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How Did Seaweed Win The War? The Very Silly True Story of Geoffrey Tandy

Blog image of How Did Seaweed Win The War? The Very Silly True Story of Geoffrey Tandy

“Outside of a dog, a book is a man’s best friend. Inside of a dog it’s too dark to read.” –Groucho Marx

How did seaweed win the war? The very silly true story of Geoffrey Tandy. 

In World War II, Germany’s ‘unbreakable’ codes gave it tremendous power; to counter this, Britain’s secret service put many of its sharpest minds to work in an effort to crack them. They scoured the country looking for experts on ‘cryptograms’ (messages encrypted in code). The Royal Navy were therefore delighted to find a leading authority on the subject, one Geoffrey Tandy. He was immediately dispatched to Bletchley Park, the beautiful top-secret location of Britain’s code-breaking boffins.


The only problem was that he wasn’t an expert on cryptograms at all; he was an expert on ‘cryptogams’, which are flowerless plants including seaweeds. Somebody in the Admiralty had failed to notice the missing and all important ‘r’. Unfortunately, by the time this mistake was spotted, he had already been shown many of the secrets of Bletchley Park, so he couldn’t leave. Tandy sat in the corner, very keen to help but very much in the wrong place. It was all a bit embarrassing to everyone concerned.

Until one day a scuttled German submarine was discovered containing notebooks with vital clues to cracking the code- but the notebooks were absolutely sodden and couldn’t be opened without destroying them.

They say that everyone has their moment, and this was Mr. Tandy’s; he stepped forward with a plan (this was not so different from preserving marine algae after all). He contacted the Natural History Museum and ordered a special absorbent paper. He applied it to the books, and ‘hey presto’ the notes could be read. The information was pure gold and contributed heavily to successful decoding and ultimately to the Allied victory in World War II.

If this story teaches us anything, it’s that in the end, luck is everything. Either that, or always keep a seaweed expert close to hand. 

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