Gay Times July 12 - Issue 408
If you’re reading GT on a Tablet, you have Alan Turing to thank. In fact if you’re reading this edition of GT on any format, you probably have him to thank too. Because it was this little-known shy, eccentric, gay man who helped to both secure Britain’s freedom in World War II by cracking vital German codes and pioneered the development of computers we can’t live without.
More from Gay Times July 12 - Issue 408
But the same country he sought to protect, then ruined his career and left the man chemically castrated, simply because of who he chose to sleep with.
Born a century ago this year in 1912 to middle-upper class parents, Turing was a quirky but gifted student who went on to study maths at Cambridge University. And after graduating with a distinction, he taught quantum mechanics. Before long, Turing had written a paper that set the basis for a machine capable of solving problems – the foundation of the computers and tablets we use today.
In 1938, he was headhunted by the Government to work secretly and part-time for the cryptanalytic department, the Government Code and Cypher School. And the day after the UK declared war on Germany in 1939, he moved to Bletchley Park, Buckinghamshire and later began work on cracking the Enigma code. They were encoded messages the Nazi’s transmitted through a machine to communicate their naval and battle plans to each other. “No one else was doing anything about it and I could have it to myself,” Turing said.
Affectionately nicknamed The Prof by his team, he was a unique man who dressed shabbily, bit his fingernails, behaved a little awkwardly and had strange habits. Described as an eccentric by his workmates, he had a high-pitched voice and was talkative and witty, and showed many of the characteristics that would be diagnosed today as Asperger’s.
Co-worker Jack Good recalled: “In the first week of June each year he would get a bad attack of hay fever and would cycle to work wearing a gas mask to keep the pollen off. And he would chain his mug to the radiator pipes to prevent it being stolen.” But despite his quirks, no-one doubted his genius.
His cracking of the Enigma code helped take years off the length of World War II. Without those decoded signals the Allies would most likely have lost the U-boat war, then America couldn’t have shipped troops across the Atlantic. And without the troops, D-Day would not have happened.
Turing received an OBE in 1945 for his work at the Foreign Office. However, because Turning’s wartime work achievements remained completely secret, he was unable to boast about them to prospective employers once the war had ended. Quite simply, nobody knew what he’d accomplished until long after his death.
To read the full article, pick up the latest copy of GT out in all good retailers, online and downloadable on your iPhone or iPad.
Words: John Marrs
Image: Alan Turing, 29 March 1951 picture credit NPL Archive, Science Museum.