SEARCH

SEARCH BY CITATION

Military Aspects of Hydrogeology serves its subject in two essentially distinct flavours, with chapters on both history of geology and modern applications. The former is more to my taste, but the whole volume, in the familiar format of a Geological Society Special Publication, is a tasty dish. The 20 papers have been well-edited to give a consistent and readable style throughout, production is to a high standard (although the text and covers have begun to separate in my well-thumbed copy) and illustrations are mainly good.

With many chapters to discuss, I have been selective, picking those that I particularly enjoyed to give a feel for the books overall structure and content. Mather and Rose (pp. 1–17) introduce and define the scope of the volume. They recognise five principal areas in which hydrogeology is important in a terrestrial military campaign: provision of adequate water supply; influence of near surface water on movement and mining; groundwater contamination; training of military personnel in hydrogeology; and potential conflicts over groundwater resources. All are discussed in the succeeding chapters.

This is closely followed by Younger's interesting paper (pp. 19–33) showing how groundwater discharges influenced two pre-20th Century battles. At Flodden (1513), the Scottish pikemen charged into a marshland close to the English lines, making them an easy target for longbows and vulnerable in hand-to-hand combat. At Prestonpans (1745), local knowledge enabled the Jacobites to approach the Hanoverian army under cover of darkness, avoiding marshy ground and attacking their enemy on an exposed flank with great success.

Mather (pp. 35–47) introduced me to a new scientific ‘hero’, Sir Thomas Hyde Page (1746–1821), whose skill (and, perhaps, luck) led him to successfully improve the water supplies of three coastal forts in the Thames Estuary and East Anglia. Each fortification presented a different hydrogeological problem, each of which Page solved with nice application of 18th Century engineering techniques.

Doyle (pp. 73–83) examines the influence of groundwater on British mining on the Western Front. At the Battle of Messines (1917), British tunnelling was facilitated by their lower topographic position than the German front. British miners were able to tunnel in approximately flat-lying, dry clays beneath saturated sands, but the topographically higher German miners had to go through the wet sands to reach the dry layers.

Rose (pp. 105–138) explains how British military hydrogeology lapsed after WW1 only to be revived in WW2 with the formation of ten ‘Boring Sections’ in the Royal Engineers. W. B. R. King (1889–1963), who served in WW1, was back and notable new recruits included F. W. Shotton (1906–1990) and W. A. Macfadyen (1893–1985). Rose provides a wealth of information, allowing detailed accounts of the work on various fronts by the boring sections.

Mather (pp. 139–160) provides an unusual counterpart to the previous paper, showing how the survey treated hydrogeology as a side issue between the world wars rather than as a central part of its remit. It was only in the 1930s when pressure from outside the survey– scientific, industrial and political – forced a grudging recognition of water's importance. Groundwater matters received much more attention during WW2 and later legislation ensured the importance of water led to its later emphasis as a core pursuit by the survey.

Discussions of modern applications are filled with meat, examining aspects such as strength of soil substrates under different hydrogeological conditions and the problems engendered by single water resources shared by unfriendly neighbours in the 21st Century. The nature of the subjects covered makes this last third of Military Aspects… less readable. Indeed, one chapter has an appendix of acronyms used in the text for when you forget their meaning; at least one other chapter would have benefitted from such support!

Military Aspects… is recommended to a wide readership, whether a historian of geology or the modern practitioner. The volume is wide ranging and is all the better for it.