As World War II tore its way through Europe, the British had to get the best and brightest minds involved in the war effort if they and their Allies were to be victorious. Enter Geoffrey Tandy…a man who was a bit taken aback when he was summoned by the Ministry of Defence in 1939.
Tandy was a volunteer in the Royal Navy Reserves, but his regular job was as a cryptogamist for the National History Museum. Cryptomgamists study algae and Tandy wasn’t sure where he fit in with the war effort. Tandy then guessed that the Ministry had made a mistake and confused his job with a cryptogramist—a codebreaker. Tandy was pretty much useless to the Ministry and didn’t do much for two years until something miraculous happened in 1941.
That year, the Allies torpedoed and sank German U-boats. Among the wreckage was detailed instructions about how to unscramble messages for the German Enigma Machine.
There was one problem: the papers with the instructions were waterlogged and needed to be restored in able to be deciphered and put to use. The Ministry needed a person who was proficient at drying out damaged materials that were waterlogged. Tandy had been trained in preserving algae in that manner and his two years of relative quiet were about to come to an end.
Tandy used absorbent materials to dry out the papers until they were able to be read. The information was used to crack German codes and Allied forces got inside information about their opponent’s war strategies. It’s estimated that the cracked codes caused the war to end earlier than it might have otherwise, and likely saved millions of lives. It’s uncertain how exactly Tandy ended up at his post, if it was a typo or someone misread the spelling of his position. Either way, the misunderstanding turned out to be a godsend for the Allied forces.