Diary of the Second World War, Alfred Charles Glyn Egerton Spread 0

Diary of the Second World War, Alfred Charles Glyn Egerton Spread 0 cover

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The Welsh-born chemist Sir Alfred Egerton (1886-1959) served as the Royal Society’s Physical Secretary from 1938 to 1948, helping to administer the Society’s response to the Allied war effort. His interests in scientific research had been formed in part by the previous European conflict, when Egerton became involved in production design for munitions manufacture. Post-WW1 he engaged in combustion and fuels research at Oxford University and served on a variety of Government Advisory Councils. This led to a role in Winston Churchill’s Scientific Advisory Committee to the War Cabinet, the formation of which forms part of the background to this document.

The diary is one of a series kept by Egerton and housed within the Royal Society’s archives. It begins with the day-to-day administrative round of the Physical Secretary. Egerton provides interesting summaries of scientific papers that caught his attention and occasionally amusing asides on scientists’ rivalries of the period. More seriously the diary captures the intense interest in uranium fission shared by the physical sciences community, here through the 1939 visit to Britain of Otto Hahn whose work stimulates the Danish scientist Niels Bohr among many others. Egerton considers the reception of many scientific papers, both as lectures and as publications; but also notes informal talks at the Royal Society Club and at other social gatherings.

It is regrettable that pressure of work meant that Egerton could only keep the diary sporadically – there are large gaps in 1941 particularly, around the time of the fall of France, the Battle of Britain and the Blitz. But apart from contemporary events, the diary also records how scientists increasingly cherished their past. The sharing of stories about Lord Rutherford is a regular point of conversation, while the 1942 anniversary of Sir Isaac Newton’s birth results in the purchase of Woolsthorpe Manor for the nation, described at the end of the book.