More on Room 40

NPG x168073; Sir (William) Reginald Hall by Walter Stoneman
Rear-Admiral ‘Blinker’ Hall.

I have written before about some of the bad history surrounding Room 40, and, now, another instance. In an article on the famed Zimmermann Telegram of 1917 BBC News reporter Gordon Corera writes, ‘On the morning of 17 January 1917, Nigel de Grey walked into his boss’s office in Room 40 of the Admiralty, home of the British code-breakers.’

Corera was referring to Rear-Admiral W. Reginald ‘Blinker’ Hall, Director of the Intelligence Division of the Admiralty War Staff (pictured). In that one sentence, however, he has made a number of errors.

  1. Hall was not de Grey’s boss. As the latter himself admitted, technically his boss at the time was Sir J. Alfred Ewing, the Director of Naval Education.
  2. Hall’s office was not in 40 O.B., which was on the first floor of the Old Building of the Admiralty complex. Using the Admiralty Telephone Exchange List for May 1917 we see that his office at the time was in 39A (where it had been since he took up the post in 1914) on the ground floor of Block I , later renamed West Block. Some time between May 1917 and February 1918 Hall moved into 39 West Block, a much larger room.
  3. De Grey is hardly likely to have just ‘walked’ into Hall’s office. Corera quotes only part of his recollection in his article, but de Grey went on, ‘I was young and excited and ran all the way to his [Hall’s] room’, which makes far more sense if the office was a whole block away, rather than in the suite of rooms the code-breaking team occupied in and near 40 O.B.

As errors go, it is difficult to see how they can have originated from the existing literature, poor as it is. So come on, BBC News: up your game, please.

Sources

Admiralty Telephone Exchange List. Admiralty Library, Portsmouth.
Batey, Mavis. Dilly: The Man who Broke Enigmas (London, 2009).

 

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2 thoughts on “More on Room 40

  1. is there a biog of Hall you know of ? I have Beezley and Tuchmann’s boks and he comes across well, plus innovated various aspects of crew management on Queen Mary to make it a much better ship than (say) Tiger.

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    1. There’s Sir William James’s biography of Hall, which is pure hagiography, and David Ramsay’s more recent biography, which isn’t much of a biography at all really.
      Some of the innovations need to be looked at carefully: a mechanical laundry in the Royal Navy was not new (no doubt a legend cultivated by James). The three watch system was not new either in many respects, and while it may have been good for the men, for the officers it was hell, as there were never enough.

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