Lorenz by Captain Jerry Roberts – Review
By Karl Hornsey
This autobiography by Captain Jerry Roberts serves both as an important historical document, but also as a fascinating account of the life of a man who really should be more of a household name.
The Lorenz of the title refers to the German cipher machine used during the latter years of the Second World War by the Nazi high command, including Adolf Hitler himself. Roberts was the last surviving member of the decryption team working ceaselessly at Bletchley Park to decode the vast amount of daily messages and the aim of his autobiography is to bring those efforts to a wider public audience. In fact much of Roberts’ later life – he died aged 93 in March 2014 – was dedicated to gaining acclaim for, in his words, the three heroes of Bletchley, namely Alan Turing, Bill Tutte and Tommy Flowers.
As the work of all those at Bletchley was classified for so many years after the war, it wasn’t until at least the late 1970s that the work undertaken there become apparent, as well as the vital role it played in bringing the war to an end.
“Helping to save millions of lives”
A drip-feed of documentaries, films and public campaigns continued to increase the general acknowledgement of all things Bletchley, with Turing becoming perhaps the most widely recognised of those who worked there. His work cracking the Enigma code is regarded as crucial in preventing defeat to the Axis powers in 1941, but the work on Lorenz, which in fairness was a much harder machine to crack, still went under the radar, with little known about Tutte and Flowers.
Roberts worked tirelessly right up until his death to have Tutte and Flowers honoured, and the selflessness of the man, and his self-deprecation are really quite special and endearing. He was himself a genius and instrumental in shortening the war, thus helping to save millions of lives, yet his only motivations have been to bring others to wider acclaim.
For page after page, one can feel his frustration and almost anger that such efforts weren’t more widely recognised, and there is also a huge poignancy in reading this, knowing that very soon after completion he sadly passed away. Having visited Bletchley and become fascinated by the work there, and delighted that the place is now flourishing and acclaimed as a site of historical importance, I would recommend this book to anyone with an interest in the place, and in the phenomenal events that occurred there.
Roberts vividly relates his memories of the place and goes into great detail about how the codes were cracked, even if he tries to suggest that such complicated matters were in fact relatively straightforward. There is a certain amount of repetition as he tells his story and the reader is told the same thing in several different ways, but the point of the book comes across strongly, leaving one in no doubt of its importance.
The joy Roberts’ found in later life is also heartwarming and the sense that he squeezed every last drop out of his life is inspiring. While poignant, the overwhelming feeling I was left with was that of relief that he managed to tell his story and lead the quest for recognition for Tutte and Flowers before it was too late. As the story of the last remaining member of such a crucial period and place in British history, this deserves to reach a wider audience, who will then also be left to wonder what would have become of Britain and Europe without the likes of such fine men as Captain Jerry Roberts.
‘Lorenz’ by Captain Jerry Roberts is published by The History Press