Codebreakers at Bletchley

Scottish chess players at Bletchley

This first appeared in Scottish Chess 198, June 2005

Much has been written about the outstanding codebreaking work that was carried out by the many people assigned to Bletchley Park during WWII.

Whenever it is written about in an English language chess publication, it is a fair bet that mention will be made of three well-known English chess masters C.H.O.'D Alexander, P.S. Milner-Barry and Harry Golombek. However, readers of Scottish Chess may be interested to know that there are a few Scottish connections to Bletchley.

Ten times Scottish Champion and Olympiad representative, James Macrae Aitken, worked there during the war, as did Nicholas Anthony (Tony) Perkins, who competed several times in Scottish Championships and played in the Munich 1958 Olympiad.

An interesting article can be read in Chess, February 1945, page 73, where the result of a match between Oxford University and Bletchley, played on December 2nd 1944, is recorded. Full team details are given as well as a photograph of the players!

Considering that during the war so much material was censored, it might seem a little bit odd that such details were recorded. I suppose, however, that by February 1945 there was a certain confidence of victory, and perhaps therefore less worry about information that might be gleaned from a chess periodical. An astute observer might have wondered how it was that Alexander, Golombek and Aitken (boards 1, 2 and 3) and Perkins (5) came to be playing for the same team in a rural village.

Oh yes, Bletchley won 8-4; I suppose that is because their players were extremely good at decrypting the meaning of their opponents' every move.

Alan McGowan
Historian/Archivist, Chess Scotland

revised 21/11/2020