First Day at Bletchley Park

In the first half of 1941, Pamela Downing was still studying at the Birmingham School of Art. On 28 Jul 1941, according to her mother Molly‘s diary, she learnt that she had failed to secure another year at the college. Both her parents had served in the First World War and it was clear that Pamela who had just turned 21 ought to be doing something a little more positive for the war effort.

Her sister Hazel, two years her junior, had already joined the WRNS and it is recorded departed for Oban on 2 Sep 1941. Pam’s father, Noel, who was well connected to people at Birmingham University asked around and it is allegedly over a game of Poker with these University friends that he secured for her an interview with the Foreign Office. On 8 Sep she went to an interview at Bletchley Park and was interviewed in a pub, the “Shoulder of Mutton”, by Stuart Milner-Barry.

According to Pam, the interview was rather off-hand, Milner-Barry at one point with his feet on the table and smoking. The key ingredient appeared to be Pam’s liking and ability at Crosswords.

From Molly Downing’s diary we find the following two entries:

4 October 1941, Saturday: Telephone from F.O. To say Pam to go on Mon 13th

13 October 1941, Monday: Pam went. Up early. Breakfast early. Off in car to see Pam off at 8:45 to Bletchley

The story is taken up further with two surviving scraps of paper torn from Pam’s own diary below.

Pamela's notice of her arrival at Bletchley

Pamela’s notice of her arrival at Bletchley

P.S. Milner-Barry Esq
Room 47
Foreign Office
London SW1

Arrived 11:51. Bicycle. Telephone. MB cold. June & Hilly to meet me in car.

Entrance. Signed Visitor’s Book. Identity Card inspected by special guard.

House. Office. Signed Secret’s Act – reams of it. Next of Kin Card & numerous documents with addresses, then went upstairs, rabbit warren for billet address. Then to back gates for official. Then shown recreation room & hut 6 where I am to work. Here I was taken by Joan. Secret. One Hour Lecture by Mr Fletcher till 4th Lunch 1:45. After lunch 2nd lecture for another hour.

Her first billet, which she presumably went to that evening, was not a pleasant experience with rudimentary conditions and an unwelcoming host. Later she moved to Castlethorpe and then to Woburn Sands, both a short train ride out of Bletchley.

Notes

  • The recruitment date of 13 Oct 1941 is significant as it is only a week before Alan Turing Gordon Welchman, Hugh Alexander and Stuart Milner-Barry petition Winston Churchill directly over Commander Denniston‘s head, to recruit more urgently needed staff. See 21 Oct 1941 Letter quoted in Hugh Sebag-Montefiore: Enigma: The Battle for the Code, p 160
  • The ‘Shoulder of Mutton’ was situated on the junction of Newton Road and Buckingham Road about half a mile from the mansion. It was the digs of Milner-Barry and his fellow chess player Alexander
  • Harold Fletcher appears on the VE Day photograph and was the main Administrator for Hut 6.
  • June would be June Canney, Gordon Welchman’s secretary.