Two letters bracketing Newman's career at Bletchley.1942-6 Stock Code: 145466
"THE WORK YOU WOULD BE DOING WOULD BE OF GREAT IMPORTANCE IN THE WAR EFFORT"A highly evocative pair of letters to Max Newman, the first relating to his recruitment to the Government Code and Cypher School at Bletchley Park, the second to the conclusion of his wartime work there. Maxwell Herman Alexander "Max" Newman (1897-1984) was one of the most significant British mathematicians of his generation and a leading pioneer in modern computer science. At the outbreak of the war, Newman was lecturing in mathematics at Cambridge, where his 1935 lectures on the Foundations of Mathematics and Gödel's Theorem had inspired Alan Turing to work on solving Hilbert's Entscheidungsproblem using a hypothetical computing machine. Subsequently it was Newman who rushed through publication of Turing's "On Computable Numbers with an Application to the Entscheidungsproblem", and arranged for him to spend time at Princeton where Alonzo Church was attacking the same problem by different, but not incompatible, methods. In 1942, Newman had decided to offer his services to the war effort, and approached the Naval Intelligence Division, being interviewed by the classicist Prof. Frank Adcock, whose Bletchley involvement is interestingly entirely missing from his ODNB entry.
The first letter, dated 15 July 1942, is from Alan Bradshaw, at the time Assistant Director (Administration), later Deputy Director, at Bletchley and one of the unsung heroes of the operation, and is on the "headed notepaper" of the establishment, which, perhaps consonant with the perceived ethos of the place, has the address "Bletchley Park, Bletchley, Bucks." simply typed at the head. Bradshaw explains that he has heard from Prof. Adcock that Newman "would like to be considered for a vacancy in this organisation", and would like to know if he would be "willing to accept an appointment as a Temporary Senior Assistant at a commencing salary of 600, out of which you would have to pay for your billeting and meals taken at our Headquarters". He then goes on succinctly to address Newman's two major concerns about the possibilities of working at Bletchley. Newman's father was a German Jew who emigrated to Britain with his family in 1912, and Newman was concerned that this would bar him from top secret work, but Bradshaw assures him that "in your case this will not prove any bar to your employment here". He was also worried that the work he undertook would be sufficiently stimulating, and of genuine utility, and Bradshaw is laconically to the point; "The work you would be doing would be of great importance in the war effort". And so it was to prove.
Once at Bletchley, Newman realised that some of the methods used by the Bletchley codebreakers would be better performed with mechanised assistance; he and Alan Turing proposed the logical requirements for such machinery. These requirements formed the basis of practical machines, culminating with the Colossus, the world's first large-scale electronic computer, and the section at Bletchley that used the machinery was headed by Newman and came to be known as the Newmanry. Contrary to popular belief Colossus was not responsible for breaking Enigma, that honour fell to Turing and Welchman's Bombe, rather Newman's machine broke "Tunny" the coding associated with the Lorenz SZ-40/42, an electromechanical wheel-based cipher machine for teleprinter signals which was used for messages at the very highest command levels. At the end of the war, Newman was appointed Fielden Professor of Pure Mathematics at the University of Manchester, a position that he held until his retirement in 1964. In 1946 he established the Royal Society Computing Machine Laboratory, which in 1948 developed the first stored-program digital computer, the Manchester Baby.
The second letter, 27 December 1946, is on Downing Street stationery, over the signature of Leslie Rowan, Churchill's principal private secretary, and acknowledges "the receipt of your cable", and communicates the Prime Minister's disappointment "that he will not be able to include your name in the list of recommendations which he will submit to The King". Newman declined an OBE, an award that had already been conferred on his pupil Turing, on the grounds that it was derisory in view of their contribution to the outcome of the conflict.
The two offer a pleasing encapsulation of some of the ambiguities and oddities of operations of Bletchley Park, and in so doing accentuate just how remarkable it was that the project should have succeeded as it did.
2 octavo, one-page, typed letters, signed. Now window-mounted, framed and glazed.
A little browned, signature on the second slightly faded, but overall very good.
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