Wednesday, 07 March 2012 08:43

Turing exhibition shows another side of the Enigma codebreaker

    He has gone down in history as the man who cracked the Enigma code, changing the course of the second world war, and whose work in mathematics and computer sciences was instrumental in bringing about the personal computers we use today.

    Yet a new exhibition at Bletchley Park in Buckinghamshire, Britain's centre of codebreaking activities in the second world war, reveals another side to Alan Turing. A collection of his personal possessions, donated by his family, includes a teddy bear that he bought as a student and named Porgy; an unread copy of Arabian Nights, which Turing won at school; and a treasured Swiss watch.

    More poignantly, it also includes a biography of Turing by his mother Sara, which she self-published in 1959 after every publisher had turned it down; and a letter sent to her in 1975 by computer scientist Brian Randell, which revealed to her the extent of Turing's heroism. As head of Hut 8, the naval Enigma team, Turing's work at Bletchley Park had been top secret and was not disclosed until the mid-70s. Winston Churchill called the place, which employed up 10,000 people at the height of its operations, "the goose that laid the golden egg and never cackled".

    "That's how the secret was kept – people respected their superior officers," said Jean Valentine, who worked on the Enigma machine at Bletchley Hall as a 19-year-old, and now works as a guide there. "You didn't mention a word even to your contemporaries."

    In 1952, Turing was arrested for having a sexual relationship with another man, convicted for gross indecency and chemically castrated. He committed suicide two years later, aged 41. At the launch of the exhibition, called The Life and Works of Alan Turing, Captain Jerry Roberts, a fellow codebreaker at Bletchley, said that Turing "saved the nation and demands the highest recognition". He added that once the Enigma code had been cracked, the number of allied battleships sunk by the Nazis dropped by 75%.

    In 2009, Gordon Brown issued an official apology for Turing's treatment by the British government, a signed copy of which is including in the exhibition. However, a campaign to have Turing officially pardoned was rejected by justice minister Lord McNally last month.

    "I think it's enormously regrettable – he ought to be pardoned," said former culture secretary Chris Smith at the...

    Related World War History Online Posts

    • Second World War mast in Faversham at centre of row
      Second World War mast in Faversham at centre of row A radar mast at the heart of Britain’s home defence during the Second World War has found itself at the centre of a new battle The Grade II listed building in Courtenay Road, Faversham, is famous for its role in spotting enemy aircraft in the war, most famously during the Battle of Britain. It is one of Britain’s five remaining…
    • Los Angeles bunker from which Hitler planned to run Nazi empire after the war
      Los Angeles bunker from which Hitler planned to run Nazi empire after the war It sounds like the bizzare script of a Hollywood B-movie. In a parallel universe the Nazis have won the war, Adolf Hitler moves to LA where he mingles with the stars of the silver screen while running his evil empire from a luxurious ranch deep in the LA hills. But during the 1930s, American sympathisers were so confident this exact…
    • A chilling account: In the Auschwitz gas chambers
      A chilling account: In the Auschwitz gas chambers The majority of Poland’s Jews had been murdered by the end of 1942 At the main Action Reinhardt extermination camps the small groups of Jews selected to work on the disposal of the bodies were themselves periodically murdered, and new people were chosen for the task. Few eyewitnesses were ever to emerge from these camps. In Auschwitz, which was both…
    • Spending Christmas Eve in a foxhole in Bastogne.
      Spending Christmas Eve in a foxhole in Bastogne. Digging in for the Winters Leadership Project Cambridge, Minnesota resident Scott Schmitt is digging in for the World War II Foundation. Beginning on December 16th (the 67th anniversary of the start of the Battle of the Bulge), Schmitt will be digging a foxhole in his backyard and living in that foxhole as long as he possibly can, braving the cold…