Catalogue description Catalogue of the papers and correspondence of BRIGADIER RALPH ALGER BAGNOLD FRS (1896 - 1990)

This record is held by Cambridge University: Churchill Archives Centre

Details of NCUACS35.3.92
Reference: NCUACS35.3.92
Title: Catalogue of the papers and correspondence of BRIGADIER RALPH ALGER BAGNOLD FRS (1896 - 1990)











The material is presented in the order given in the List of Contents. There is good documentation of Bagnold's desert expeditions and a substantial collection of maps and photographs supplementing the manuscript and printed material in sections A, B and C.


Section A, Biographical, includes two drafts of Bagnold's autobiography, published by the University of Arizona Press in 1991. There is a fascinating sequence of Bagnold's childhood letters to his family from St Wilfrid's School, Bexhill-on-Sea, and Malvern College. Of especial interest is a letter to Bagnold from T. E. Lawrence ('Lawrence of Arabia') dated 7 March 1928.


Section B, Expeditions and research, provides good documentation of Bagnold's early explorations with fellow officers in the Middle East and North Africa 1926-32. The expedition of 1932 is particularly well represented. There is also a little material from other overseas visits 1933-38. Bagnold's scientific research is less well documented; most of the material dates from the post-war period and the work best represented is Bagnold's later research on random distributions. There is also a set of Bagnold's publications.


Section C, Long Range Desert Group (LRDG), presents documentation of the history and activities of the Group. Bagnold intended to write a history of the LRDG from an early date and assembled material likely to be of interest. This includes original instructions for and reports of many LRDG operations and draft chapters of a 'war diary and narrative'. A lecture by Bagnold on 'Early Days of the Long Range Desert Group' was published in The Geographical Journal 105. nos. 1 and 2 (1945), but the contemporary history of the unit was written by W. B. K. Shaw, LRDG Intelligence Officer, and published as Long Range Desert Group (Collins, London, 1945).


Section D, Maps, is the largest in the collection. It principally consists of the contents of Bagnold's large map cabinet and includes maps relating to his First World War service in France and Belgium, his explorations in North Africa and the Middle East (the 1932 expedition in particular) and the LRDG.


Section E, Photographs, includes an extensive collection of photographs and negatives chiefly relating to desert exploration and the Long Range Desert Group. This section also presents sets of glass photographic plates used by Bagnold in the 1930s for recording results of experiments on wind-blown sand.


Compiled by Timothy E. Powell and Peter Harper


The work of the National Cataloguing Unit for the Archives of Contemporary Scientists, and the production of this catalogue, are made possible by the support of the following societies and organisations:


The Biochemical Society


The British Library


British Petroleum plc


The Geological Society


The Institute of Physics


The Royal Society


The Royal Society of Chemistry


The Society of Chemical Industry


The Wellcome Trust


We are very grateful to Mr S. C. Bagnold for making the material available, and for his advice and encouragement.

Date: 1896-1991
Related material:

The following items are retained by the family (Mr. S. C. Bagnold) and may be consulted with his permission:


Bagnold's First World War narrative covering the period 20 July 1915 (when Bagnold arrived in France) to 26 August 1917.


Five photograph albums:


1) 1909-26, including his home on Shooters Hill, the First World War, Cambridge, and detailed 'diarised' accounts of holidays in France, the Pyrenees, North Africa, Italy, Sicily, Greece, Constantinople, the Balkans, Palestine and Transjordan.


2) 1926-28, covering early desert travels in Transjordan and the Libyan Desert together with a personal narrative.


3) 1928-30, covering India and Himalayas 1928, India to Cairo 1929 and Libyan Desert exploration 1929 and 1930.


4) 1932-33, covering Libyan Desert exploration 1932 and Peking and Malaya 1933.


5) 1933-36, including Siam, Angkor, Champery, Japan and Tanganyika.


In addition the family retain papers of Bagnold's grandfather Major General Michael Edward Bagnold (1787-1857), his great uncle Captain Thomas Maxwell Bagnold RN (1780-1848) and his father Colonel Arthur Henry Bagnold (1854-1943).

Held by: Cambridge University: Churchill Archives Centre, not available at The National Archives
Language: English

Bagnold, Brigadier Ralph Alger, 1896-1990, scientist, soldier, explorer and geophysicist

Physical description: 12 boxes + plan chest
Immediate source of acquisition:

The papers were received in November 1991 and January 1992 from Brigadier Bagnold's son, Mr S. C. Bagnold.

