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Harry Fensom

Harry Fensom


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Harry Fensom was born in the East End of London in 1921. He won a scholarship to the Royal Liberty Grammar School in Gidea Park, Romford. He left school at sixteen and went to work for the Post Office and took his City & Guilds examinations at night school. (1)

Fensom became an electronic engineer at telephone exchanges in London. On the outbreak of the Second World War he was sent to the Post Office Research Station at Dollis Hill, where he worked under Tommy Flowers. The station was dedicated mainly to research in telecommunications and was responsible for the development of the Trans-Atlantic telephone cable. As Alan Hodges has pointed out: "His (Flowers) major research interest over the years had been long distance signalling, and in particular the problem of transmitting control signals, so enabling human operators to be replaced by automatic switching equipment." (2)

In February 1941, Gordon Radley, the director of the Post Office Research Station was contacted by officials of Bletchley Park, the government's codebreaking establishment. Alan Turing wanted help in building a decoder for a machine he had designed to decipher messages sent by the German military during the Second World War. Turing was put in contact with Tommy Flowers. Although the decoder project was abandoned, Turing was impressed with Flowers's work, and in February 1943 introduced him to Max Newman, who had been given the problem of dealing with the Lorenz SZ machine that was used to encrypt communications between Adolf Hitler and his generals.

The Lorenz SZ operated in a similar way to the Enigma Machine, but was far more complicated, and it provided the Bletchley codebreakers with an even greater challenge. It used a 32-letter Baudot alphabet. "While Enigma machines were capable of 159 trillion settings, the number of the combinations possible with the Lorenz SZ was estimated at 5,429,503,678,976 times greater." (3)

Newman came up with a way to mechanise the cryptanalysis of the Lorenz cipher and therefore to speed up the search for wheel settings. (4) Flowers later explained the objective of Newman's machine: "The purpose was to find out what the positions of the code wheels were at the beginning of the message and it did that by trying all the possible combinations and there were billions of them. It tried all the combinations, which processing at 5,000 characters a second could be done in about half an hour. So then having found the starting positions of the cipher wheels you could decode the message." (5)

The initial machine designed by Max Newman kept on breaking down. Tommy Flowers later recalled: "I was brought in to to make it work, but I very soon came to the conclusion that it would never work. It was dependent on paper tape being driven at very high speed by means of spiked wheels and the paper wouldn't stand up to it." Flowers suggested that Newman used valves instead of the old-fashioned electromechanical relay switches that had been used in Turing's machines. He claimed valves would do the same job much faster without the need for the synchronisation of the two tapes.

Gordon Welchman, a colleague at Bletchley Park, pointed out: "Flowers seems to have realized at once that synchronization 44 punched-tape operations need not depend on the mechanical process of using sprocket holes. He used photoelectric sensing, and at that early date he had enough confidence in the reliability of switching networks based on electronic valves (tubes, in America), rather than electromagnetic relays, to risk using such techniques on a grand scale. From his prewar experience, Flowers knew that most valve failures occurred when, or shortly after, power was switched on, and he designed his equipment with this in mind. He proposed a machine using 1,500 valves." (6)

Tommy Flowers claimed that Newman and his team of codebreakers were highly sceptical of his suggestion: "They wouldn't believe it. They were quite convinced that valves were very unreliable. This was based on their experience of radio equipment which was carted around, dumped around, switched on and off, and generally mishandled. But I'd introduced valves into telephone equipment in large numbers before the war and I knew that if you never moved them and never switched them off they would go on forever. They asked me how long it would take to produce the first machine. I said at least a year and they said that was terrible. They thought in a year the war could be over and Hitler could have won it so they didn't take up my idea." (7)

The project was now shelved. However, Tommy Flowers was so convinced that he could get Newman machine to work effectively he continued building the machine. At the Post Office Research Station at Dollis Hill, Flowers took Newman's blueprint and spent ten months turning it into the Colossus Computer, which he delivered to Bletchley Park on 8th December 1943, but was not fully operational until 5th February 1944. It consisted of 1,500 electronic valves, which were considerably faster than the relay switches used in Turing's machine. However, as Simon Singh, the author of The Code Book: The Secret History of Codes & Code-Breaking (2000) has pointed out than "more important than Colossus's speed was the fact that it was programmable. It was this fact that made Colossus the precursor to the modern digital computer." (8)

Newman's staff that operated the Colossus consisted of about twenty cryptanalysts, about six engineers, and 273 Women's Royal Naval Service (WRNS). Jack Good was one of the cryptanalysts working under Newman: "The machine was programmed largely by plugboards. It read the tape at 5,000 characters per second... The first Colossus had 1,500 valves, which was probably far more than for any electronic machine previously used for any purpose. This was one reason why many people did not expect Colossus to work. But it began producing results also immediately. Most of the failures of valves were caused by switching the machine on and off." (9)

Harry Fensom later reported: "The Colossi were of course very large, hence their name, and gave off a lot of heat, ducts above them taking some of this away. However, we appreciated this on the cold winter nights, especially about two or three in the morning. When I came in out of the rain, I used to hang my raincoat on the chair in front of the hundreds of valves forming the rotor wheels and it soon dried off. Of course it was essential that the machines were never switched off, both to avoid damaging the valves and to ensure no loss of code-breaking time. So there was an emergency mains supply in the adjoining bay which took over automatically on mains failure." (10)

In February, 1944, the Lorenz SZ40 machine was further modified in an attempt to prevent the British from decyphering it. With the invasion of Europe known to be imminent, it was a crucial period for the codebreakers, as it was vitally important for Berlin to break the code being used between Adolf Hitler in Berlin and Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt, the Commander-in-Chief of the German Army in western Europe. (11)

Tommy Flowers and Max Newman now began working on a more advanced computer, Colossus Mark II. Flowers later recalled: "We were told if we couldn't make the machine work by June 1st it would be too late to be of use. So we assumed that that was going to be D-Day, which was supposed to be a secret." The first of these machines went into service at Bletchley Park on 1st June 1944. It had 2,400 valves and could process the tapes five times as fast. "The effective speed of sensing and processing the five-bit characters on punched paper tape was now twenty-five thousand characters per second... Flowers had introduced one of the fundamental principles of the postwar digital computer - use of a clock pulse to synchronize all the operations of his complex machine." (12) It has been pointed out that the speed of the Mark II was "comparable to the first Intel microprocessor chip introduced thirty years later". (13)

