Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Lt. Col. Edgeworth David, AIF: Geologist, Explorer, Mining Wizard

David (Center) at the Magnetic South Pole

Sir Tannatt William Edgeworth David was a Welsh-born and Oxford educated scientist, who  worked as a professor of geology in Sydney and in his early work discovered important coal seams and studied coral reefs in and around Australia. In 1907 he went with Ernest Shackleton on the first expedition to the South Pole during which he was among the first to scale 13,000 foot Mt. Erebus and was with the party that first discovered the magnetic South Pole. David enlisted in the AIF at the age of 58, having convinced the government to start the Australian Mining Corps, a band of geologists and miners to engineer trenches and tunnels. He was a lieutenant colonel on the Western Front during World War I and was knighted on his return in 1919. 

David During the War
David, despite his age, managed to enlist in the Australia Imperial Force and was commissioned major in the Mining Battalion on 25 October 1915. He left for France and the Western Front in February 1916 and provided valuable advice on groundwater and the siting and design of trenches and tunnels — valuable pioneering work on military geology. On 6 October he was seriously injured when he fell 24m when inspecting a well near Vimy Ridge; six weeks later he was back in action but never fully recovered. From June 1917, as chief geologist, he was attached to the inspector of mines at General Headquarters, British Expeditionary Force. By demonstrating the suitability of the clay of the Messines Ridge for tunneling,  he contributed significantly to the successful mining operation and the British Army's victory there in June 1917.  

Three times mentioned in dispatches, he was awarded the Distinguished Service Order in 1918 and was promoted to lieutenant colonel. His son served with the British Army as regimental medical officer with the 6th Cameron Highlanders, winning the Military Cross, and his daughter Mary served as a motor driver with the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps and Women's Legion.

His crowning scientific achievement was publishing  the first comprehensive record of the geology of Australia in 1932. Named in his honor, the Sir Edgeworth David Medal is awarded annually to a scientist under the age of 35 for distinguished contributions to Australian science.

Source: University of Newcastle, Australia

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