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Anecdotes: Alan Turing in the Home Guard

IP.com Disclosure Number: IPCOM000129558D
Original Publication Date: 1988-Mar-31
Included in the Prior Art Database: 2005-Oct-06
Document File: 2 page(s) / 16K

Publishing Venue

Software Patent Institute

Related People

Peter Hilton: AUTHOR [+2]

Abstract

Department of Mathematical Sciences State University of New York Binghamton, NY USA

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THIS DOCUMENT IS AN APPROXIMATE REPRESENTATION OF THE ORIGINAL.

Copyright ©; 1988 by the American Federation of Information Processing Societies, Inc. Used with permission.

Anecdotes: Alan Turing in the Home Guard

Peter Hilton

Department of Mathematical Sciences State University of New York Binghamton, NY USA

Although the story of Alan Turing's enrollment in His Majesty's Home Guard during World War II, and his subsequent release from this form of military service, has been told at least twice before (Crossley 1975; Hodges 1983), it may bear a further retelling in order to bring out certain admirable, and highly characteristic, features of Turing's personality.

It should first be explained that the Home Guard was a voluntary civilian defense force raised in Great Britain during the war with the prime purpose of providing some kind of defense, or, at least, discouragement, in the event of an enemy invasion. It is my recollection that Turing, believing that it might be important that he be able to use a rifle effectively, (presumably, in such an enemy invasion), decided to enroll.11 In order to do so, he had, of course, to complete a form full of largely irrelevant questions. We all know that the important thing about such forms is to sign them, date them, and leave no question unanswered -- of course, if you are asked if you plan to engage in prostitution or attempt the forcible overthrow of the government you should answer "no," but otherwise your actual answers would only matter if, at some later stage, the authorities wished to "get" to you.

Alan Turing, however, gave particular attention to the question, "Do you understand that, by enrolling in His Majesty's Home Guard, you render yourself to military discipline?" Of course, he was in no doubt as to what answer was expected of him. But, deciding that there were no conceivable circumstances under which it might be to his advantage to answer "yes," whereas a "no" answer could prove useful later, he answered "no." And so he was duly -- if somewhat unorthodoxly -- enrolled.

Not surprisingly to those who knew him, Turing soon became a first- class shot and thus fulfilled his purpose in enrolling. But the parades were boring, and he had many much more interestin...