When the night staff arrived for work just before midnight on 4th June, 1944 they were informed that tomorrow was D-Day: "They told us that D-Day was today and they wanted every possible message decoded as fast as possible. But then it was postponed because the weather was so bad and that meant we girls knew it was going to take place, so we had to stay there until D-Day. We slept where we could and worked when we could and of course then they set off on June 6, and that was D-Day." (14)

Tommy Flowers had a meeting with General Dwight D. Eisenhower on 5th June. He was able to tell Eisenhower that Adolf Hitler was not sending any extra troops to Normandy and still believed that the Allied troops would land east of the Pas de Calais. Flowers was also able to report that Colossus Mark II had decoded message from Field Marshal Erwin Rommel that one of the drop sites for an US parachute division was the base for a German tank division. As a result of this information the drop site was changed.

Jean Thompson later explained her role in the operation in the book, Station X: The Codebreakers of Bletchley Park (1998): "Most of the time I was doing wheel setting, getting the starting positions of the wheels. There would be two Wrens on the machine and a duty officer, one of the cryptanalysts - the brains people, and the message came in on a teleprinted tape. If the pattern of the wheels was already known you put that up at the back of the machine on a pinboard. The pins were bronze, brass or copper with two feet and there were double holes the whole way down the board for cross or dot impulses to put up the wheel pattern. Then you put the tape on round the wheels with a join in it so it formed a complete circle. You put it behind the gate of the photo-electric cell which you shut on it and, according to the length of the tape, you used so many wheels and there was one moveable one so that could get it taut. At the front there were switches and plugs. After you'd set the thing you could do a letter count with the switches. You would make the runs for the different wheels to get the scores out which would print out on the electromatic typewriter. We were looking for a score above the random and one that was sufficiently good, you'd hope was the correct setting. When it got tricky, the duty officer would suggest different runs to do." (15)

At the end of the war Winston Churchill issued orders that the ten Colossus computers were destroyed and broken into "pieces no bigger than a man's hand". Jerry Roberts later recalled: "The Colossus machines were all destroyed, except two which got away. There were ten machines - eight were dismantled and destroyed, and two were kept at Cheltenham at the new GCHQ." Tommy Flowers was ordered to destroy all documentation and burnt them in a furnace at Dollis Hill. He later said of that order: "That was a terrible mistake. I was instructed to destroy all the records, which I did. I took all the drawings and the plans and all the information about Colossus on paper and put it in the boiler fire. And saw it burn." (16)

Harry Fensom was one of those who was involved in breaking-up the computers. He told Sinclair McKay, the author of The Secret Life of Bletchley Park (2010): "I know some of the Colossi were broken up: we smashed thousands of valves and I believe some panels went with Max Newman to Manchester University. But the know-how remained with a few and the flexibility and modular innovations of Colossus led to the initiation of the British computer industry, such as the work at Manchester and NPL. And also of course to the beginning of electronic telephone exchanges. I therefore give my tribute to Dr Tom Flowers, without whom it would never have happened." (17)

After the war Harry Fensom continued to work for Post Office Research Station. He continued to work with Tommy Flowers and helped design an electronic random-number generator, ERNIE, operational from 1957, to pick winners among holders of premium bonds. (18) His son, Jim Fensom, later recalled: "His best known project was Ernie – the Electronic Random Number Indicator Equipment, which draws the winning premium bond numbers every month – but he also helped to develop many aspects of electronic communication and computer technology that we take for granted today." (19)

Frederick Winterbotham approached the government and asked for permission to reveal the secrets of the work done at Bletchley Park. The intelligence services reluctantly agreed and Winterbotham's book, The Ultra Secret, was published in 1974. Those who had contributed so much to the war effort could now receive the recognition they deserved. (20) Unfortunately, some of the key figures such as Alan Turing, Alastair Denniston and Alfred Dilwyn Knox were now dead.

Over the next thirty years he gave several interviews on the work that he did at BP and contributed to the books, Colossus: Bletchley Park's Greatest Secret (2007), The Secret Life of Bletchley Park (2010) and Colossus: The Secrets of Bletchley Park's Code-breaking Computers (2010).

Harry Fensom died in November 2010.

The Colossi were of course very large, hence their name, and gave off a lot of heat, ducts above them taking some of this away. So there was an emergency mains supply in the adjoining bay which took over automatically on mains failure." (10)

I know some of the Colossi were broken up: we smashed thousands of valves and I believe some panels went with Max Newman to Manchester University. I therefore give my tribute to Dr Tom Flowers, without whom it would never have happened.

My father, Harry Fensom, who has died aged 89, made important contributions to the development of electronic computers. He was one of Tommy Flowers's "band of brothers", who built Colossus and managed its installation and operation at Bletchley Park, the wartime code-breaking establishment in Buckinghamshire.

Colossus was the world's first large-scale, electronic programmable computer and was used to break the German Lorenz code. It is widely accepted that this shortened the second world war by many months. To his family, Harry was a hero, but because of the secrecy surrounding activities at Bletchley Park, for many decades few others knew about his wartime work.

He was born in the East End of London and won a scholarship to the Royal Liberty grammar school in Gidea Park, Romford. At 16, Harry resisted the opportunity to go to university and went to work for the Post Office by day and at night worked for his City & Guilds certificates. During the early war years, he was an electronic engineer at telephone exchanges in London and in due course he received his call-up papers for the army. He never made it into uniform, as he was unexpectedly sent to the Post Office Research Station at Dollis Hill, where he began working with Flowers. They worked on several projects related to codebreaking which culminated in a move to Bletchley Park – even my mother, Marget, did not know Harry's whereabouts. At the end of the war all traces of what they did were destroyed. "Winston Churchill wanted it expunged from people's minds," said Harry in an interview. "He didn't want any of it to be released."

