An outstanding international scientist from New Zealand whose work in chemistry and physics examined the properties of materials and extended the possibilities of high speed photography


This memoir is a work in progress, please see my explanatory notes at the end

Early Life

Jack Mitchell was born in Christchurch, New Zealand on 3 December 1913. His parents were John Wesley Mitchell, born 1885 in Derby, Connecticut, USA, a surveyor’s chain-man (later a jewellery salesman) who’d worked in Chile and Western Australia, and his wife Lucy Ruth Snowball, born at Inglewood near Mount Egmont in Taranaki, New Zealand in 1887. They had married in Waimate, South Canterbury, New Zealand in 1911.

The Mitchells had come originally from Edinburgh via Bermuda and then Maryland in the seventeenth century.  Jack’s father John Wesley Mitchell IV had trained as a civil engineer at the Stevens Institute, Hoboken before travelling and settling in New Zealand.  Jack’s mother’s family the Snowballs came originally from around Teesside in County Durham, later a heartland of chemical industries.  Jack’s mother’s great uncle was Edward Snowball; a highly talented locomotive engineer, the chief draughtsman of Neilsons and the North British Locomotive Company’s Hyde Park Works in Glasgow.  He died in 1911. In family legend he’d married a daughter of Robert Stephenson; earlier in his career he superintended design at Stephenson’s Railway Works in Newcastle.  On the Snowball maternal side were Allports, descended from a Birmingham silversmith. The Allports had scratched a living at Stoke near Nelson, NZ, not far from the birthplace of Ernest Rutherford.  Jack’s Allport great-grandmother lived to a great age in Picton in 1921.  She’d been born Rachel Willett in Shenley, Buckinghamshire in 1831, her parents emigrated to New South Wales,  and she met her Allport husband when he was looking for work there.  

Jack was an only child.  Living in the Christchurch railway suburb of Sydenham in a small house at 92 King Street off the southern end of Colombo Street, Jack was baptised into the Anglican communion by Reverend Hugh S. Leach in April 1915.  After the War he was educated at Sydenham Primary where he became Dux of the school, and in 1926 he started at Christchurch Boys High School with the benefit of a Junior National Scholarship.

But it was his home environment that nurtured Jack’s interest in nature, his aptitude for careful exploration and recording.  His father had built up a library of books about New Zealand flora and geology, most of them well-illustrated. These the boy studied from an early age. Jack recalled that from the first his father and mother encouraged him “to recognise the native birds and their songs and to learn about their habits.  I collected, pressed and mounted specimens and learned the names of the native ferns, plants, shrubs and trees, grouping them in their ecological associations. I also collected specimens and thin chips from the andesitic and basaltic lava flows and radiating trachyte dykes around the crater rim of the Lyttleton volcano, being particularly fascinated by cavities lined by beautiful transparent crystallites which I later learned to be chabazite, heulandite and other zeolites”. 

Brought up by his father to appreciate the wider relationships of botany and geology and avoid blinkered specialism, Jack had a precocious aptitude for practical correlative science in the tradition of naturalists like Edward Forbes (1815-1854) and TH Huxley (1825-1895).  Their holistic and geographically-mindful approach animated many panoramic teachers around the world, some extremely controversial like AW Bickerton (1842-1929) in New Zealand,  Patrick Geddes in Scotland (1854-1932), or correlative geographer TG Taylor in Australia (1880-1963), some less so like New Zealand’s level-headed political historian James Hight (1870-1958). Jack Mitchell was ever-ready to connect and respond to the influences of this broader world-view.

Alert to the possibilities for extending his field studies among the panoramas that surrounded him on his doorstep, Jack joined the Canterbury Mountaineering Club with his father after its formation in 1925.  He spent weekends with his father and with Club groups tramping and climbing on the Banks Peninsula and the peaks of the foothills.  He also developed early skills in practical photography and microscopic slide preparation.

Christchurch’s Port Hills above Lyttleton and the Banks Peninsula beyond


As he grew older and –with the members of the club– more experienced, the range of their expeditions extended to the upper Waimakariri river valley between the foothills and the Southern Alps and the other high mountain passes to Westland. They climbed many peaks in these areas and encountered snowfields and glacier ice for the first time.  And at Christchurch Boys High,  Jack gained a Senior National Scholarship enabling him to prepare for University entrance.


Jack visited South Westland several times and after his sixteenth birthday travelled by train via Hokitika to Ross on the West Coast, then by bike for ninety miles through the dense rain forest to Waiho and the Franz Josef Glacier.  “I found what were for me entirely new associations in the flora of the rain forest and, for the first time, metamorphic rocks”.


Old flumes at Ross ; Franz Josef Glacier beyond the Waiho suspension bridge


Later, still aged 16, Jack spent three weeks in 1930 in the old lake bed of the upper Rakaia Valley in Canterbury with Carl Caldenius of the Geochronological Institute of Stockholm, smoothing vertical strips on the cliffs and cutting out sections of the varved glacial silt deposits for comparison with other worldwide studies for Baron Gerard de Geer’s Swedish Time Scale and Caldenius’s earlier work in Argentina.

Jack Mitchell FRS
John Wesley Mitchell
early life in New Zealand
from among his own photographs

Canterbury College

Building on his school performance in the qualifying examinations to select University candidates in 1927, Jack had taken the Walton Mathematics Prize and University National Scholarship to Canterbury University College at Christchurch at the end of 1930.  He began study there for a Bachelor of Science in 1931, with an initial spread of Mathematics, Applied Maths, Physics and Chemistry.

Professor Bickerton
NZ scientist     Ernest Rutherford
NZ scientist

Canterbury College master and pupil: Bickerton and Rutherford -practical experiments, wide-ranging thoughts

Here in the heart of the city was the Department of Chemistry that Bickerton had established nearly sixty years earlier. Its perspectives reflected Bickerton’s keen interest in physics and it had nurtured Bickerton’s brilliant pupil Ernest Rutherford.  The legendary and wayward Bickerton had long since left the college amidst controversy.  A key early influence on Jack, he died in 1929.  The Chemistry Department was now in the hands of Liverpool and Heidelberg trained Henry George Denham, an inspiring demonstrator and able administrator.  Denham’s public spirited outlook and active interest in the applications of science later earned him a key role in the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research and honorary membership of the Society of Chemical Industry.  Denham was better at encouraging students on the nursery slopes than engaging with their higher research.  He no doubt found the phenomenon of Jack Mitchell a little too hot to handle. But under his general direction Jack got his BSc in 1934, an MSc with First Class Honours in Chemistry in 1935, and won many prizes and awards.

