Unsung wartime heroes become world famous

  |  Published: Nov 18th 2013

First meeting of relatives of legendary wartime code-breakers at The National Museum of Computing

Relatives of two war heroes whose ingenious code-breaking work was kept secret for decades met for the first time during a private visit to The National Museum of Computing on Bletchley Park. They met in the Tunny and Colossus Galleries which have been created by the Museum to celebrate and explain the incredible code-breaking achievements of Bill Tutte and Tommy Flowers.

The amazing story of Tutte and Flowers was kept top secret for decades because their work was so cutting edge. Bill Tutte worked out how Hitler's fiendishly complex Lorenz cipher machine worked and Tommy Flowers designed and built Colossus, the world's first electronic computer, which sped up the breaking of the Lorenz messages, work that had previously to be undertaken entirely by hand in the Testery. Their work shortened the war and saved countless lives.

In their first encounter Richard Youlden, the nephew of Bill Tutte, and Kenneth Flowers, the son of Tommy Flowers, enjoyed exchanging reminiscences and seeing the TNMOC rebuilds of the Tunny machine and the Colossus computer that enabled the secret messages to be revealed.

To Richard Youlden, Bill Tutte was known simply as Uncle Bill: "He used to come and visit us at Christmas and entertain us as children. It wasn't until 1996 when Tony Sale came to my house to talk to Uncle Bill about the Colossus Rebuild Project that I began to realise the huge significance of his code-breaking achievement."

Kenneth Flowers said that growing up he knew that his father had worked on something secret during the war: "He mentioned Bletchley Park, but I didn't know any of the details -- he kept quiet about that. I knew it was something scientific or technical, but I didn't learn about Colossus until the story became public in the 1970s."

Andy Clark, a trustee at TNMOC, said: "The work of Tutte and Flowers was so important that it could not be made public for decades. When the story of World War II codebreaking was starting to be told, the Enigma story took much of the limelight because, although an extraordinary achievement with huge impact, it used a much less complex technology that was less sensitive to reveal subsequently. By contrast Lorenz code-breaking was far more sophisticated and the techniques developed remained relevant to breaking increasingly complex post-war cipher systems. At The National Museum of Computing we are delighted to explain the code-breaking from intercept to decrypt and to highlight the pivotal roles of Tutte and Flowers."

Next year there are plans to unveil a memorial to Bill Tutte in his home town of Newmarket, Suffolk. Anyone can contribute to the Bill Tutte Memorial Fund: www.billtuttememorial.org.uk

In December 2013, a memorial to Tommy Flowers will be unveiled at BT's global research and development HQ in Martlesham, Suffolk. During the war, Tommy Flowers was a telephone engineer at the General Post Office, part of which went on to become BT.

In February 2014, The National Museum of Computing will celebrate Colossus's first attack on a Lorenz message and is calling on anyone who worked on Colossus to make contact so that they can be invited to the event.

The Tunny and Colossus galleries celebrating and explaining the work of Bill Tutte and Tommy Flowers are open daily at The National Museum of Computing on the Bletchley Park estate.

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