A top secret Christmas card sent in 1938 is on display at Bletchley Park museum.
The simple blue note was sent to members of staff by Lady Sinclair, wife of Admiral Sir Hugh Sinclair, who was Head of MI6 and the Government Code and Cypher School.
The front of the ‘card’ features a copy of the only known surviving photo of the Codebreakers’ first visit to Bletchley Park in August 1938.
In September 1938, as war with Germany appeared imminent, parts of MI6 and GC&CS temporarily moved from London to their newly acquired wartime base Bletchley Park, returning to London in October 1938.
Another copy of the photo, no longer with the blue card, ended up in a family photo album of Claude Henderson, another member of GC&CS. That copy was scanned at the museum in 2009 along with other photos of Bletchley Park taken by Claude Henderson in August 1939 and January 1940.
It was only when staff questioned why this photo from 1938 was alongside photos of the park covered in snow in January 1940 that they discovered it was originally part of a Christmas card.
The photos belong to Judie Hodsdon, whose parents and great uncle, Claude Henderson, worked at Bletchley Park. The card was sent to her mother, Joan Wingfield, who had been one of the members of the 1938 Bletchley Park operation.
Judie said: “My mother didn’t keep many things but she kept this, so it must have been rather special. It’s not the most festive photo but as Bletchley Park had only just been bought for MI6 and GC&CS, and most of the team had been there that autumn, it must have been a lot more interesting to use this photo than one of the London offices.”
Due to the top secret nature of Bletchley Park, very few photos of the site during wartime exist, and only a handful of personal photos. Today Claude Henderson’s photo album is one of the key sources of visual information of the very early days of GC&CS and MI6’s operations at Bletchley Park.
David Kenyon, Research Historian at Bletchley Park said: “The picture used in the Christmas card is not captioned, and no reference is made to it in the greeting, so even though it depicts a secret event, the photo itself does not reveal anything about what is actually going on. It could be simply any house-party from the later 1930s. It would only have held any significance to those ‘in the know’.”
The little-known role Bletchley Park played in the planning and execution of D-Day will be marked in a new immersive visitor experience D-Day: Interception, Intelligence, Invasion opening in Spring 2019.