21 March 2023


Long ago, in my first week of teaching, I happened to be passing through the Common Room, and found myself also passing one of my new colleagues. Being somewhat in awe of him, but feeling that I ought not to pass him silently by, I made a remark which I cannot now remember but which was pretty, pretty cretinous.

He looked at me as though I were something which the cat etc., and remarked in his broad Yorkshire accent "For un uppurently intelligent mun, thut's a bloody silly remark." 

What did I learn from that? (1) Not to make bloody silly remarks; and (2) Not to be intimidated by Yorkshiremen. Possibly some of those cricketers 'of South Asian heritage' who, in our current UK news, are complaining about 'racism' among their former Yorkshire team-mates, should have been given a similar induction into the arcane structures of native Yorkshire culture.

My colleague was called Donald Bancroft. He was an extraordinarily clever man with a particular gift for teaching Latin Prose Composition. During the War, he had worked in 'Intelligence' at Bletchley Park, but we only discovered this later ... members of that elite body still, in the 1970s, didn't blab about it. 

DB was not homosexually inclined. If he had enjoyed this additional PR advantage, absque dubio he would by now have been promoted to the status of National Hero and Victim, and given a place on banknotes.

I have been told that the Bletchley brains were helped when an Enigma machine was rescued, in heroic circumstances, from a sinking German U-boat. And that a film was made about  this episode. The main historical inaccuracy therein was that: whereas in fact the feat was performed by the Royal Navy, the film-maker, unaccountably, attributed it to the US Navy.


  1. First time I’ve heard of the film, but a search turned up this article by the US Naval History and Heritage Command, which gives proper credit to HMS Bulldog.

    “The Movie U-571 is not based on the actual circumstances of the naval career of the German Submarine named U-571. Rather, it is a fictional narrative, loosely based on events involving several different German submarines during World War II, including U-110, U-570, U-559, and U-505.

    During World War II, British and American naval forces boarded several German submarines after they were damaged, scuttled, or surrendered. On 9 May 1941, three British destroyers, HMS Bulldog, HMS Broadway, and HMS Aubrietia, attacked U-110. When the German crew abandoned their damaged submarine, a boarding party from Bulldog got on board and recovered a working Enigma machine, its cipher keys, keybooks and other cryptological records.”


    The article goes on to describe the other encounters in which German subs were boarded. Additional Enigma equipment was recovered in some of those boardings.


  2. The important Polish contribution to the solution of the Enigma is also little known or appreciated.

  3. Dear Fr. Hunwicke.

    "During the War, he had worked in 'Intelligence' at Bletchley Park, but we only discovered this later ... members of that elite body still, in the 1970s, didn't blab about it."

    Quite right, Fr. Hunwicke. It was only one day in 1975 (thirty years after the end of World War II) that my mother, God Bless her, announced: “Right. I can tell you now. During The War, I was at Bletchley Park.

    "At the end of The War, we signed a Thirty-Year Official Secrets Act, which prevented us speaking about our Bletchley Park War Service for thirty years".

    Thus, my mother faithfully carried out her requirement to, as you so beautifully put it, "not blab about it".

    One wonders whether such adherence to national security concerns would be frowned upon, nowadays, by the Social Media Brigade ?

    Needless to say, the first thing I had to do, after hearing my mother's announcement, was to look up exactly what "Bletchley Park" meant. I didn't have a clue !!!