In the week that Benedict Cumberbatch was nominated for the Best Actor Oscar for his portrayal of Alan Turing in The Imitation Game, I was fortunate enough to visit Bletchley Park, where Turing and a team of mathematicians and code-breakers cracked the German Enigma ciphers during World War II.
If you’ve watched the film or know much about the history of WWII, you’ll have some appreciation for the seemingly impossible challenge of cracking the Enigma ciphers, which every day sent out messages enciphered via one of 159 million million million possible combinations – in an era when electronic computers existed only in science fiction – and the role played by Turing himself in designing the electromechanical ‘bombe’ machine used to crack the cipher.
Winston Churchill claimed that the intelligence provided by the team at Bletchley Park shortened the war by two years. In reality that is, if anything, understating their impact.
Turing committed suicide in 1954 at the age of just 41 after being prosecuted for homosexuality – a criminal act in the UK until 1967 – and accepting hormone injections as treatment. Disgraced, his role in the war effort remained a secret.
It was not until 2009 that then Prime Minister Gordon Brown issued an apology in response to a public petition. He received a royal pardon on Christmas Eve, 2013.
Bletchley Park now serves as a museum and heritage site to commemorate the team’s top-secret efforts, and was used for location filming for The Imitation Game. Mere photos and words don’t do it justice.
You can find out more about Bletchley Park via their website.