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Abstract

During the war of 1939–45, intelligence was gleaned from aerial photographs by a newly founded organization that developed into the Allied Central Interpretation Unit. This was based primarily at Danesfield House (known as Royal Air Force Medmenham) some 50 km west of London, in Buckinghamshire. At least six British geoscientists (and at least one American, L. J. Simon) were amongst its pioneering photographic interpreters, all recruited from civilian life: palaeobotanist H. Hamshaw Thomas; geologists L. R. Wager, N. L. Falcon, P. E. Kent and P. Allen; and a geologist who became distinguished as a geographer, D. L. Linton. Of these six, all except Linton were to become Fellows of the Royal Society (FRS): the highest British academic accolade for a scientist. Work at Medmenham, although important for the war effort, required interpreters familiar with aerial photographs rather than geology as such – but geology did assist the search for storage sites for ‘V’ weapons, terrain interpretation for the 1944 Allied landings in Normandy, and in guiding plans to bomb German industrial complexes hidden underground.

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