Geologists at war: 1939–1945

Like everybody else, geologists and their work were affected by the outbreak of World War II.

Geologists at war

This web exhibition shows some of these effects and the contributions made by geologists to the war effort. Click on the thumbnails to view larger images.

See how the geologists prepared for war and that they joined the home guard. View some secret and confidential documents. See the damage that a German bomb did to the Geological Museum. Read about how 'the other side' used geologists during the war and what work the Survey would do in the aftermath.

The Survey gave advice on where to get sand for sandbags. They also gave advice on water supplies for new airfields and army camps (also suggested suitable sites for airfields), on resources such as coal, Iron Ore, Oil-Shale, underground storage areas for personnel and storage, building materials for military instillations and produced a series of wartime pamphlets. Some of the geologists probably did some work for MI 10 on the mineral resources of Germany and the occupied countries. Edward Bailey's history of the Survey mentions that he had been temporarily buried by an explosion caused by a V1 flying bomb!

Preparing for war

As the prospect of war grew more likely, arrangements were made for what would happen to the Geological Survey of Great Britain and its staff.

File: “Emergency War Measures – Disposal of Staff”, 1938-1943 [GSM/DC/W/13]
Memorandum relating to preparations for the possible outbreak of war, 1938 [GSM/DC/W/13]
Letter from E Bailey to J Fox relating to the Survey’s chemical work in the event of war, 1939 [GSM/DC/W/13]

Home Guard

Like many others, members of the Geological Survey joined the Home Guard to defend Britain from possible invasion.

Kingsley Dunham’s Defence Medal [KCD/A/3/2/4]
Kingsley Dunham’s Defence Medal [KCD/A/3/2/4]
Citation that was with the medal [KCD/A/3/2/4]
Citation that was with the medal [KCD/A/3/2/4]

Standing operational orders written by Kingsley Dunham, 1944 [KCD/A/2/5/1]
Home Guard instructions relating to enemy airborne troops, 1941 [KCD/A/2/5/3]
Geological Survey and Museum and London Regional Company of the Home Guard. The photograph features Edward Bailey amongst others, 1944. [GSM/DR/Sb/7/5]
The Company on parade and being inspected by Admiral Sir Edward Evans, 1941 [No ref]

Secret and confidential

Geologists from the Survey were involved in a variety of confidential and secret working during the war.

Report on Norwegian Industries and Mineral Resources produced by MI10 (weapons and technical analysis) c1941 [no ref]
Photographs from the report showing the Orkla and Eitrheim Works, Norway, c1941 [no ref]
Page from the report relating to Pyrites, c1941 [no ref]
File relating to desert dust-storms, 1941-1944 [GSM/DC/W/15]
Notes on Eastern Mediterranean dust-storms, 1941 [GSM/DC/W/15]
Geological Survey wartime pamphlet on water supply from underground sources in the East Yorkshire-North Lincolnshire District, 1944 [no ref]
Letter from C F Davidson to F B A Welch relating to a request by  Naval Intelligence for geological information on Greece, 1943 [GSM/DC/W/5]
Welch’s reply to Davidson’s letter, 1943 [GSM/DC/W/5]


At 11:47pm on 10 September 1940 a German bomb damaged the Geological Museum at Exhibition Road, London. Edward Bailey in his book Geological Survey of Great Britain records that the bomb "broke half the windows" and a later near miss in 1941 "completed out deglazing."

Shrapnel and other debris from the bomb, 1940 [2008.8]
Shrapnel and other debris from the bomb, 1940 [2008.8]
Page from a draft report of the Geological Survey Board which mentions the bomb damage. This was deleted from the final report. 1941 [GSM/BD/A/55]

The other side

The British were not alone in their use of geologists during the Second World War as these documents show.

'Technical Notes and Tables for Military Geologists', 1944 [No ref]
Pages from one of Walther Klüpfel’s notebooks relating to the geology of Jersey, 1941 [GSM/GX/CK/1/3]
'On the Geology of the Island of Alderney' by Dr Kluepfel [sic], c1941 [GSM/GX/CK/7/1]


Even as the war continued, plans were drawn up for what work the Survey would be doing once peace finally came.

Post-War programme and staffing for the Geological Survey in Scotland, 1943 [GSM/DC/W/3]
Outline programme of work for the Geological Survey and Museum in the post-war years, 1944 [GSM/DC/W/3]