For the MSc degree, Jack took the advanced papers in organic chemistry and presented a thesis in physical chemistry which led to an accurate evaluation of the standard potential of zinc, and a clearer idea of the transport properties of zinc bromide solutions. He grew his first single crystal -spontaneously nucleated in a spherical flask of zinc bromide solution.


Professor Robert Speight
Canterbury University College Geology
NZ scientist 

Robert Speight (1867-1949)

Canterbury’s ever-active and interested Professor of Geology 

Jack Mitchell had continued his adventures with the Canterbury Mountaineering Club, and indeed it was his scientific findings in the mountains that most engaged his enthusiasm.  In this his natural ally was the retired Canterbury geology professor, Robert Speight, a co-founder of the Club, now curator of the University museum and president of the New Zealand Institute, soon to become the Royal Society of New Zealand.  Speight shared Jack’s ecological perspectives and was the true mentor of his university education in New Zealand.

Jack Mitchell FRS
John Wesley Mitchell
early life in New Zealand
from among his own photographs

The University Library has a series of 1932 climbing pictures of Jack and his friends Alex Graham, Anne Stevenson, Louie Roberts and Tom Sheenan.  On all his climbing expeditions Jack carried a geological hammer, collected specimens from the different regional zones of metamorphic rocks of the Southern Alps, and made thin sections of them when he returned to Christchurch.


Jack’s original intention had been to study geology at the university, but Professor Speight, who had made such major contributions to knowledge of the Lyttleton and Akaroa volcanoes of the Banks Peninsula, had retired and become Curator of the Canterbury Museum.  Formal geology teaching was now led by a palaeontologist and a stratigrapher and Jack had no interest in these areas.  “I began to accompany ‘Bobby’ Speight on his field expeditions in 1930 and was given a thorough and systematic training in crystallography, optical mineralogy, and the petrology of igneous and metamorphic rocks by him.”  Jack made many hundreds of thin sections of exceptional quality, including sections of nephrite in which the individual actinolite crystals were fully resolved, and learned to use the polarizing microscope as a scientific instrument.  “I owe much of my lifelong interest in crystalline solids and the processes of physical and chemical change in the solid state to this informal work which satisfied my research interests”. But Jack was warned by Professor Denham, as head of the Chemistry Department, that he would fail his final BSc examinations if he spent so much time on outside interests.  “Without being aware of it, I was laying sound foundations for the future.”


Though Jack Mitchell placed a high value on his practical training, he gained a lot too from the lectures he attended.  “I learned systematic inorganic and physical chemistry from the excellent lectures of H. G. Denham and organic chemistry from those of J. Packer.  In mathematics, I was particularly interested in all aspects of geometry and symmetry, in vector methods and vector analysis, and in linear algebra and matrix methods.  The lectures of C. C. Farr FRS and the laboratory work in the Department of Physics failed to challenge me although I was keenly interested in the subject.”


As a teenager during the summer vacations of 1931-1933 Jack worked first as a porter and then as a guide at the Franz Josef Glacier Hotel.  Wide knowledge and keen observation in one so young made him a popular and long-remembered guide for many overseas visitors and their expeditions.  Jack always made the effort to collect and press specimens from the successive zones of vegetation between the rain forest at sea level to the highest alpine levels. During this time Jack accompanied Lord Bledisloe the Governor-General of New Zealand and Lady Bledisloe on botanical expeditions where they collected the ferns of the rain forest.  This extensive botanical work led to Jack’s first paper, The Vegetation of the Arthur Pass National Park, later published as part of the Handbook to the Park in 1935. And there are indications that Jack developed a friendship with the Bledisloes that lasted until their death.

Lord and Lady Bledisloe


Professor Speight refers to Jack in generous terms in the paper he gave to the Philosophical Institute of Canterbury in April 1934: Mitchell had lent him useful 1929 pictures of the glacier, and had told Speight a theory of his own about the vegetation on the glaciated level valley walls: “there is a lower belt where the trees are stunted, and a higher belt where they are larger, and it is usually assumed that the difference is due to the more recent abandonment of the lower levels by the ice.  Mr J. Mitchell, one of the guides at the glacier and a keen observer of natural history, has mentioned to me that the large trees correspond to a belt of crushed rock, probably due to the over-thrusting of the schist by the greywacke, the movement being from the east, and that the difference in growth of the trees may be due to the difference in the nature of the ground on which the trees have been established, the lower part being solid inhospitable schist, and the top the more kindly broken greywacke.  If the divergence in the character of the vegetation is really due to delayed evacuation of the lower levels by the ice as compared to the upper levels, then the lower belt of stunted trees extending along the valley walls should rise as steeply as the valley gradient, if not more steeply, and it does not do so.  This is in favour of Mr Mitchell’s contention, but the point needs further investigation.”


In 1934 Jack was awarded the Charles Cook Memorial Prize of Canterbury University College for his work on metamorphic petrology. He would be heading for Oxford.  But first, in the name of science and of his native New Zealand, Jack was determined to pull together all his talents for exploration and practical study to the utmost.   He spent his final eight months in New Zealand in 1934-1935 on the West Coast of the South Island, where he systematically examined the zones of regional metamorphism in the Southern Alps and the nephrite masses of the Pounamou formation on the Griffin Range and in the Arahura Valley of northern Westland.  “I left this open air life with great reluctance but always retained my interest in natural history”.


In this last careful photographic and geological survey of tracts of New Zealand’s Southern Alps, preparing hundreds of thin-section slides from the rock samples he took, Jack had found some astonishing and unexpected similarities with equivalent rock studies of Unst in Shetland recorded by Herbert Harold Read, the former head of the Scottish Geological Survey who had taken up a professorship at Liverpool University.   Governor-General Bledisloe took a personal interest in the results of Jack’s work, which seemed to show such individual, academic, scientific and economic promise. Canterbury’s Rector, James Hight, was a wise and influential supporter.

