Historian and broadcaster Tessa Dunlop tells the story of the women of Bletchley Park through exclusive and unprecedented access to the women themselves. The Bletchley Girls weaves together the lives of 15 women who were all selected to work in Britain's most secret organisation - Bletchley Park.
It is their story, told in their voices; Tessa met and talked to 15 veterans, often visiting them several times. Firm friendships were made as their epic journey unfolded on paper. The scale of female involvement in Britain during the Second World War wasn't matched in any other country.
From eight million working women, just over 7,000 were handpicked to work at Bletchley Park and its outstations. There had always been girls at the park, but soon they outnumbered the men three to one. A refugee from Belgium, a Scottish debutante, a Jewish 14-year-old and a factory worker from Northamptonshire - the Bletchley Girls confound stereotypes. But they all have one common bond: the war and their highly confidential part in it.
In the middle of the night, hunched over meaningless pieces of paper, tending mind-blowing machines, sitting listening for hours on end, theirs was invariably confusing, monotonous and meticulous work, about which they could not breathe a word.
By meeting and talking to these fascinating female secret keepers who are still alive today, Tessa Dunlop captures their extraordinary journeys into an adult world of war, secrecy, love and loss. Through the voices of the women themselves, this is a portrait of life at Bletchley Park beyond the celebrated code breakers; it's the story of the girls behind Britain's ability to consistently outsmart the enemy and an insight into the women they have become.
©2015 Tessa Dunlop (P)2016 Hodder & Stoughton
This book had great potential but was limited by the scope set out by the publisher and the approach chosen by the author.
First, in order to be included in the story the women had to be alive. This created a beat the clock feeling because many of the women interviewed were well into their 90's. This was done to enable the reader to hear the stories directly from the women--not second hand--strengthening the "human interest" angle. In the end an unusual choice and very limiting because it really narrowed the playing field to women who were very young--first time away from home "girls"--during their time at Bletchley. A broader subset of the population may have been more representative of the whole story and the actual population of Bletchley Park.
Further, the author's approach of presenting the 15 women as a group rather than individually in their own chapters caused me the biggest problem. I liked the idea of telling the history, background and personal experience of each of the 15 women interviewed. In theory this offered a picture of the culture and state of the world leading up to the war. In reality the choice to cover the women as a group--related only by topic--was a huge problem. There was just too much jumping around from person to person. To me, it would have been better if each woman was introduced separately in their own chapter. That way the reader would have had a chance to get to know the women--putting a history firmly with a name. As it stands, the whole thing was a jumble. It was just impossible for me to keep the names and the stories straight and to feel any connection to the individual women presented.
Over all this was a frustrating, disjointed and confusing book which misses the mark and becomes a muddle. Disappointing if you are looking for a human face and a broad approach to the story of Bletchley Park.
Awful narration. Narrator tried to do accents which is very off putting. so much so I binned the book after one chapter. Waste of a monthly credit. Avoid.
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