Codebreaker’s book completed by widow

By Farnham Herald in Community News

THE eagerly awaited memoirs of former Second World War codebreaker Captain Jerry Roberts, received a hero’s welcome, when the book was launched at The National Museum of Computing in the presence of surviving veterans.

In Lorenz; Breaking Hitler’s top secret code at Bletchley Park, the late Liphook resident and inspirational speaker at many local schools, gives an in-depth personal perspective of breaking the fiendish 12-wheeled Lorenz cipher.

The launch was attended by Jerry’s widow Mei, whose determination and hard work enabled the book to be completed and published almost three years after his death.

Special guests included BBC presenter Paddy O’Connell. who gave an insight into the complexity of the codebreakers’ task by playing an audio signal representing the enciphered German text as it would have been intercepted in Britain.

Visibly moved, his mother – Bletchley codebreaker Betty and her Colossus operator colleague Irene Dixon – recalled how they, like Jerry, had to keep their wartime work secret for decades and expressed great satisfaction his vivid account would generate wider public interest in the incredible achievements of the Lorenz codebreakers.

The launch was held in the Tunny Gallery in Block H, alongside one of four remaining Lorenz SZ42 cipher machines and original associated equipment, as well as a rebuilt Tunny machine, the British re-engineered version of the Lorenz SZ42.

Next door is the rebuilt Colossus computer, standing on the exact spot that Colossus No. 9 occupied during the war.

Jerry, who died in 2014 aged 93, devoted the last six years of his life to raising awareness of the vital work he and his team, ‘the Testery’, conducted at Bletchley Park.

The team successfully broke Lorenz, also called Tunny, the cypher system used by the German High Command, and thus changed the course of the war.

But many of his colleagues went to their deaths without anyone knowing of their achievements. The work done by Jerry and his team in partially automating the process of breaking Lorenz was groundbreaking and kick started the modern computer age.

Recognition came late for Jerry, due to the official secrets act, but he was introduced to the Queen when she visited Bletchley Park in 2011 and Prime Minister David Cameron wrote to him in 2012 to thank him personally for decoding “information vital to the allied effort”. In 2013, he was finally awarded the MBE for his wartime service and contribution to codebreaking

A heartfelt tribute was also paid by the former head of M16 Sir John Scarlett at Jerry’s memorial service at St Martin-in-the-Fields.

Praising the book, Mr O’Connell said: “He wanted to name the names of key people involved, and to describe in detail how the information they mined was passed not just to Churchill but to the Allied commanders planning for D-Day and the Russians too.

“This is the account of one of those few men in life who wants all the others to get the credit.”

Mei said: “During the final six years of his life, Jerry dedicated an enormous amount of time and effort to raising public awareness of Bletchley Park’s achievements on the Lorenz cipher and the extraordinarily important work carried out by his team – much of which is still largely unknown to the public.

“I heard him tell the Queen what it was like to read messages signed, Adolf Hitler, Fuhrer, before they were even received by the German High Command in the field. Who else has stories like that.”

• Lorenz by Captain Jerry Roberts is published by The History Press and costs £20.

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