Alan Turing’s Treasure

Like all fascinating treasure stories, there is a map …

The announcement by the Royal Mint about a new polymer £50 banknote released on the 23 June this year (2021), featuring the scientist Alan Turing, was the reminder for this blog post. Incidentally, the date coincides with what would have been the computer pioneer and wartime code breaker’s birthday.

There is a fascinating and well-written tale, ‘Turing’s Treasure’ seen in a 1993 Searcher magazine, part of the series on ‘Lost Hoards.’ The author was Colin P Hennell. I have worked on a new, expanded version of my original story, which I hope you will find interesting.

Alan Turing was an English mathematician who contributed significantly to modern computer science just before the Second World War

ALAN TURING’S EXPERIENCE WAS A LITTLE DIFFERENT

I never expected to come across a true (allegedly) story about Alan Turing, the brilliant computer scientist. Colin P Hennell tells the story of how Turing decided to protect his wealth in time of war by burying a silver hoard of money and bullion, only to lose track of the time and place where it was buried. He had built his own metal detector, but failed to find the spot.

Just before the Second World War he transferred to the wartime Code breaking section at Bletchley Park where he became the mastermind behind the world’s first electronic computer, code-named Colossus.

Bletchley Park was the home of British code-breaking and a birthplace of modern information technology. It played a major role in World War Two, producing secret intelligence which had a direct and profound influence on the outcome of the conflict. Picture by John Winter
Computer at Bletchley Park, Buckinghamshire c. 1943. You can see why it was called COLOSUSS From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Alan took the view that if Britain was to come under German occupation, bank accounts would be useless. All his savings would be frozen; at worst taken over by the occupying forces. Either way, he calculated, he would lose just about everything he had so in the early days of the war he drew out nearly all the money he had saved and bought two very large ingots of silver bullion to be hidden away until it was safe to cash in … picture courtesy of Wikipedia

... except that he lost track of the time and place where they were buried. He even built his own metal detector, but failed to find the spot.So, he drew all of his savings out of the bank and bought two very large ingots of silver bullion to be hidden away until it was safe again to cash them in … except that he lost track of the time and place where they were buried.

This is a fascinating tale, full of detail like, “Turing acquired an ancient perambulator with which he planned to transport the ingots without the help of another human. It is recorded that he slipped a disc in the process of loading the pram … Of course he had made a cryptic plan of the position and only he had the key to deciphering the coded details.

I find it ironic that a guy who had played a vital role in deciphering the messages encrypted by the German Enigma machine couldn’t crack his own code. The treasure remains hidden to this day. Turing died at the end of the war, committing suicide at an early age.

Like all good treasure stories there is a map. I previously said, “If you are in a part of the Bletchley/ Milton Keynes area that seems to match up with the map, and you come across a deep signal … then DIG.” But things have changed.

Shenley Wood still exists, but is now surrounded on all sides by new roads and housing developments – which is a great pity. Turing’s treasure is destined to remain hidden forever.

 

Map courtesy of MKheritage -showing distance from the Crown Inn to Bletchley Park

The Crown Inn is located at top left on map and not far from where he worked (Bletchley Park). The following extracts are from Alan Turing: The Enigma by Andrew Hodges.

“Apparently Turing imagined that by burying the silver ingots, he could recover them after an invasion had been repelled … he bought two [silver] bars, worth about £250, and wheeled them out in an old pram to woods near Shenley. One was buried under the forest floor, the other under a bridge in the bed of a stream. He wrote out instructions for the recovery of the buried treasure and enciphered them.”

FAST FORWARD TO 1952

“… the main point of the weekend was to make one last serious attempt to retrieve the silver bars. This time Don (Alan Turing’s friend) had got hold of a commercial metal detector, and they went out to the bridge near Shenley in his car. Alan said, “It looks a bit different,” as he took off his socks and shoes and paddled in the mud. “Christ, do you know what’s happened? They’ve rebuilt the bridge and concreted over the bed.” They tried for the other bar in the woods, finding it was still there, but without any more luck than before in locating the spot. Giving up both bars as lost forever, they made their way to the Crown Inn at Shenley Brook End for some bread and cheese.”

Extracts from Alan Turing: The Enigma my Andrew Hodges.

Professor David Michie – … from his Telegraph obituary July 2007 and confirmation of the above story?

‘Michie was a pioneer in the creation of artificial intelligence and died in a motor accident in 2007, aged 83. During the war he worked on breaking German codes at Bletchley Park and later, as Professor of Machine Intelligence at Edinburgh University, helped to bring about the world of robots, computer games and search engines.

… Michie became close friends with Turing … Fearing a German invasion might devalue his bank account, Turing turned his savings into bullion and buried the bars at several sites in the surrounding countryside.

One source says for “security reasons” he did not make a map, and after the war he asked Michie to help him retrieve the silver using a home-made metal detector; the only stash they located was under a stream and impossible to recover.’

The Stacked Slate Sculpture of Alan Turing by Stephen Kettle.
Photograph by J0hn Winter

Didn’t the lad turn out well

In 1929,Turing’s end-of-term report noted that his English reading was weak, his French prose was very weak, his essays grandiose beyond his abilities, and his mathematical promise undermined by his untidy work. “He must remember that Cambridge will want sound knowledge rather than vague ideas,” his physics teacher wrote.

Our hero went on to hold high-ranking positions in the mathematics department and later the computing laboratory at the University of Manchester in the late 1940s. AND the REST! So much for school reports


Acknowledgements

The Searcher magazine – Colin P Hennell – the Royal Mint – Bletchley Park Shenley Lodge – MKheritage – Andrew Hodges – Wikipedia – Professor David Michie – Stephen Kettle- onthemove – Turingtrust – New Scientist – Royal Society – Telegraph

One thought on “Alan Turing’s Treasure”

  1. perambulator… Now there is a term I have not heard in many a year, John..

    There is no denying that Alan was a genius at codes… but to not remember his own?? Sounds like something I would do.. LOL

    And the story just goes to show that some treasures are not ancient.. they are a lifespan in age.

    Many thanks

    Micheal

    Liked by 1 person

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