Robin Barnett

Robin Barnett

Former Ambassador to Ireland, Dublin

Part of UK in Poland

28th July 2014 Dublin, Ireland

UK and Poland: strong collaboration in the past and present times

On 4th July we celebrated some remarkable Polish, French and British individuals and some equally remarkable trilateral collaboration between our three countries. Breaking the Enigma code undoubtedly saved thousands of lives and shortened the war. And the Polish contribution was crucial.

The history of how Enigma came to be broken has been shrouded in mystery. Two of my own relatives worked at Bletchley Park during World War Two. But they only admitted this decades later. The reality is that Poland, France and Britain were all trying to crack Enigma using very different approaches. In the UK, a man called Dilly Knox tried to break the cipher using traditional paper based methods. He had some success but could not crack the code.

In France, Major Bertrand of the Deuxieme Bureau applied panache and arranged for someone to steal the code books. But it was Poland that realised that only mathematicians could break the code. And, of course, it was a Polish team of mathematicians led by Marian Rajewski, who ultimately succeeded. This allowed Alan Turing to develop the ‘bombe’ which could crack the most complex codes. Yet another example of how Poland contributed so much to the allied victory in World War Two.

Much depended on a few talented individuals. But the Enigma story is more than that. Today, we take close collaboration in organisations like the EU and NATO for granted. But what happened in 1939 was a rarity. Three sovereign states came together in 1939 and, after one false start, decided to share what they knew, even though what they each brought to the table was not of the same value. That co-operation continued, both after the fall off Poland and the fall off France. We owe an enormous debt of gratitude to all those involved, some of whom tragically did not survive the war. We will remember them.

A particular tribute is due to Jerzy Rozycki, Henryk Zygalski and Marian Rejewski and all those who helped them.

Enigma demonstrated our strong collaboration during World War Two. It remains equally strong today. The UK and Poland have been in the forefront of arguing for a strong and united response by the EU and NATO to Russian aggression in Ukraine. The RAF and the Polish air force have jointly undertaken Baltic air policing and British and Polish forces will be exercising together here in Poland, starting this autumn.

That is the positive back drop for today’s meeting between Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond and Defence Secretary Michael Fallon and their Polish counterparts Ministers Radek Sikorski and Tomasz Siemoniak. Britain and Poland standing together to promote peace and security.

About Robin Barnett

Robin Barnett was British Ambassador to Ireland from 2016 to 2020. Between 2011 - 2016 he held the post of British Ambassador to Poland and his career has previously concentrated…

Robin Barnett was British Ambassador to Ireland from 2016 to 2020. Between 2011 - 2016 he held the post of British Ambassador to Poland and his career has previously concentrated on Central and Eastern Europe and multi-lateral diplomacy.

Robin began his career in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in 1980 as Desk Officer for Indonesia and the Philippines. In addition to Ireland, he has been posted to Vienna, New York and Bucharest, where he was Ambassador. He has also served as Director of UK Visas and Managing Director of the Business Group in UK Trade and Investment

Robin studied Law at Birmingham University. He has a son and a stepson and is a great admirer of Sir Alex Ferguson and a supporter of Manchester United.