuses on the Battle of Britain, during which RAF Biggin Hill played a pivotal role. Many of the exhibits are personal and have been donated by people who served or lived at Biggin Hill, or their relatives.

Personal items on display at RAF Biggin Hill Memorial Museum

Personal items on display at RAF Biggin Hill Memorial Museum

Next to the museum is St George’s RAF Chapel of Remembrance which contains many amazing stained glass windows and other objects related to remembrance of the fighter pilots who lost their lives flying from Biggin Hill sector during the Second World War.

I’ve now finished the first of the stories I’ve been asked to write and it will appear later in the year published by My Weekly Pocket Novels. The working title is “With All My Heart” although that’s not necessarily the title it will appear under. It tells the story of three Jewish refugees fleeing from Nazi Germany, and since it is part of the Plotland Saga, the characters also find themselves in Dunton Plotlands, Essex. I’m now half way through the second story, part of which also takes place in Dunton Plotlands. If you’d like to read the first book in the saga, you can find it here  or in the library. It’s a large print book.

Large print book 'Welcome to Plotlands'

Large print book ‘Welcome to Plotlands’

The next in the saga will be published in April 2019 and is called ‘A Touch of the Exotic’. More news as I have it!

12th November 2018
by Dawnknox
Comments Off on On The Other Side of Peace in 100 Words

On The Other Side of Peace in 100 Words

On The Other Side of Peace

On The Other Side of Peace

On The Other Side of Peace

One hundred years ago today, the guns in many parts of the world fell silent.

Some time later, men of all nationalities began to return to their homeland, perhaps with hopes and dreams of resuming their pre-war lives.

With the benefit of hindsight, we know that life was going to prove to be a challenge for those who came home and for those who waited for them. Many, as we know, were wounded physically and mentally and had to live with their visible and invisible scars. Not only that, but their families had to cope too.

Here, in exactly one hundred words I have tried to encapsulate a brief window in time in 1918.

On The Other Side of Peace

The Armistice has been signed.

The guns have fallen silent.

The men are on their way home and their women and children await them with relief and joy.

At last, after four appalling years, normal life can be resumed.

But what is ‘normal’?

There are too many men who didn’t return home.

Too many women and children in mourning, with no grave to visit.

Too many men with physical and mental wounds who will never again know peace.

There is guilt at leaving mates behind, regrets for things done and not done.

For many, life will never be normal again.

LEST WE FORGET.

28th October 2018
by Dawnknox
Comments Off on The Great War Book – Some Lovely Reviews

The Great War Book – Some Lovely Reviews

Cover for the Great War book

Cover for the Great War book

The Great War Book – Some Lovely Reviews

If you are an author, you’ll understand how excited I get when someone takes the time to review one of my books – and if it’s a good review, I get really excited! Last year ‘The Great War – 100 stories of 100 words honouring those who lived and died 100 years ago’ was a finalist in the Wishing Shelf Book Awards and today I received the feedback. Books are read by reading groups in London and Stockholm and are judged according to Editing, Theme, Style and Cover.

Here are the results for my book from the Wishing Shelf Book Awards:

This book was entered in The Wishing Shelf Book Awards. This is what our readers thought: 

Title: The Great War – 100 stories of 100 words honouring those who lived and died 100 years ago 

Author: Dawn Knox 

Star Rating: 5 Stars 

Number of Readers: 16 

Stats 

Editing: 9/10 

Writing Style: 9/10 

Content: 10/10 

Cover: 9/10 

Of the 16 readers: 

16 would read another book by this author. 

14 thought the cover was good or excellent. 

16 felt it was easy to follow. 

15 would recommend this story to another reader to try. 

4 felt the author’s strongest skill was ‘plotting a story’. 

12 felt the author’s strongest skill was ‘developing the characters’. 

14 felt the pacing was good or excellent. 

16 thought the author understood the readership and what they wanted. 

Readers’ Comments 

‘A book like this is so important to help us remember life during WW1. I loved the fact the author kept every story to only 100 words. It adds power to the writing.’ Male reader, aged 47 

‘Such a wide range of writing here told in a powerful writing style. This is all about characters; they jump of the page. What a wonderful writer!!!’ Female reader, aged 55 

‘A talented writer telling an important story; a hundred of them in fact.’ Male reader, aged 38 

‘I would suspect that many of the 100 word shorts here would turn into a wonderful full-length novel.’ Male reader, aged 64 

‘Very much enjoyed this. When I say ‘enjoyed’, that might be the wrong word. It’s very sad in parts, but always gripping. I loved the range, from the home front to the fighting front.’ Female reader, aged 59 

To Sum It Up: 

‘A gripping and compelling set of shorts that show life during WW1. A finalist and highly recommended. ‘The Wishing Shelf Book Awards’ 

‘The Great War – 100 stories of 100 words honouring those who lived and died 100 years ago’ is available here in paperback and as an ebook. 

