Gordon Welchman worked at Bletchley Park during World War Two. Welchman studied at Trinity College, Cambridge, and was a brilliant mathematician. Welchman, along with the likes of Alan Turing, William Tutte, Tommy Flowers and Max Newman, played a vital part in the Allied victory. But because of the sensitivity of what they did, no one in the immediate aftermath of World War Two knew about their role. In fact this secrecy was maintained for some decades.


Gordon Welchman was born on June 15th 1906. After completing his degree at Trinity College (1925 to 1928) he became a research scholar at Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, and a Fellow in 1932. Welchman later became Dean of the college.


Welchman joined the staff at Bletchley Park just before the war broke out. He was one of the first four recruits there. This gave him some status at Bletchley Park and he, along with Turing, Hugh Alexander and Stuart Milner-Barry, became known as the ‘wicked uncles’.


While Alan Turing is linked to the successful cracking of the Enigma machine, Welchman’s role in the project is frequently overlooked. Welchman improved the Bombe – used in cracking code sent by Enigma – and made the machine a lot more efficient by increasing the speed with which each Bombe trawled through Enigma settings.


Welchman was put in charge of cracking German army and air force codes while Turing stayed with the naval Enigma team. Welchman worked out of Hut 6 while Turing worked at Hut 8.


In 1943, he was made Assistant Director of Bletchley Park.


His work was so secret that he received no awards at the end of the war.


In 1948, Welchman went to live in America and taught the first computing course at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).


He moved into employment for large electronic companies such as Remington and MITRE. Welchman specialised in research on secure communication systems.


After retiring in 1971, he wrote a book about his time at Bletchley Park called ‘The Hut 6 Story’, which was published in 1982 in the USA and the UK. Despite the fact that this was 37 years after the end of World War Two and that there had been a huge development in all-things electronic (which had outdated the Bombe by some distance) those in high authority frowned upon Welchman’s actions. His security clearance in the USA was revoked (he had been working as a consultant for MITRE) and he was not allowed to speak about his war work to the media.


Gordon Welchman died in 1985.


December 2011

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