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Enigma Cipher Machines – The Tipperary Connection

 The Stoney Family of North Tipperary

turing

Alan Mathison Turing OBE FRS (1912 – 1954).

The Stoney family (latter family name originally Danish), were once prominent landlords, here in North Tipperary.
Ethel Sara Stoney (1881–1976), was born on November 18th, at Podanur, in the city of Coimbatore in Tamil Nadu, India, the daughter of Edward Waller Stoney (Borrisokane, North Tipperary) and Sarah Crawford (Cartron Abbey, Co. Longford); Protestant Anglo-Irish gentry.

Her father was Chief Engineer of the Madras Railways, which played a pioneering role in developing railways in southern India, before being merged in 1908 with Southern Mahratta Railway to form the Madras and Southern Mahratta Railway.

Educated at Alexandra School and College, Dublin, and at Cheltenham Ladies College, before attending lectures at the Sorbonne in Paris, she returned to join her parents in Madras, preferring to use her middle Christian name that of ‘Sara’. On October 1st 1907 she married Julius Mathison Turing, son of Reverend John Robert Turing and Fanny Boyd, in Dublin.

Many television viewers recently would have watched the film “The Imitation Game” which starred amongst others Benedict Cumberbatch and Keira Knightley. This film, which grossed over $233.6 million at the box office, was based on the life of Sara Turing’s son Alan Mathison Turing.  Born on June 23rd 1912, the second and last child (after his brother John Ferrier Turing) later he would be regarded as being one of the greatest figures of the twentieth century.

Those of you, our readers, who viewed this film (Highly recommended viewing, I might add) will be aware that Alan Turing was educated at Sherborne College and Cambridge University, and received a PhD from Princeton, having sailed on the liner Berengaria to New York arriving at Princeton in September 1936. A brilliant mathematician and cryptographer Alan was truly the founder of modern day computer science and artificial intelligence and designed a machine to help break secret Enigma encrypted messages [1] being then circulated by the Nazi German war machine during World War 2.

[1]  Enigma devices were electro-mechanical rotor cipher machines developed and used in the mid-twentieth century to convey and protect sensitive commercial, diplomatic and military communications. Invented by the German engineer Arthur Scherbius towards the end of World War I, these early models were also used commercially by Japan, Italy and most notably Nazi Germany before and during World War II.

Many readers however will not be aware that Alan’s mother was a member of this same Stoney family who once resided at Tombrickane, Kyle Park, Borrisokane, North Co. Tipperary.

Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill once stated that Alan Turing made the single biggest contribution to the Allied victory in the war against Nazi Germany, possibly saving the lives of an estimated 2 million people, through his efforts in shortening World War 2. Churchill was first introduced to Alan Turing during a visit to the highly secretive Hut No 8 at ‘Bletchley Park’, establishment in September 1941. The following month Turing and three other cryptographers wrote directly to Sir Winston Churchill seeking further administrative resources; a request which Prime Minister Churchill immediately made available.

Described as one of the greatest figures of the twentieth century, in 1945 Turing was awarded the OBE by King George VI for his wartime services which included (between the years 1939 – 1942), the breaking of U-boat Enigma messages, thus ensuring allied victory in the battle of the Atlantic. His work continued to remain top secret for many years and Turing machines still remain, to this very day, a central object for study in the theory of computation.

Apart from his work in breaking Nazi Enigma codes from 1945 to 1947, Turing worked on the design of the ACE (Automatic Computing Engine) at the British National Physical Laboratory and presented a paper (February 19th 1946), laying out his vision for the first detailed design of a stored-program computer.

Alas, in 1952 his brilliant career was to be halted; brought about by a short homosexual affair with a 19 year old, named as Arnold Murray. “Eaten bread is soon forgotten” as my grandmother used to say, and Alan’s private life would now come into conflict with an ingrate society displaying short term memory.

Turing and Murray were both prosecuted for homosexual acts, (under section 11 of the then Criminal Law Amendment Act 1885), then considered illegal whether carried out in private or in public. Now with the loss of security clearance to fund his work, Alan chose chemical castration as an alternative to the punishment of a long gaol sentence.

Between 1953 and 54 much of his work in biology and physics remained unfinished and on the 7th of June 1954 Alan was found dead as a result of cyanide poisoning, in Wilmslow, Cheshire. Although suicide was suspected, Alan left no suicide note, having eaten an apple apparently laced with cyanide. This apple however was never fully tested, leaving his mother to never accept the Coroner’s suicide verdict or indeed understand Alan’s actual motivation to end his life.

Certainly his humiliation by prosecutors and the cruel effects of his hormone treatment would have greatly influenced his then mental state, but it was not until September 2009 that former British Labour Prime Minister Mr Gordon Brown would make a formal apology on behalf of the British Government, firstly recognising his contribution to World War 2 and secondly for Turing’s treatment stating ‘he deserved better’.  On the 12th of June 1954, Alan’s body was cremated at Woking Crematorium, St John’s, and his ashes scattered.

Perhaps the apple with the bite taken out, which constitutes the logo on the back of your iPhone or MacBook Pro after all remains as a tribute to Alan Turing, although Apple the American multinational technology company headquartered in Cupertino, California, apparently dismiss this association.

Regarding his mother Ethel Sara Stoney from North Tipperary; her death came during the early part of her 95th year, on March 6th 1976, while she residing at Stoneycrest, Churt Road, Hindhead, Surrey, England, and following her death, like her son, she too was also cremated.

Perhaps someone will unveil a small commemorative plaque during 2017 in memory of Sara and Alan at Borrisokane; if only in our quest to encourage elusive tourists.

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