Bill Tutte Memorial unveiled

Post this page to popular social media

More than 70 years ago, Bill Tutte made a breakthrough that shortened World War II and saved countless lives. He passed away in 2002 unknown to all but a few privileged people. On 10 September 2014, he was publicly honoured in his home town of Newmarket with a superb sculpture echoing his work.

Bill Tutte's genius -- and his work is described as the greatest intellectual feat of World War II -- was to work out how the Lorenz cipher machine worked without ever having seen it. The Lorenz machine encrypted messages between Hitler and his High Command and by being able to read those messages, the course of the war was altered.

Tutte's success in understanding the Lorenz machine led to the development of Colossus, the world's first electronic computer, that was designed to accelerate the breaking of Lorenz messages (known as Tunny by the Allies). The messages that Hitler believed could not be cracked were unravelled by a brilliant and humble mathematician from Newmarket.

In 1948, Bill Tutte emigrated to Canada working first at the University of Toronto and then at the University of Waterloo, where he became an eminent professor though no-one knew of his astonishing code-breaking success. He never spoke of his wartime work for decades and even when news began to be released, he said little. He passed away in 2002 just as the story of the breaking of Tunny was beginning to become better understood.

In a touching irony, the memorial, in the centre of Newmarket, stands almost exactly on the spot where Bill Tutte's father had worked as gardener growing vegetables for the adjacent Rutland Hotel.

Rather than create a traditional sculpture, perhaps of Bill Tutte hiking through the countryside (his favourite past-time), a team including sculptor Harry Gray (photo 7), Ramon Keeley and Leon Russell has created what many consider to be a fine work of modern art. The installation resonates with references to Bill Tutte and his work. Six seven-feet high stainless steel panels pierced with holes represent the punched paper tape that the Lorenz messages were converted into to enable the deciphering process. In front of the panels, a 41-tooth rotor represents Tutte's breakthrough in determining the structure of the Lorenz machine. Inside the rotor is a quotation from the citation for Tutte's membership of the Order of Canada (his post-war adopted home) written in a way that is difficult to decipher. Six bollards resemble teleprinter tape passing over a spool and each bears Tutte's name on one side and encrypted messages on the other. Visitors are invited to crack the messages.

But that's not all. There is a Squared Square, made up of granite from three continents, that represents Bill's early fascination with mathematical puzzles. Standing in the centre of the Squared Square, the image of Bill Tutte emerges on the seven-feet high steel panels that represent the punched paper tape.

Among the many admirers of Bill Tutte delighted to be at the unveiling were Dan Younger (photo 11), a friend and fellow academic from the University of Waterloo in Canada and now a patron of the Bull Tutte Memorial Fund, and Julian Carey (photo 12), who made the award-winning BBC2 documentary Code-Breakers: Bletchley Park's Lost Heroes.

The campaign for a Bill Tutte memorial was led by the Newmarket Journal and there is now The Bill Tutte Club, a free after-school club encouraging children to explore maths and science.

A Bill Tutte Scholarship has also been launched and is open to outstanding candidates from the Newmarket area who wish to study Maths or Computer Science at University.

Anyone can donate to the Bill Tutte Memorial Fund.

Support us

The Museum has not received government or Lottery funding, so your help is needed.

Become a member »
Make a donation »
Become a volunteer »
Sponsor us »

Latest Tweets