Enigma of the ‘for­got­ten’ hero of Bletch­ley Park The lit­tle known Birm­ing­ham ge­nius who broke Ger­man codes be­fore Alan Tur­ing but failed to win the ac­co­lades

Birmingham Post - - NEWS - Roz Laws Fea­tures Staff

HE didn’t have Os­car-win­ning films made about him and his name is barely known be­yond those with an in­ter­est in Sec­ond World War his­tory.

But Dilly Knox is as im­por­tant in the world break­ing as Alan Tur­ing.

He is a real Brum­mie hero, whose vi­tal con­tri­bu­tion to win­ning the War is of­ten over­looked.

This week marked 75 years since the cap­ture of code books which en­abled Tur­ing and his team to break the Ger­man naval Enigma code.

But the ground­work had al­ready been done by Knox, the son of a Birm­ing­ham cler­gy­man.

And like Tur­ing, played by Bene­dict Cum­ber­batch in the award­win­ning movie The Im­i­ta­tion Game, Knox met a tragic end, dy­ing of can­cer at the age of 58.

Knox, born Al­fred Dill­wyn Knox, grew up in Birm­ing­ham, al­though he went to school at Eton.

His fa­ther was Ed­mund Knox, vicar of As­ton from 1891 when Dilly was seven, and of St Phillip’s from 1894. He later be­came Bishop of Coven­try and Archdea­con of Birm­ing­ham.

Knox read clas­sics at King’s Col­lege, Cam­bridge and be­gan code­break­ing long be­fore Tur­ing at Bletch­ley Park.

And while Tur­ing strug­gled to break the Ger­man Naval Enigma cipher, Knox and his team broke both the Ger­man Se­cret Ser­vice code and the Enigma code used by the Ital­ian Navy as early as 1935.

The crack­ing of one cypher in par­tic­u­lar helped the Al­lies to vic­tory in the naval Bat­tle of Cape Mat­a­pan.

But new in­for­ma­tion has re­cently come to light about a hu­mil­i­a­tion suf­fered by Knox af­ter a meet­ing with Pol­ish code­break­ers in Paris in July 1939.

Au­thor Hugh Se­bag-Mon­te­fiore has in­cluded the de­clas­si­fied doc­u­ments in the up­dated an­niver­sary edi­tion of his book Enigma: The Bat­tle For the Code.

Knox was up­set when he dis­cov­ered he had been pipped at the post by the young Pol­ish math­e­ma­ti­cians, who had cracked a code and kept it to them­selves.

He was fu­ri­ous and let loose in an an­gry rant in a taxi.

“The new pa­pers in­clude ad­di­tional de­tails of his hu­mil­i­a­tion, which at times make for ex­cru­ci­at­ingly pain­ful read­ing,” Se­bag-Mon- least as of code- tefiore writes. “That such a great man should have lost all sense of pro­por­tion in front of col­leagues whom he had al­ways tried to im­press rep­re­sented the ul­ti­mate in­dig­nity.

“He would have felt even more mor­ti­fied if he had seen the apolo­getic let­ter which his boss Alas­tair Den­nis­ton de­cided to write to Gus­tave Ber­trand, the French rep­re­sen­ta­tive at the meet­ing they had both at­tended, whom he had em­bar­rassed.

“It said ‘You may have guessed what is my great­est prob­lem: it’s Knox. He is re­ally clever, but has no idea how to work with other peo­ple. You will have no­ticed that when he is not at work, he is such a kind per­son, ev­ery­one adores him. But at work, he is im­pos­si­ble! He wants to do ev­ery­thing him­self. He can­not ex­plain any­thing sim­ply, and he will never ad­mit that any­one knows more than him. How­ever, I can’t man­age with­out him. He knows the Enigma ma­chine bet­ter than any­one.’”

Knox, in fact, was known as very ab­sent­minded.

When he mar­ried Olive Rod­man in 1920, he for­got to in­vite two of his three brothers to his wed­ding. Se­bag-Mon­te­fiore writes: “Work in his sec­tion ground to a halt at least once a day when his pipe went miss­ing. “On one oc­ca­sion, he spent such an in­or­di­nate amount of time in the bath­room that the con­cerned young man wait­ing out­side fi­nally pushed open the door, only to find that Knox was nei­ther hav­ing a bath nor com­mit­ting sui­cide, but was stand­ing up lost in thought, with the taps run­ning and the plug out.” He liked to sur­round him­self with fe­male code­break­ers who be­came known as Dilly’s Girls, in­clud­ing his main pro­tégé Mavis Batey, who went on to write a bi­og­ra­phy about him. “Dilly Knox is a for­got­ten Brum­mie hero,” Se­bagMon­te­fiore adds. “He was the real hero be­fore Alan Tur ing even started at Bletch­ley Park. He was a clas­si­cal scholar and felt he was be­ing over­taken by these young whiz­zkids who were show­ing him up.

“He never got over that hu­mil­i­a­tion.

“He died in 1943 be­fore his codes were used to in­vade Eu­rope.

“He’s a fa­ther fig­ure in the Enigma story – he came up with the tech­niques, but that’s not the way it’s re­mem­bered.

“It’s tragic be­cause he didn’t get the fi­nal ac­co­lade of break­ing Enigma.”

The up­dated 75th an­niver­sary pa­per­back edi­tion of Hugh Se­bagMon­te­fiore’s Enigma: The Bat­tle For the Code is out now, pub­lished by Orion’s Wei­den­feld & Nicol­son.

The ground­work had al­ready been done by Knox, the son of a Birm­ing­ham cler­gy­man

> >

> ‘Dilly’s Girls’ – the women Dilly Knox worked with at Bletch­ley Park

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.