Sidney and the code-breakers of Bletchley Park

BBC Two documentary profiles former Fellow Gordon Welchman.

A new BBC Two documentary has shed important light on the life of former Sidney Fellow Gordon Welchman and his decisive role in the Second World War code-breaking operation at Bletchley Park.

Welchman had come to Sidney as a Research Fellow in 1929, and later took up a Lectureship and Fellowship in Mathematics in 1932, a position he held until 1945. Reporting news of his resignation, the College Annual of that year said no more than he had been ‘working for the Foreign Office during the war’ and was to become Director and Research and Planning at John Lewis.

He had, of course, been recruited to the Government Code and Cypher School (GCCS) at Bletchley Park, playing an instrumental role in the development of Hut 6 and its famous code-breaking operations. Welchman was responsible for the subsequent recruitment of other Sidney Mathematics students such as David Rees and John Herivel, whose idea to anticipate clusters of errors in the work of German Enigma operators enabled the team to access vital coded information.

Bletchley also recruited Welchman's Sidney colleague and History Fellow James Passant, probably chosen for his knowledge of contemporary German politics, and student Asa (now Lord) Briggs, who contributes to the documentary.

Together, their work is credited with reducing the length of the war by some two to three years.

College archivist Nicholas Rogers has included items about Welchman's time at Bletchley in a display 'Records of War' in the College library, which will be open to the public as part of the Open Cambridge weekend on the 11th and 12th of September.

You can watch the documentary Bletchley Park: Code-breaking's Forgotten Genius by following the link to the BBC Two website.

 

Sources:

Richard Humphreys (2009) Sidney Sussex: A History (Sidney Sussex College)

Sidney Sussex College Annual, 1945

For further information please contact the Fellow Communications Officer, Dr Tom Lambert (FellowCommunicationsOfficer@sid.cam.ac.uk)

This is an archived news story first posted in September, 2015