Bletchley Chess Club. More Than Just Chess History.

Bletchley Chess Club. More Than Just Chess History.

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I started working on this article eighteen months or so ago, after a visit to Bletchley Park. ( Going there has a huge impact on people. see  for example.)

It never got finished! The subject cropped up in a recent post of mine on Vera Menchik, so I have decided to throw together what I have found so far.

It will be a long article, so I would suggest looking through it in small chunks!!

Hopefully anyone with more than my limited internet skills can add to it. Feel free to add anything you find - I would be most grateful.

For those of you who don't know, and I am always surprised of how many Brits don't,  Bletchley Park was the WW11 codebreaking centre, most famous for the work of the genius Alan Turing.

In the February 1945 issue of 'Chess' magazine' my friend Barry Wood somehow managed to get away with publishing this photograph of a match played between 'Bletchley Chess Club' and Oxford University, played the previous December in Oxford.


Since getting hold of the original is beyond my budget, I have sourced this version from Chess Scotland.

To clear up the key, which is not too clear!


1.T.H Tylor.  2. C H O'D Alexander.  3. H.Golombek.  4. A D H Bivar.  5. I.Berenblum.  6. H G Schenck .

7. J W Cornforth.  8. Lt. A Levenson.  9. S. Ardeshir.  10. J M Aitken.  11. Sir Robert Robinson. 

12. 'Dr' ( I.J.) Good.  13. Sgt Jacobs. 14. D Rees.  15. R C O  Matthews.  16. P J Hilton.  17. N A Perkins.

18. M.A. Chamberlain.  19. W R Cox.  20. E C Crossfield.  21. Sgt Gilbert.  22. V Grieve. 

23. J O L Roberts. 

O.K. So back to the picture that got me back into working on this!!


l-r B.H. Wood. P.S. Milner-Barry. Vera Menchik. Sir George (G.A.) Thomas. C.H.O'D Alexander. 'Harry' Golombek.

Whilst there is a great deal of material about on Bletchley Park, the story of the return to England of Alexander, Milner Barry and Golombek has gone pretty much unnoticed. It can be found in Milner - Barry's memoir of Alexander in this book.


Although some of the material can be found on the internet, it is the property of the Milner-Barry estate, so I won't quote it directly. War broke out on September 1st, 1939, following the end of the Olympiad preliminaries. The British team withdrew at once, and Sir George Thomas lent Alexander and Milner-Barry the money to get home, on board the 'Alcantata', which was leaving Buenos Aires that night. He himself had a first class cabin, which seems to have become their 'hospitality suite'!

Back in England Gordon Welchman recruited Milner-Barry for Bletchley Park. Milner-Barry states that he found Alexander already there , whilst Welchman himself, in 'The Hut Six Story', says that Milner-Barry recruited Alexander after his arrival! Take your pick.

For historic chess interest, the final games of the three 'codebreakers' in Buenos Aires.

Milner-Barry also recounts the fact that he and Alexander we lucky enough to be billeted out to a pub - The Shoulder of Mutton - along with Welchman. Contrary to my first thoughts, the pub no longer exists - one with the same name has opened since.  A photo from here.


So, back to the 'Bletchley Chess Club' team given above. There are some very clever men  in amongst them!! ( Incidentally, the same can be said of the Oxford University team!)

I will give what I have on them in board order, with links too some sources, rather than reproducing material here.

Bletchley service records are from the Bletchley Park roll of honour.

First though, the only games that I have from the match, and the results.

Oxford University - 'Bletchley Chess Club'.

1. T.H.Tylor 1/2-1/2 CHOD Alexander.

2. Dr. J.W.Cornforth. 1-0 H.Golombek.

3. Dr. H.G.Schenk. 0-1 Dr.J.M.Aitken.

4. Sir R.Robinson. 0-1 Dr.I.J.Good.

5. Dr. M.J.S.Dewar. 0-1 N.A.Perkins.

6. Dr. I.Berenblum. 0-1 Sgt. W.W.Jacobs.

7.V.Grieve. 1-0 Sgt. J.R.Gilbert.

8. R.C.O. Matthews. 0-1 M.A.Chamberlain.

9.S.Ardeshir. 1-0 P.J. Hilton.

10. J.O.L.Roberts 0-1 W.R.Cox.

11. A.D.H.Bivar. 1/2-1/2 D-Rees.

12. E.C.Crossfield. ( Corfield in BCM) 0-1 Lt. A.Levenson.

I found it on a webpage that gives a lot of things you won't find elsewhere! ecforum. with thanks.

The board 3 gave via Britbase and ecforums, with thanks.

Board 1.



Alexaander left of picture against O'Kelly at Hastings 1953-54. An event referred to here.

In that event he played one of his two best known games - one that is said to have influenced Ian Fleming's famous James Bond chess scene.


Probably the most famous of the players. A couple of years after the war he went back into the security services - at GCHQ Cheltenham - which curtailed his chess career. you can find a mass of information on him on the internet, including here,


Board 2.



Golombek in a 1950's simul, from the Hull Chess Club site.  

Golombek was a linguist rather than a mathematician, and, of course, that talent was much in demand in the  time. It also helped him in his many post war chess activities. In the Bletchley Park tour guide's talks, it is Golombek, and his position as chess editor of The Times', who is the one mentioned in connection with chess.

