Geologists at war, 1914-1918: Difference between revisions

From MediaWiki
Jump to navigation Jump to search
No edit summary
No edit summary
Line 103: Line 103:
==Further reading==
==Further reading==
For more details about activities on the Western Front see [ Some aspects of the British Geological Survey’s contribution to the war effort at the Western Front, 1914–1918].
For more details about activities on the Western Front see [ Some aspects of the British Geological Survey’s contribution to the war effort at the Western Front, 1914–1918].

Revision as of 09:21, 21 September 2020

Under construction


This article look at some of the contributions made by the Geological Survey of Great Britain to the United Kingdom's war effort during the period 1914-1918.

Before the war

Aubrey Strahan c.1912. © BGS/NERC (Image: P810109)

In 1913 the 12th International Geological Congress was held in Toronto. The attendees included representatives from Germany, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, France, Belgium, the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom. One of the British Geologists was Aubrey Strahan who was soon to become the Director of the Geological Survey of Great Britain. Neither Strahan nor the other attendees could have know that in a year's time the First World War would break out and that the Geological Survey would play its part in the war effort.

Joining up

By the end of 1914 15 staff from the Geological Survey and Museum had joined the armed forces. By the end of the war the number totalled 29. They consisted of 14 geologists, 3 fossil collectors, 2 general assistants, 3 attendants, 4 draughtsmen, 2 labourers and 1 assistant clerk. Although several were wounded all but one (C H Cunnington) survived the war. The Survey's Summary of Progress for 1918 published a list of those who had joined up.

Dixon, E. E. L. Lieutenant Royal Garrison Artillery (T.)
Bailey, E. B. Lieutenant Royal Garrison Artillery Mentioned in despatches. Military Cross. Chevalier Legion of Honour. Croix-de-Guerre with Palm. Twice wounded.
Anderson, E. M. Sapper Royal Engineers Wounded.
Carruthers, R. G. Lance-corporal Tank Corps
Bromehead, C. E. N. Private Duke of Cornwall's Light Infantry Wounded.
Cunnington, C. H. Lieutenant Machine Gun Corps Invalided out of Army, Oct. 1917. Died 26 April, 1918.
Richey, J. E. Captain Royal Engineers Military Cross. Wounded.
Eastwood, T. Lance-corporal Royal Army Medical Corps (Sanitary Section)
Pocock, R. W. Lieutenant Royal Garrison Artillery
King, W. B. R. Captain Royal Welsh Fusiliers (attached to Engineer-in-Chief, G.H.Q.) Mentioned in despatches. O.B.E.
Wray, D. A. Lance-corporal Royal Army Medical Corps (Sanitary Section)
Read, H. H. Corporal Royal Fusiliers
Whitehead, T. H. Captain Suffolk Regiment (transferred to General List and attached to Intelligence Corps) Wounded.
Evans, R. du B. Captain Shropshire Light Infantry Wounded. Prisoner of War
Assistant Clerk
Frisby, P. A. Captain Suffolk Yeomanry
Fossil Collectors
Eckford, R. J. A. Corporal Royal Scots and Royal Engineers (Special Brigade) Wounded.
Manson, W. Deck Hand Royal Naval Reserve (T.)
Haldane, D. Lieutenant Royal Scots
General Assistants
Rhodes, J. Corporal Royal Air Force
Stewart, A. P. Private Royal Scots
Morgan, S.W. Reg. Qrtr.- Mstr. Sgt. London Regiment (London Irish Rifles)
Cooper, G. L. Corporal Royal Engineers (Carrier Pigeon Service)
Hepple, D. W. Private 18th Hussars Wounded. Prisoner of War.
Torkington, G. G. Private Cameron Highlanders Wounded.
Bruce, W. G. Lance-Corporal Royal Engineers (Field Survey Battn.)
Trowbridge, H. G. S. Bombardier Royal Field Artillery
Kidd, J. Corporal Royal Engineers
Wheaton, E. Sergeant 3rd Hussars
Brooker, J. F. Corporal King's Own Scottish Borderers

Water supply

Almost as soon as war broke out the Survey was being asked to give advice on obtaining supplies of drinking water for military personnel. By 1915 there were water supply problems on the Western Front and W B R King was sent to help deal with this, becoming what has been described as "the first British military hydrogeologist"[1]. At around the same time as King was helping the allied troops, Walther Klüpfel was supplying water to the German troops.

During the Gallipoli campaign (1915-1916) three former Survey staff, C H Cunnington, R W Pocock and T H Whitehead, were sent there on special military duty to try to find an adequate water supply for the troops. They produced an unpublished, and now untraceable, report on the geology of the Gallipoli peninsula for the War Office. 

Design of aircraft compasses

In September 1916 the Geological Survey was contacted by the Admiralty Compass Department asking for assistance with the design of aircraft compasses. The problem was with the compass point and cup which were part of the bearing that allowed the compass needle to move. Herbert H Thomas, a petrographer at the Survey, was given the task of finding a solution. The point and cup were both made out of sapphire, which caused the point to develop flaws and cracks. The answer was to still have the cup made out of sapphire but to use agate for the point.

Analysis of concrete

In September 1917 it was noticed that German concrete pill-boxes on Vimy Ridge, which had been captured by Canadian troops, were made with gravel which could not have come from Belgium. It was suspected that the Germans had transported the gravel through the neutral Netherlands. If this was the case then it was in contravention of the Netherland's neutrality declaration as the Dutch were supposed to prevent the belligerent powers from transporting military materials across neutral territory. By October samples of the suspect concrete had been received by the Geological Survey and analysed. One of these samples was F2397. In a report H H Thomas wrote that "It has all the characters of the Niedermendig tephrite, so extensively quarried on the eastern slopes of the Eifel, bordering on the Rhine." This meant that the gravel must have come from Germany. The evidence resulted in a Dutch threat to stop the transport of German sand and gravel across the Netherlands. This could have brought the Netherlands into the war but none of those involved wished this so an agreement was reached.

Museum damaged by bomb

Main floor of museum. Scaffolding in place to support the roof whilst repairs to the cracked beams are investigated. © BGS/NERC (Image: P640471)

J Allen Howe was the Curator and Librarian of the Museum of Practical Geology. In a memo book he wrote a few war-related entries, for example "Aug 1914 - War". Slightly more detailed was "20 Oct 1917. Museum damaged by concussion from bomb dropped from a Zeppelin outside Swan & Edgars in [Piccadilly] Circus”. This explosion may have caused several roof beams in the museum to fracture but this was not discovered until later.

Choice of stone for war graves

Further reading

For more details about activities on the Western Front see Some aspects of the British Geological Survey’s contribution to the war effort at the Western Front, 1914–1918.


  1. Rose, E. P. F. 2012. Groundwater as a military resource: pioneering British military well boring and hydrogeology in World War I. In: Military aspects of hydrogeology, edited by E. P. F. Rose & J. D. Mather. Geological Society Special Publication 362, 49–72.