15th October 2018
by Dawnknox
2 Comments

Bletchley Park – Home of the Enigma Codebreakers

Bletchley Park - Mansion across the lake

Bletchley Park – Mansion across the lake

Bletchley Park is the home of the men and women who broke the codes generated by the Enigma Machine during World War Two and was also the birthplace of the modern computer. The codebreakers’ work is believed to have shortened the duration of the war, thus saving countless lives which would otherwise have been lost. Today, the former top secret location in the middle of the Buckinghamshire countryside is open to the public and is well worth a visit.

The late Victorian mansion was once the hub of a large estate and over the years, the building has been altered and enlarged several times. Stables, cottages and other estate buildings still survive, and nearby, there are also approximately twenty utilitarian wartime timber huts and brick and concrete blocks built for use by the Government Code and Cypher School (GC&CS) during World War Two.  Codebreaking at Bletchley Park first took place in September 1938 when a small group of people moved into the mansion under the pretext of attending a shooting party. The ‘guests’ were in fact members of MI6 and GC&CS, a secret team who included scholars and academics, recruited to break codes. The group’s job was to set up and run intelligence activity from Bletchley Park. No time was wasted and they transmitted their first message at 6 pm on the day they arrived – 18 September 1938.

Slate statue of Alan Turing - one of Bletchley Park's best known codebreakers

Slate statue of Alan Turing – one of Bletchley Park’s best known codebreakers

Initially, there was a staff of around 150 people but as more arrived, the various sections began to move into large prefabricated wooden huts set up on the lawns of the park. The first operational break into Enigma came around 23 January 1940, when the team working under  Dilwyn ‘Dilly’ Knox, with the mathematicians John Jeffreys, Peter Twinn and Alan Turing, unravelled the German Army administrative key that became known at Bletchley Park as ‘The Green’. Encouraged by this success, the Codebreakers managed to crack the ‘Red’ key used by the Luftwaffe. In addition to German codes, Italian and later Japanese systems were also broken.
Although I was familiar with the story of Alan Turing, I didn’t recognise the other names and I was particularly intrigued by Dilly Knox, wondering if he was a distant relative of my husband!

Dilly (Dilwyn) Knox

Dilly (Dilwyn) Knox

On the orders of Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, Bletchley Park received ever increasing numbers of staff and resources. Eventually about 10,000 people worked in the park. Brick and concrete blocks were built for the new staff members and for the growing number of ‘Bombe’ machines which were used to find the Enigma ‘keys’. The Bombes were operated by Wrens (Women’s Royal Naval Service), many of whom lived in requisitioned country houses such as Woburn Abbey. Work continued around the clock with three shifts operating during 24 hours, the first beginning at midnight. Each person carried out their own particular task and then passed on their work to the next person in the chain. In that way, people did not have an overview of the work that was done – simply a knowledge of their own particular part. The relentless work was relieved by dances, tennis, concerts and other social activities in the Park which allowed people time to mentally switch off and relax.

Office of Alastair Denniston, Head of the Government Code and Cypher School

Office of Alastair Denniston, Head of the Government Code and Cypher School

New recruits would be taken to the office of Commander Alastair Denniston, the head of the GC&CS,  on arrival at Bletchley Park, after having their papers vetted by the security guards at the entrance. Before being accepted by Commander Denniston on to the staff, each person would have to sign the Official Secrets Act which swore them to secrecy about their work for their entire life – not just the duration of the war. Apparently many people went to their graves never having divulged the work they had carried out at Bletchley.

Enigma Machine

Enigma Machine

Here is an example of an Enigma Machine on display. It has a lamp board above the keys with a lamp for each letter. The operator pressed the key for the plaintext letter of the message and the enciphered letter lit up on the lamp board. The enciphered letters were noted and this was the message which was transmitted. The machines contained a series of interchangeable rotors, which rotated every time a key was pressed to keep the cipher changing continuously. This was combined with a plug board on the front of the machine where pairs of letters were transposed, these two systems combined, offered 159 million, million, million possible settings to choose from, which the Germans believed made Enigma unbreakable.

Office in one of the many huts.

Office in one of the many huts

 

At first, GC&CS followed its pre-war recruitment policy and looked for ‘Men and women of a professor type’ through contacts at Oxford and Cambridge universities. Many famous Codebreakers including Alan Turing, Gordon Welchman and Bill Tutte were found this way. Others such as Dilly Knox and Nigel de Grey had started their codebreaking careers in World War One.

As the codebreaking process became more mechanised, and the volume of intercepts grew, many more staff were recruited from a wider range of sources. A significant proportion of these were taken from the Women’s Services; the WRNS, the ATS and the WAAF. By 1945, women made up 75% of the staff of Bletchley Park and of these, six out of ten were in uniform. The remainder were recruited through the Civil Service although interestingly, those who had correctly completed the Telegraph crossword of 13 January, 1942 (a test set up for recruitment purposes), were also signed up.

For more information about Bletchley Park, click here for the official website.

It’s definitely well worth a visit!