The Bletchley Girls by Tessa Dunlop has been on my to-read list for more than 8 years. I think I must have been fascinated by the idea of the Secret Listeners since the 1970s when snippets started to leak out. I know I gave some consideration to a career with GCHQ when I left university. Fortunately that didn’t last long. But the fascination remains. I have a paperback of another Bletchley book on my shelf. I must get around to that… but not too soon.

The Bletchley Girls

by Tessa Dunlop

The story of the women of Bletchley Park, Britain’s top secret code-breaking school, is told through exclusive interviews with the women who served their country, and the impact that their service had on the rest of their lives.

Based on extensive interviews conducted specifically for this book, Tessa Dunlop tells the story of the Bletchley Girls through the lives of 15 women who were all selected to work in Britain’s most secret World War II organization—Bletchley Park. Many were just school girls at the outbreak of war; the next six years would change their lives forever.

This vivid portrayal of their experiences, sacrifices, and memories is a poignant reminder that without the work of thousands of young women Bletchley Park’s extraordinary achievements would not have been possible. 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 the story 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. (goodreads)

My Review

The Bletchley Girls is an extremely readable account of the lives and work of women that worked as part of Britain’s top secret code breaking operation. Most people have heard of the Enigma machine, and many are familiar with Alan Turing’s role in deciphering the Enigma code.

These women worked under isolated, secretive circumstances often in poor conditions, for hours on end. The chain stretched from the girls who spent days and nights listening for Morse code messages and sending them down to Bletchley, those who transcribed them for the machines to decipher, those who catalogued everything that came in or left, at every stage. Most of this was exacting, and boring. No slips. No talking, and very little sleep. And of course, rationing, so no joy in the food stakes either. The one person who knew what some of the messages meant was the one who had to rephrase them before they were encoded to send to the allies, so that enemy interception didn’t give the game away. Even the translators didn’t translate the whole of one message.

What makes this book so special is the attention to women and their changing role between the First World War and the present. It was special to me because my Mum fit the age group. I have been thinking recently about her life, and also wondering what my teachers did before they started teaching. A couple of them could have been at Bletchley. I don’t even know their maiden names, but it is tempting to start researching… There is also a piece here about what one of the women did in the months after VE Day that might solve a family history puzzle.

Not every reader will be bound up in this story. But for the modern woman, this tale helped me to understand how we got from 1920s ladies and servants, through to 1950s domestic bliss/drudgery, to the changes of just about everything in the Swinging Sixties and beyond.

it’s a piece de resistance of social history, let alone a war memoir. My only caution is that there are a lot of women and we switch from one to another to get through each chapter. You might like to make your own crib sheet for reference from the start. Encoded, of course!

Book Review | The Bletchley Girls
Tagged on:         

6 thoughts on “Book Review | The Bletchley Girls

  • 15 June, 2024 at 4:00 pm

    There’s been a real burst in recent years of these books that talk about what women did in the war—usually underpaid and underappreciated. I read one about Bletchley Park, but I don’t think it was this one. Maybe? I’ll have to take a look.

  • 16 June, 2024 at 2:34 pm

    I do know about Bletchley Park and its inhabitants. What sacrifices they made – and they were SMART! I think I need to read this book, though.

  • 16 June, 2024 at 2:46 pm

    Oh, please don’t add to my TBR pile! I love books that highlight the unsung heroes (mostly female) of major Incidents in world history. Hidden Figures, about America’s race to the moon, is one of my favorites. Thanks for this recomendar.

  • 16 June, 2024 at 2:47 pm

    Thanks for the RECOMMENDATION! LOL

  • 8 July, 2024 at 6:04 pm


    On Jan 1st, 2009, an unexpected call – from a real and then, still very much alive former Bletchley girl – who arrived there just after her 19th birthday, to work in naval intelligence. Fast tracked through school, good at languages and maths, she was already a graduate – M/cr uni., 2 years wartime degree. She’d heard I was struggling ( a euphemism) with some documents I’d found. Gothic ? Not a problem, let’s meet.
    We did, and in her late eighties, she took charge, working in a three way research project, British, French, or rather Breton, and German. Just once, speaking at a museum, she referred to her most famous colleague , to express her opinion of his post war treatment.


What do you think? Or just say hi!

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox

Join other followers: