Leisure at Bletchley Park During the Second World War (Part 2)

BP Recreational Club leaflet page, documenting some of the activities on offer. Image used courtesy of Bletchley Park Trust.

The BP Recreational Club offered many varied activities for its members to enjoy, and as the number of workers at Bletchley expanded, so did the activities on offer. A leaflet produced by the Secretary and Treasurer of the club, Mary Ann Rose, an Air Ministry civilian, documented; a drama society, a dancing society, a musical society, an art society, and various sporting activities, such as badminton, fencing and tennis.[1] The leaflet also documented who ran the society, where the activity was held, and any additional costs that members may incur. A member of the Auxiliary Territorials Service, Helen Currie (nee Pollard), who worked in the Testry of Block F, remembered how there were “concerts, discussion groups, poetry, reading…” among many other activities offered by the BP Recreational Club.[2]

Dances at Bletchley Park

Informal dances were held every Monday and Thursday evening in the Assembly Hall, all free to Club members.[3] Monday’s saw dancing lessons, including ballroom dance classes and the Scottish Reels club.[4] [5] The annual report of the BP Recreational Club from 1944 notes that there was a total of 75 informal dances held by the society, and 7 formal ones.[6]

Poster for Reels on Saint Andrews Night dance. Image used courtesy of Bletchley Park Trust.

One of the most prominent dances ever arranged by the Hut 6 Dance Committee was one which was held on June 4, 1944. Gordon Welchman, an important contributor to codebreaking at Bletchley Park remembered this dance vividly. With leave cancelled, and the plans for D-Day already in place, a dance was arranged on the night before D-Day was due to take place.[7] Only two workers at BP knew the arrangements for D-Day, however the decision was made by them to allow the dance to continue, as to not draw attention to the D-Day plans.[8] As Welchman recalls, due to the weather, the D-Day operation was actually pushed back another day, to June 6, 1944, so in the end the workers who attended the dance had a chance to recover before the big day![9]

The Scottish Reels club was one of the most popular pastime for many women and men at BP. Jane Fawcett (nee Hughes) remembered how people took the club very seriously, with men “[coming] dressed up with their tartan socks and kilts.”[10] She states that it was “all very spirited” and that members “learnt a lot of interesting Scottish dances”.[11] On occasions Scottish dances were held, where instead of records playing, a group of musicians would attend and play the piano and fiddles.[12] The Reels section of the Club continued running throughout 1945, however after VE Day “many of the keenest and best dancers left.”[13]

The Drama Society

The Drama society held its weekly meetings on a Thursday in the Writing room.[14] The general activity conducted in the society was play reading, leading up to periodical performances. These periodical performances included a performance at Christmastime every year. In December of 1941, Felicity Ashbee noted in her diary of performances how a number of workers, including 24 WAAF and 2 Wren teleprinter operators, and herself, composed and performed a revue entitled “Blue and Khaki No. 2” at Station ‘X’ on the BP grounds.[15] Another Christmas revue, performed at the beginning of January 1945, was titled “It’s the End”.[16] While it is unclear what these plays were about, it is likely they had both patriotic and morale boosting connotations, useful for both the performers and the audience alike. There is also a possibility that these plays were very specific to BP, with certain ‘in jokes’ that only workers would understand. In order to attend a performance, members of the BP Recreational Club must have paid their subscription in full, with no outstanding balances.[17] The funds raised by the various performances that the Drama society put on were often given away to different causes, including the Red Cross Prisoners of War Parcel Fund and Great Ormond Street Hospital for Sick Children.[18]

The workers at BP came from a range of social and professional backgrounds. Pamela Gibson, a professional actress before coming to work at Bletchley, remembered that while the drama group had a “totally different feel” to professional acting, this kind of “amateur dramatics was a release.”[19] Despite being amateur, performers were “keen to remember [their] lines and put on a good performance.”[20] With both professional and amateur performers, these plays were a fun and exciting way to relax from the everyday work of BP, and were just as important for the performers as they were for the audience. Revues were not only popular with workers at BP, as senior service officers from various areas of wartime work were invited to enjoy the performances, often to improve relations between the Bletchley workers and other service personnel.[21]

Music at Bletchley Park

Music was a big part of life at BP, as it was across Britain during the war. The Musical Society held gramophone concerts every Wednesday evening, as well as various lunch-time concerts.[22] A number of musical concerts were organised, as shown in the Annual Report of 1944, which notes that “Song and instrumental recitals, choir singing and chamber music have given a great deal of pleasure to performers and audiences alike.”[23] The concerts on offer seem to suggest the performers were middle-upper class members, however this does not mean that the audience was the same. The Musical Society was a hugely important part of BP, with performers even being offered the chance to broadcast on the BBC in the May of 1945.[24]

Larger concerts, often held at the Assembly Hall in the evenings, were periodically held, and offered a wider range of musical recitals. These included performances from outside groups. Out of the nine evening concerts held in 1944, three were string quartets, showing this was clearly a popular musical style at BP.[25] Other performances included pianist Dame Myra Hess, singer Dame Margaret Teyte, and pianist Gerald Moore, CBE.[26] After the end of the war, only one outside performance was held, however, internal musical practices and concerts continued until the club was closed in 1946.[27]

Sport at Bletchley Park

The BP Recreational Club offered a range of sporting activities. Badminton was held in the nearby Senior School hall on Sundays with equipment made available on application to the badminton club secretary.[28] It is likely that workers had to make arrangements to travel to the hall themselves. Table tennis was also on offer, with teams competing against players from Whaddon, the Wolverton BP club and the Stony Stratford Club.[29] Another sport offered was fencing, which by 1944, had a professional teacher who visited BP every week.[30] In December of 1945 the fencing section was finally closed down, as it was deemed “impractical” for the section to continue due to the losses of members.[31]

One sport that was readily available and extremely popular was tennis. All members of the club could use the courts in the grounds of BP, as long as they had booked a slot on the notice board located in the main building.[32] Periodically, tournaments were arranged which Bletchley workers could compete in. BP held some very good tennis players, with one having played in Junior Wimbledon.[33] Pamela Morgan (nee Downing) remembered climbing to the top of a wall outside Hut 6, and watching the tennis.[34] As with other activities arranged at BP, it seems that both those participating in the activity and those merely watching got entertainment and joy. 

Welchman remembered that after VE Day, matches were arranged between British and American teams in both cricket and basketball.[35] The US ended up winning the cricket, with the British winning the basketball. This is a rather interesting reversal, given the origins of each sport lay in the other country! As with the concerts on offer, the sports that were available to BP workers also seem to be very middle-upper class in orientation, potentially suggesting that the majority of workers were from this sort of background.

The Club Room

The Library in the Mansion at Bletchley Park. Photograph taken by the author.

As part of the BP Recreational Club, a Club Room was set up on the ground floor of the main building within the park. Coffee was served both at lunchtime and in the evening, and newspapers were available to club members in order to relax and unwind. The radio was switched on to broadcast shows from 6pm, and there was also a writing room and a sports room available, which could be booked out for activities. [36]  A quiet room was offered in Hut 4, as a space to reflect, relax and remove oneself from the trials and stress of the BP work-life.[37]

In a similar fashion, the Wolverton Branch of the BP Recreational Club was just as important as the club in BP itself. Evelyn ‘Peggy’ Senior explained that the branch had a quiet room in which members could go and read a book or write their memoirs.[38] While workers realised they would not be able to publish the things they were writing, Senior recalled that this was a good way to “relieve tension” and that, once written, these works would be torn up or burnt in order to be undetectable.[39] Similarly, Doris Lucy (nee Newman) remembered how there was “an old building… and it was turned into a club.”[40] She is most likely referring to the Wolverton Branch itself, as she continued on to say that it was “just for Bletchley Park workers” and that they would “go in there and sit there and chat, and that was it.”[41]

Along with writing, reading was also a popular way to pass time and relax from the stress of the workday. The BP Recreational Club offered a library in the Outer Club Room that was open every day from 1pm to 4.30pm.[42] Workers were allowed to take out one book a fortnight, and fines of 6d per week were imposed on late returns.[43] The Annual Report from November 1944 shows that the library could not actually keep up with the demand of books requested, along with the increasing issue of people failing to return their books.[44] Subsequently, new books had to be bought in, as well as new shelving installed, to meeting the increasing demand by club members, who wanted to use their free time to read. This demand suggests that solitary activities were just as popular as socialising ones. This is unsurprising given that the work that BP employees undertook sounds exhausting!

Other activities offered by the BP Recreational Club

The Art Society was also popular, meeting every Tuesday, with free drawing classes on Wednesday and Sunday evenings.[45] In April 1944, the Drawing and Painting Recreational group placed a request in to acquire a range of artist materials.[46] The material requested included canvases, brushes, oil paints and drawing paper.[47] This shows that clearly the Art society was not only popular, but that they wanted to conduct their recreational activity as professionally as possible. 

A number of further activities were offered through the BP Recreational Club throughout the war, and upon demand. A Bridge club was set up, which met every night in the Club Room. A Chess society met every Monday from 8pm to 12pm in Hut 4. A rambling club was arranged, meeting periodically for rambles, when advertised.[48] Cycling was another popular pastime, with weekly ‘runs’ being held in the summer months.[49]

Film showings were also regularly held by the BP Recreational Club. For example, in March 1945, a film exhibition was held, depicting “the Chinese War from the beginning to date.”[50] Shown in the Assembly Hall, the film was described as being able to “capture your imagination… wring your heart… turn your stomach.”[51] A total of eight showings were offered of the film, allowing BP workers to attend no matter what shift they were on. 

Education was also important to workers at BP. The Lecture Committee of the BP Recreational Club decided that “there [was] a need for educational facilities at B. P” and that “The most they could do [was] to organise occasional lectures.”[52] Overall, there was a demand for general and cultural education, which was separate and considerably different from the usual vocational education that they were offered as workers. Along a similar vein, a Foreign Language Club was also suggested, with classes to be run for “those languages for which there [was] sufficient demand.”[53]

An analysis of the BP Recreational Club

The activities on offer may have felt, for some, a rather narrow scope of options. However, it is clear that there were many differing activities on offer, these activities had all been requested by workers through the serving Executive Committee. One can therefore deduce that despite being largely middle-class recreational activities, the majority of people working at BP both wanted, and enjoyed the social times these activities offered. The societies on offer through the BP Recreational Club were very similar to those offered across the country. There seems to have been considerable effort placed on keeping BP employees entertained ‘in house’, most likely due to a fear of a national security breach, accidentally or not, with perhaps a hint of ‘morality’ in regard to workers health and wellbeing thrown in to cover the real reason.

There is insufficient evidence to definitively outline the social, economic, ethnic or gender profiles of the members of the BP Recreational Club. However, given that the BP Recreational Club intended only to run for the duration of the war, it is possible there was more leeway and disruption of the accepted social conventions apparent in 1940s society. The range of activities on offer sat broadly in a spectrum that can be described as ‘middle class’, although even within this category the range was significant and diverse. Many of the classes did not formally segregate on the basis of gender and given the numbers of male and female workers at BP, we can assume therefore that many classes and activities attracted a mixture of genders. There is no obvious indication of discrimination and on the contrary, classes, notably the Scottish Reels club, emphasised a positive recognition of regional identities and nationality within Britain.

Overall, a preponderance of middle-class interests and pastimes is evident in the activities that took place through the BP Recreational Club. However, it was not all middle-class people that worked at BP. People from across a broad range of professions and social backgrounds were employed at BP because of their ability within various fields to help the war effort. There was a chance for sub-groups to express their distinctive cultural identities, such as the Scottish Reels society, which is an interesting example of how ‘difference’ was celebrated, even if it was in this inconspicuous benign way. What is clear, is that there was an emergence of a distinctive community identity at BP, one which likely helped workers feel connected and part of something, as the civilians on the Home Front would have felt.

Furthermore, while there is little evidence to suggest whether any of the clubs were solely male, or solely female, it is likely that both sexes attended and enjoyed the various clubs on offer. As we know that, overall, there were far more women workers than men at BP, we can assume that most of the membership numbers, both for the Recreational Club generally, and more specifically in the various societies, were made up of mainly women. For example, we know the total membership from June 1942 for the BP Recreational Club was at 1,250.[54] In the same year, evidence shows that 300 Wrens, 114 ATS and MTC’s, 215 WAAF’s and 1,102 civilian women made up over three quarters of the total 2,420 employees.[55] Male employees only made up a total of 689 of the workforce.[56] In this case, we can therefore say, that even if every male was a member of the BP Recreational Club, that still equates to nearly half the membership subscriptions belonging to women. Furthermore, it is probably safe to say that not every male employee in 1942 was a member of the Club, and therefore it is likely an even larger proportion of female subscriptions to male. The relatively high proportion of female involvement shows that women were clearly determined to have their say in the social side of life at BP, even if they did not have as much authority elsewhere in BP.

Despite initial bans, such as on sporting events, and closures of various recreational amenities, such as dances halls, once the ban was lifted by the government, these leisure activities offered an important release to all the population of the Home Front and were important in boosting morale. The same can be said for BP. Dances, entertainment like one would see at the theatre, and sporting games, among the many activities, allowed BP workers to relax from the stress of their work-life and rebuild their morale in their darkest times. The range of activities offered at BP is staggering. This seems like the consequence of gathering some of the country’s most brilliant minds and skilled individuals together in one place. While this was not likely as harmonious as suggested in this project, unfortunately there is no evidence of any falling outs, conflicts, or disagreements that occurred in the BP Recreational Club, due to the lack of sources available.

The BP Recreational Club was always understood to be temporary, which allowed for loosening of social conventions and behaviours. Women held positions of influence across many of the societies and activities offered, alongside men, which was quite unusual for this time. Furthermore, there was a concentration of creative and academically significant workers at BP, and this clearly influenced the societies and activities offered through the Recreational Club. Lastly, the level of involvement the government and the BP authorities showed to the Club is interesting, as unlike general population activities, the workers at BP were given what could be considered considerably more authority and leeway. Overall the BP Recreational Club was a brilliant way for workers to relax and unwind, therefore allowing them to focus on the job in hand during 


[1] Unknown author, “Roll of Honour,” Bletchley Park, accessed April 21, 2020, https://bletchleypark.org.uk/roll-of-honour/search?gender=Female&page=1&surname=Rose & TNA, “Bletchley Park Recreational Club – The Club Room” leaflet, circa. 1941 – 1945, HW 64/79

[2] Helen Currie (nee Pollard), quote from Veterans courtesy of the Bletchley Park Trust’s Oral History Project, reproduced with permission

[3] TNA, “Bletchley Park Recreational Club – The Club Room” leaflet, circa. 1941 – 1945, HW 64/79 and TNA, “Bletchley Park Recreational Club: Annual Report – November 22, 1944” document, November 22, 1944, HW 64/79

[4] TNA, “Bletchley Park Recreational Club – The Club Room” leaflet, circa. 1941 – 1945, HW 64/79

[5] TNA, “Bletchley Park Recreational Club: Annual Report – November 22, 1944” document, November 22, 1944, HW 64/79 and TNA, “Bletchley Park Recreational Club – The Club Room” leaflet, circa. 1941 – 1945, HW 64/79

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

[7] Gordan Welchman, The Hut Six Story (Shropshire: M & M Baldwin, 2018), 188

[8] Ibid

[9] Ibid

[10] Jane Fawcett (nee Hughes), quote from Veterans courtesy of the Bletchley Park Trust’s Oral History Project, reproduced with permission 

[11] Jane Fawcett (nee Hughes), quote from Veterans courtesy of the Bletchley Park Trust’s Oral History Project, reproduced with permission

[12] Unknown author, quote from Veterans courtesy of the Bletchley Park Trust’s Oral History Project, reproduced with permission

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

[14] TNA, “Bletchley Park Recreational Club – The Club Room” leaflet, circa. 1941 – 1945, HW 64/79

[15] IWM, “Private Papers of Miss F Ashbee,” undated, Documents.7583, Box No: 13/37/2

[16] TNA, “Christmas Revue” document, December 22, 1944, HW 64/79

[17] TNA, “Drama Group. The Christmas Revue. “Its The End” document, circa. 1941 – 1945, HW 64/79

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

[19] Tessa Dunlop, The Bletchley Girls (Leicester: W. F. Hopes Ltd, 2016), 264

[20] Ibid

[21] Michael Smith, The Debs of Bletchley Park (London: Aurum Press Ltd, 2015), 96