After the war Harry continued to work for BT. His best known project was Ernie – the Electronic Random Number Indicator Equipment, which draws the winning premium bond numbers every month – but he also helped to develop many aspects of electronic communication and computer technology that we take for granted today. The end of 30 years of secrecy surrounding the codebreaking at Bletchley Park in 1974 coincided with his retirement. At last he could break his long silence. He assisted in the Colossus rebuild project at Bletchley Park and over the past 30 years read every book on the subject, and contributed to several.

Harry died a few months after Marget, to whom he had been married for 66 years. He is survived by me, my two sisters, Mary and Sally, and four grandchildren.

Alan Turing - School Student (Answer Commentary)

(1) Jim Fensom, The Guardian (8th November 2010)

(2) Alan Hodges, Alan Turing: the Enigma (1983) page 285

(3) Jon Agar, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004-2014)

(4) Simon Singh, The Code Book: The Secret History of Codes & Code-Breaking (2000) page 243

(5) Tommy Flowers, quoted by Michael Paterson, the author of Voices of the Codebreakers (2007) page 71

(6) Gordon Welchman, The Hut Six (1982) page 178

(7) Tommy Flowers, quoted by Michael Smith, the author of Station X: The Codebreakers of Bletchley Park (1998) page 148

(8) Simon Singh, The Code Book: The Secret History of Codes & Code-Breaking (2000) page 244

(9) Jack Good, quoted by Michael Paterson, the author of Voices of the Codebreakers (2007) page 71

(10) Harry Fensom, quoted by Sinclair McKay, the author of The Secret Life of Bletchley Park (2010) page 264

(11) Michael Smith, Station X: The Codebreakers of Bletchley Park (1998) page 157

(12) Gordon Welchman, The Hut Six (1982) page 179

(13) Nigel Cawthorne, The Enigma Man (2014) page 54

(14) Pat Wright, quoted by Michael Smith, the author of Station X: The Codebreakers of Bletchley Park (1998) page 157

(15) Jean Thompson, quoted by Michael Smith, the author of Station X: The Codebreakers of Bletchley Park (1998) page 150

(16) Sinclair McKay,The Secret Life of Bletchley Park (2010) pages 270-271

(17) Harry Fensom, quoted by Sinclair McKay, the author of The Secret Life of Bletchley Park (2010) page 270

(18) Jon Agar, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004-2014)

(19) Jim Fensom, The Guardian (8th November 2010)

(20) Simon Singh, The Code Book: The Secret History of Codes & Code-Breaking (2000) page 188


Harry Fensom - History

What is Randomness?

There is no such thing as a random number. Rather, numbers in a sequence are considered "random" if they exhibit a high degree of variance from one another - and, crucially, if the sequence cannot be predicted. This is a problem for computers, which need random numbers for lots of things - and for the people who rely on them - because if you calculate a number, then it's always going to be predictable if you know what went into the calculation.

Most of the time, this isn't really a problem. Computer scientists have developed extremely sophisticated ways of creating pseudorandom numbers which are good enough for most applications, such as the Mersenne Twister. It's also possible to measure the electrical fluctuations in computer chips as a source of randomness. Random.org uses electrical noise in the atmosphere picked up by a radio.

The robots in A State of Sin use a variety of real-world sources that change, unpredictably, over time, such as the sound levels in the gallery, or different levels of gases in the atmosphere.

They are inspired by other "real" random number generators used in history, such as the Kleroterion of ancient Athens, which decided which citizens would participate in the original democracy. Lavarand was a true random number generator developed in the 1970s, which took photos of the wax floating in a lava lamp. The original ERNIE (Electronic Random Number Indicator Equipment - pictured above), which picked the winners in the Premium Bonds, used an array of flourescent tubes to create electrical noise. (ERNIE was designed at the Post Office Research Station by Tommy Flowers and Harry Fensom, and was based on the Colossus, the world's first digital computer.)

How the robots make random numbers

Every few seconds, the robots sample data from their sensors, and use it as seed to generate new numbers. They apply the middle-square method:

The middle-square method is intended to produce pseudorandom numbers - which repeat over time. But because the robots are constantly sampling the world around them for new seeds, the sequence changes. They're really random.

The middle-square method was first presented by John von Neumann at a conference in 1949, although others claim it was invented by a Franciscan friar known only as Brother Edvin sometime between 1240 and 1250. Supposedly, Edvin's manuscript was uncovered by Jorge Luis Borges in the Vatican Library.

Communicating randomness

On each of the sensor pages you can see the most recent numbers, as well as some evaluations of them. For example, the variance (or spread) of the numbers is visualised in a black-and-white grid, so you can see at a glance how "random" the data appears.

Because this visual appraisal is not very rigorous, we also calculate the chi squared (&chi²) value for each sensor, which is a mathematical measure of how random a sequence of numbers is - that is, how far the sequence deviates from an expected random distribution.

For example, if you picked a "random" number between one and ten a hundred times, a "perfect" random sequence would have ten 1s, ten 2s, ten 3s and so on - a &chi² of zero. In practice this would be very unlikely, and the larger the &chi² number gets, the less "random" the sequence is.

Some of the robots are better than others at this.

For a good introduction to questions about randomness, how you make it and how you test it, try reading The Art of Computer Programming: Random Numbers by Donald Knuth.


Prince Harry, a weak student who was helped to cheat in exam, says ex-teacher

Former teachers of Prince Harry at Eton College helped him cheat in his A-level art course because he was such a weak student, a tribunal was told yesterday.

One teacher allegedly prepared explanatory text to go with images produced by Harry while a second helped the prince insert the lines into a project.

The head of art at Eton also allegedly completed work for Harry which was later published in newspapers around the world.

As the prince began army officer training at Sandhurst yesterday, one of his former teachers, Sarah Forsyth, was claiming that his art exam result, which helped him get into the elite college, was flawed.

Ms Forsyth told an employment tribunal, where she is claiming unfair dismissal, that the evening before a moderator was due at the school to look at the students' AS-level work - which counts towards their A-level grade - she was asked by the head of art, Ian Burke, to prepare text to go with some of Harry's work for his Expressive Project, in which a pupil is required to explain some of his work and relate it to that of great artists.