Henry George Denham (1880-1943)    Dr James Hight (1870-1958)            

   Canterbury’s Professor of Chemistry     Head of Canterbury University College

By the time he was ready to leave his homeland, Jack Mitchell had become confident of his abilities, and assured of excellent contacts in the scientific world. His cryptic academic record card of progress 1927-1935 among those on deposit in the New Zealand archives is headed with the pencilled word Brick –someone clearly considered him a solid and dependable prospect.  By now Jack had become heir to the late Professor Bickerton’s notes.  Eager to pass on what he had learned, to serve and be served, he made it his business to communicate with the people he met –testimonials from Denham and Hight describing him as probably the most brilliant student in New Zealand today.

Across the Tasman to Sydney

Jack Mitchell came to England as an 1851 Exhibition Scholar from Canterbury University College, New Zealand in 1935.   This was a Research Fellowship awarded annually by Royal Commission for the Exhibition of 1851 as a three-year research scholarship to around eight "young scientists or engineers of exceptional promise" across the British Empire.  Ernest Rutherford and Dr Denham had been Exhibition Scholars from Canterbury before him.   Jack Mitchell was destined for Oxford, where Rutherford’s old collaborator the Nobel Laureate Frederick Soddy was the Dr Lee Professor of Chemistry.

Jack Mitchell travelled to England with another student from Canterbury.  On his way to Oriel College Oxford was the Rhodes Scholar in history Winston Monk (1912-1954) one of three -who at once became a close friend.  Also travelling ware a number of young New Zealand academics including J.P. Belshaw and Don McElwain.  Awarded a free passage as part of his research scholarship, Jack was able to reach England in a little more luxury than most NZ students.  He sailed first in the Marama across the Tasman Sea from Wellington to Sydney, to transfer there with Monk to the P&O liner Maloja for the long journey to England.  Bledisloe’s  directorship of the P&O company may have helped a little.

Lord Bledisloe strolls with Frank Monk, chairman of Kaikoura County Council,
 in the town’s Memorial Garden. The Governor-General’s ADC, Lieutenant JC Elworthy RN walks behind

Lord Bledisloe strolls with Winston’s father Frank Monk, chairman of Kaikoura County Council,

 in the town’s Memorial Garden. The Governor-General’s ADC, Lieutenant JC Elworthy RN walks behind

Their Sydney stopover in August 1935 gave them time to meet old and new friends (often more than once). Jack and Winston made contact with A. K. Anderson and his family, Winston’s old headmaster at St Andrew’s Christchurch, who was now head at Scots College and who took them later to St Stephens in Macquarie Street, at that time “the newest great church in the Empire”.   Jack’s friend Clare, daughter of Rabbi Danglow of Melbourne, showed the pair the sights and surroundings in a chauffeur-driven car, and they yarned with Harley, a mutual friend from New Zealand employed by the Davis Gelatine Company which made “60% of the  gelatine of the Empire” in conjunction with the Michaelis Hallenstein tannery combine of Australia and New Zealand.  Walks through the city centre gave Jack’s interest in economic geology full rein in identifying and enjoying the stone of the great new buildings -he could hardly keep his hands off the Commonwealth of Australia Savings Bank. There were plenty of opportunities for him to take photographs.

On August 16th Jack and Winston were shown Sydney University and bowled over with the magnificence of its appointments and endowments: 15 faculties, almost each of them subdivided, and a sound and underworked professorial staff.  The Geological Buildings alone were larger than most of Canterbury College and held a museum arranged and cared for much more effectively than anything they had seen in New Zealand.  They met Dr G.D. Osborne, a friendly young lecturer fresh from Cambridge: “Jack says he’s a specialist (that damning him in his eyes though not necessarily in mine)”.   Later a Professor, Osborne became President of the Royal Society of New South Wales and first Patron of The Gemmological Association of Australia.   When Jack elaborated on his own 8 months of survey in the Southern Alps, his 900 hand-made slide-mounted rock-samples worked over 150 miles coast-to-coast in places, and his discovery of practically identical formations to those H.H. Read had found in the Shetland Islands at the opposite end of the world, he was not sure that Osborne fully understood.

But Jack had further opportunities to impress his elders at a meeting of East Australia’s geological establishment at the Geological Society in Gloucester Street with such worthies as Osborne, Andrews “lucid”, Ryder Brown “accomplished, confident, bigger than his subject” and Queensland’s Wauchope “highly thought of”.  Jack and Winston had supper with Osborne in George Street, and returned to the University five days later, showing some of Jack’s rock slides to Osborne and his colleague Jocelyn through the microscope. “They thought his work marvellous, but obviously couldn’t appreciate it”.


At La Perouse, Botany Bay on 25 August Jack introduced Winston to the botany of the sand hills, demonstrating the characteristics of the pea, the heath, the myrtle, the thyme, and the pine, and telling him he could learn the fundamentals of Botany in a week. Later, describing the elements of geology and chemistry plainly and lucidly in a way that his companion could easily understand, Jack said he always studied a subject as if he were required to teach it. He described the natural origin of the earth, solar system, universe and island universes following the lines of Professor Bickerton’s hypothesis. On the strength of the Second Law of Thermodynamics, Jack talked of an original uniformity of matter in space, and a tendency for change towards maximum probability; these he regarded as evidenced by experience and more than mere assumptions.  He’d seductively concluded that “the historical mind is also the scientific mind”.


P & O liner Maloja

 Athough starting in a series of unsatisfactory Sydney lodgings -one turned out to be a brothel- for most of their time Jack and Winston were able to use their cabins on the Maloja, berthed at Pyrmont prior to final departure from Circular Quay.  One day Jack returned to his cabin and left his coat on the bed. Returning a few minutes later he discovered the steward going through his pockets. He called for the Chief Officer and they found the steward with a pound note, of which Jack had the number, caught red-handed.  In the evening, having thought things over and the steward had approached him with the story of a wife and family, clean record and all that, Jack relented his original intention to pursue the matter.  Prickly and ready for combat when his blood was up, Jack was equally notable for the gentle and forgiving side of his nature.


