Thursday, September 14, 2006

More Unsung heroes

I alluded to the dedication of all involved in the Enigma code-breaking effort just the other day, but Mr Guy Thomas chips in with further revelations:

Sir, The successful reconstruction from scratch of one of the electromechanical decoders that broke the German Enigma machine (report , Sept 7) sends a buzz of excitement to everyone determined to preserve Bletchley Park, the code-breaking HQ, as a vital part of our wartime heritage. Sadly, Hut No 1, where the machine was originally housed, has already fallen to the demolition gang.

The transport complex is likely to follow. These buildings were needed to garage vehicles and plan the logistics of transporting the 12,000 people who worked at Bletchley. Records reveal that, in one week in 1944, there were 28,321 coach journeys covering 25,138 miles and using 115 drivers — just to ferry the workforce back and forth to billets in the Buckinghamshire countryside.

Clearly, this was a transport project on the grand scale, and preserving the complex in recognition of the support services who kept the codebreaking machinery whirring is essential. Despite having other problems on her mind just now, it is to be hoped that Tessa Jowell will find some way to help.

The more astute readers of this blog will have detected a certain fondness for mathematics on the part of your author. Perhaps we should see what we make of all of this.
28,321 coach journeys, covering a total of 25,138 miles? That's less than mile per journey on average. 1562 yards each in fact.
115 drivers? That's only 219 miles per driver. Per Week. That's really not very much at all. Even if we assume that each driver works only a 5 day week (and I am loathe to make such an assumption given that Bletchley Park ran 3 shifts round the clock, 7 days a week), that works out at 44 miles per driver per day. If we further assume that these coaches are wheezing, clapped out affairs recovered from some rusting junkyard and capable of only 10 mph on average, each of these drivers is capable of covering his average daily distance in just 4 hours 24 minutes. That leaves a great deal of time for drinking tea in the transport shed if you ask me.
And what of the passengers? We have 12,000 staff and we charitably assume that all require to ferried twice a day (at the start and end of a daily shift) and further that these 12,000 staff - unlike the drivers - do work 7 days. That is 168,000 passenger journeys in total for the week. Which gives an average occupancy of just under 6 passengers on each journey.
Complex? Possibly. Efficient? Nope.


Umbongo said...

And since petrol was all imported, at severe risk to the merchant seaman on the tankers, a possibly serious misuse (or overuse) of a scarce and valuable product (unless most of the vehicles were horse-drawn).

Nigel Sedgwick said...

In your calculation of the average journey length, you seem to have forgotten that many people would make much of their journey in common.

Thus your figure of a bit under 1 mile (1500ish yards) is not a measure of the average distance travelled per person.

Best regards

The Pedant-General in Ordinary said...


Welcome back. It's possible that you have misread something: I didn't suggest that the 1500 yards is the distance per person - that is the distance per coach/driver journey.

I refer later to the average occupancy, but haven't quite done the TDM to convert this into miles/passenger journey.


A very pertinent point, especially as the transport provider is less constrained by a definite timetable than an ordinary public transport operator - even a private sector one. If there are no passengers for a particular trip, the coach need not run - simple as that, there being a war on and stuff.

I hinted at, but did not fully develop, this idea - you are quite right to note it.

gyiepz: turnips for travellers.