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Frontline geologists deployed during WWI commemorated

Publication of a new paper marks the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I by commemorating the role of geologists on the front line, as well as their role in military history.

military geology

military geology

Source: The Lyell Collection

(Left to right) Charles Barrois, professor of geology in the University of Lille, Captain William Bernard Robinson King and Lieutenant-Colonel Tannatt William Edgeworth David on 26 November 1918 following the Allied liberation of Lille in late October

Military use of geologists and geology: a historical overview and introduction was published this week by the Geological Society.

According to authors Edward Rose, Judy Ehlen and Ursula Lawrence, Napoleon Bonaparte was, in 1798, the first general to include geologists as such on a military operation.

The paper states: “Within the UK, the following century saw geology taught, and national geological mapping initiated, as a military science. Nevertheless, military geologists were not deployed on a battlefield until World War I, first by the German and Austro-Hungarian armies and later and less intensively those of the UK and US.

“Geologists were used primarily to guide abstraction of groundwater, construction of ‘mine’ tunnels and dug-outs, development of fortifications and quarrying of natural resources to enhance or repair supply routes.”

According to the paper, military geology as a discipline and military geologists were an innovation of World War I. The British Expeditionary Force on the Western Front in France was supported by two military geologists - Lieutenant (later Captain) William Bernard Robinson King and Major (later Lieutenant-Colonel) Tannatt William Edgeworth David. A third geologist supervised an exploratory boring unit, Lieutenant Loftus Hills.

tank map

tank map

Source: The Lyell Collection

Engineering geology skills were used to develop tank maps

Together the engineering geology team developed tank maps, provided mining advice and guidance on construction of trenches.

The paper with details about King’s, David’s and Hills’ work, as well as details of other forces’ use of geologists during World War I and other conflicts, can be read here.


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