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A Codebreaker's Education: Alan Turing School Report Goes On Show

His physics teacher noted that he had done "some good work, but generally sets it down badly"...

Second World War codebreaker Alan Turing's school report, encouraging him to provide "sound knowledge rather than vague ideas", is to go on public display for the first time.

The report belonging to the scientist, who is widely regarded as the father of modern computing, will go on show alongside other personal items and rarely seen coding devices.

The Cambridge exhibition 'Codebreakers And Groundbreakers' will be made up of pieces on loan from the Turing Archive held at King's College in the city.

A report from Sherborne School in Dorset showed Turing, who went on to carry out groundbreaking work in cracking the Enigma encryption used by the Nazis, to have "distinct promise" in maths.

But his teacher gently scolded his presentation style, reminding him to provide a "neat and tidy solution on paper".

Turing as a boy on his way to school. (Courtesy of the Fitzwilliam Museum)

His physics teacher noted that he had done "some good work, but generally sets it down badly." 

The teacher added:

"He must remember that Cambridge will want sound knowledge rather than vague ideas."

However, it's Turing's 'vague ideas' that would make the breaking of German Enigma possible, bringing World War Two to an end and saving thousands of lives.

Letters from Turing, sent from Britain's former codebreaking headquarters Bletchley Park, to his mother telling of his sponsorship of two Jewish refugees can also be viewed.

A mathematics book chosen by Turing as a prize to honour a close school friend who died aged 18 will make up part of the display, as will a teaspoon removed from the scientist's home by his mother after his death from cyanide poisoning in 1954.

Coding devices, including one used by the UK to exchange secret messages at the highest level, will go on show after GCHQ granted permission.

A GCHQ spokesman said:

"We are pleased to be loaning two World War Two coding devices rarely made available for public viewing."

The exhibition runs at the Fitzwilliam Museum from Tuesday until February 4 next year.

Forces News spoke to Edward Simpson, a mathematician who became a World War Two codebreaker and worked at Bletchley Park alongside Mr Turing:

Cover picture is courtesy of the Fitzwilliam Museum.

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