Boy with pigeons at Circular Quay, mid 1935               Bligh’s Log

Before they left Sydney, Jack and Winston visited the Mitchell Library and were shown some of its most valuable records: Tasman, Banks, Cook, and Marsden originals, Captain Bligh’s log from the Bounty, and a first folio of Shakespeare. They found the Sydney Art Gallery in the Botanical Gardens was much better than their own familiar McDougall Gallery in Christchurch.  They were entertained by the family of Don McElwayn –also heading for England on the Maloja.   Belshaw and Eric Haslam had left Sydney already on August 17 on the Orient Line’s Oronsay.  Now as the Maloja moved away from Circular Quay, their own journey to England began.


Round the south of Australia to Melbourne and Adelaide

On their first day in Melbourne, Jack and Winston went ashore in the heat of the morning and made their way to Flinders and Collins Streets, St Kilda Road, the Botanical Gardens, and the Shrine of Remembrance.  New Zealanders from Christchurch and Canterbury often feel at home in Melbourne.  They were entranced by the verdure of the gardens, after Sydney, and surprised at the number of horsemen and women in the city.  The second day was devoted to the University, where Jack went to meet Professor Stillwell of the Geology department and his assistant Dr Edwards.  Old Stillwell had been geologist in Scott’s polar expeditions; young Edwards was just returned from a year at Cambridge and now engaged in government work.  University buildings were not nearly as satisfactory as Sydney, though the residential colleges appeared impressive. The New Zealanders were surprised to find them being run on denominational lines.  In the Chemistry department they met Dr Bayliss, expert in spectroscopy, a former Australian Rhodes scholar and a friend of their countryman, Alex Haslam, Canterbury’s Rhodes scholar in Law.  The head of the chemistry department, Professor E J Hartung (1893-1979), a world expert in photographic science, was on hand to talk to them.  He had studied the photolysis of silver halides with a microbalance in the nineteen twenties and reminded Jack strongly of J H E Schroder, the Canterbury literary commentator.


Ernst J Hartung (1893-1979)        Raymond E Priestley (1886-1974)

Melbourne’s Professor of Chemistry     Chancellor of Melbourne University

Finally, Mitchell and Monk were introduced to Dr R E Priestley (1886-1974), Chancellor of Melbourne University and a highly regarded former administrator at Cambridge -he had begun his scientific career as a Bristol-trained geologist and polar explorer.  The gentle, brisk, quiet, precise Priestley gave them a good deal of his time and advice, taking them off by train to an excellent lunch at The Wattle. He was particularly keen that Jack should make an effort to get into residence for some part of his time at Oxford (as a non resident scholar, Jack was heading for St Catherines, a non-collegiate Oxford students association at that time, and would have to find digs).  Priestley couldn’t praise the residential life enough, in contrast to views Dr Edwards had expressed earlier in the day.

To share on the voyage Jack bought Jeans’ “New Background of Science” and Winston a title by Eddington at Cole’s Book Arcade, before they were picked up by Jean Danglow and her friend Margaret, both history students, and driven to the top of Mount Dandenong, 30 miles north.  The group returned through the gloaming for dinner with the family, Rabbi Danglow and his wife and son Frank at their house just off St Kilda boulevard. The Rabbi had just had his Plymouth car stolen from the garage and smashed up, and was a little hurt by that.  The younger Danglows took Jack and Winston to the Athananeum to see Elizabeth Bergner in Escape Me Never –a new film by her husband Paul Czinner with the creative talents of David Lean, Freddie Young and William Walton.  They then drove the two New Zealanders back to the Maloja to see them off.


The ship travelled on to Adelaide, where Jack and Winston trained from port to city to see its public buildings, parks and an excellent layout. They thought the inhabitants seemed red or pale and hot-looking. They were not unhappy to return to the boat, passing through depressing slums and hovels and the particularly fine railway station.  Back on board the pair got a first taste of English social distinctions when Jack’s companion had to leave the first class lounge (Jack alone had a first class cabin and other passengers objected to his having a visitor from tourist class). The next leg of the voyage across the Australian Bight was stormy.  Jack was wakened by a neighbouring woman’s screams that the ship was sinking.  Seawater came in through a ventilator and washed along the corridor from a smashed forward hatch.

Stürmische See zwischen Adelaide u. Fremantle 31. Aug. 1935
Nelly Steckler
Winston Monk collection

Photo given to Winston by Nelly Steckler, a Swiss fellow passenger on the Maloja,

inscribed Stürmische See zwischen Adelaide u. Fremantle 31. Aug. 1935


A long haul to England

The rest of his journey was to be very uncomfortable. Overdue at “grubby little Fremantle” where Jack and Winston took a break ashore for a cup of tea at the Kia-Ora Café, the ship prepared to battle another storm in the Indian Ocean on its ten day stretch to Colombo. As the Maloja left Australasia behind, Jack became quite seriously ill.  While Winston regularly took morning exercises, swam in the pool, dined daily with some of the younger tourist-class fellow passengers, and danced a little with Nelly Steckler, Jack progressively withdrew to his first-class saloon.  He developed nasal ulcers which were treated by the ship’s doctor, and then was stricken with septic tonsils which gave him a lot of pain and distress. An operation in the heat of the tropics was out of the question, he would just have to wait till London -rotten luck for a chap.  But Jack was not completely indisposed. He played games, talked, and sat with his friend.  In the evenings Winston would take coffee in the tourist lounge and then go up to the boat deck to sit for an hour with Jack, dreaming and meditating, and drinking in the intoxicating atmosphere.  It’s really an enchanting and romantic setting, strains of orchestral music wafted lazily by the warm breeze from the dancing on the main deck, soothing and spicy to the ear, the warmth of the wind itself as the ship moves steadily across the water. It’s the Indian Ocean; the breezes come from Africa and from India.  The moon above is pale but bright, with an electric lightness, partly obscuring the lesser lights of the stars, and it casts its radiance broad across the expanse of sea, rippling gently in its light, with its lightest wavelet flecking into shreds of tired foam.  The waters move so lazily, Jack says, because they are so replete with organic life; forming a perfect natural incubator. Couples sit in the gloom of the boat deck in their chairs; now and then a ship’s bell; the noise of feet and voices below barely discernible, but the music enchanting.  After crossing the Equator, Jack felt able to join a larger party for some beers.  Four days later they arrived in Ceylon at Colombo, and Jack made up a party of five for the 75 mile drive to the interior in a big Bean car to visit Kandy.


