February 28, 2015

Finest Hour 157, Winter 2012-13

Page 11

By Lucy Lester

Give them whatever they need. This was the jist of an an ActionThis Day memo by Churchill about the work of the now famous code-breakers at Bletchley Park during the Second World War. (See our “Churchill and Intelligence” issue, FH 149, Winter 2010-11.) Winston Churchill’s unstinting support of the secret work carried out by over 8000 people played a major part in their success in cracking the German coded messages and shortening World War II.

Visitors to Bletchley Park these days come to a sign saying “Churchill Room.” As they enter, almost everyone gasps. To their  amazement, this very large room is filled to capacity with Churchill memorabilia.

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The gentleman who usually greets them here is a smiling Ulsterman, Jack Darrah, who with his late wife Rita amassed this collection over forty years. “This is my private collection and it is just a hobby,” Jack modestly says. “Please ask me any questions.”

Jack inherited his lifetime admiration of Winston Churchill from his father. His first Churchillian possession was a first edition of Churchill’s only novel, Savrola, published in 1900. Since 1947 Jack has collected letters, photos, newspaper cuttings and paintings, to name just a few of the many thousand items displayed. His efforts meant that he had to travel far and wide, places as far off as Vancouver, Calgary, Venice and Alaska.

In 1992 Jack and Rita retired to live in a “granny flat” in Buckinghamshire. One day in 1993, while visiting Bletchley Park, they stopped to admire a bust of Winston Churchill displayed in the famous cryptology centre. A member of the Bletchley Park Trust spoke to Jack, who knew the sculptor. The conversation resulted in Jack bringing his own collection to put on display at Bletchley Park.

One of the striking exhibits is a scale model of the MV Havengore, the Thames motor vessel that carried Sir Winston’s coffin, and members of his family, from Tower Pier to Festival Pier after the funeral at St. Paul’s Cathedral. On Remembrance Day, 11 November 2010, Jack was invited by Havengore’s owner, Chris Ryland, to travel down the Thames on board. They moored opposite Big Ben and observed the two-minute silence at 11 a.m., as the bugler on board played Reveille and The Last Post. (This was repeated in 2011.)

Bletchley Park is within walking distance of the local railroad station and easily accessible by train from Euston, as well as by road. After a tour with one of the excellent guides, you may browse Jack’s magnificent collection at leisure— a fitting tribute to the leader who referred to Bletchley’s team of intrepid code-breakers as “my geese that laid the golden eggs and never cackled.”

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