Ms Forsyth said she was "profoundly shocked", adding: "I was concerned that this was unethical and probably constituted cheating."

She told the tribunal at Reading, Berkshire: "I assumed I had been asked to do this because Prince Harry was a weak student."

Ms Forsyth, 30, said Harry's failings as a student were well known at Eton and she had been told that a teacher who marked Harry's entrance exam had been "desperate" to find points for which he could award marks.

She claims she was too frightened to disobey Mr Burke and did what was asked of her. Later she allegedly saw the prince sitting beside Mr Burke apparently deciding which of her lines should go where. Ms Forsyth claims the prince thanked her for her help.

The former teacher claimed Mr Burke would occasionally help boys complete work while they chatted to him about football and betting, his "pet subjects".

In a witness statement put before the tribunal, Ms Forsyth claimed Mr Burke finished off work for Harry which "featured in the newspapers".

She did not specify in the statement which pictures she was referring to, but in June 2003 a photograph of Harry with two of his screen prints inspired by Aboriginal designs and colours was released to the media.

Eton told the Guardian that this was part of his A-level work, but the college said it did not know if these were the images Ms Forsyth referred to in her statement.

Ms Forsyth had arrived at Eton in September 2000 with an excellent academic record but no formal teaching qualifications. She claims her job went well until Mr Burke's arrival at Eton. She alleges he bullied her.

Under cross-examination she claimed she was dismissed partly because Mr Burke wanted to give his girlfriend her £28,000 job and partly because of the "Harry mess". The school insists she was sacked because her teaching was not up to scratch.

Ms Forsyth also claimed she secretly taped a conversation in which the prince confirmed he had written "about a sentence" of the disputed text.

Prince Harry and Eton strongly deny he was guilty of cheating. Mr Burke denies finishing pupils' work.


Meredith Fensom

Meredith Fensom is a Florida native who has a special interest in Latin America. She finished her undergraduate studies with a Bachelors in Political Science and a study abroad experience in Buenos Aires. Falling in love with the country, culture, and people, she decided to pursue a Law degree at the University of Florida in conjunction with a Masters in Latin American Studies. After submitting her thesis, Judicial Reform in the Americas: The Case of Chile, she was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship in Santiago, Chile.

From working for the University of Florida to the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, Meredith continued to expand her knowledge of the region. What did change, however, was her career. Originally, she thought that she was going to have a legal job working with trade agreements between the U.S. and Latin America. However, this grew to agricultural trade work for private clients, then biotechnology regulatory work and she has become a trailblazer for biotechnology companies operating in the region.

Can you tell us more about what you are currently doing?

I am working for the Intrexon Corporation, a U.S. biotechnology company that encompasses the health, food, energy, consumer, and environment sectors in order to realize a better, healthier planet. My role is to be the facilitator between the company and the governments of our priority markets. Intrexon is a very innovative company and often there isn’t a regulatory pathway in place for the products we have created, so it is my job to work with the governments to ensure we can commercialize our products. We have been working with various governments in the region to deploy our genetically modified mosquitoes in order to reduce the Aedes aegypti species which carry diseases such as Zika, dengue, yellow fever, and chikungunya.

How has your MALAS degree helped you prepare for your career?

My degree in Latin American Studies has made me a unique candidate with a well-rounded view of the continent. My MALAS degree has given me knowledge of the history, political structure, and culture that shape the countries and affect how they conduct business. Also, the language requirements encouraged me to learn Brazilian Portuguese which has set me apart from other candidates and has been very helpful when working with the Brazilian government.

What advice would you give to MALAS students?

That’s a great question, I actually have more than one piece of advice! First, try to learn Brazilian Portuguese. There are a lot of native Spanish speakers, especially in Florida, but if you know both languages it will distinguish you from other candidates competing for regional jobs. Second, try to expose yourself to as many different areas as possible. Even though I ended up working at a biotech company, I did not study agriculture and health in school because I thought I was more interested in history and politics. Doing internships and fellowships during or after school are very helpful to figure out what you enjoy. Third, love what you are doing because that’s what you are going to do best. And lastly, make sure to keep an open mind. I never thought that I would be working in this sector and I ended up loving it.


The unknown story behind how Premium Bonds became a national institution

One of the very first Premium Bonds, issued in 1957

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I n 1960, three years after the first Premium Bonds draw, more than 12 million Britons held the new investments – but a few were still baffled by the pioneering technology.

Rare blueprints and documents originally belonging to Harry Fensom, co-designer of the first Electronic Random Number Indicator Equipment (better known as Ernie), have re-emerged – in an unassuming box at Bletchley Park, wartime home to Britain’s code-breaking operation.

The collection is owned today by Phil Hayes, chief engineer of the Colossus rebuilt at The National Museum of Computing, where the newly decommissioned Ernie 4 will soon spend retirement. The plans and records reveal the early days of a national institution – and subsequent struggles to keep up with demand.

On June 1 1957, when Ernie 1, which used noise to select numbers, made its first draw, it had plenty of high-profile critics. Harold Wilson, the shadow chancellor, called it a “squalid raffle”. The Archbishop of Canterbury said it was a “cold, mechanical inhuman activity”.

Savers saw things differently. A rare copy of a May 1960 speech by Harold Mackintosh, the National Savings Committee chairman, notes that more than 12 million people held over £250m worth of Premium Bonds by 1960.

M ackintosh also cited a public attitudes survey that found 11pc still believed Premium Bond winners were drawn from a drum or a hat.


Early life and education

Fensom was born in Catford, in South London. Shortly after his birth the family moved to Fife, where they stayed until 1928. His secondary education was at the Royal Liberty School in Gidea Park where he excelled in mathematics and the sciences. He left school at 16, shunning a university education in favour of finding work. Whilst working for the GPO as an engineer, Fensom continued his education at night school, studying for City and Guilds at East Ham, Borough and Northampton polytechnics. [3]


First-Hand:Bletchley Park, Station X - Memories of a Colossus Operator

Submitted by Eleanor Ireland

In the Spring of 1944 I was working in London and at this time one of my friends joined the WRNS as an MT Driver, which possibly influenced my decision to do the same. So in great trepidation I took myself off to Queen Anne's Gate and volunteered. I was interviewed there and then and very soon called to a medical. It was not long after that I received a letter telling me to report to a WRNS establishment at Tulliechewan Castle near Glasgow on 2 August 1944.

