History can often turn on the simplest of mistakes and there is probably no finer example than Geoffrey Tandy who was accidentally in the right place to help crack the Enigma Code and so bring about the end of World War Two.
When the British were casting around to create a team of appropriately qualified experts for the super-secret Bletchley Park, someone recruited Tandy.
Tandy was then a ‘cryptogamist’ – an expert in non-flowering, spore-reproducing plants like seaweeds, mosses and ferns – but that ‘someone’ at the Ministry of Defence had read his title as a ‘cryptogramist’, someone who deciphers messages written in code.
Nevertheless, Tandy reported to Bletchley Park as ordered and it was only then that it was realised that a mistake had been made, that he was entirely the wrong sort of expert. But being a super-secret establishment, Tandy was not allowed to leave and so sat around twiddling his thumbs for two years.
Then in 1941, a German U-boat was captured containing all sorts of paperwork including the double-letter conversion tables known as bigrams for the Enigma Machine. The problem was that they were sodden with sea water and the secrets they contained were feared to be beyond recovery.
That was where Tandy came in. Using his years of scientific experience in preserving and preparing wet plant specimens, he knew exactly what to do and he was able to save the paper and its cryptic clues.
Cracking the Enigma Code hastened the end of the war and all because of a simple spelling mistake.