Here at Finders International, World War Two history is a subject close to our hearts because we so often stumble on it when researching the lives of those who have died without leaving a will.

Whether its parents who played key roles in the war effort or seeking out the descendants of the crew of a Lancaster bomber who were all tragically killed when returning from a successful raid on Germany weeks before the end of the war, the topic is something we enjoy exploring.

This month in celebration of Pride Month 2021, which focuses on celebrating the LGBTQ+ communities all around the world, we thought we’d look at one of the key figures of Britain’s war effort.

Crucial role

The English mathematician and computer scientist Alan Turing’s contribution to the Second World War effort is well-documented. His crucial role in cracking intercepted coded messages is estimated to have shortened the war in Europe by more than two years and saved over 14 million lives.

But he died at the age of 41, either from suicide or accidental cyanide poisoning, blighted by a prosecution for “gross indecency” in the 1950s, i.e. homosexuality, where he accepted chemical castration in place of a prison sentence. Much of the work he did was not known or valued at the time because it was covered by the Official Secrets Act, and it is difficult not to wonder what might have happened had Turing not been prosecuted.

Turing was highly influential in the development of theoretical computer science, and the Turing machine is thought to be the model of a general purpose computer. He is also regarded as the father of artificial intelligence.

Bletchley Park

Born in Maida Vale, London in 1912, Turing graduated from King’s college, Cambridge with a mathematics degree and obtained his PhD from Princeton University in 1938. He worked for the Government Code and Cypher School (GC&CS) at Bletchley Park. This was Britain’s codebreaking centre that produced Ultra intelligence and for a time he was in charge of Hut 8, the section responsible for German naval cryptanalysis.

While there, he devised techniques for hastening the breaking of German ciphers, including improvements to the Polish bombe method, a machine that could find settings for the Enigma machine. Cracking the codes enabled the Allies to beat the Nazis in many crucial battles, including the Battle of the Atlantic, which ran from 1939 to 1945, but which peaked in 1940-43.

After the war, Turing was employed by the National Physical Laboratory. He designed the Automatic Computing Engine, one of the first designs for a stored programme computer and he joined the Max Newman’s Computing Machine Laboratory in Manchester where he helped n the development of the Manchester computer. He also wrote a paper on morphogenesis and predicted oscillating chemical reactions. As so much of his work was covered by the Official Secrets Act, he never received full recognition of his work in the UK.

Public apology

Following his prosecution for homosexual acts in 1952, he died in 1954. An internet campaign in 2009 resulted in then then UK Prime Minister Gordon Brow making a public apology on behalf of the British Government for the “appalling way” Turing had been treated and he was granted a posthumous pardon in 2013.

The “Alan Turing law” is now used as an unofficial term for a law that came into being in 2017, which retrospectively pardons man who were cautioned or convicted of the historical legislation that made homosexuality a crime.

While he did not receive the recognition he deserved during his life (although he did receive an OBE in 1946), he left behind a substantial legacy, including statues and an annual award for computer science innovations, one film The Imitation Game, a docudrama Codebreaker, and appears on the new £50 Bank of England note. In addition, a 2019 BBC programme named him the greatest person of the 20th century.