Project WWI - Who Digs Wins - Geology in the First World War

The inspiration for the project came from various snapshots, one of our members great granddad, dying shortly after the war, gassed at Verdun, seeing the poppies flow out of the Tower of London in a red river in its moat, the white crosses of Northern France cemeteries, Vimy Ridge and its imposing white monument built of a limestone with a story.
Who Digs Wins is a project that captured people's imagination, our Trust members, volunteers, members of our communities, museum curators, librarians and history enthusiasts.

As outcomes of our involvement, we have created a collection of stories with a common thread, geology in the First World War. There are accounts of visits to the Imperial Museum, its WWI Gallery, its research and family history centre, encounters, meetings and workshops, summaries of books, biographies, pamphlets, personal research and findings and fragments of history our volunteers and members came across and were intrigued by.

If you have an interest in the project or perhaps something of interest to add to the collection and wish to share your stories, please get in touch via our contact page. Our project is now technically completed but we are still receiving articles. We will continue to upload them to our website and they will be archived at the British Library.


Who Digs Wins
Geology in the First World War - Project Report - October 2017
Prepared by Mike Windle and NE Yorkshire Geology Trust volunteers

The inspiration for the project came from various snapshots, one of our members great granddad, dying shortly after the war, gassed at Verdun, seeing the poppies flow out of the
Tower of London in a red river in its moat, the white crosses of Northern France cemeteries, Vimy Ridge and its imposing white monument built of a limestone with a story.

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Geology & Warfare

Geology & Warfare

At the onset of the First World War, geology is disregarded in the field of operations. It is considered abstract and speculative, not concrete and with no practical application to military or engineering problems. This dismissal led to blunders, hospitals which run out of water in the dry season, front-line dugouts having to be abandoned as they fill with water.

WilliamShort VC Memorial

Gallantry in the Face of the Enemy - William Henry Short VC

At an HLF North East Funding Fair held in Redcar in March 2018, we heard a presentation by Paul Boden about a project he led to keep the memory of his ancestor alive. We talked about our mutual projects and discovered an unexpected link to our Project Who Digs Wins – the Memorial to the memory of William Henry Short is made from Cleveland Ironstone, the only one to our knowledge.

Sir Edgeworth David

Professor David's war

Sir Edgeworth David, in my opinion, is one of the greatest geologists of all time and universally respected both in and out of the geology field. Born in Wales to a Welsh-Irish family he was educated in England. Graduating from Oxford in 1880 with a Bachelor of Arts in Geology. He was an adventurous man with a strong passion for fieldwork, a key aspect of being a geologist.

WBR King

William Bernard Robinson King
nicknamed "Rocks" by the Royal Engineers

According to records found at Northallerton Records Office, William Bernard Robinson King was baptised in the Parish of Aysgarth, North Yorkshire. We do not know much of his early life apart from the fact his father was registered as a solicitor at the time of his birth in West Burton. King graduated from Jesus College Cambridge in 1912 with a First Class Honours in Geology and joined the Geological Survey soon after graduation.

Who Digs Wins - Geology in WWI

Who Digs Wins - Geology in WWI

The objectives of our project Who Digs Wins funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund were to research and identify the role of geology in the First World War and follow threads through special characters and locations and quirky twists of fate and brave actions.

Surprising as it sounds, the role of geology was restricted to mineral resources for the first few years of the war.

War Experiences 1916-17

Extract from the diaries of Peter Woods's father. Peter Woods is an eminent geologist whose name has recently been given to the WoodSmith mine, Sirius potash mine in North Yorkshire. It tells the story of how a young man left school to finally join the Queen's Westminster Riffles, was sent to France 10 days after his 19th birthday, became part of an elite Bombing platoon, was wounded and put to dusting duty by a nurse at Dartmouth Hospital in September 1917.

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War Experiences 1918-19

How a veteran of twenty joined the Royal Flying Corps, learned to fly in Avros, looped the loop on his first solo flight and finally got to fly the Sopwith Camel for the newly formed RAF and was ready to go to France from Marske aerodrome when the Germans asked for an Armistice!

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JOHN NORTON - GRIFFITHS and The Clay Kickers

JOHN NORTON - GRIFFITHS and The Clay Kickers

John Norton - Griffiths was a man of action. He had already led an eventful life even before the First World War gave him the opportunity to put into practice his "brainwave" idea which would culminate in the Battle of Messines in July 1917. But it wasn't easy for him to convince the high command of the British Army, who were locked into a mindset of military tactics which had changed little since the Crimean War.

This envisaged movement - attack and counter attack, led by cavalry supported by heavy artillery barrages, ground gained and sometimes lost, but always movement. The Germans had a similar mindset, so when war broke out, and whole swathes of territory in Belgium and France were gained,

Geology in WW1

Geology in World War 1: the impact availability of crude oil had on the outcome of the war

The global supply position before and during World War 1

At the time of the first major oil field discovery in the USA in 1859, 21 m below the surface, the primary use was for lamp fuel; the kerosene lamp had been developed a few years before. This changed with the invention of the combustion engine and the adaption of petroleum to steam boilers and other products after 1900. The rush for sources of the new resource started in the latter 1800's and the global situation in the WW1 period could be summarised by the table below

A case of Crinoid trench foot?

Article summary by Andrea Brewster, Intern and Exec Member with the Geology Trust
Soldiers digging trenches during the ‘White War’, a series of battles at the border between Austria, Hungary and Italy, fought between 1915 and 1918 in World War I, were probably unaware that their actions were exposing a limestone rock known as the Cardiola Formation that was full of the 450 million year old holdfasts (feet) of juvenile crinoids, distant relatives of today’s sea lilies.

The Munitionettes

Also called "canary girls, the colour of their skin betraying the damage to their liver exposed to harmful chemicals and "temporary men", seen as a threat by their male counterparts, the women who worked in munitions factories captured my attention. They illustrated for me the endless pages of figures and statistics contained in the History of the Ministry of Munitions and to this day, they embody social change.

Like geologists, they were dismissed at the beginning of the war and by the end they had proved to be a critical part of military warfare. Munitionettes brought social change and altered perceptions and the geologists brought science to a whole new level by demonstrating the practical use of geology and its crucial value to strategy and tactics

Mike Windle's Podcast

Mike Windle took part on 25th October 2016 in a live discussion with Jonathan Cowap on BBC Radio York and introduced the Who Digs Wins Project and encouraged people to get involved and contact NE Yorkshire Geology Trust. To listen to the full podcast, please click on the play button below.


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World War I and the formation of ICI

In the 19th century, the chemical industry of the UK was based on salt, glass, textiles and explosives. Salt, glass and textiles were using products of the LeBlanc process, which produced terrible pollution in three centres, Glasgow, Tyneside and Cheshire, partly curbed by the Alkall Acts of 1868. However the LeBlanc process was overtaken by the Solvay process from 1870. Ludvig Mond and John Tominson Brunner built a new works in Winnington in Cheshire using the Solvay process in 1873.

The Imperial War Museum

A day at the Imperial War Museum London

I volunteered to do some research for NE Yorkshire Geology Trust project "Who Digs Wins" funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund on the role of geology in the First World War.

The IWM seemed a sensible place to start my investigation as I wasn't sure where and what to look for. I telephoned the Museum and asked whether I could talk to someone who could direct my research.

Who Digs Wins : how geology helped win the First World War

North East Yorkshire Geology Trust has been awarded a grant of £9,700 from the Heritage Lottery Fund to explore how geology changed the course of the First World War.

Thanks to National Lottery players this one year project will involve an exploration of the hidden side of World War One to discover how the two sides approached the use of technology and science.