John Cane, Colossus engineer, 1924-2017

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We are very sad to hear of the death of John Cane. Having worked at Dollis Hill on Colossus, he moved to Bletchley Park to keep those top-secret computers running during the war. He has been very helpful in giving us a better understanding of Colossus and life in wartime Bletchley.

Hear John Cane speak publicly for the first time to the BBC about his work at Bletchley

A tribute from John Cane's family:

Henry John Cane, aged 92, died on Tuesday, 28 March, 2017. Always known as John Cane, he was born in Greenwich, London, and was an only child. He went to school in Wimbledon and then joined the GPO in 1942.

In 1944 he was seconded to the Post Office research station at Dollis Hill to join the team building Colossus Mark 2. He followed Colossus to Bletchley Park where it became operational. The pivotal role of the Colossi in decrypting the German Lorenz cipher machine traffic, and therefore their significant contribution to allied victory in WW2, is now very well understood.

At the end of the Second World War, John remained for a while at Bletchley Park and then moved on to the new headquarters at Eastcote, working on further development of Colossus and other brand new developments. It was here he met his wife to be Betty, a civilian Colossus operator.

In 1951 GCHQ moved to Cheltenham and John continued to work on various innovative early computer projects. John and Betty married in 1955 and subsequently had four sons.

Little is known about John’s activities at GCHQ after 1960 because of continuing secrecy. He retired in 1983 after long service.

In retirement, John continued his life-long passion for model railways, music and crosswords. He built an enormous model railway in his garden, somewhat to the consternation of his keen gardener wife. The control system consisted of hundreds of electric relays, quite closely resembling Colossus! He also built a pipe organ entirely from scratch and learned to play it. He was mostly to be seen in his oily blue workshop coat doing engineering in his workshop or somewhere on the railway diagnosing an obscure wiring fault. His engineering activities were sadly curtailed by a stroke in 2012 when he was 88. He remained active and vigorous up to this point and was always planning the next project.

John reluctantly accepted the Bletchley Park commemorative badge. He gave various interviews using his remarkable memory. Ever security conscious, he would only speak after checking with GCHQ.

John was essentially a very kind, gentle and modest man. He was a superb natural engineer, but was dryly humorous with a keen eye for human nature.

John's funeral will be held at 1pm on Tuesday 25th April 2017 at Cheltenham Crematorium.

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