Dollis Hill at War
Dollis Hill at War
The Dollis Hill building was erected in 1933 as the headquarters of the Post Office Engineering Department Research Station. Here T. H. Flowers pioneered digital electronics. The imposing brick building looks out from its hilltop site over the suburbs of North London (see photograph 41). It housed what was probably the most active telecommunications research centre in Europe. The building still stands today. Now converted into condominiums, it flanks a road named Flowers Close. Dollis Hill (DH) supplied much of the cryptanalytical machinery for Bletchley Park. Another of its roles was to provide an emergency alternative to the underground Cabinet War Rooms in Whitehall. Early in the war a secret underground citadel was excavated at DH. A massive structure of reinforced concrete, the citadel extended three floors into the ground. It is said that Churchill took against the new bunker, and the War Cabinet met at DH only once. Gil Hayward joined the Post Office Research Station in 1934. He describes the ethos of the new research laboratory: I went to DH at the age of 16, straight from school. The Research Station had existed in permanent form for less than two years, having previously been accommodated in a series of wooden huts. ‘Research is the Door to Tomorrow’ was inscribed in stone above the main entrance to the new building. The atmosphere at DH was unique. Original thinking was encouraged and there was a substantial amount of freedom. Norman Thurlow entered the Engineering Department of the Post Office as a recruit some three years before the war. In 1942, he joined the Dollis Hill group and participated in Flowers’ engineering revolution. The Post Office included the post and telephone businesses. The Engineering Department served both operations for all engineering work, including R&D. The Research Branch at Dollis Hill consisted of several different groups. Among them were the telegraph, switching, and physics groups, headed by Frank Morrell, Tom Flowers, and Eric Speight, respectively. These three groups all became involved in some way with the Bletchley Park operation. The state of the art was defined by the telephone and telegraph systems.
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