Bletchley Park Hut 6 threat triggers Everest trek

Information management consultant and ACCU member Astrid Byro has taken on a challenge that takes her well out of her comfort zone: an expedition to Everest's base camp to help save a piece of history at Bletchley Park.

The campaign sees Byro looking for sponsorship for a trek that will take her above 5,360m over a period of about two weeks, risking ice, crevasses, avalanches, and a landing at what has been called the world's most dangerous airport at Lukla. The payoff: to have helped save Hut 6, a historical building in dire need of repair before it is lost to the world.

"I've been fundraising for BP for about three years now by organising auctions and raffles at the annual ACCU Spring Conference," Byro told thinq_, "as well as doing the annual ACCU/Bletchley Autumn Lectures, from which all profits go to Bletchley Park and The National Museum of Computing.

"I think that so far we've raised about £20,000 that way, but it just doesn't feel like enough - my efforts feel too small," Byro explained. "So I thought that, maybe, doing something like this would not only raise more money but also raise more awareness of Bletchley - what it is and why it's important to preserve."

Byro's passion for Bletchley is one shared by many in computing and historical circles: home to the Codebreakers, the secretive activities at the park are credited with a shortening of World War II and paved the way for modern computing as we know it today.

Stephen Fry, noted historical buff and Bletchley Park fan, once claimed that it represented "probably the most significant single war effort the British made, and it was conclusively and convincingly triumphant." At the time, General Dwight D. Eisenhower stated that intelligence received by the US military from Bletchley Park, "has been of priceless value. It has saved thousands of British and American lives and, in no small way, contributed to the speed with which the enemy was routed and eventually forced to surrender."

Those are sentiments with which Byro is in complete agreement. "The work that was done there with regard to code breaking and cryptography in the second World War is an important part of history that has only begun to emerge fairly recently," she explained. "Research into the archives is really only just beginning and I believe that this work will shed new light on the conflict.

"Bletchley is arguably the home of modern computing," Byro further explained, "as the place where the first stored memory computer was built. Sadly there doesn't yet seem to be much regard for this important milestone in computing history, but I think that in the future it will be more and more important that we are aware of this past."

Despite recent successes in raising funding for the charitable trust that maintains Bletchley Park - including the successful purchase at auction of papers relating to Alan Turing, noted polymath and computing pioneer who worked at the Park during World War II - the Trust is still short on funds, and history is literally rotting away in front of its eyes.

Under threat is the future of Hut 6, a building designed as a temporary structure housing a team that worked on the cracking of the German Army and Air Force Enigma cipher. With its construction concentrating more on expediency than longevity, it has suffered badly at the hands of time and weather.

Although some funds have been promised, work to preserve the historical facility doesn't come cheap: the Trust has estimated that it needs to raise £465,000 to cover the urgent works required to preserve and restore the facility for the future. It's a great deal of money, and it's cash that the Trust will have to rely on receiving from public and corporate donations .

That's a lot of money to find, and Byro is realistic about her chances of raising the full amount. "I've set my goal at £50,000," she explained, "because I'm trying to do something substantial for Bletchley Park and because I believe that this is achievable if we can just get the word out. My fear is that other people will not find this to be a compelling cause, and if that's the case then I feel that my challenge as well as BP's future could be in peril."

It's a project which is costing Byro personally: with no corporate sponsorship forthcoming thus far, she has been forced to buy equipment for the trip using her own money. Should the £50,000 target be reached - or, better still, the £465,000 total required to fully restore the facility - it's a cost that Byro considers worth paying.

The fundraising effort comes with not-insignificant risk attached, however. Byro confessed that she was feeling nervous about the prospect of suffering altitude sickness, dysentery, being attacked by leeches, hitting the tail end of the monsoon season and trekking over suspension and rope bridges in little better condition than Hut 6 itself.

It's the flight from Kathmandu to Lukla that has Byro most concerned, however. "The flight from Kathmandu to Lukla is in a tiny twin engine craft. I'm not a good flyer at the best of times and usually take half a pill so that I'm not a gibbering mess, but this flight will be particularly problematic because the landing strip at Lukla has been called the most dangerous in the world.

"I would say I'm more worried than scared," Byro claimed. "I'm a project manager, so I do a lot of planning and have come up with strategies for most of the problems that I think I will run into - we call that doing a risk assessment and mitigation. Those that are out of my control? If nothing else, I will have emergency evacuation insurance."

So far, Byro has managed to raise over £1,000 in personal donations from members of the public. It's a far cry from her £50,000 target, but Byro remains committed to the cause. "The truth is I had toyed with the idea for some time, and I thought that I ought to do it while I'm still young and fit enough. Then it occurred to me that I could do this to help Bletchley and that really sealed the deal."

You can read more on Byro's efforts to raise money for Bletchley Park on the Asti's Bloody Climb to Everest Base Camp blog, and donate yourself at her JustGiving page. Businesses that would like to enjoy similar publicity to Google after its $100,000 donation to purchase the Turing papers are advised to get in touch with Kelsey Griffin at Bletchley Park directly.

Hut 6 'Pool' photo Crown Copyright, reproduced with kind permission of The Director, GCHQ.