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26/09/2020

Review: The Bletchley Girls


Bletchley Park became famous for intercepting German communications during the Second World War. The top-secret site was staffed predominantly by young women who worked day and night listening to the enemy and deciphering their messages.

The Bletchley Girls, now in their nineties, have incredible tales to tell about their time during the war and the work that they were doing.

Historian, writer and broadcaster Tessa Dunlop has spent time getting to know a few of these women and their story’s are brought to life in her book ‘The Bletchley Girls’. However there’s nothing more compelling than hearing these tales from the women themselves and the touring talk of ‘Tessa Dunlop and The Bletchley Girls’ does just that.

Tessa invites two of the girls Ruth Bourne and Patricia Davies to join her on stage in a chat show style evening where they recount first hand their experiences of working within Britain’s most secret wartime operation.

The audience is taken right back to the beginning of Ruth and Patricia’s lives, they both grew up knowing the danger that was to come in the future from across the Channel. Both ladies were in the WRENS during the war and both were selected for their language skills and in particular their knowledge of German.

Although both Ruth and Patricia did very different jobs for Bletchley, Ruth was working on one of the ‘bombe’ machines feeding letters in to the machine to be deciphered, whilst Patricia was stationed at various coastal listening posts, where her job was to listen to the enemy radio communications and to help pin-point positions of the Germans. Both ladies knew that the work that they were doing was of the upmost importance, however, due to the secretive nature of their work neither knew what the bigger picture was or how their job fitted in with each others.

Hearing these first hand accounts really is a privilege. The audience was captivated by the tales of these ordinary young girls doing extraordinary, and gruelling work. Tessa keeps the pace moving along nicely and also includes anecdotes from some of the other Bletchley girls that she spoke to when researching her book, however she did talk over her guests at times and a couple of her comments were a little condescending.

Both Ruth and Patricia spoke with confidence as we learned about their lives and experiences, and the two hours that they were on stage went far to quickly – I’m sure there is much more that they could share.
The evening also offers a chance for audience questions, and this was made even more special, when the daughter of another Bletchley Girl introduced her mother, whom Tessa invited on stage to join the others and briefly recount her tale too.

‘Tessa Dunlop and The Bletchley Girls’ is a very special evening, hearing these stories of the past is a real honour and an experience that will stay with this reviewer for a very long time.

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Wendy Cook’s review is of Tessa Dunlop and the Bletchley Girls at the Mercury Theatre, Colchester on Tuesday 2nd August – the book is out now (from all good bookshops and via Amazon) and the Bletchley Girls is continuing to tour the UK

More on the author here www.tessadunlop.com

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