Call for plaque to honour ‘Letchworth Bombes’ which helped crack the Enigma code

Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game

Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game - Credit: Archant

A call has been made this week for Letchworth’s part in cracking the Second World War Enigma code to be honoured with a plaque.

Robert Sunderland, 77, feels passionately that people should remember the ‘Letchworth Bombes’ which helped win the war.

Alan Turing and the cracking of the Enigma code at Bletchley Park are the focus of The Imitiation Game starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Keira Knightley – showing this week at the town’s Broadway Cinema – but Letchworth’s crucial part in the story has been left out.

The British Tabulating Machine Company, based in Icknield Way, created the rotating devices on Turing’s machine which helped crack the ‘unbreakable’ German code and shorten the war.

About 210 devices designed and built in Letchworth helped detect the patterns in the fiendish codes which were previously thought unbreakable. The wiring inside them was made at the Spirella factory.


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Mr Sunderland said: “I just feel passionately that we achieved something in Letchworth with a great company that is no longer celebrated that is now gone.

“Now the film has come out, there is no reason why we shouldn’t celebrate.

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“It is something for Letchworth to be proud of, the bombes helped to crack the code and win the war.

“I think we ought to put a plaque up and remember.”

Mr Sunderland, who lives in Little Wymondley, used to work at BTM, which went on after the war to create the first electronic computer.

He said: “It was a big thing, that they managed to break Enigma.

“But in the film it shows Turing building and designing it – that’s wrong, he was a theorist and a brilliant one, but he didn’t build it himself. It was a huge achievement, but it was 70 years ago. I know about it because I am an old man who grew up in the area, but people are starting to forget.”

Broadway Cinema manager Jason Valentine said this week that the movie was proving ‘very popular’ with filmgoers.

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