Project Block H
As part of the 70th anniversary of Block H, the first results of an embryo project to recreate a virtual 1940’s Block H was revealed to the Colossus veterans. Their response was enthusiastic and very informative, helping to fill in some of the details of this very important heritage building in those top-secret days. We are now planning to take the prototype and develop a full project.
Block H on Bletchley Park, now home to The National Museum of Computing, was built in September 1944 specifically to house the Colossus computers that were shortening the war by speeding up the deciphering of the top secret Lorenz/Tunny messages between Hitler and his generals. These first computers were huge and required a specially constructed spacious new building. The original purpose of the building was kept secret for decades, but today it is home to the Colossus Rebuild and working computers from the seven decades of computing that have followed those pioneering years.
This summer for the Summer Bytes Festival, Chris Monk and Owen Grover of TNMOC began to build the prototype virtual Block H. The reception from visitors was very positive and many were completely wowed by wearing the Oculus Rift virtual reality headset to get the full experience.
Creating the Virtual Block H
Chris Monk, Learning Co-ordinator at TNMOC, explains: “We are using OpenSimulator, open source software, and some high-powered PCs from Chillblast to recreate a virtual Block H. Our early attempts were rough and ready, but the reaction of visitors has astounded us.
“Talking to the Colossus veterans at the reunion we have learned a lot more about the nature of Block H in the 1940s. Even after so many years, the veterans were able to recall some key facts which are helping the project. We’ve encountered quite a few surprises about life back then.
"When I asked what their desks were like, the veterans looked at me askance — they had no desks, they perched on stools when necessary! There were no waste-paper bins for the used tapes either.
"The veterans thought the harsh fluorescent lights, a fledgling technology back then, were particularly realistic in our recreation.
"A lot more research is required to develop the project and the team has even been carefully scraping eight layers of paint in small patches to re-discover the original wall coverings.”