Two days later the Maloja docked at Bombay; the passengers had been warned of a smallpox outbreak there. Visiting the fish and meat market, Jack was separated from the rest of his party for a while because he couldn’t stand the smell.  They saw the Zoo and Parks, Malabar Hill, Towers of Silence and the Gateway of India before returning to the Maloja at Ballard Pier.

Finding himself with a new whisky-soaked room-mate, Winston shifted to a joint cabin with Jack.  As the ship moved on through the days to Aden, Jack was again unwell, with hardly a bite to eat since Bombay and indeed precious little since Adelaide. Winston tried painting his throat, but it only made Jack sick.  At Aden the ship was joined by a number of Naval officers, apparently because of the Abyssinian dispute.  Moving towards the cooler north up the Red Sea, and sleeping out on the hatch guarded by Winston and his companions, Jack was for the first time able to get some decent sleep.  The high cliffs of sandstone of the Sinai showing their layered geological formations rose up abruptly on either side, and the Maloja was soon passing Port Tewfik into the Suez Canal  - Jack staying up on the boat deck to watch progress almost as far as Port Said.  As more and more people came aboard to add to the ship’s malodorous cosmopolitanism, he swore he’d never travel by P&O again.

Across the Med

But things were getting better.  As the Maloja slipped out of port, Port Said seemed like a postcard with its great steamers, battle cruisers, aircraft carriers, and little Arab yachts and dhows.  As they left the greenish Nile waters behind and moved steadily into the smooth blue Mediterranean, the heat became less oppressive.  Jack noticed some improvement in his nose and throat.  He’d lost over a stone in weight. He was able to eat a little.  He was also able to resume his scientific commentaries which Winston occasionally found wearing.

Jack played chess with Wood, an Australian history scholar headed for Balliol, a long angular, awkward, decent aloof type.  Winston played draughts with Andre Galiay, a 15-year-old French boy returning from Polynesia, All of them tended to be beaten by the scruffy old Irish habitué of the ship’s bar.  Retiring to bed at 2am after one such evening, Winston had a bit of a word with Jack which he took rather seriously to heart, about his tendency to be dogmatic.  Next day Jack washed one of his friend’s shirts in typical forgiveness.

Slipping past the formidable Chateau d’If on the morning of September 27, the Maloja drew alongside the P&O dock at Marseilles. It was time to say goodbye to young Andre Galiay and the good-natured Nelly Steckler.  Jack, Wood and Winston strode manfully along the line of docks and up to town to the famous Rue Canabiere.  Jack pointed out that the streets and lanes were cobbled with a beautiful building stone. They saw workmen laying down the stones, setting them in fine sandstone.  Microsyenite, a fine quarried granite, Jack said it was.  He contrasted it with the soft chalky marble that made up most of the country areas around.  Back at sea Winston had more words with Jack and said under provocation that he didn’t want to hear any more on certain scientific subjects. As a result, Jack refused to give the chemistry and botany lessons he’d promised. But next day all was well, with Jack joining in draughts and teaching Winston chess. September 30 saw Jack up before 6 to see the sun rise out of Africa as the Maloja pulled in to Tangier.

Having disgorged its French passengers, Maloja headed across the strait to Gibraltar, and Jack and friends made a two hour tour of the rock in a six-seater –Jack pointing out the Canadian ash trees, a species of pine with beautiful light green feathery leaves. Then two and a half days across the bays of Trafalgar and Biscay to the first sight of Eddystone lighthouse in the early morning of October 3 and the green fields and red cliffs of England’s rock-bound south west coast.



Arrived in London

Next morning the Maloja berthed at Tilbury and Jack, Wood and Winston trained in to St Pancras.  At the station they were met by Canterbury University College man Stewart Fitzgerald who’d been in England for a year doing chemical research at London University supported by his own savings.  Fitzgerald shepherded them to New Zealand House, where they met Una Powell, the CUC maths expert, and were given the address of somewhere to stay: Mr Jones boarding house at 9 Taviton Street, Bloomsbury.

Walking through the streets together in wind and rain on their first day Saturday 5 October, down Southampton Row and Kingsway to the Strand, London seemed to Jack and Winston disappointingly small, dead and dismal. The Thames was slushy with rubbish floating down. Westminster Abbey and the Houses of Parliament (undergoing exterior renovation) looked dull and dirty, and notably inferior in building stone to the great buildings they’d seen in Sydney.  Later they were to sense that the dusty and dismal exterior held the dignity and peculiar charm of trusty, solid, true, imperturbable old England.

But the greyness showed up their own lack of sparkle as companions.  Jack and I get on each other’s nerves…with my endless chatter and chaff about things that don’t matter. And I, however much I admire him, and in a sense like him, cannot but feel he’s far too staid and stiff, far too sincere and earnest, far too serious and heavy, to be a good comrade for me for long.  He hasn’t the spark of mischief that I like to see break out like an oasis in the dross and the dull and the monotonous.  Personally since leaving N.Z. I’ve been stirred to continued joy and mischief in the sights I’ve seen and the people I’ve met.  Jack responds but faintly, and it’s not because response alone is what’s needed; one wants initiative.  Perhaps it’s too much brain.  And I know we both have a fund of obstinacy and self-will exercised though they be in varied channels.  Let’s make the best of it, though.  Our time abroad so far has been very, very interesting and profitable indeed.  That evening they had dinner at Slater’s in the Strand for four shillings apiece, with New Zealanders Fieldhouse (education & psychology, Victoria College Wellington) and John D. White. Then a good picture-show double bill: Noel Coward in The Scoundrel and Maurice Chevalier in The Man from the Folies Bergere, the latter’s phrase “Mademoiselle que j’aime” giving Jack and Winston a lot of amusement for some reason.

On Sunday 6 October they made a visit to the meat and fish markets (which rather smacked of Bombay). They watched a service at St Pauls which conveyed a sense of timelessness and the beating heart of a nation. And they spent two hours yarning with Ian Milner’s friend the Hellenist Dale Trendall, a New Zealander who had all but disguised the fact. They found him the queerest of fish but were impressed by his command of European languages and encouraged to learn languages for themselves.   Jack took Trendall’s advice very much to heart.  

