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Person: Herivel, John William Jamieson
John Herivel was an Irish mathematician and historian of science who was a former World War II codebreaker at Bletchley Park.
Mathematical Profile (Excerpt):
- John was brought up in Belfast, entering the Methodist College there in 1924.
- Gordon Welchman was a tutor at Sidney Sussex College and taught Herivel as he studied the Mathematical Tripos.
- He immediately set about recruiting others to join in this important work and he approached his student Herivel who was still at Cambridge starting research towards his doctorate in mathematics.
- On 29 January 1940 Herivel arrived at Bletchley Park and joined Welchman's team working in Hut 6.
- In Hut 6 Herivel worked under Welchman and alongside other mathematicians such as David Rees who had been a fellow student of Herivel's at Sidney Sussex College.
- Herivel and Rees combined to make a highly significant breakthrough very soon after Herivel began working in Hut 6.
- Herivel made the suggestion in February 1940 that if the operators were lazy they might not move the rotors of the Enigma machine far from their position at the end of the last message sent on the previous day.
- Herivel joined the "Newmanry" where the Colossus reduced the time taken to decode a message from days to hours.
- Herivel worked at Bletchley until October 1945 being head of the "Newmanry" from June 1945.
- The Official Secrets Act prevented Herivel, and all the others who worked at Bletchley Park, from saying what they had done during the war.
- Herivel, like the others, had to construct a story to account for his work during the war and he told everyone that he had been a sanitary inspector.
- Elizabeth Maude Jones had worked at Bletchley and Herivel had seen her there although, because of tight security, they had never spoken.
- Although he had begun research at Cambridge towards his doctorate before he began his war work, Herivel decided not to restart research but to become a school teacher.
- Herivel took a position at Queen's University, Belfast, as a mathematics lecturer.
- In addition to these papers Herivel published two books on the history of science.
- In addition he wrote about the decoding work at Bletchley Park in Herivelismus and the German Military Enigma (2008).
- Note that 'Herivelismus' was the name that was given to Herivel's brilliant suggestion on breaking Enigma codes.
- The well-known actor Simon Callow was taught by Herivel at the University of Belfast but only discovered about his remarkable codebreaking achievements after he died, when he read his book.
- Herivel, who was elected a member of the International Academy of History of Science in 1976, retired from his position in Belfast in 1978 and went to live in Oxford where he was made a visiting fellow at All Souls College.
- In 1978, the year Herivel retired, Josephine (then aged 22) was one of six women arrested for assault and obstructing the police in London.
- She has made a plaque which has been installed on the house which reads "John Herivel Mathematician and Codebreaker lived here 1975-2011".
- Let us end this biography by giving a quote from Herivel.
- A colleague recalled a conversation with Herivel in which they discussed the difference between genius and talent.
- There is no doubt that Herivel was that man of talent who did have a stroke of genius that, in an indirect way, certainly saved the lives of a great many people.
Born 29 August 1918, Belfast, Ireland. Died 18 January 2011, Oxford, England.
View full biography at MacTutor
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Adapted from other CC BY-SA 4.0 Sources:
- O’Connor, John J; Robertson, Edmund F: MacTutor History of Mathematics Archive