Christ Church, Chemistry and the World Wars - Report

On Friday March 17th about 70 people gathered in the Blue Boar Lecture Theatre for an afternoon of lectures exploring various aspects of the role of Chemists in the World Wars. This event had primarily been intended to mark the centenary of the death of Andrea Angel in the Silvertown explosion. Angel had been a pupil of Exeter School who had gained an Open Exhibition to Christ Church in 1896. He had graduated with a First Class degree in Natural Science and had then undertaken research under the supervision of Vernon Harcourt in the Lee Laboratory, gaining a BSc degree in 1906. He subsequently became a college Lecturer and manager of the Lee Laboratory until being seconded to work on TNT production and the Brunner-Mond works in East London. When a fire broke out he went in to try and extinguish it and rescue the work-force but was killed in the ensuing explosion. For his bravery he was awarded the Edward Medal (the highest civilian honour at the time) and has been identified by the Royal Society of Chemistry as one of its 175 Faces of Chemistry.

The afternoon opened with a welcome from the Dean and a tribute by Richard Wayne marking the recent death of Dr Paul Kent. This was followed by a talk by Martin Grossel on Angel’s life after which Sir Hugo Brunner gave an over-view of his family’s history and its role in the First World War. The first session concluded with an exploration of aspects of life in college during the first half of the 20th century by Judith Curthoys.

Amongst those present were Teachers, Governors and pupils from Exeter School and during the tea interval the delegates were able to see art-work produced by pupils from the school in response to their learning about the Silvertown explosion.

In the second session David Dunmur provided an overview of Frederick Lindemann’s career and his relationship with Winston Churchill. This was followed by a talk in which Peter Atkins (from Lincoln College) explored the ambiguous role of work on chemical weapons which could also lead to significant medical benefits. The session concluded with a discussion, chaired by Nigel Biggar, focussing on the ethical issues surrounding chemical research and manufacture in this area.

Several of Angel’s relatives attended the event and at the end of the meeting the audience were able to view various family memorabilia, including the Edward Medal, which were on display in the Picture Gallery.

We are most grateful to Fiona Holdsworth, Anna Port, and the staff of the college’s Conference Office for their help in organising this event and to the Governing Body and the local section of the Royal Society of Chemistry for financial support.

Martin Grossel

Tue, 04/25/2017 - 3:25pm