During the First World War 1,270 Institution members went on active service. Between the 1st July and 18th November 1916, the Somme Offensive claimed many lives including those of 14 members. Whilst impossible to grasp the enormity of talent and loved ones lost, it seems fitting to remember these engineers.
Private Alexander Davidson, London Scottish Regiment died on 1st July. In 1898 he began an apprenticeship at the Northern Press and Engineering Co. He took a course at the Durham College of Science and the Sunderland Technical College. In 1905 he moved to Vickers, Sons and Maxim. In 1906 he returned to the Northern Press, where he was engaged on the design and development of new machinery for the automatic production of stereo-plates for rotary printing presses. In 1908, he went to Henry Simon where he had charge of the experimental department, being responsible for the scientific development of milling machines. In December 1915 he enlisted and was drafted to France in June 1916.
Also killed on the first day was Brigade-Captain James Samuel Davidson, Ulster Division. In 1895 started an apprenticeship at Sirocco Engineering Works. He later became works manager and remained in this capacity until May 1902. He looked after the construction of machines for all the various processes in tea manufacture, and also the manufacture of centrifugal fans, propeller fans, drying machines, and other general engineering work. He then became general manager and a director of the firm. Davidson was an early volunteer of the 1st Battalion North Down Regiment Ulster Volunteer Force and was given a commission in the 1st County Down Battalion, Royal Irish Rifles. His knowledge of practical engineering saw him appointed to the machine-gun section, subsequently being advanced to the 108th Infantry Brigade, Ulster Division. He was commanding the machine guns at the time of his death in the “great attack”. Arthur Ponyting, Machine Gun Corps, was another Member killed whilst manning guns at the Somme, previously he had worked at the Port of London Authority.
Two more deaths followed on 3rd July. 2nd Lieutenant Bernard Ebenezer Bumpus, Northumberland Fusiliers, began his apprenticeship in 1898 at Johnson and Phillips before moving to Siemens Brothers. From 1902-1904 he worked in the submarine cable department of the India-rubber, Gutta Percha and Telegraph Company. On completing his apprenticeship he went to work for Dick, Kerr and Co. In 1908 he was appointed mechanical and electrical engineer to the Bibiani Mines. In 1909 he made a six months’ tour to West African mines to report on business extensions. On his return he was employed in the engineering department of Kerr’s. In 1914 he went to India to take up a position with the Bombay Electricity Supply and Tramways Co before volunteering for military service in 1915.
2nd Lieutenant Frank Trevor Wilkins, Northumberland Fusiliers, was apprenticed to Vickers 1906-1909. He studied at the Barrow-in-Furness Technical School. He left for the University of Birmingham, taking his degree in Mechanical Engineering in 1912. He then returned to Vickers. In October 1912 he obtained a Bowen Research Scholarship in Engineering at the University. During this period he was a Member of the University Officers’ Training Corps. He received a Commission and was posted to Egypt. In 1916 he was transferred to France, being attached to the 1st Border Regiment. He had prepared a paper on “Trials of a Diesel Engine” being the outcome of experiments he had made at Birmingham, it was read at the Institution by Professor Burstall. John Howarth was another Member posted from Egypt to France who was killed at the Somme.
The careers of the Members killed show how people from different disciplines and ages were drawn into the conflict. Thomas Booth Keyms of the Great Western of Brazil Railway died “as a result of a shell bursting at his feet..he showed conspicuous bravery”. Charles Kennedy was Locomotive Carriage and Wagon Superintendent at the same Railway as Keyms. William Clayton Harvey had been Consulting Engineer to the Tasmanian Government; Lionel Egerton Vyall also worked abroad, in India and Canada, before he died in a motorcycle accident at the front. Charles Lambert Druitt, of South Eastern and Chatham Railway, was Mentioned in Dispatches by Sir Douglas Haig. Ian Arthur Philip Harris was a pupil at Rhymney Railway Locomotive Works. William Arthur Reynolds was studying at the Municipal Technical Institute. Finally, Robert Sergius Robertson had worked for Blackadder Bros.
Full biographies for all those killed in action and more information about the role of engineering during the War can be found in our online exhibition.
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