Strangely enough the week before I was due to set off on this adventure I met another school friend and talking to her found that she was also joining the WRNS and had been asked to report to the same place at the same time. We found out much later that instead of reporting to Mill Hill, which was usual, as there had been a spate of bombing in London they did not wish to take any chances over the new intake and sent us up to Scotland. I was very pleased to think that I had a companion to go with, and as it turned out we were to stay together until we were demobbed at the end of December 1946 and are still close friends.

We travelled to Glasgow and then out to a small station on the edge of Loch Lomond where we were picked up and taken to Tulliechewan WRNS reception camp, which was a requisitioned castle -a large estate on the side of the hill. At the bottom of the hill was the Regulating Office, a large number of nissen huts - sleeping quarters, a mess and stores hut etc - and opposite an enormous parade ground. Up at the top of the hill was the castle, used by the officers, and another parade ground with the Naval flag.

A bell sounded at 5 a.m. to get us up, after which we had to do various menial tasks, cleaning out the huts, potato peeling , blancoing the steps of the castle, etc - all dedicated to putting us off.

Some people left at this stage. Those that were left were kitted out with temporary garb and eventually with our uniform, which took some time, and were given our service numbers which one never forgets - they seem to be engraved on your soul!

We did hours of squad drill to smarten us up and were lectured on the Senior Service and its history since the time of Pepys. We were interviewed to find out what category we would like to go into. I cannot remember what I said but a friend of mine distinctly remembers saying she would like to go into signals. This we found out very much later was all a terrific blind as they had already decided where we were going. Just before we departed we were told hat we were being posted to a station 50 miles from London in the country - very depressing we thought.

Going down on the night train from Glasgow, which was absolutely packed with Service personnel, we arrived at Bletchley completely exhausted. From the station we were taken by transport to Bletchley Park only a few minutes away. The transport stopped at a very high security-fenced entrance manned by security guards and we were taken, a few at a time, into a concrete building where we were issued with a security pass and ordered to guard these with our lives. Without this pass we would be unable to enter the compound.

Before us was a large Victorian mansion with a sward of grass in front of it. A Wren officer escorted us into a low building adjacent to the mansion, where she gave us a very intimidating lecture about the extreme secrecy of both the place Bletchley Park and every aspect of the work which was done there.

We were never to divulge any information about our work the place where we worked never to discuss our work when outside, not even with those with whom we worked we were not to ask anyone else on the site outside of our own unit what they did and were not to keep diaries. Our category we were told was PV Special Duties X. We would wear no category badges and if anyone asked us what we did we were to say we were writers and did secretarial work. We would get no posting anywhere else as the work was too secret for us to be released.

Everyone had to sign a document, The Official Secrets Act, and we were told that if we divulged any information gained about our work we would be sent to prison, at least. So effective was this talk that when we left the building where we worked we just dropped a shutter and blanked it all out.

Very bemused and subdued by all this secrecy we returned to the transport with still no idea where we were going. The transport drove out of the sleepy town of Bletchley for nine miles into the country, through woodland, until we came to the village of Woburn, where we turned up by the church and drove through a very imposing set of gates, through beautiful park land, until we saw in front of us the magnificent stately home of Woburn Abbey.

The transport stopped at the main entrance where we were met by a WRNS Petty Officer and taken into an enormous hall which had been made into a Regulatory Office. There we were issued with Station Passes for the Abbey and told that every time we went out our passes must be handed in and picked up again when we came back, except when we came back at midnight from the Evening Watch, when we would find them in our own labelled post boxes - a huge rack of cubby holes on the opposite side of the hal l. After climbing up the grand staircase to the second floor we were allocated to temporary accommodation.

All the off-duty Wrens were very helpful and showed us everything that we would need. I can still remember being very impressed by a:! the doub Ie green baize doors. The rooms were very grand since they were formerly bedrooms used by the family. The loos were of Delft china and raised two steps above the floor. The walls were lined with red silk. The bathrooms were also very impressive, very large and again the bath was on a 'throne' two steps above the floor, encased in mahogany and very gloomy.

One of the first things I was told was that the corridor was haunted by a nun. This was told to me with great relish by a girl whose name was Dawn who assured me that her friend had actually seen her!

After we finished our fortnight'S initiation at Bletchley we were allocated to Watches, A, B, C or D, Fortunately I was put on the same watch as four friends I had already made -C watch . We were then moved up into a room under the eaves at the front of the house, the servants quarters, where eight of us shared a 'cabin' called 'Swordfish 50'. The cabin was spartan - four bunk beds, four chests of drawers and a built-in cupboard where we kept our cases, food etc, until we found there were resident mice!

Being up under the eaves it was very hot in summer and cold in winter. With eight of us we had to have the windows open, and when snow drifted in onto the window sill it would stay there for about three weeks. Bedfordshire is supposed to be the coldest county in England. Whilst I am on the subject of the Abbey our sitting room, or Fo'c's'le (Naval term) was the Grand double cube room - the largest and grandest room in the house. The walls were completely boarded up when we were there, and around the room at various intervals were a set of three electric metal tubes, four feet long, and around these tubes we sat grouped for warmth with our great coats on when we were off duty.

Later on they converted a pleasant square room with a marble fireplace, next door to our cabin, and joy of joys in the winter a fire was lit for us. We were provided with sofas with pretty cretonne covers and this was the nearest thing to comfort we came on throughout our career in the WRNS.

Our mess was the original kitchen down at the further end of a ground floor passage paved with stone flags worn down with age. We ate off scrubbed tables, and we all kept our own mugs in preference to the issued metal mugs. The food was just about edible.

All the buildings had been commandeered by the WRNS and the Foreign Office had the stables at the rear of the buildings - also hush hush. The Duke of Bedford was fearful that fire might destroy the building, so if we were not on duty we had to take it in turns, two at a time, to patrol the building in the dark for two hours at a time with torches. I hated doing this as it was all very eerie.

