VIDEO: Poland’s wartime link to Bletchley Park is celebrated

The families of three Polish prodigies who 70 years ago shared their groundbreaking work on breaking Enigma with the Codebreakers visited Bletchley Park on Wednesday.

Marian Rejewski, Henryk Zygalski and Jerzy Rozycki had been recruited straight out of university by the Polish Cipher Bureau.

Polish visit to Bletchley Park

Polish visit to Bletchley Park

Thanks in part to their work, Poland was far ahead of the British and French in the late 1930s, and intelligence teams from the three nations swapped notes in July 1939 shortly before the outbreak of the Second World War.

Their families toured the heritage site on Wednesday and laid flowers at the Polish memorial in the Stableyard, adjacent to the building where the early British wartime work on Enigma took place.

Jeremy Russell, Henryk Zygalski’s nephew, said “One of the biggest regrets of my life is not being sufficiently aware of his work at an age when I could ask him about it, because he never talked about it spontaneously. At the age of 60 he had a stroke and for the next ten years until he died he was less and less able to communicate, so I missed a valuable opportunity to find out more about what he did.”

In July 1939 representatives of British and French intelligence met their Polish equivalents amid secrecy in the Pyry Forest outside Warsaw. Three weeks later the Government Code and Cypher School (GC&CS), the forerunner of today’s GCHQ, moved to Bletchley Park.

Much to the surprise of the British, the Poles were much further forward than their British and French counterparts in unravelling the mysteries of the Enigma encryption machine. The work of three brilliant young mathematicians, Marian Rejewski, Henryk Zygalski and Jerzy Rozycki would prove to be invaluable to their Allies and contribute significantly to the ultimate success of Bletchley Park. The Poles generously shared their groundbreaking work with the British and French, including versions of their own replica Enigma machines.

The GCHQ Departmental Historian, Tony Comer said “It was like a relay race. The Poles had run the first lap and had got much further and much faster than anyone had expected. They then passed the baton to the British and French cryptanalysts. It’s a story of partnership.”