     Milner in 1935                      Trendall twenty years later

Next day Jack and Winston looked around Westminster Abbey (Jack was thrilled) and in the evening after the best cup of tea, scones and strawberry jam since New Zealand they went to the Ambassadors Theatre (seats in the pit 3s/6d) to see Otway’s “rather lewd” play: The Soldier’s Fortune  gloriously performed.


Jack and Winston were overjoyed by good news from W. M. Mollison, the London nose and throat specialist Jack consulted, who told him the whole trouble lay in his nose.  His tonsils were perfectly healthy, the change of air on leaving London would improve matters, and there would be no need for another check-up until December.  After another fine cup of tea at the Witt’s home-from-home for New Zealanders at 24 Newport Court off Charing Cross Road, Jack went to South Kensington to see Fitzgerald and get the first instalment of his scholarship (£125). Winston was to pick up his £89 cheque from Rhodes House in Oxford.  The pair left the capital and travelled there before lunch on Thursday 10th October.

Winston Monk


Early days at Oxford: Soddy’s position by 1935

Arriving in Oxford, where he was to study in the Trinity Labs, Jack had to look for somewhere to stay. Winston had a Rhodes-funded place at Oriel College, but Jack’s position was as a member of the St Catherines Society, a delegacy of non-collegiate students offering university education at Oxford without the costs of college membership.

Gunther Motz
Oriel College Oxford
Winston Monk collection

At Oriel, Winston shared rooms with German Rhodes Scholar Gunther Motz

Motz became a good friend of Jack Mitchell from the start.


Directed by St Catherines to his new digs, Jack was fixed up at £2 a week with what appeared to be sumptious rooms in Walton Crescent, and next day collected Monk and Motz from Oriel to show them round.  Then Australian historian friend Alan Wood from Maloja took them all to tea at his expense at Brown’s teashop near Balliol. They met Ian Milner and John Oakley nearby, who was just off home to New Zealand.

Balliol College in Broad Street

What of Jack’s arrival at the Trinity labs? The old Balliol-Trinity laboratories had been redesigned and refurbished by Professor Soddy and were a model of their kind.  But the atmosphere among University staff was openly hostile to Soddy. As Rutherford’s old collaborator, a mountain walker and outdoorsman with a gift for practical improvisation and experiment, Soddy must have seemed the kind of inspiring scientific figure Jack might have admired and looked forward to working with in the autumn of 1935.  But by then Professor Soddy had been sidelined.  Frustrated by disputes with the Royal Society and University authorities, he was hardly ever seen.  Young Fred Dainton had gone up to Oxford with a scholarship from Sheffield earlier, expecting to be energised by Soddy whose book The Interpretation of the Atom had done so much to kindle his lifelong enthusiasm for science. But, as Dainton later wrote: “My acute disappointment can be imagined when a few days after arrival at Oxford I was summoned by my chemistry tutor to discuss my programme of work and, referring to lectures, he strongly advised me not to go to those given by the then head of his department, the Old Chemistry Department, then Dr Lee’s Professor of Chemistry, one Frederick Soddy.  I shall always be glad I disregarded my tutor’s advice.  This was not solely due to seeing and hearing at first hand some of the extraordinary work Soddy had done, using the most primitive detectors (I well remember his dexterous handling of a gold leaf electroscope), together with the sense of actually being present when the work was done and sharing in the successes and failures and so beginning to learn something of the joy of discovery.  There were also Soddy’s face and gait; the former being finely chiselled with very steady eyes betokening a man of high principles unwilling to compromise truth as he saw it at whatever cost to personal relations; his gait and bearing suggesting also a very fit man, confident of his own powers and afraid of no man.  I soon found the words used about him in Oxford were typically ‘obstinate and uncooperative’, ‘doesn’t do research any more’, ‘a crackpot, wasting his time with solid geometry problems and deflecting much needed workshop activity from its proper task’, ‘is absorbed by the dotty idea that national economics can be analysed on thermodynamic principles’, ‘espouses fringe political movements, like the Canadian Major Douglas’ Social Credit Party, and New Britain’, and finally ‘a disappointment to himself as well as to us’.  Not a good word was said about him despite his having redesigned the antiquated laboratories and their refurbishment down to the smallest detail, and thereby benefiting those who were often his greatest critics as well as the students.”  Soddy was to notice Dainton in the labs when he saw the student’s hillwalking rucksack, and they had a warm conversation about the Cairngorms.  But the chance meeting in the labs in the year before Jack’s arrival was not repeated and Dainton never saw Soddy again.

Balliol-Trinity laboratories at the time of ill-fated Moseley’s graduation in 1910

After Soddy’s refurbishment the Labs today are much as in Mitchell’s time


Jack Mitchell makes no mention of Soddy in his autobiographical memoir.  Students and researchers like Jack were selected and shepherded by the dons, there was little opportunity for contact with professors. And Soddy was in every sense an outsider.  He lived outside college with his wife Winifred, daughter of Sir George Beilby FRS.  She, along with Soddy’s school friend H. H. Carpenter, his former laboratory boy Alex Fleck, his Glasgow successor A.W. Stewart, and fitfully his old collaborator Ernest Rutherford (who’d successfully proposed Soddy’s Nobel laureateship) were amongst his only friends in the world of science. It was a dwindling band: Winifred became terminally ill in 1935 and Rutherford died unexpectedly in 1937. Soddy had no circle of intimates at Oxford to shield and support him.  Brigadier Sir Harold Hartley, FRS, the former director of the Balliol Trinity labs and Britain’s expert in chemical warfare, was an old antagonist who plainly regarded the Professor as unsound.  Hartley was heavily engaged in strategic science at a national level, and now headed scientific research for the powerful LMS railway company of which he was vice-president.  Hartley’s former academic ally Nevil Sidgwick and his long-term academic protégé Cyril Hinshelwood effectively led the opposition to Soddy amongst the dons across the University and at the labs, with more junior promotees like Harold Warris Thompson (Dainton’s tutor) adding their own criticisms, some justified, some malevolent.



