Personalities from the Past
This article brings us into the 20th Century and is our tribute to a man born in Newmarket but, unlike many of our Past Personalities, had little interest in horseracing. He proved to be a man for his time and by the age of 24 found himself in a position where he would have a profound influence on the outcome of World War II.|
William Thomas (Bill) Tutte (14 May 1917 � 2 May 2002 was born at Fitzroy House Stables, Black Bear Lane, Newmarket, where his father William John Tutte worked as a gardener and his mother Annie (Newell) as a caretaker/cook.
For a time the family moved to Yorkshire but Newmarket drew them back and in 1922 father obtained a job at The Rutland Arms Hotel as a gardener. They moved into a cottage in the village of Cheveley, just three and a half miles away, and at the age of five the young Bill started at Cheveley Village School. It was not long before his teachers realized that this was no ordinary pupil. He was good at sports but also had a thirst for knowledge and showed great interest in books, particularly the school's Junior Encyclopaedia. The Cheveley School headmaster at the time was Mr 'Chick' Moore, who must also take credit for encouraging his young pupil.
With the stimulus and teaching facilities at his new school, Bill began to blossom and showed particular interest in chemistry and mathematics. He demonstrated an analytical brain and an ability to grasp complicated mathematical problems. When it came to Bill taking the Schools Certificate Examination in 1932, he was awarded top place for his year. His headmaster, Arthur Brinley Mayne, recognized that he was an exceptional student and it seems highly likely that Mr Mayne, who in the 1930s had books on mathematics published, had an influence on Bill's future career.
By age 18 Bill was awarded a place at Trinity College Cambridge, where he was able to further develop his remarkable intellect in fellowship with other brilliant undergraduates.
By the time Britain declared war with Germany in September 1939 Bill had been at college for 4 years, had obtained a first class honours degree in chemistry and was rubbing shoulders with some of the brightest brains in the country. He came to the notice of the influential scientists and interpreters at Bletchley Park, which had been set up as a code-breaking establishment before the war.
Much has been written and seen on TV about the highly secret work at Bletchley Park which made an outstanding contribution to the outcome of World War II. Most of this can be looked up on the Internet, where William Tutte's lifetime achievements can also be researched. It is not within the compass of this website article to attempt to rewrite all this information, but suffice to say Bill's potential was recognised by another Bletchley visionary, John Tiltman, the head of the research department. In 1941 he brought Bill into his department in an attempt to unravel the stream of coded messages that were being picked up by our radio listening stations. To tackle what must have seemed a totally impossible task Bill employed a combination of great mathematical brilliance and intuition, together with months of hard mental application, plus he had some luck. It is well documented that the breakthrough happened when a German operator had to repeat the sending of a long message, but in doing so made two vital errors. He failed to reset 'the rotors' (multiple setting wheels on the Lorenz machine) and he introduced some small time saving changes to the second message. Bill was able to exploit this weakness with the help of what is generally recognized as the world's first programmable computing machine (Colossus), developed for Bletchley by a team of Post Office Engineers led by Tommy Flowers. Incredibly Bill was able to duplicate the settings on the wheels of Lorenz, a machine that he had never even seen, this enabled the British to access Hitler's most secret communications to his army commanders in the field.
It was, of course, vital that the Germans did not realize that their 'unbreakable' code had been exposed, and all employees at Bletchley were sworn to absolute secrecy.
When the war ended Bill returned to research work at Trinity College where he studied for a doctorate in mathematics and in 1948 he was invited to take up a professorship at the University of Toronto. After another four years he moved to the young University of Waterloo Ontario and settled into academia in Canada for the rest of his working career.|
For many years after the war ended those who had participated in the work at Bletchley were not allowed to discuss it and was not until late in his life, after he retired in 1984 having reached high academic status and recognition in Canada, that Bill was at last able to talk of his achievements. Even then modesty prevented him from seeking personal fame.
Below right: At Newmarket Station, 1978.
Photos from James Youlden's family collection
Jeanne Youlden, Bill's niece, is a Newmarket lady with many personal memories of this unassuming man; he lived with her and her family for four years towards the end of his life. She remembers him as a quiet, rather shy person who had an almost childlike interest in simple pleasures and a quirky sense of humour. He would be laughing and joking at the table but would suddenly look at his watch, turn off and go back to his books, as though his brain needed to grapple with obscure problems. They knew that he had worked at Bletchley and was an emeritus Professor with doctorates in chemistry and mathemetics, also that he was recognized internationally for his academic work, but the family were not aware of the vitally important contribution he had made to the war effort, as he never talked about it to them.
November 2011. A tribute by James Youlden, Jeanne's son and Bill's great nephew.
April 2012 update: Following a campaign in The Newmarket Journal for more recognition of his work. Prime Minister David Cameron has written to Professor Tutte's closest living relative, his niece, Jeanne Youlden, who lives in Newmarket, expressing his "personal thanks and the United Kingdom�s gratitude" for her uncle's work.
Town councillors, members of the public and Mr Tutte's family formed The Bill Tutte Memorial Working Group, following a campaign to honour one of Newmarket�s greatest sons.
The sculpture to honour the memory of Bill Tutte on Newmarket's Rutland Hill.
Michael Symons - Cheveley Net website (pictures of old Cheveley) www.cheveley.net where you can find pictures of Bill Tutte's early life and family and a tribute to his academic achievements written by Dan Younger, University of Waterloo, Ontario Canada.
Jeanne and James Youlden
Sources from the Internet
The Newmarket Journal, that is running a campaign to get Bill Tutte local recognition
Ruth Bourne, 'Bombe' operator at Bletchley during the war and present day guide.
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