The Work of Barnes Wallis

The chairman His Honour Judge Clarkson opened the meeting. 42 members attended plus one guest. There were 7 apologies. Malcolm said a few words in memory of Ray Snowdon and there was a minutes silence in his memory.

The chairman welcomed the speaker Peter Rix. His talk was entitled: Airships to Astro-physics: The Work of Barnes Wallis. When we think of Barnes Wallis he is inevitably linked with inventions which greatly contributed to the Allied victory in World War 2 in particular the bouncing bombs.

The main thrust of Peter’s talk was to illustrate that Barnes Wallis was a ‘genius of our time’, an aircraft designer and engineer who made a contribution that hastened the end of World War 2 and much more.

He was born in Ripley Derbyshire in 1887. He was educated at Christ’s Hospital school, however, he did not wish to study Classics and became an apprentice at Thames Engineering at Blackheath. When work became slack he left home and went to J Samuel White’s shipyard at Cowes in 1908. He trained as a marine draughtsman and engineer. His work included building torpedo boats, destroyers, and learning about diesel engines.

In April 1913 he was chief assistant to H B Pratt of Vickers. Wallis turned his mind from the restless sea to the almost unconquered mysteries of the air. He designed Britain’s second rigid airship, the R.9, for the Navy.

Wallis was a key member of the team that built the private enterprise airship the R100. This airship was 709 feet in length with a diameter of 133 feet. Its Maximum speed: 80 m.p.h. carrying capacity: 100 passengers. It was as big as an Atlantic liner, yet only weighed 150 tons.

The R. 100 escaped the disastrous fate that overtook the R. 101, but her life was all too brief. Supreme effort had gone into design and construction and her successful double Atlantic flight to Montreal and back to Cardington seemed to argur well for her future. But she was put into the Cardington shed to allow the Government-built R. 101 to attempt her flight to India. The official bungling and her terrible end virtually killed the airship in Britain. The R. 100 never flew again. In 1931 she was handed over to the breakers for £450.

Barnes Wallis’s life was not only centred around aeronautics and aerial warfare; he participated in the development of radio telescopy and nuclear submarines, he pioneered work in the de-icing of trawlers, and he gave much time and money to educational advancement and to charity. Above all, he was a devoted family man who believed in many of the steadfast Victorian ideals.

He made a wood-carving of his wife Molly. This illustrated he was a very good artist as well as a brilliant engineer.

References: Barnes Wallis by John B Rabbets and R.100 July 5th 1928 M.F. Wallis.

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