Teacher's marathon fitness challenge inspired by his grandfather's wartime Bletchley Park code cracking

A war hero who sent vital information to British agents working behind enemy lines has inspired his Chorley grandson to tackle an extreme fitness challenge and raise funds for research into dementia.

Thursday, 15th July 2021, 4:16 pm
Updated Thursday, 15th July 2021, 4:44 pm
Teacher Ed Brindley, who is taking part in the Outlaw Triathlon Challenge in aid of Alzheimer’s Research UK (picture courtesy of Ed Brindley)
Teacher Ed Brindley, who is taking part in the Outlaw Triathlon Challenge in aid of Alzheimer’s Research UK (picture courtesy of Ed Brindley)

Teacher Ed Brindley, who lives in Whittle-le-Woods, will swim 2.4 miles, cycle 112 miles then run a 26.2 mile marathon, all in just one day, in a challenging triathlon.

He’s aiming to raise at least £1,000 for Alzheimer’s Research UK, as his beloved grandfather Charles suffered from dementia in his final years.

The 29-year-old has been accepted as part of the Alzheimer’s Research UK fund-raising team taking part in the Outlaw Triathlon at the National Water Sports Centre at Holme Pierrepoint, Nottingham, on July 25.

Charles Brindley as an 18-year-old after signing up to the Royal Signals Corps (copyright Brindley family)

The event starts at sunrise with a swim, followed by the bike ride across Nottinghamshire and then the race around the city centre.

Ed, who lives with his partner Alice McCoy, grew up unaware that during World War II Charles was a Royal Signalman linked to Bletchley Park home to the Colossus and Enigma machines.

Charles was picked to join the elite Special Communications Unit Number 1 at Whaddon Hall, Bletchley - HQ for MI6's section VIII operations during the war and the forerunner of today’s secret service.

He was responsible for supplying crucial details on German strategy to Allied commanders and agents in the field. Code-named Ultra, the information was credited as helping to end the conflict early.

Charles Brindley, who became head of security at Blackpool Winter Gardens and Tower, after he left the Royal Signals Corps (copyright Brindley family)

Charles later served in Palestine, probably transmitting secret encoded signals using morse code.

After being demobbed he worked in Preston for the English Electricity Company, which made electrical equipment, before returning to his home town of Blackpool where he became head of security at Blackpool Winter Gardens, Opera House and Tower in the 1970s and 80s.

He was responsible for shielding stars of the day from over-zealous fans plus protecting politicians from potential IRA attacks.

Ed, who teaches PE at Formby High School, said: “We didn’t know anything about my grandad’s work at Bletchley Park until his mum’s diary was discovered.

Bletchley Park, base of the famouus wartime code crackers

"It was amazing to learn what Grandad did in the war - he never spoke about it to my dad Noel, his other son Russell nor their sister Elaine.

“I assume he had been ordered to keep it a secret.

"Grandad’s brother Tommy would have known about the Bletchley link it but the paperwork was hidden away and forgotten.

"He was also in the Services and joined the Royal Navy though he didn’t have to, as he had a protected job working on Lancashire Wellington bombers.

"It’s surprising they signed up - they weren’t conscripted - as their own father Thomas was bayonetted and gassed in World War I, and had a trench collapse on him.

"He had served in France in the Dorset Reserve Cavalry - made famous in the stage play and film War Horse - and in Galipolli.

“I remember Grandad as somebody who was always playful and a lot of fun, enjoying games with us in his garden, where he had lots of odd things he’d found on the beach.

"The first time I realised how bad dementia could be was when I saw Grandad flick from anger to confusion to sadness, unable to recognise us when me and Dad visited him in hospital for the last time.

"He was swearing and just not the man I knew - he never swore.

“He was younger than I am now when he was sending those secret messages, doing a job that involved a high level of accuracy and skill.

"It is tragic that dementia took away those abilities and turned him into a different person.

“He died in July 2007 aged 80.

"He had developed pneumonia and was in hospital but then Dorothy, my step-grandmother, died at home.

"He died himself just days later and his brother Tommy sorted out all his papers. It was only after Tommy’s death that the family discovered this secret history.

“Finding out about his work in the war was amazing. Charles and Tommy’s mum Hannah - my great-grandmother - kept a diary detailing where her sons were, from their letters home.

"Grandad could say he was in Bletchley as nobody would know what was going on there, and Tommy simply said which ship he was on, rather than his location.

