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The first geologists employed in government service in Britain had military appointments: J. MacCulloch from 1809 to 1826 in England and Scotland, and J. W. Pringle followed by J. E. Portlock from 1826 to 1843 in Ireland. The founder of the British Geological Survey in 1835, and his successor as director-general in 1855, both had military origins. Several early influential members of the world's oldest geological society, founded in London in 1807, had military connections. From 1819 to about 1896 geology contributed to military education in Britain at the East India Company's military college, the Royal Military Academy, the Royal Military College, the Staff College, or the School of Military Engineering.

However, professional geologists were not strictly used as such in the British army until the 1914–1918 world war, and then they were primarily used in response to problems of static battlefield conditions on the western front in Europe. W. B. R. King guided development of potable ground-water supplies; T. W. E. David guided siting of mine tunnels and dugouts, and other geologists served with the Tunnelling Companies of the Engineer Corps.

Geologists were used more widely in the more mobile conflicts of the 1939–1945 world war: notably W. B. R. King in France and the United Kingdom, F. W. Shotton in North Africa and northwest Europe, and J. V. Stephens in Italy. These and others were all to some extent concerned with water supply, but increasingly geologists became involved in terrain assessment for military purposes (e.g., airfield sites, ground trafficability, quarrying of aggregates, and effects of aerial bombing).

In both wars there were but few British military geologists; most were granted Emergency Commissions in the Royal Engineers for their war service. Only since 1949 has the corps maintained continuity of geological expertise through a small team of reserve army officers. This team now provides support for regular forces in both peace and war.

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