In a UK Searcher magazine of 1993, I stumbled across a story penned by detectorist Colin Hennell about Alan Turing, the brilliant mathematician and wartime code-breaker. Turing, the father of the computing age, is reputed to have also buried silver bars! This is how it happened.
Colin said that Turing took the view, just before the Second World War, that if Britain were to come under German occupation, bank accounts would be useless and his savings would at best be frozen, at worst taken over by the occupying forces. Either way, he calculated, he would lose just about everything he had.
So, he drew all of his savings out of the bank and bought two very large ingots of silver bullion to be hidden away until it was safe again to cash them in … except that he lost track of the time and place where they were buried. He even built his own metal detector, but failed to find the spot.
This is a fascinating tale, full of detail like, “Turing acquired an ancient perambulator with which he planned to transport the ingots without the help of another human. It is recorded that he slipped a disc in the process of loading the pram …” Of course he had made a cryptic plan of the position and only he had the key to deciphering the coded details.
I find it ironic that a guy who had played a vital role in deciphering the messages encrypted by the German Enigma machine was unable to crack his own code. The treasure remains hidden to this day. Turing died at the end of the war, committing suicide at an early age.
Colin did investigate, but the site was a long way from where he lived and the responsibilities of a growing family meant that he was unable to retrace Turing’s steps.
Like all good treasure stories there is a map. All I can say is if you are in a part of the Bletchley/ Milton Keynes area that seems to match up with the map, and you come across a deep signal … then DIG! What’s that? You don’t have the map. No problem. Here’s a copy as printed in the February 1993 edition of The Searcher magazine. But beware … the printed map says that it is in Cambridgeshire, but I know different. The place is in Buckinghamshire … perhaps Colin was trying to put any treasure hunter off the scent! You can still locate this site on Google Earth. Shenley Wood still exists, but now surrounded on all sides by new roads and housing developments.
“I had to chuckle when I read John Winter’s account referring to my article about Alan Turing’s treasure. Since that time my children have reached adulthood and fled the nest. I have retired now, so I have much more time to spend in various ways on my favourite hobby.
After the publication of my article in 1993, I had two or three people write to me requesting more information and even one person offering further details about the affair. I felt I had given enough away without revealing more though, as I thought that one day I might perhaps explore further myself.
That time came last year. I confided in my friend Jim who dowsed the map, a copy of the one used twenty years ago. I was intrigued to discover that the two dowsings corresponded fairly closely.
We were given permission to search for the silver ingots with our detectors, which are probably more advanced and deeper seeking than Turing’s prototype.
Well, as with many treasure hunting stories accompanied by a map, our search was in vain, even though Jim made use of his well-proven divining rods to assist in the venture. The ground in the area in question is covered in thick, thorny, undergrowth and fallen trees, which made our task virtually impossible. Can you break the ‘code’ and find Alan Turing’s buried treasure?
Alas, if you have clicked on the link above, you will know that the date for entry has expired, but it’s still worth looking at the online competition launched at the time of the 2014 film, ‘The Imitation Game’ starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Keira Knightley.
These extracts are from Alan Turing: The Enigma my Andrew Hodges
“Apparently he imagined that by burying the silver ingots, he [Alan Turing] could recover them after an invasion had been repelled, or that at least he could evade a post-war capital levy. (In 1920, Churchill and the Labour party had both favored such a policy.) It was an odd idea. He bought two [silver] bars, worth about £250, and wheeled them out in an old pram to some woods near Shenley. One was buried under the forest floor, the other under a bridge in the bed of a stream. He wrote out instructions for the recovery of the buried treasure and enciphered them.”
Fast forward to 1952
“… the main point if the weekend was to make one last serious attempt to retrieve the silver bars. This time Don (Alan Turing’s friend) had got hold of a commercial metal detector, and they went out to the bridge near Shenley in his car. Alan said, “It looks a bit different,” as he took off his socks and shoes and paddled in the mud. “Christ, do you know what’s happened? They’ve rebuilt the bridge and concreted over the bed.” They tried for the other bar in the woods, finding that the pram in which he had wheeled the ingots in 1940 was still there, but without any more luck than before in locating the spot. Giving up both bars as lost forever, they made their way to the Crown Inn at Shenley Brook End for some bread and cheese.”
THE END … OR IS IT?
Professor Donald Michie
Extract from his Telegraph obituary July 2007 and confirmation of the above story
Professor Donald Michie, who died in a motor accident on Saturday aged 83, was a pioneer in the creation of artificial intelligence; during the war he worked on breaking German codes at Bletchley Park and later, as Professor of Machine Intelligence at Edinburgh University, helped to bring about the world of robots, computer games and search engines.
… Michie became close friends with Turing … Michie was one of the few at Bletchley Park who could match Turing at chess, and they discussed at their weekly sessions the possibility of developing a chess-playing machine.
… Fearing a German invasion might devalue his bank account, Turing turned his savings into bullion and buried the bars at several sites in the surrounding countryside.
For “security reasons” he did not make a map, and after the war he asked Michie to help him retrieve the silver using a home-made metal detector; the only stash they located was under a stream and impossible to recover.