Administrative / biographical background:

Ralph Alger Bagnold was born in Devonport in 1896, the son of Colonel A.H. Bagnold, Royal Engineers and grandson of Major-General M. E. Bagnold of the East India Company. He was educated at Malvern College and the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich, before his commission in the Royal Engineers with the rank of 2nd Lieutenant in 1915. During the First World War he served at Ypres, the Somme and Passchendaele. He rose to the rank of Captain.


In 1919 Bagnold returned to England and entered Gonville and Caius College Cambridge to study for the Engineering Tripos. He completed his degree in two years and returned to the army in 1921. He was posted to the 5th Division Signal Company, then serving in Ireland. On the transfer of the signal units from the Royal Engineers to a new Royal Corps of Signals. Bagnold was sent to the Signal Training Centre at Maresfield Park, Sussex, first as instructor in electricity, then as Chief Instructor.


In 1926 Bagnold was posted to Egypt. He served for two years before promotion to the rank of Major took him to the North-West Frontier of India 1928-31 where he commanded the Waziristan Signals. After a period in England as Chief Instructor at the School of Signals at Catterick, Bagnold was posted to the Far East as Officer Commanding Signals, China Command in 1933. He retired from the army in 1935 on health grounds.


Bagnold's time in Egypt instilled in him a fascination with desert exploration. He went on expeditions with fellow officer into Sinai. Transjordan and the Libyan Desert and, even after his posting to India, returned to North Africa to lead expeditions in 1929, 1930 and 1932. The 1932 expedition was the most adventurous, covering the unexplored frontier between Chad and northern Sudan. This and the earlier explorations are recounted by Bagnold in Libyan Sands. Travel in a dead world, first published by Hodder & Stoughton in 1935. In recognition of his explorations in North East Africa Bagnold received the Gold Medal of the Royal Geographical Society in 1934.


During his desert expeditions Bagnold had become interested in the physics behind the creation and movement of sand dunes. On retirement from the army he began scientific research in C. M. White's laboratory at Imperial College London using a home-made wind tunnel. This work culminated in The physics of blown sand and desert dunes, first published by Methuen in 1941. This became the standard text-book on the subject and was still in print when Bagnold died in 1990.


On the outbreak of the Second World War Bagnold was recalled to the army. He was originally posted to Kenya but his troopship collided in the Mediterranean en route and put in for repair in Egypt. General Wavell requested that Bagnold remain in Egypt. In 1940, with General Wavell's support, Bagnold founded the Long Range Desert Group (LRDG), a small motorised force which undertook reconnaissance and raids deep into enemy held territory. The LRDG met with considerable success and made a valuable contribution to the Allied victory in North Africa and Bagnold received the OBE (Military) for the part he played in establishing the Group. He handed over command in July 1941 and joined the General Staff in Cairo with the rank of Colonel. Bagnold was later promoted to Brigadier, serving as Deputy Officer-in-Chief of Signals in the Middle East.


Bagnold returned to England in 1944. He was married in 1946 to Dorothy Plank. In 1947 Bagnold was offered and accepted the post of Director of Research at Shell Refining and Marketing Company, based at the new Thornton Research Centre, near Chester. He resigned in 1949 in order to be able to concentrate on research into the transport of solids by a stream of water, at Imperial College London.


He served as consultant on several projects, most notably for the US government from 1958. This arose from an approach in 1956 by L. B. Leopold, Head of the Water Resources Division of the US Geological Survey, to undertake collaborative work on the annual rate at which rivers transport solids. Bagnold's experiments demonstrated that transport rate is an inherent function of flow-depth, a fact previously unknown. He remained an authority on the transport of blown sand and in 1977 was invited by NASA to be key-note speaker at a meeting on the desert landscapes of Earth and Mars.


In later years Bagnold also began to study patterns of random distributions, work which had its origins in observations he had made in 1927. The paper Bagnold published on this in the Proceedings of the Royal Society in 1983 prompted a friendly letter from B. B. Mandelbrot, a pioneer of chaos theory.


Bagnold received many honours and awards for his scientific work. In 1944 he was elected to the Fellowship of the Royal Society. In 1969 he received the G. K. Warren Prize of the US National Academy of Sciences, and in 1970 the Penrose Gold Medal of the Geological Society of America and the Wollaston Medal of the Geological Society of London. Bagnold was elected a Fellow of Imperial College in 1971. He received an Honorary D.Sc. from the University of East Anglia the following year, was elected a Foreign Honorary Member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1974, and in 1978 was awarded the Sorby Medal of the International Society of Sedimentologists and an Honorary D.Sc. from the University of Aarhus in Denmark. Shortly before his death in 1990 Bagnold was awarded the James Alfred Ewing Medal of the Institution of Civil Engineers and Royal Society.

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