      Frederick Soddy                       Cyril Hinshelwood


Fred Dainton in later life and his Oxford tutor Harold Warris Thompson


In spite of Soddy’s refurbishments, it was no secret that Oxford’s chemists wanted to create new labs for physical chemistry on a new site.  But they had no wish to start with a loose cannon like Soddy still in post. They would have to wait till the Professor was safely out of the way.  In the meantime, they could cut off his exposure to new collaborators.  A blood supply of willing young workers fuelled the advancement of knowledge and reputations.  While Soddy was denied any fresh transfusions of scientific enthusiasm, Hinshelwood was particularly adept at guiding the annual influx of new researchers to co-author papers with himself and open up new fields of study.  Anyone could see that Hinshelwood was the future of Oxford chemistry, and Jack Mitchell was ready to accept whatever Faustian bargain was offered.  For all the initial differences of outlook between the homely mountaineer and the cool lounge lizard, Hinshelwood began to take the measure of Jack Mitchell’s potential and show him increasing consideration.


October 1935: First impressions and the daily round

Jack was well settled at Walton Crescent. Mr Bamford of Canterbury University College, checking up on Oxford’s new community of New Zealanders, was an early visitor.  He was probably Harry Dean Bamford, and co-author with Dr Hight of the constitutional History and Law of New Zealand in 1914, and like Hight an early exponent of Lord Milner’s Round Table Imperial ideals.

 Jack was to be increasingly taken up with his studies and the work at the Trinity Labs. From the start he spent a lot of his spare time calling on Monk and Motz at Oriel or on Wood at Balliol College.  Each visited the others for company, to suggest an outing, or to study their books under the same roof.  Jack’s health could still be a problem.  On his first Sunday for example he was too ill with a cold to join Monk and Wood in exploring the English countryside on foot, so they returned afterwards via Walton Crescent to pick him up for an evening at Oriel.  At Walton Crescent for the evening just two days later Jack was utterly fed up with work and happy to yarn away with Winston Monk who called by to see him. At Balliol, Wood introduced Jack to a freshman Adelaide footballer friend, John Hereford Portus (1913- , son of GV Portus the Australian educator and Milnerite Round Table supporter).

Monk was already finding some lecturers unexpectedly dull or unintelligible.  Cohn of Brasenose was a particular culprit and Jack urged his shipmate to persevere to try to get atmosphere from him at least.   In contrast Jack with Monk and Alan Wood enjoyed the privilege in their first week of hearing Professor Gilbert Murray address a packed hall at the Church of St Mary the Virgin on the Abyssinia Crisis.  Speaking clearly in plain English Murray advocated that firm sanctions be imposed on Italy for contempt of treaty obligations by a combined League of Nations fleet in the Mediterranean. The three friends’ next evening lecture of choice was to be the Marquess of Zetland, Secretary of State for India, on “1935 and after” at the Conservative Club, but Wood and Monk went to hear Richard Crossman and G.D.H. Cole at the Labour Club instead.

By his second Sunday, Jack was ready to go tramping with Monk and Wood, though they lingered at the Trout as a starting point and ended by sheltering from the cold wind in a sunny spot against a haystack. On October 22nd Monk reported Jack had been in to say he’d been to a special conference between Hinshelwood, Chiswick (Sidgwick/Chadwick?), Schroedinger, Zinen and other of the world’s leading chemists. What an experience! And what opportunities are opening out for him.  Hinshelwood had invited him out to dinner and Jack wanted to borrow studs etc.  But he will have to stick at “dressing” till that sort of thing becomes second nature to him.

Ian Milner at dinner in New College with Davis the Rhodes scholar from Otago, urged Winston and Jack to come along to Oxford’s informal Hongi (New Zealand) Club.  Mrs Pilkington in Budwell Road was offering Sunday afternoon opportunities for young people of all colonies and nationalities to meet in the presence of an English baronet: Winston met a nice Danish girl and an interesting Rhodes scholar from South Africa, Laubscher.   Jack by this time was giving Winston suppers, yarning and a place to work without College interruptions at weekends, while Gunther Motz entertained German friends, among whom was a son of Krupp the armament king.  Jack seems to have been too busy for the October Hongi Club meeting.  Winston Monk, Davis (Merton), Tucker (University) and a a dozen or so others were there including Eric Haslam, with Ian Milner taking the lead. The main business was to get support for the forthcoming All Blacks match at Twickenham.

At the end of the month Jack received from home the photographs he’d taken in Sydney which his father had printed and fast-forwarded.  They were very good. 


November 1935

Social efforts to engage new Rhodes scholars continued to target Winston.  Jack also would be drawn into the net by the end of the year.  It started with an invitation to meet Miss Macdonald of the Isles at Rhodes House on Friday 1st. It was an informal dance evening making things go with a swing and about 30 Rhodes Scholars were there of all nationalities –a high proportion Americans - with a good number of quite nice English and Danish girls.  Miss Macdonald of the Isles, whose very name helped to cast a spell, announced that a social week was being arranged in London for Rhodes Scholars and others in the second week of December, and there would be a chance to stay with different people in the Christmas break too.  Very kind, but as Jack says, these people arrange the “scheme” in much the same way as others as well-to-do go “slumming”.


Miss Celia Macdonald of the Isles (1889- ?) was the public spokesperson for Lady Frances Ryder (1888-1965)

whose well-connected and well-resourced Empire hospitality Scheme operated from 21B Cadogan Gardens


Miss Macdonald ran Lady Ryder’s Empire hospitality scheme for young English-speaking officers, Rhodes scholars and other eligible students from the dominions and overseas. It had grown out of the arrangements made for far-from-home junior ranks in the Great War.  At the scheme’s headquarters in 21B Cadogan Gardens, Sloane Square, London, tea was dispensed and dances were held.  Card indexes were kept of 1600 or so potentially lonely visitors who might be helped each year, and of appropriate households prepared to provide a home, friendship and the prospect of some suitable female company for weekends, vacations, leave, study and convalescence.  Girls of good family could be drafted to serve as live-in help for host households while the young overseas guests came to stay.  It all seemed very well organised.  The recipients were duly grateful if sometimes a little amused by all the thoughtfulness for their moral and physical welfare. Speaking to an overseas reporter, Miss Macdonald said “We try to give the students that touch of home life that helps to lessen the loneliness and occasional homesickness which is inevitable when they are so far from their people.  We are not a club and we are not a hostel. In the flat at 21b Cadogan Gardens which is the headquarters of our work we have two large rooms in which we can hold a dance for about 70 people, and every day at 4 30 pm except Saturday there is afternoon tea and visitors are always welcome”   In the war years that lay ahead Miss Macdonald’s pastoral work would be extended to Czechoslovak, Polish, Norwegian, Dutch and French free forces officers and to the airmen who would find themselves stationed in the hundreds of airfields scattered around the country.