The Duke lived in a house in the grounds and he would come and have a look around every now and then to make sure everything was all right. All the family pictures and furniture were stored away in another wing of the Abbey. Some of my friends had a lovely cabin on the ground floor which I recognised when I went back many years later. It is now a dining room, hung with yellow silk and a magnificent collection of Canaletto paintings of Venice.

The park was magnificent, with seven lakes and several herds of rare deer. I loved the view from our cabin window.

There were very few officers at the Abbey, and none of them, not even the Officer in Charge, had any idea of the work that we did. I can remember that when we first went there, if we had a Sunday off watch, we were expected to join the Church Parade and march two miles to the Woburn village church and back. Later on the First Officer was warned that we were under terrific pressure at work and told not to stress us unnecessarily, and latterly I do not remember going to church and discipline became more relaxed.

The day after we arrived at the Abbey we were driven into Bletchley Park in an old army transport bus with a soldier at the wheel. The bus stopped at the main gate and we all got out and showed our passes, being then told to wait outside the mansion house. From there we were escorted past a tennis court, past some very hideous low concrete buildings on either side of a drive to Block F, another concrete building. They were all very grim and as we later on learned bomb proof.

At the entrance to Block F we were met by Max Newman, who introduced himself and welcomed us. We were taken into a long low room with a very large blackboard and long tables.

Max Newman stood in front of the blackboard and we all sat at the tables. He was a Professor from Cambridge, a mathematician. He had a very pleasant manner and put us at our ease. He told us that this was a fairly new section which had been recently set up and that we would be working with mathematicians and engineers. He had specifically asked for Wrens to man the section, run the machines and organise the Registry Office.

For a fortnight we went in every day and he lectured us on a new type of binary maths which he would write up on the blackboard. We were shown the tapes that were used on the machines that we were to become familiar with. We had to learn the alphabet punched on the tapes and become adept at reading them. The tapes were one inch wide and very strong and the alphabet the same as the GPO teleprinter alphabet. On either side of each sprocket hole there was space for two holes to be punched above and three below so that, for instance, A was two holes above the sprocket and nothing below. On the Colossus machine these sprocket holes went past an electronic eye at 5,000 per second, so that 5,000 letters registered per second.

We were taken round the Section and shown what everyone was doing. We were shown the room where the messages came in on teleprinter tape on two separate machines. Most of the messages came from Knockholt and Kedleston in Derbyshire as I learnt later. We were shown two Colossus computing machines they had at that time - Mark I. I thought they were quite incredible quite fantastic. I was completely overawed by them, a mass of switches, valves and whirring tape. We were shown into a very long room where tapes were cut and joined, and tapes that had split on the machines were repaired. Then we went to Ops or Registry itself where all tapes were registered and tabulated and put into a series of cubby holes.

There was a room called the Tunny room where the Tunny machines received the tapes from Colossus and decrypted the text. This could be done on Colossus, but Colossus was considered too valuable as an analytical machine to spend time doing this.

At the end of the fortnight we were tested on our knowledge and depending how well we performed were sent to various tasks - in administration, dealing with the tapes as they came in, etc. I was delighted to be put on Colossus, whic h I considered was the plum job! I was taught by a Wren called Jean Bradridge how to operate the machine, what all the switches were for, and how to peg a wheel pattern on the grid at the bac k of the machine with pins that looked like very large, very strong hairpins, copper nickel plated.

The tape was shut into position in front of the photo electric cell, which had its own small gate for the tape to slide through to keep it in place. According to the length of the tape one used as many wheel as were necessary to make the tape completely taut. This was a triCky operation, getting the tape at the right tension. It took a little time and had to be done with great care - this was rather hair-raising. We were terrified of the tape breaking if the tension was wrong and valuable time might then be lost.

I can remember when I was given a new Wren to instruct I was worried about leaving her for very long, so when it came to our meal break I would hurry back to make sure nothing awful had happened. All the 'break ins' we put on were timed and they generally took about one hour to run. Every single tape was logged on and off in a book - the time we received the tape and the time it was taken off the machine. It was instilled into us that time was of the very essence. We knew we were working against the clock and that the lives of people depended on it.

Another big block was put up with two more Colossus. These were the improved and much larger Mark II version. I was sent to work on Colossus 3 and my friend Jean Beech was on Colossus 4. These were housed in an enormous room. They had 2,500 valves instead of the 1,500 on Colossus Mark I and in fact were twice as big and five times as fast - 25,000 characters per second were read. Later Block H was built to house ten more machines.

Jean and I worked by ourselves with a mathematician codebreaker, or 'cryptographer' as they were generally called. He would sit at a long table facing Colossus under thick meshed windows - all very spartan. These mathematicians came mainly from Oxford or Cambridge. Some came straight from University and some were a little older. The only name I can remember of those with whom I worked is Sandy Green. Others would come in such as Jack Good, Donald Michie, Shaun Wylie, to discuss what was going on and make suggestions.

On the tables in front of them were sheets of codes and they used slide rulers to make their calculations. Whoever we were working with would tell us what they wanted from the machine.

We would pin up on the grid at the back of the machine whatever they were working on and put on the tape they wished to run against it. At the front of the Colossus were switches and plugs.

We could set switches to make letter counts - how many E's, A's, S's etc were on a tape. The machine had its own electronic typewriter and would record all this. Sometimes we were given a norm and as each figure came up on the typewriter one calculated and wrote down against it how much above or below the norm the figure just typed out was, I became very good at mental arithmetic.

What was pegged up at the back of the machine were Lorenz wheel patterns and the tape on the wheels was an intercepted message tape. The purpose of Colossus was to find out what the positions of the code wheels were at the beginning of a message, and it did that by trying all the possible combinations , of which there were billions.

What I did not know then, and only learnt fifty years later, was that Colossus was designed to break the messages sent out by a machine called the Lorenz machine, which had been especially ordered by the German High Command to enable them to communicate in complete secrecy. The Lorenz machine was used by Hitler, Goering and Goebbels, also the Field Marshals and Generals. The machine that can be seen at Bletchley Park Museum actually belonged to Field Marshal Kesselring. The teleprinter signals using Lorenz were first heard in 1940 by a group of policemen on the south coast who were listening out for possible spy transmissions from inside the U. K. The Germans thought that the code sent out on the Lorenz machines was completely unbreakable.