"It was only from reading this diary after his death that we discovered that Grandad was at Windy Ridge, a wireless station at Whaddon Hall, named Station X in 1939, which was linked to Bletchley Park.

“Dad did some research and found out Grandad passed encoded messages to high-ranking officers and spies in the field in Europe to inform them of German operations, which had been discovered by the teams cracking the German transmissions.

"He's also on the Bletchley role of honour, which you can see when you go into the museum there and online.

“Grandad used Morse code to send the encrypted messages and had to be very accurate, especially when it came to numbers and dates.

"He probably had no idea about the content of what he was sending as this too would have been encoded.

"There were thousands working there, decoding messages, encrypting the intelligence into new messages and transmitting these onwards.

“Dad discovered that if somebody made an error in their transmission they were dismissed as accuracy in encoded messages was essential.

"So Grandad must have been very good if he was kept on and then moved to Special Communications Unit Number 1, which became part of MI6, at Whaddon Hall.

"They worked on the ‘Ultra' intelligence which was very high level and sent directly to generals and commanders.

“Dad said that when they were children and asked him about his time in the war he just said ‘That’s for me to know and you to find out.”

"Well, we’ve now found out but sadly we can’t tell Grandad that we now know.

“Grandad went on to be head of security at Blackpool Winter Gardens and Tower, and Dad remembers they had a phone line installed at home in the 70s because the Tower repeatedly got IRA bomb scares and Grandad would have to get out of bed in the night and go down to check the place was safe.

"Plus Dad got free tickets to see bands but he had to help out as a bouncer!”

Fitness fan Ed is eating up to 7,000 calories a day during his training and reckons he will burn more than 15,000 calories during the triple event.

“I use protein shakes and eat plenty of pulses and vegetables as I don’t eat meat. Plus a lot of doughnuts and Jaffa cakes,” he added.

“I’m training as much as I can, with up to 10 sessions a week.

"I do a swim, run or gym workout every day then try to fit in as many long bike rides as possibly, especially at the weekend.

"My longest bike ride before this was the 100 mile Liverpool-Chester race, and I did the Chester marathon in just over four hours.

"But doing it all in just one day, back-to-back, will be exhausting. It’s a good job it’s during the school holidays!”

A veteran of marathons and triathlons, he wanted to set himself a new challenge and decided to enter the Outlaw triathlon and was delighted when Alzheimer’s Research UK, an official partner for the event, accepted him onto its fund-raising team.

“It seemed a perfect way to honour his memory with this ultra triathlon and to help research into this awful condition. Dementia affects so many families: it’s not just older people as I’ve become aware that people of any age can develop dementia and it is hard for their relatives.

“Dementia took away the opportunity to really say goodbye to my grandad. It affects families everyday. Alzheimer's Research UK is trying to find a cure to diseases that cause dementia so this doesn't keep happening.”

Ed is already more than halfway to his £1,000 target thanks to donations from friends and family - including £100 from his mum’s cousins in memory of their own mother who had dementia and served in the Forces in the 1940s.

He is also getting plenty of support from his colleagues at Formby High School, where he works.

Head teacher Dominic Mackenzie said: “The story of Ed’s family is one of courage, bravery and resilience, and Ed will need this in abundance when he completes the Outlaw triathlon.

"It is testament to Ed’s character and his care for others that he is willing to take on this challenge and he has the backing of all the staff and students at Formby High School.

“I have been watching Ed from a distance in the dining room at lunchtimes and noticed he was asking for extra helpings, which is no surprise given the amount of training he is doing!

"Charles, Ed’s grandfather, sounds like a true hero and Ed will achieve hero status when he successfully negotiates his swim, bike and run.”

Julia Sobik, Head of Sporting Events at Alzheimer’s Research UK, said: “Dementia affects a significant proportion of the population - one in three people over 65 in the UK will die with some form of the condition.

“That is why we are determined to help scientists discover new treatments and find ways of tackling the diseases that cause dementia, but we can’t do this without the support of our wonderful fundraisers.”

Ed trained as a teacher at Edge Hill University after gaining his degree followed by a master’s in sports science at Chester University.

He has taken part in other triathlons and marathons in the UK and in New Zealand where he worked as a teaching assistant.

Ed’s JustGiving page for his Outlaw Triathlon Challenge in aid of Alzheimer’s Research UK is at https://bit.ly/2Qnw7hu

For further information about Alzheimer’s Research UK, or to find out more about fundraising for the charity, call 0300 111 5555 or visit www.alzheimersresearchuk.org.