Students call for memorial to gay WWII hero

Alistair Cliff - Deputy News Editor 1 October 2009

A Facebook campaign has been initiated by Cambridge University students to obtain an official memorial to Alan Turing, the Second World War code-breaker who took his own life 55 years ago after being chemically castrated for his homosexuality.

Alan Turing, who attended King’s College Cambridge as an undergraduate before being elected to a fellowship in 1935, is widely regarded as the inventor of the modern computer, and played what has been described as the single most pivotal role in the Second World War by cracking the German enigma codes.

In 1952 Turing was convicted of gross indecency after admitting having a sexual relationship with a man, and was forced to undergo chemical castration. After losing his job with the Government’s Communication Headquarters, he killed himself by taking a bite out of an apple dipped in cyanide; the logo of Apple computers honours him in this way.

However, apart from what the Facebook campaign describes as a “black and white photograph in a basement”, no memorial exists in Cambridge for the man responsible for one of the most significant technological advances of the twentieth century. The aim of the Facebook campaign is “to challenge the University to match funding pledged by students to put up a bust of Turing with a plaque commemorating his life and achievements” and has attracted over 350 members so far.

Daniel Summerbell, the founder of the campaign, told The Cambridge Student (TCS) that “the idea for the campaign in Cambridge was inspired by the national petition for a pardon. It always seemed strange that Turing, such an important figure for both his war and peace time work, had only a photograph in a basement as a memorial.”

He added “the 800th anniversary year felt an appropriate time to honour an eminent alumnus of the university.”

Summerbell also stated that a local businessman linked to the university was involved, and that the response of the King’s Fellows to the campaign has been “ecstatic.” He went on to say they plan to meet with the Provost of King’s College to decide on an appropriate site, after which “a sculptor and budget can be decided.” He added that he was “confident” that the campaign would raise the money required.

Earlier this month, the Prime Minister Gordon Brown issued an apology on behalf of the British Government to Alan Turing, writing in an official statement “We are sorry, you deserved so much better.” He added that the country owed Mr Turing a huge debt of gratitude.

The issue was brought to light after computer scientist John Graham-Cumming wrote to the Queen asking that Turing be granted as posthumous knighthood as well starting a petition for Turing to be pardoned on the Downing Street Website. The petition attracted over 30,000 signatures.

Alistair Cliff – Deputy News Editor