By the beginning of 1942 Bill Tutte and other members of the Research Section worked out the complete logical structure of the Lorenz machine - a marvelious achievement.

In 1942, as I have learnt since from his son, Max Newman was approached when he was at St John's College to leave Cambridge and work at Bletchley. He carried forward the process of automation that had already been started and was introduced to the genius Tommy Flowers, a Post Office engineer, who designed Colossus.

When we were working on Colossus if anything went wrong with the machine we would contact the maintenance team. The Officer in Charge of the team was an extraordinarily clever man, quite brilliant, called Harry Fensom. He has given me his account of what happened when he joined the team at the G.P.O. Engineering Research Station at Dollis Hill which shows how the whole process of automation evolved. This is what Harry Fensom says:

"I started at Dollis Hill GP.O. Engineering Branch Station in August 1942 to work on constructing an electronic 4th wheel deciphering device for ENIGMA. I then went on to help construct a machine called TUNNY for simulating or modelling the LORENZ (Fish or Schlusselzusatz). All of these machines were invented or designed by Tommy Flowers and the circuit designs were by his right-hand men, Sydney Broadhurst and Bill Chandler. I was a member of a team of about ten who worked under these two and did some of the construction, but mostly the testing and helping to make them actually work.

Soon however about five of us were diverted onto the construction of a cipher breaking machine for the Lorenz in the Newmanry, called Heath Robinson, in collaboration with TRE (Telecomme Research Establishment) of Malvern. I went with Syd Broadhurst to Bletchley Park to install this machine and stayed for a while to help their personnel (including Donald Michie and Jack Good) to run it. Heath Robinson was the forerunner of the Colossus Mark I. I was recalled to Dollis Hill and there helped to get this Colossus to work. When it was running properly we dismantled it and shipped it to Bletchley, Syd Broadhurst putting me in charge of its installation there. Again I stayed there with a few others to keep it running and to clear any faults as they developed.

Meanwhile Tommy Flowers had designed an upgrade called Colossus Mark II which was about twice as big and five times as fast (25,000 characters per second reading the message). It also incorporated new facilities for various programmes which were different from the original specification.

So I went back and forth between Bletchley Park and Dollis Hill until it was finished and finally just before D -Day we had it running at Bletchley Park. Henceforth I stayed there as Officer in Charge of the maintenance and upgrade team until the end of the war. After the war I stayed at Dollis Hill and went on to design 'Ernie'."

Another brilliant engineer working with us was Ken Myers, who after the war worked on the coordination of all the London traffic lights. These engineers, as far as I know, have had little or no recognition of the magnificent work they did, which I think is most unjust.

I must mention Dr Thomas Flowers, the genius behind Colossus, who I am pleased to say did get some recognition for his work and was awarded the M.B.E. before he died a few years ago, Tommy Flowers' main contribution was to propose that the wheel patterns be generated electronically in ring circuits, thus doing away with one paper tape instead of the two that were run together before. He knew that valves were reliable as long as they were never switched off.

No body believed him but it was so.

According to Dr Flowers they started Colossus I in March 1943. They worked day and night, six and a half days a week for twelve hours at a time to have the Colossus installed in Block F in Newmanry Section by Christmas 1943. It was operational by January 1944 and successful on its first test against a real encrypted Lorenz message tape. It was vital to have it running before D-Day.

To return to the more mundane aspects of life, we worked on watches - A, B, C and 0 watches.

A and C interchanged and so did Band D. I was on C watch. We worked 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., 4 p.m. to 12 p.m., and 12 p.m. toS a.m. A week of days, a week of evenings, a week of nights and a week of changeovers. The fourth week we filled in any gaps in A watch. The changeover week could be very tiring - off at 9 a.m. and on again at 4 p.m. for instance. We had a weekend off every month and an occasional additional weekend.

We went to and from Bletchley Park in small buses. These would all be lined up on the drive opposite the mansion - besides going to Woburn Abbey some went to Gayhurst Manor, Wavendon and other destinations.

There were Foreign Office, Naval, Army and Air Force personnel at the Park but we never knew what was done in other sections. When we first arrived we ate in the mansion with the Foreign Office personnel and the food was good, but when there became too many of us they built some huts near our block and we ate there. The food was fairly grim. We found it difficult to eat on Night Watch - we never became used to eating then so would often walk out of the gate down a side alley to Bletchley Station. At the end of one of the platforms was a NAAFI hut and we would eat buns and drink a decent cup of tea before walking back - better than cold liver and prunes - I did not eat another prune for over thirty years!

At the end of the German War Churchill sent out an edict that all the machines must be dismantled and so we helped to break up Colossus. We thought this was very sad. Two machines went to Eastcote in North London and were eventually sent to Government Communications Headquarters at Cheltenham and dismantled in 1960. All the drawings of Colossus were burnt and its very existence kept secret.

We all had to sign the Official Secrets Act again and we all remained completely silent. When we meet, as we do in recent years every September, we all agree that those were our finest hours.


The Colossus Computer

Tommy Flowers spent eleven months designing and building Colossus at the Post Office Research Station, Dollis Hill, in North West London. After a functional test, Colossus Mk 1 was delivered to Bletchley Park in late December 1943 / January 1944, was assembled there by Harry Fensom and Don Horwood, and was working in early February 1944.

Colossus was the first of the electronic digital machines with programmability, albeit limited in modern terms. The notion of a computer as a general purpose machine - that is, as more than a calculator devoted to solving difficult but specific problems - would not become prominent for several years.

Colossus was preceded by several computers, many of them being a first in some category. Colossus, however, was the first that was digital, programmable, and electronic. The first fully programmable digital electronic computer capable of running a stored program was still some way off - the 1948 Manchester Small Scale Experimental Machine.

The use to which the Colossi were put was of the highest secrecy, and Colossus itself was highly secret, and remained so for many years after the War. Colossus was not included in the history of computing hardware for decades, and Flowers and his associates were deprived of the recognition they were due for many years.

