Who does what?
About Alan – somethig of an enigma
From a very young age Alan was keen on flowers and gardening, so when, in 1942, a few weeks before he left school, he heard about a job at somewhere called Bletchley Park he jumped at the chance, hoping to broaden his horticultural horizons. Imagine his dismay when, on his first day, instead of being directed to a greenhouse or potting shed he was sent to a line of Nissen huts and told to empty the waste-paper bins and make tea for the studious young ladies who comprised most of the workforce.
Having overcome his initial disappointment, he began to take an interest in what he was doing, and in particular in the contents of the bins he was expected to empty. Although he had strict instructions not to read anything he saw in the bins, he couldn’t help but notice that they were full of pages of gobbledygook: sheet after sheet of paper covered in meaningless strings of letters, like discarded eye-charts or Polish shopping lists. Fascinated, he asked one of the young ladies, whose name was probably Dilly or Dorothy, the meaning of all the random characters. Sensing evident interest and a sharp mind, and trusting that an Abwehr spy was unlikely to look like a 16-year-old boy lately of the fifth form, the young WREN explained a little about codes and ciphers, and how it was her job to decrypt the character strings and make sense of them in plain English.
Her job included deciphering intercepted mail containing coded messages, but, as she confessed one day, there was one item of mail that had them all foxed. It was a postcard, and written on it was a code that they had been unable to crack: GORSAFAWDDACHA’IDRAIGODANHEDDOGLEDDOLLONPENRHYNAREURDRAETHCEREDIGION – Dymuno chi yn yma.
On the other side of the postcard was a rather grainy photograph of a tiny railway platform in the middle of nowhere. Out of politeness she showed the postcard to Alan. ‘Ah’, he said, having glanced briefly at the card, ‘It means The Mawddach station and its dragons under the northern peace of the Penrhyn Road on the golden beach of Cardigan Bay.’
The reference to station and dragon immediately alerted the staff because, in the belief that the Germans might try and fool everyone by invading North Wales, they knew that the army had secretly laid tank traps on the shores of Cardigan Bay, and these were code-named Dragon’s Teeth. Furthermore, a lookout ‘station’ was also erected to provide an early warning should the Kriegsmarine attempt to board Aberystwyth Pier without paying. How could this young schoolboy know about Dragon’s Teeth and lookout stations? Young Alan was immediately carted off for interrogation.
Under the intense glare of a 40-watt Anglepoise lamp, he quickly admitted with some embarrassment to be keen on Welsh narrow-gauge railways, and consequently, he had recognised the cipher on the postcards as being nothing more sinister than the name of a station on the privately owned Fairbourne Railway. ‘The long name is a publicity stunt,’ explained Alan, adding: ‘The owners wanted to outdo the famous station in Anglesey, but Fairbourne locals simply call the station Golf Halt ‘cos that’s where it is.’ Following discreet enquiries at the Welsh Harp pub down the road, it was discovered that the remaining cipher on the postcard merely said ‘Wish you were here’, so Alan was given half-a-crown, a peck on the cheek from Dilly, or Dorothy, and made an honorary member of the code-breaking team, learning many of its secrets. He now works for UKAuthors, trying in vain to figure out who does what.