Keeping out the cold (war)

After being used as insulation, Alan Turing’s papers to go on display

Notes used by mathematician Alan Turing and his team to break the Nazi German code during World War II, which for some reason were being used as insulation in Bletchley Park’s Hut 6, will go on display later this month. The documents were recovered as part of a building restoration project, according to Mkweb and other news reports.

The documents, some of which illustrate a technique that Turing used to speed up decryption, are thought to be the only examples of that work in existence. Once they were discovered by building restorers, they were frozen for preservation.

Turing’s team worked to decrypt supposedly unbreakable code created by the Germans using the Enigma Machine (pictured above.) All of their work — on paper or otherwise — was top secret at the time and remained so for years after the war. The papers at issue here should have been destroyed but were apparently used to plug holes in the drafty walls and ceilings of the old building, according to this report The Australian.

Bletchley Park, about 55 miles northwest of London, was a top-secret site used by Turing and other cryptologists to break the German code at a time when the war was decidedly going in Germany’s favor. It’s no exaggeration to say the work Turing did saved untold lives and shortened the war. Turing’s work at Bletchley Park is featured in The Imitation Game, a movie with Benedict Cumberbatch playing Turing.

Despite his world-changing work, in 1952 Turing, who was gay (a crime at the time), was prosecuted and convicted in 1952 of committing gross indecency. He accepted chemical castration in lieu of a prison term. Two years later he died of an apparent suicide, although that is still debated. In 2013, Queen Elizabeth II of England issued a posthumous pardon.

Turing’s achievements are beyond dispute. One of the computing industry’s highest honors is The A.M. Turing Award.

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