We went out today.
My in-laws came over, and we went out for a walk. We had planned to wander around a country estate together, but ended up wandering around a big old house for a couple of hours then wandered home again.
Not just any big old house. The big old house where a British prime minister once lived – Benjamin Disraeli. We have visited the grounds in the past – and wandered for miles through the fields, hedgerows, and footpaths that weave around the estate. I had never been in the house though – not until today.
One half of the house was to be expected – filled with portraits of statesmen, politicians, and royalty. The other half of the house was far more interesting.
It turns out the manor house had been requisitioned in the war by the Royal Air Force, and all manner of secret goings-on went on within its walls. This was of course neatly erased from history at the end of the war – locked away, tidied up, and intentionally forgotten about.
In the UK we have a thing called the “Official Secrets Act” – kind of a “go straight to jail, do not pass go” set of rules.
The current owners of the house – and all modern historians – had no clue about the house’s true function during the war until 60 YEARS later, when an elderly man was wandering around with his grandchildren, and a guide overheard him telling them about his working there during the war.
A conversation was had – which led to further conversations – and further appeals for information from the public – and then the government. After much wrangling, provisions were made to release those involved from their obligations to the official secrets act, and the story was finally told.
During the war, the house had been filled with intelligence staff and artists. They had designed and hand-painted the maps used by bomber crews throughout the war to hit enemy targets – using special inks to be seen under red lights during night raids. The maps were sent to bomber command, and then shared with bomber crews up and down the country in utmost secrecy.
The thing I can’t get over? Nobody involved broke the secret for over 60 years. Not one leak (aside from the grandparent telling his grandchildren).
It reminds me of Bletchley Park – where a huge team worked on “Victory”, “Colossus”, and various other machines that came to be known as “computers”. Their inventors, designers, and manufacturers were kept secret for decades. Most of them had died by the time their contribution not only to the war, but to the rest of history was known. Without them the “computer” as we know it might have taken a lot longer to come into existence.
Modern retellings in Wikipedia, or hopeless movies such as “The Imitation Game” credit Alan Turing with rather a lot in terms of the breaking of Enigma, the creation of the machines, or the development of early computers. This was of course by design. Focus everybody on one person, so nobody even thinks to consider the rest of the huge team that he was a small part of.
It’s funny really. There’s an old saying that history is recorded by the victors. It’s only a version of history though – and while most people think it might be filled with propaganda, it may also hide all manner of knowledge from the general populace. We can only guess the reasons.
In modern history the easiest example might be the discovery of “little grey men”. Given the arguments that break out around the world every day about religion, belief, or whatever else – imagine what the reaction might be to learning either that we’re not alone, or that our various accepted beliefs, history, and understanding of pretty much everything might be wrong.
Perhaps it’s not always best to know everything.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I better go buy some tin-foil to fashion a new hat.