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Should Alan Turing be awarded a posthumous knighthood?

It would be unprecedented, but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t happen

When the artwork for the £50 note with London-born mathematician Alan Turing on it was revealed recently it got us thinking … why isn’t it showing Sir Alan Turing?

Well, a little bit of digging on the net reveals that posthumous honours are only awarded for acts of valour.

That may be the current situation, but does it need to be followed faithfully?

All worthy of statues but no posthumous knighthoods – George Harrison, Bobby Moore and John Lennon. Beatles pictures, Wikimedia Commons; Moore, Ian Gratton/Flickr.

We here at London Inspire think that exceptions could – and should – be made. Turing wouldn’t be the only name on the list. There are good cases to be made for individuals such as World Cup winner Bobby Moore and musicians such as Beatles John Lennon and George Harrison among others*.

However, in the codebreaker’s case, we would contend that Turing in his work did show valour.

No, he didn’t perform an obvious act of valour such as charging a machinegun nest or similar, but he did show great bravery. After playing a lead role in cracking the Nazi’s Enigma code he demonstrated enormous courage when helping to recommend which intercepts should (and shouldn’t) be acted upon.

Turing understood that if the Allies reacted to every message the Nazis would realise that their code had been broken.

So, Turing and colleagues, in effect, helped to decide who and what should be sacrificed for the greater good (see the YouTube clip). What a responsibility! Facing up to that task – playing God, in effect – displayed a special sort of valour.

It has been recognised that the breaking of the Enigma code saved millions of lives and helped shorten World War II. If those feats don’t deserve a knighthood, what does?

On this site, we have already recorded that Turing was voted the icon of the 20th century in a BBC poll. That suggests that we Brits are justifiably proud of his war efforts and his enduring impact on the development of modern computers.

So, why would we, as a nation, not want to put our approval on record with the award of a knighthood?

Of course, we appreciate that awards to the dead can’t mean anything to the ‘recipient’. But, to relatives and friends of Turing, it would mean a lot and, we feel, say positive things about the often maligned honours system.

Turing was a gay man at a time when such acts were regarded as indecent and, as a result, he gained a criminal record. He was posthumously granted a Royal pardon. So, that ‘criminality’ (if you can call it that) should be no bar to a knighthood.

He took his own life – although some dispute this. That might be a bigger barrier. It’s not something the establishment (or anyone else for that matter) wants to encourage. But it is commonly accepted that the barbaric ‘sentence’ for his gay ‘crime’ – chemical castration – may have played a part if he did take his own life.

If an act of self-destruction is still frowned on why would his image be acceptable on the banknote?

The work at Bletchley Park was de-classified years back in the ’70s and Turing’s work was brought to the widest audience in the award-winning Imitation Game movie, which had Benedict Cumberbatch (main picture) in the role of Turing (wish we could say, Sir Alan). Based on what we now know, surely there is a case for him being granted a knighthood retrospectively?

If you agree with the basic tenet that Alan Turing should be awarded a knighthood posthumously please share your/our thoughts.

*We’re sure you can think of many other deserving cases for posthumous knighthoods. Please respond with your suggestions.

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David Buckley

Dave Buckley is a career journalist. “I once went painting girders for a week and discovered I didn’t like heights,” he says. “Apart from that it has always been journalism for me in one form or another.” Past publications worked for include the South-East London Mercury*, Kent Messenger, Daily Express, Today*, News of the World* and Hong Kong Star*. All those marked with an asterisk no longer exist (trend emerging?). He owned and edited a Thailand-based property magazine before returning to England and currently works as a production editor for an East Midlands-based publishing group.

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