It has taken nearly fifteen years to rebuild the Mark II Colossus computer in the same position as Colossus 9 originally occupied in Block H. Using only scraps of diagrams, old pictures and half-forgotten memories Tony Sale and his team re-created this fantastic world-first for Britain and set the benchmark for computer conservation.

For further information about how the Colossus story surfaced, and more details about the Colossus rebuild project by the late Tony sale, click on the following links:


Keep an open mind when searching through Fensom records. Years ago many people were unable to read and write, thus a given ancestor's name could be spelled in a variety of ways depending on who recorded it. If you want to know How can I locate old newspapers for Fensom research?, then read this frequently asked question.

Top Five Genealogy Databases to Search for Fensom

Vital records are essential for family history research because they were typically created at or near the time of the event, making the record more reliable. There are currently matching Fensom records at Ancestry.com! Start exploring this online Fensom family history resource today.

Death Records

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FENSOM v. KEMPKER

Fred G. FENSOM, Appellant, v. Gary KEMPKER, Respondent.

No. WD 63866.

Decided: December 14, 2004

Fred G. Fensom appeals the motion court's order and judgment dismissing his declaratory judgment action as moot. The dismissal does not constitute a final, appealable judgment. Because we lack jurisdiction, we dismiss Fensom's appeal.

The Declaratory Judgment Action

Fred Fensom pleaded guilty to one count of forgery, § 570.090.1(1), RSMo.2000. 1 His motion to withdraw his guilty plea was denied. This court dismissed his appeal of that ruling on March 5, 2002. State v. Fensom, 69 S.W.3d 550 (Mo.App.2002). On April 18, 2002, the circuit court sentenced Fensom to four years in prison. Fensom was free on an appeal bond until his appeal was denied by this court. State v. Fensom, 103 S.W.3d 835 (Mo.App.2003). He began serving his sentence with the Department of Corrections on June 5, 2003.

The Department of Corrections has determined, pursuant to § 558.019.2(1), that Fensom must serve forty percent of his four-year sentence before being eligible for parole, due to a prior prison commitment. Fensom contends that this determination is in error. According to Fensom, the prior commitment was based on a 1978 conviction that resulted in a five-year sentence. The execution of that sentence was suspended, Fensom says, and he was placed on probation. Later, his probation was revoked, and the sentence was executed. Eventually, the revocation was reversed and the sentence vacated via a Rule 27.26 motion. Fensom was returned to probation status, and the prior commitment was rendered a nullity.

On November 3, 2003, Fensom filed a petition for declaratory judgment in the Cole County Circuit Court, seeking a declaration that he was already eligible for parole consideration. Fensom argued in his petition that the Department of Corrections acted improperly by deeming him ineligible for parole under § 558.019.2(1), because the probation revocation that resulted in his earlier prison commitment was eventually reversed.

On December 18, 2003, Respondent Kempker filed a motion to dismiss Fensom's petition as moot. Respondent argued, based upon the allegations in the petition, that the appellant “appear[ed] eligible for parole consideration” already because he had served forty percent of his sentence. Thus, argued Kempker, Fensom already had the relief he wanted: eligibility to be considered for parole.

In January 2004, the circuit court entered an order and judgment dismissing Fensom's petition as moot, based on the belief that he had already served forty percent of his sentence. 2 Fensom now appeals the dismissal to this court. He contends that the circuit court erred in determining that the petition was moot, because he has not served forty percent of his sentence, according to Department of Corrections calculations. The time during which Fensom was free on appeal bond does not count toward his time served in calculating eligibility for parole. Because he did not actually begin serving his prison sentence until June 5, 2003, he says, he has not served forty percent. Thus, he argues, the court erred in dismissing his petition as moot.

This court has a duty to determine, sua sponte, whether we have jurisdiction to consider this appeal. See Chromalloy Am. Corp. v. Elyria Foundry Co., 955 S.W.2d 1, 3 (Mo. banc 1997).

“Any involuntary dismissal shall be without prejudice unless the court in its order for dismissal shall otherwise specify.” Rule 67.03. Here, the court's judgment does not specify that the dismissal was with prejudice. In most instances, a dismissal without prejudice does not constitute an adjudication on the merits. Vernor v. Mo. Bd. of Prob. & Parole, 934 S.W.2d 13, 14 (Mo.App.1996). The general rule is that a dismissal without prejudice is not a final judgment and, therefore, is not appealable. Chromalloy, 955 S.W.2d at 3.

Where a petition is dismissed without prejudice, the plaintiff typically can cure the dismissal by filing another suit in the same court thus, a dismissal without prejudice generally is not a final judgment for purposes of appeal. Vernor, 934 S.W.2d at 14. Pursuant to Rule 67.01, a dismissal with prejudice would bar the assertion of the same cause of action against the same party, but a dismissal without prejudice permits the party to bring another civil action for the same cause, unless it is otherwise barred.

Here, the dismissal of Fensom's claim, as we noted supra, was due to his failure to properly plead all the particulars of his claim. He failed to supply the trial court with the information necessary to show that the matter was not moot. Accordingly, if he had filed a new action, this time pleading all necessary information, presumably he would have been allowed to proceed to the merits. Even now, although substantial time has been lost through the pendency of this appeal, we know of nothing that will prevent the appellant from filing his petition again and pursuing a judgment on the merits. We conclude that there is no final judgment in this matter because the dismissal was without prejudice.

Because the circuit court's dismissal of Fensom's petition does not constitute a final, appealable judgment, we conclude that we do not have jurisdiction. The appeal is dismissed.

1. All statutory references are to Revised Statutes of Missouri, 2000, unless otherwise noted.

2. The petition appeared to show that Fensom has been incarcerated since April 18, 2002 (his sentencing date), because that is the date he refers to in the petition. In Fensom's response to the motion to dismiss, he argued that this is incorrect, because the “Department of Corrections is not recognizing the sentence start date due to the time spent on appeal bond․” Fensom, however, failed to include the “sentence start date” in either pleading. Thus, even if this matter were reviewable, it is difficult to see how we could convict the trial court of error for its action in dismissing the case.


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