I chose the following game because it is against another player who was at the 1939 Olimpiad, with, sadly, a less prosperous outcome.

  And a game relevant to this article.

Nottingham 1946, from the 'Chess Magazine' tournament book.


Back row - centre P.S. Milner Barry. Front 5th and 6th from left, Alexander and Golombek.

Board 3.


You can find a good biography of him here  from which is a nice photo from B.C.M which I give.


Also Winter's chess notes 3766 

As a side note a thread on ecforums  points out that he was one of the last players to ever play against Mir Sultan Khan; in a simultaneous exhibition in Oxford, 1933.

His game from the match has just been found! Will add it here ASAP.

Board 4.


Amongst other photos of him you can find this one, of him playing chess, from the Cheltenham Chronicle 1955. nearest camera.


Quite a man!! If you are interested in the history of computing, for example, he is someone to look into. he went to Manchester University - one time home of lasker incidentally, - with Alan Turing. 

One of many!

Since the following has been removed from  the internet - site closed - I shall give it here. The page also has a mass of links, and I will happily pass them on  to anyone interested. You will have to save the images on your computer to see them properly.




Board 5.



1958 from Chess Scotland.


Amongst other things, he seems to have been a friend of Max Pavey, the Scottish player who later went to the USA, and who's name is associated with Bobby Fisher's start in chess.

Although he didn't make it to Buenos Aires - no Scottish team was sent - he did play Olympiad chess.

Board 6. 

Walter W. Jacobs. U.S.Army.

Not in Bletchley park Roll of Honour.



Board 7. 



There is a mention by Kevin Thurlow on the ecforums site, here

Sadly, that is all I have, so very much a case of 'help wanted'.

Board 8.


See the above ecforums link, and this is also mentioned.


On page 85 of Welchman's 'The Hut Six Story', he is referred to as 'Michael' Chamberlain, on page 85, as one of a group of 'very good young mathematicians' - along with John Herival - an important name in Bletchley Park history, and Davis Rees - see below. 

As above, and again 'help wanted'!

Board 9. 



Another of the Bletchley team that ended up at Manchester. There is a wonderful obituary of him here.

Well worth a read. He was clearly a good friend of Alan Turing btw.

Board 10. 



Again, I have not been able to find anything more.

Board 11. 


Another Cambridge mathematician he went back into the academic world after the war.

Welchman, in 'The Hut Six Story tell, on pgs 113-114, of an evening of great excitement. An already decoded message showed that a new wheel was to be used in the Enigma Machine, and a message had been intercepted using known settings. It wouldn't decode, so what could the solution be, apart from the new wheel having been added?. So finding out how it all worked was a matter of rewiring the hut 6 machine until the message would decode. The problem was that, at midnight they didn't have an electrician!! 

'Fortunately I had David Rees with me....... I had nearly finished the job at 8-00a.m. when Hugh Alexander dashed into the machine room to find out what had happened'

An award winning mathematician in his own right, there is plenty to be found on him. Personally, I like this page.  

Board 12.



Wow!! I just love this guy! After the war, he stayed in cryptoanalysis, working for the NSA - that was after he had been one of the allied team sent to Germany to investigate their cryptology systems.

When he died he was buried with full military honors ( in stark contrast to Alan Turing who died with a - later recinded - criminal record) Although this is a very overlong article, I shall make a exception in this case by giving more than a link. This is the relevant page froom the Arlington Cemetary archive.


Again you will have to right click it and save the image to read it properly - I am not clever enough with tech stuff to make it work!

Two more links  - from many - about his amazing man.


And a wonderful oral account of his career, that kept me fascinated for far too long!!

here.  In it you will find a lovely line about working with the very posh Babbage, and the Edingbugh ( EMBRA! to the locals - as in CHOOKIE EMBRA - The Duke of Edingbugh) Aitken, and not being able to understand a word of the conversation! 

Well, that was the team! There are three members of the Bletchley Park Chess Circle not part of the match who come to mind at once.

First of all of course - if you can remember back to the early days of this article 



You can find loads about him on the internet. Rather than post links, I will just say 'go google him'.

A photo that I took whilst at Bletchley Park of the famous 'Action This Day' letter to Churchill.


It was signed by Turing, Welchman, Alexander and Milner-Barry. I can't lay my hands on the source, but I remember the story that it was Milner-Barry who hand delivered the letter to Downing Street, because, as he explained it, 'I had a car and was the least expendable of the four of us'.

You will find above links to the ecforums thread about him.

Some chess.

And some games relevant to this article.


And they were still going at it in the same spirit 40 years later!


And finally, two players that you will find referred to here.  You will see that the idea of 'computer chess engines' started at Bletchley Park.
nullnullOne of the founders of the concept of 'Artificial Intelligence - amongst his other achievments.

A nice obituary  will tell some of it.

and some Bletchley related stuff that I found fascinating, here.



Again there is some fascinating stuff around about this fascinating man.

Plenty Bletchley Park related , from the GCHQ archives here. 

And this wonderful work of art.


And one of my own photos from the Bletchley Park recreation area.


There are a number of sources that I never got round to - I wanted to get this done before going away at the weekend! Many thanks to those responsible for the sources that I have mentioned.

ALL contribitions welcomed.

To the memory of the thousands who worked at Bletchley Park.

Without them I might not be alive.

Without them some departed friends may not have lived long enough to affect my life for the better.