Captain Jerry Roberts 1920-2014
Captain Jerry Roberts was a senior cryptographer at Bletchley Park and worked on Tunny (the Lorenz cipher). In recent years, Jerry campaigned tirelessly for recognition of the Testery, including the great intellectual feat demonstrated by Bill Tutte.
Yesterday I had the privilege to attend the memorial service for Jerry, who passed away in March.
The service was held at St Martin-in-the-Fields church, Trafalgar Square, a perfect setting in the heart of London. It was a lovely service organised by Jerry’s devoted wife, Mei. Moving tributes were paid by Sir John Scarlett, Lord Charles Brocket and Professor Susanne Kord. Jerry’s daughters Dora and Chao gave beautiful readings and his talented grandsons Ben and Sammy provided music and song.
Following the news of Jerry’s death back in March, Tweets went out across the globe in many languages. Jerry was described in these Tweets as a ‘hero’, ‘one of the greats’, ‘incredible’, ‘remarkable’, ‘amazing’, a ‘genius’, ‘warm’, ‘funny’, ‘brilliant’ and ‘modest’. It is the description of Jerry as modest that I find most apposite. Jerry was always quick to turn attention away from himself and talk about the Testery as a team. Those long forgotten colleagues who were of equal importance.
In December 2013, I spent the day with Jerry and his wife Mei. We discussed Tunny (of course) and what it was like to read messages sent by Hitler. Jerry said that it was quite exciting the first time he saw a message signed “Adolf Spacer Hitler Spacer Führer” but after that he became very blasé about it. “And another one”, he said chuckling as he gestured flinging an imaginary message (signed by Hitler) over his shoulder into a pile of discarded messages. We laughed a lot that day.
Jerry had a great sense of humour and a sharp mind. He didn’t stop talking about his Bletchley Park colleagues and wanting to promote the hand methods of the Testery. “It is all about the machines” Jerry complained in response to the long-awaited publication of the General Report on Tunny in 2000.
A true gentleman who said he never had a day of boredom in his life, Jerry was grateful for every single day. He spoke of the lovely people he had met through telling his code-breaking story, and the difference that it had made to his and Mei’s lives. Jerry also spoke of how he treasured every month in the garden, even the winter because everything looked so tidy.
If you were liked by Jerry, you were considered “A person of real quality” and I am honoured to have been included in this group. Jerry admired the people of Newmarket for their recognition of Bill Tutte and I know that Jerry will be smiling down on us when we unveil Tutte’s memorial on 10th September this year.
At the age of 93, I asked Jerry what advice he could offer to young people today. Jerry responded with these wise words:
“Don’t be afraid to take risks. Sensible risks. Because something will work out. If you’ve got talent, something will work out. But if you say, as I could have said, my father went in to the bank and what’s good enough for him is good enough for me…you can’t live life like that.”
Si dios quiere (as Jerry would say) we all have happy and fulfilling lives.
Rest in peace Jerry, you truly were a person of real quality.
Author: Claire Butterfield