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Background to the Lecture

'Geology at the Western Front'

Until recently the contents of the lecture, ‘Geology at the Western Front’, were unknown. Only the title appears in the ‘Proceedings’, and it was thought that the War Office had denied permission for it to be published.

However, in early 2014 the handwritten notes to David’s lecture were rediscovered tucked into a box in the Library.

The troopship on which the extraordinary Tannatt William Edgeworth David (1858 - 1934), whose full career had already seen him studying under John Ruskin and Joseph Prestwich in the 1870s, setting up the new School of Mines at the University of Sydney in the 1890s and accompanying Ernest Shackleton to the magnetic South Pole as part of the British Antarctic Expedition of 1907 - 1909, was to set sail in had been delayed. Seizing the opportunity, he was persuaded by the Society’s officers to give an impromptu account of his experiences of the ‘application of geological knowledge to the War on the Western Front’.

Four years previously, David had convinced the Australian government to establish a corps of geologists and miners for military use in the First World War, and at the mature age of 57, he enlisted as a commissioned major to the new mining battalion in October 1915. Travelling to France and the Western Front in February 1916 he provided invaluable advice to troops on ground water and the positioning and design of trenches and tunnels.

Despite seriously injuring himself falling 24 metres down a well in October 1916, David continued his war service as geologist to the British Expeditionary Force, collaborating with his British counterpart William Bernard Robinson King (later President of the Society between 1953 - 1955).


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