It is said that 2,000 country houses were requisitioned in the Second World War. Two houses that I recently visited provide excellent illustrations of the impact of this military usage.
Bletchley Park in Bletchley near Milton Keynes became the basis of a top secret codebreaking establishment. Here the house was taken over early on in the War and adapted for use by highly intelligent men and women recruited for their codebreaking skills.
Various huts and outbuildings work constructed for teams of men women to work night and day to try to break the codes used by Axis forces.They were helped in their efforts by the capture of various German Enigma machines. But the Enigma cipher could not be broken without understanding the key that was being used by German forces on any given day
Mathematical geniuses such as Alan Turing and Gordon Welchman developed means by which the ciphers could be cracked. Turing is noted for having done research work that led to the establishment of computers as we know them today - his groundbreaking work on the computer technology was published in 1936 when Turing was still in his early 20s and two years before he secured his PhD from Princeton. Turing's efforts at Bletchley Park are memorialised in the film The Imitation Game, about which there is currently an exhibition at Bletchley Park.
But there is much much more to see here. The Park has been beautifully brought back to life. The various huts are full of different exhibitions on aspects of the codebreakers' work. All is presented in a very clear and thoughtful way. Technical information is provided but there is also plenty of human interest to captivate visitors. Quotes are given from the various people who worked at Bletchley Park during the War, such as the one by the garden historian Mavis Batey below, although nothing was known about this place until the secret was first built in around 1974. Even the machines (the Bombe) used to crack the Enigma code were dismantled after the war on the orders of Churchill. Only replicas can be seen at Bletchley, to help tell this fascinating story.
The park is brought to life by conveying different aspects of working conditions at Bletchley - the recreated offices, the tennis courts, the cycle racks. As visitors walk around the site outdoor speakers transmit sounds, giving some idea of what this place must been like when 9,000 people came to work every day in conditions of absolute secrecy.
Bletchley Park is quite simply astonishing - the sort of site that will continue to captivate for many years ahead as more and more secrets are uncovered about its wartime role.
Not too far away I also visited Hughenden, a National Trust property.
The house is most famous as the home of Benjamin Disraeli, the 19th century prime minister. It was he who removed the render and Gothicised the house, revealing it in all its naked redbrick angular glory. But a new exhibition in the basement reveals the wartime history of the house. Hughenden was used by the map makers of the Second World War, the men who provided the targets for the Allied bombing raids on the continent.
The conditions in the house at that time are represented through various black-and-white photos showing rooms with the contents removed, to be replaced by the map-makers' tables. On my visit the basement exhibition was just as popular as the rooms upstairs, demonstrating the appetite there is for Second World War stories.
I was slightly less convinced however by the air raid shelter in the basement which showed the 'Keep Calm and Carry On' poster on display. Though popular today, the poster was never in fact in mass circulation during the war.