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Plaque to be unveiled in Newmarket to mark the centenary of Second World War codebreaker Bill Tutte

Bill Tutte plAQUE
Bill Tutte plAQUE

A plaque commemorating the Newmarket birthplace of one of the greatest mathematicians and codebreakers of the 20th century will be unveiled on Sunday a century after he was born.

Bil Tutte, whose wartime codebreaking work is also recognised by a sculpture on the town’s Rutland Hill, was born at Fitzroy House in Black Bear Lane where his father was a gardener and his mother a housekeeper.

The little boy who went to Cheveley Primary School went on to study at Trinity College, Cambridge, from where he recruited to work at Bletchley Park alongside the likes of Alan Turing.

His wartime work enabled the British to break the Lorenz code used at the highest levels of the Nazi regime and started the development of a special-purpose electronic codebreaking computer. His efforts were said to have shortened the Second World War by at least two years saving countless lives.

He was so successful at cracking the Nazi code that he was often able to decode the messages at the same time as the intended German recipients were reading them.

Tutte, who died aged 84 in Canada in 2002, went on to do far-reaching work in mathematics and his work in graph theory led to some of the key mathematical developments that have shaped the internet today, such as the science behind search engines. But his vital war work was kept a secret until the very last years of his life and few people had heard of him or what he did.

As the Newmarket plaque is unveiled on Sunday, Bletchley Park will be marking Tutte’s centenary with a new exhibition and the Bill Tutte Centenary Symposium, a series of lectures exploring the life and works of the mathematician.

A Bletchley Park spokeswoman said: “Tutte was a Cambridge graduate from Newmarket who made an often overlooked achievement in unravelling the working of the Lorenz machine, a more complex system than Enigma that was used by the German high command.

“He then devised a statistical method of breaking the code, allowing Bletchley Park to decode some of the most top-secret messages sent during the war and paving the way for the creation of Colossus, the world’s first semi-programmable electronic computer.”

Dr David Kenyon, research historian at Bletchley Park, said: “Tutte’s contribution was a turning point in what Bletchley Park was able to achieve during the Second World War. The Allies’ understanding of the German plans in France prior to D-Day is very significantly based on Lorenz intercepts rather than Enigma. Had they not had this intelligence, their understanding would have been much weaker.”

The Bletchley Park exhibition opens to the public on Monday.

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