Leisure at Bletchley Park during the Second World War (Part 1)

The Mansion and Hut 2, used primarily as a recreation hut. Image used courtesy of Bletchley Park Trust.

Background

Bletchley Park, in Buckinghamshire was the crucial and top-secret centre for intelligence gathering by the British during the Second World War. Throughout 1939, men and women began to arrive at the Park, with the “need-to-know principle” being a key part of their life.[1] They were given security briefings and ordered never to reveal what they did at BP.[2] Even mail was addressed to an ordinary post office box number, and then forwarded on by MI6 to BP.[3] Workers would have felt isolated for most of the time they were employed at BP.

The working conditions for those posted to BP were in many ways similar to that of those undertaking other crucial wartime work across the country. However, the often poor billeting conditions, and the fact that the majority of workers had moved away from their family and friends in order to take up this top secret work, left many feeling disheartened, lonely and demotivated. Leisure was a crucial way of keeping up morale for workers on the Home Front, and this was no different for workers at BP. Despite the problems posed by staggered shifts, as well as the transportation and billeting issues encounter at BP, workers still wanted to, needed to, and managed to come together for social activities.[4]

The BP Recreational Club

Offering BP workers a way to relax and recuperate, the “BP Recreational Club” was officially established in 1941. The Club grew considerably across the wartime years due to the restricted travel of Bletchley workers. The aim of the Club was to provide the workers of Bletchley with recreational activities and amusements which were previously unavailable at BP.

Every year, the members of the Club would elect a president, and at least six members for the Executive Committee, something which was not an uncommon practice when forming local groups and organisations.[5] It was down to the Executive Committee members to decided what activities were “feasible and desirable,” however any member of the Club could enquire about starting a new activity or group.[6] It is interesting to note the considerable amount of freedom to decide on social activities that the BP Recreational Club had, especially considering the top secret nature of BP in general. The government had a surprisingly ‘hands-off’ approach to the social activities that were offered through the BP Recreational Club, despite their monitoring of leisure throughout the rest of the country.

This membership card belonged to Emily Cundall, a Foreign Office Civilian who worked at Bletchley Park. Image used courtesy of Bletchley Park Trust.

Membership was required to be a part of the BP Recreational Club of 1/- per month (about £1.97 in today’s money) for all members.[7] Membership was opened up to all personnel working at BP, both service and civilian.[8] Each member received a membership and members were expected to carry their cards with them when visiting the Club. The Club was very popular, and membership numbers rose considerably across the war years, with the membership soaring to a record 5,266 by 1944.[9] Wives and other close relatives were welcomed according to the Constitution of the BP Recreational Club, however there is no mention of husbands, suggesting it was assumed that women employed at BP were both unmarried and had moved away from their families. [10]

From 1942, the BP Recreational Club expanded outwards, setting up an additional branch in Wolverton, for those billeted further away from BP itself.[11] A meeting was held on October 1, 1942 at the Congregational Church Hall in Wolverton to found a branch, and select another Executive Committee.[12] While the Wolverton branch did not offer much, it did allow a space where workers could chat to fellow Bletchley peers, as well as a quiet room in which to read or write. The Wolverton branch was responsible for its own income until 1944, when it switched to being financed by the main Club.[13]

After Victory in Europe day, on May 8, 1945, the BP Recreational Club continued to run. The period after VE Day saw a considerable decrease in membership numbers, which meant a large proportion of revenue was lost.[14] While acknowledging the “valuable and unselfish assistance” various people had given in running the societies and activities of the Club, a report notes that it was due to these people leaving that the Club was beginning to dwindle.[15] It continues that “right from the start” the Club realised that “the time would come when it would have to be wound up.”[16] While it was clear that the BP Recreational Club would eventually come to an end, the reality would likely have been hard, especially for the Executive Committee who had placed their free time into it, in order to ensure its success. The Wolverton branch of the club was closed from October 31, 1945.[17] The BP Recreational Club itself was dissolved on April 1, 1946, ten months after VE Day.[18]

The BP Recreation Club offered a wide range of activities to the workers of BP, both those that lived on-site, and those billeted further afield. Join me for my next blog, which will explore the activities offered by the BP Recreational Club.


[1] Michael Smith, Station X: The Codebreakers of Bletchley Park, (London: Pan Books, 2007), 1 & 45

[2] Smith, Station X, 45

[3] Smith, Station X, 4

[4] Gordon Welchman, The Hut Six Story, (Shropshire: M & M Baldwin, 2018), 187

[5] The National Archive, “Proposed Revised Constitution” document, circa. 1941, HW 64/79

[6] TNA, “Proposed Constitution” document, circa. 1941, HW 64/79

[7] TNA, “Proposed Revised Constitution” document, circa. 1941, HW 64/79 and unknown author, “Currency converter: 1270 – 2017,” The National Archive, accessed February 14, 2020, http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/currency-converter/

[8] TNA, “Bletchley Park Recreational Club” document, May 6, 1941, HW 64/79

[9] TNA, “Bletchley Park Recreational Club: Annual Report – November 22, 1944” document, November 22, 1944, HW 64/79

[10] TNA, “Proposed Revised Constitution” document, circa. 1941, HW 64/79

[11] TNA, “B.P.R.C. B/P. Recreational Club – Wolverton Branch” document, September 26, 1942, HW 64/79

[12] TNA, “B.R.P.C. B/P. Recreational Club – Wolverton Branch” document, September 26, 1942, HW 64/79

[13] TNA, “Bletchley Park Recreational Club: Annual Report – November 22, 1944” document, November 22, 1944, HW 64/79

[14] TNA, “Bletchley Park Recreational Club: Annual Report, November 1945” document, November 1945, HW 64/79 NA

[15] TNA, “Bletchley Park Recreational Club: Annual Report, November 1945” document, November 1945, HW 64/79 NA

[16] TNA, “Bletchley Park Recreational Club: Annual Report, November 1945” document, November 1945, HW 64/79 NA

[17] TNA, “Bletchley Park Recreational Club: Annual Report, November 1945” document, November 1945, HW 64/79 NA

[18] TNA, “B/P G.C. No. 263. B/P Recreational Club” document, March 16, 1946, HW 64/78


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