[22] TNA, “Bletchley Park Recreational Club – The Club Room” leaflet, circa. 1941 – 1945, HW 64/79

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

[24] TNA, “Bletchley Park Recreational Club: Annual Report – November 22, 1944” document, November 22, 1944, HW 64/79 and TNA, “Bletchley Park Recreational Club: Annual Report, November 1945” document, November 1945, HW 64/79 NA

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

[26] TNA, “Bletchley Park Recreational Club: Annual Report – November 22, 1944” document, November 22, 1944, HW 64/79 & Howard Ferguson, “Hess, Dame (Julia) Myra,”  Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, last accessed April 21, 2020, https://www.oxforddnb.com/view/10.1093/ref:odnb/9780198614128.001.0001/odnb-9780198614128-e-33844  ; Desmond Shawe-Taylor, “Teyte, Dame Margaret [Maggie],” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, last accessed April 21, 2020, https://www.oxforddnb.com/view/10.1093/ref:odnb/9780198614128.001.0001/odnb-9780198614128-e-31750 ; Jospeh Cooper, “Moore, Gerald Frederick ,” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, last accessed April 21, 2020, https://www.oxforddnb.com/view/10.1093/ref:odnb/9780198614128.001.0001/odnb-9780198614128-e-39911;jsessionid=1CF1FB6EE005F7A19F79F7FEFBB00E46

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

[28] TNA, “Bletchley Park Recreational Club – The Club Room” leaflet, circa. 1941 – 1945, HW 64/79

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

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

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

[32] TNA, “Bletchley Park Recreational Club – The Club Room” leaflet, circa. 1941 – 1945, HW 64/79

[33] Welchman, The Hut Six Story, 187

[34] Pamela Morgan (nee Downing), quote from Veterans courtesy of the Bletchley Park Trust’s Oral History Project, reproduced with permission

[35] Welchman, The Hut Six Story, 188

[36] TNA, “Bletchley Park Recreational Club – The Club Room” leaflet, circa. 1941 – 1945, HW 64/79

[37] TNA, “Bletchley Park Recreational Club – The Club Room” leaflet, circa. 1941 – 1945, HW 64/79

[38] Evelyn ‘Peggy’ Senior, quote from Veterans courtesy of the Bletchley Park Trust’s Oral History Project, reproduced with permission

[39] Evelyn ‘Peggy’ Senior, quote from Veterans courtesy of the Bletchley Park Trust’s Oral History Project, reproduced with permission

[40] Doris Lucy (nee Newman), quote from Veterans courtesy of the Bletchley Park Trust’s Oral History Project, reproduced with permission

[41] Doris Lucy (nee Newman), quote from Veterans courtesy of the Bletchley Park Trust’s Oral History Project, reproduced with permission

[42] TNA, “Bletchley Park Recreational Club – The Club Room” leaflet, circa. 1941 – 1945, HW 64/79

[43] TNA, “Bletchley Park Recreational Club – The Club Room” leaflet, circa. 1941 – 1945, HW 64/79

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

[45] TNA, “Bletchley Park Recreational Club – The Club Room” leaflet, circa. 1941 – 1945, HW 64/79

[46] TNA, Letter about the Drawing and Painting Recreational Group, April 26, 1944, HW 64/79

[47] TNA, Letter about the Drawing and Painting Recreational Group, April 26, 1944, HW 64/79

[48] TNA, “Bletchley Park Recreational Club – The Club Room” leaflet, circa. 1941 – 1945, HW 64/79

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

[50] TNA, “B. P. Film Exhibitions – China War” document, March 5, 1945, HW 64/79

[51] TNA, “B. P. Film Exhibitions – China War” document, March 5, 1945, HW 64/79

[52] TNA, Document about the Lecture Committee, circa. 1941 – 1945, HW 64/79

[53] TNA, Document about the Foreign Language Club, February 10, 1944, HW 64/79

[54] TNA, “Commander Bradshaw A. D. (A)” document, June 19, 1942, HW 64/79

[55] TNA, “Personnel at War Station” document, June 15, 1942, HW 64/70

[56] TNA, “Personnel at War Station” document, June 15, 1942, HW 64/70


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