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Some of the individuals who played key roles in the success of Bletchley Park in reading the secret communications of Britain’s enemies during the Second World War have become well-known figures. However, the man who created and led the organisation based there, from its inception in 1919 until 1942, has, surprisingly, been overlooked – until now. In 1914 Alastair Denniston, who had been teaching French and German at Osborne Royal Navy College, was one of the first recruits into the Admiralty’s fledgling codebreaking section which became known as Room 40. There a team drawn from a wide range of professions successfully decrypted intercepted German communications throughout the First World War.
After the Armistice, Room 40 was merged with the British Army’s equivalent section – MI.1 – to form the Government Code and Cypher School (GC&CS). Initially based in London, from August 1939 GC&CS was largely located at Bletchley Park, with Alastair Denniston as its Operational Director.
Denniston was moved in 1942 from military to civilian intelligence at Berkeley Street, London. Small at first, as Enigma traffic diminished towards the end of the Second World War, diplomatic and commercial codebreaking became of increasing importance and a vital part of Britain’s signal intelligence effort. GC&CS was renamed the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) in June 1946, and moved to the outskirts of Cheltenham. It continues to be the UK’s signal intelligence gathering organisation. With the support and assistance of the both the Denniston family and GCHQ, Joel Greenberg, author of Gordon Welchman, Bletchley Park’s Architect of Ultra Intelligence, has produced this absorbing story of Commander Alexander ‘Alastair’ Guthrie Denniston OBE, CBE, CMG, RNVR, a man whose death in 1961 was ignored by major newspapers and the very British intelligence organisation that was his legacy.
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