Newnham and Bletchley Park exhibition

Newnham, Women's War Work

A new exhibition tells the incredible story of Newnham College women’s war work, at Bletchley Park and beyond.

More than 70 students and alumnae were secretly recruited for World War Two codebreaking work at Bletchley Park, thanks partly to the personal connections of three Newnham women: Alda Milner-Barry, former Principal Pernel Strachey and Ray Strachey.

The role of the Cambridge College in the vital work at Bletchley Park has emerged slowly and piecemeal through historical research, as the women involved were sworn to secrecy, the need for which continued after the war ended when Cold War tension followed the armed conflict.  

The role of Newnham women at Bletchley Park, carefully concealed for decades, was uncovered by alumna Dr Sally Waugh, historian and Fellow Emerita Dr Gillian Sutherland, and College Archivist Frieda Midgley, who worked closely with staff at Bletchley Park. 

The exhibition in Sidgwick Hall will be open to the public on Tuesday 19 March, Thursday 21 March and Friday 22 March.  Opening hours for the exhibition are 12.30-2.30pm on the Tuesday and Thursday, and 2.30-4.30pm on the Friday.

Alternative dates will also be made available to the public and Newnham Alumnae during the Open Cambridge Festival and the University Alumni Festival in September.  Read more about it here.

Newnham College students, staff and Fellows will be notified separately for opportunities to attend the exhibition. 

Find out more

Over 70 Newnham alumnae were involved in the UK’s World War Two signals intelligence operation, most of them in the wooden huts and brick blocks of Bletchley Park. In spartan conditions, the predominantly female workforce processed thousands of encrypted enemy messages, contributing to vital intelligence that aided the Allied war effort. Newnham women were represented in most key areas of Bletchley Park’s work. These include:

  • Hut 6 and Hut 8 – decryption of German Enigma-enciphered signal traffic.
  • Naval, Military and Air Sections – indexing and analysis of decrypted signals, production of intelligence reports. Also decryption and analysis of non-Enigma enciphered material.
  • SIXTA – traffic analysis. Understanding the enemy’s organisation, locations and activities.
  • Diplomatic Section – decryption and analysis of enemy and neutral diplomatic signal traffic.
  • Y Services – intercepting enemy radio communications at sites throughout the UK, providing the vital encrypted raw material.

Newnham and the Bletchley Park Trust have worked closely on this exhibition, and have valued the exchange of knowledge.

Jonathan Byrne, Oral History Officer, Bletchley Park Trust

The Bletchley Park Roll of Honour

You can find out more about the more than 14,000 women and men known to have worked in World War Two codebreaking from the online Roll of Honour on the Bletchley Park website. This is compiled from surviving official wartime records, but mostly from what the Bletchley Park Trust has learned from Veterans and their families.  Type “Newnham” in the Keywords field to bring up College alumnae.

Visit Bletchley Park

Today, Bletchley Park is an independent museum and heritage attraction, open daily. Find out more at