EDSAC trainee programmer - Ralph E Ireland

December 2014

Ralph E Ireland was delighted to learn recently that EDSAC is in the process of being reconstructed. He writes:

In 1956, having recently completed my National Service in the Royal Air Force, and not yet 20, I was sent by my company (then the English Electric Company) to Cambridge for a two-week programming course on EDSAC I. There were several established mathematicians, and scientists on that course – some became famous names; I was on my first job as a ‘mathematical assistant’.

Until a couple of years ago I still had the 1951 book by Wilkes, Wheeler, and Gill, published by Addison-Wesley Press; I also had the in-house 'Introduction to programming for EDSAC' (1956 reprint of the 1955 original) – and the tapes that came from the first program I ever wrote: the sum the squares of the natural numbers, I seem to recall. However I sold them for a modest sum – considerably more modest that the $1750 that one bookseller was asking on Abebooks. Oh dear. I see one at a current asking price for one at £3000 – and that is just for the textbook itself. If only I had hung on!

One outstanding memory I have of my time there was that of seeing EDSAC II being built - I matrix of ferrite cores being hand threaded. I wish I had taken a photo of that.

After that course I returned to EEC to work on the DEUCE computer.

Every success with the rebuilding.


Ralph E Ireland