   On Monday 25th  Jack called for Winston at Oriel after dinner and they went round to the Hongi Club in Ian Milner’s rooms at New College.  Norman Davis (Merton), Malcolm Cooper (University), John Mulgan, Riddiford and Tucker were also there. They heard Barney Ford, an economist and journalist, talk about New Zealand’s debt, economy, unemployment and the political situation. With an election there due within hours, Ford expected Labour to get in, though on the merits of the parties he repeated Professor Murphy’s words: “Oh I don’t think that one party in NZ is worse than another. After all, it’s impossible that it could be”. Later in the week a Labour government was elected in New Zealand and Savage became prime minister with a massive majority.


Elected at the end of November 1935: New Zealand Prime Minister Michael Joseph Savage (1872-1940)

“I want to assure you, ladies and gentlemen, that you have nothing to fear as a result of a Labour government”


It was an interesting time to discuss all the news from home. The New Zealanders at Oxford saw a lot of each other. Jack was round again to yarn with Winston at Oriel on Friday and Winston called on Jack for a talk, chess and supper on Sunday 1 December.  Books about New Zealand were in demand again, with Winston reading chapters of Pember Reeves’ ‘The Long White Cloud’ till the early hours of Tuesday 3rd.   Later that day he wrote: Jack Mitchell’s birthday today: I think 22 but may be 23. After a week in which many parties were held and Jack worked away at the Trinity Lab, he made time to join a cosmopolitan beer and sherry party on Friday 6 in Winston Monk’s rooms at Oriel with Wood and Portus from Australia,  Matthew Fitzsimons from America, and Gunther Motz from Germany. The next day Winston said cheerio to Jack at the Lab and left by Green Line Coach to Victoria for one of Miss Macdonald of the Isles’s Cadogan Gardens parties.  Jack had arranged to join Winston later at a weekend Miss Macdonald and her assistant Mrs Wallis had fixed up for the two New Zealanders in the Chilterns.


Hospitality ahead

Saturday evening was set for Miss Macdonald’s big At Home at 21B Cadogan Gardens.  Among the throng with Winston –and missing Jack– were Eric Haslam, his friend Hoon of Victoria, Gibson a friend of Wood, John Portus, Rossiter of Merton, Norman Davis again, Lionel Cooper of Capetown, McPherson, Stewart of Canada, and more ad infinitum. Among the girls were Miss Lovegrove of Canada and Miss Dinah Nathan of Wellington NZ.


Norman Davis (1913-1989) (Otago and Merton) Lionel Cooper (Cape Town and Queens)

 Davis was one of JRR Tolkien’s best students Davis later succeeded him as Merton Professor of English language & literature

Cooper –here in later life- expanded the mathematics surrounding quantum theory & became Professor at Cardiff, Caltech & Toronto


 The Lady Ryder Scheme’s hospitality continued through the week with a Sunday trip to Hampton Court Palace, a personal tour of Sir Christopher Wren’s Old Court House and afternoon tea with its owner Norman E. Lamplugh, dinner with the Holding family in Kensington, on Monday a coach tour from Cadogan Gardens to be shown round the vast HMV record factory at Hayes, then to hosts Mr and Mrs Powell in Earls Court with Gunther Motz, Miss Hearn from Canada and Miss Lewis from Australia.  Afterwards all were invited to a magnificent Ball given by the Goldmiths Company in their imposing hall under a great silver candelabra, where Winston spent time with Motz, Miss Johnson from England and Miss de Charme from Paris.  Tuesday took them to Twickenham for the varsity rugby match where Oxford’s kiwi captain Malcolm Cooper (left) excelled against Cambridge; in the evening to a studio performance at the Gate Theatre by Gwen Ffrangcon-Davies.  Wednesday was set for lunch in Kensington with the family of Sir John Gilmour the recent Home Secretary and dinner in the City with the Grocers Company in their Hall, almost more magnificent than the Goldsmiths but without the enormous candelabra.  The speakers were Jack’s old friend Lord Bledisloe and Miss Macdonald of the Isles.   Thursday’s trip from Cadogan Gardens was to Hatfield House with a personal tour conducted by its tough old resident dame, the Marchioness of Salisbury.   What a week!  On Friday the academic aspirants were dispersed to their hosts in the country for the weekend.  And Jack could join in for a break at last after his busy week in the Lab.  While the others had been enjoying themselves, he’d been working away patiently but without much pleasure on the thermonuclear reaction of nitric oxide with hydrogen and deuterium, interpreting the observation results in terms of binary collision complexes.

Taking a deep breath, setting out straight from his work in the Lab, Jack took a Great Western train from Oxford to High Wycombe station on the afternoon of Friday 13th.  Winston had arrived there in an LNER express from Marylebone for the rendezvous with Rear-Admiral Summerford who would drive them on to their destination.  Winston and the Admiral were waiting on the platform as Jack’s slow train drew in.  The drive took them through beautiful country to afternoon tea at Fingest Cottage, Bolter End, a delightfully picturesque old building, much built on to, situated right on top of a round hill in four acres of land of shrubs, trees lawns and vegetables looking down the valley to Henley and the Thames.  The air was frosty and bracing with a tang in it, very different from Oxford or London.  Jack and Winston both took an instant liking to their host, Miss Noble, an unpretentious, good, forthright soul.  Everything is comfortable and happy; we don’t even dress for dinner.  Admiral Summerford is just of the same unassuming variety , and although aged 63, quite companionable for us boys.  Mrs Summerford is of the same brood, and lovely to know.  They are perhaps the nicest people we’ve met in England, almost nothing is arranged for us and we do practically as we please. These were three people had asked or agreed to look after two of Oxford’s promising young New Zealand students –one of physical chemistry and one of naval history.  Was it a random combination of generosity, chance, and an effective card index that brought them together in the Chilterns? 

Evelyn V. Noble (1885-1954) “an unpretentious, good, forthright soul”

Fingest cottage was the home of Evelyn Noble, unmarried in her late forties, the third of four daughters of Wilson Noble (1854-1917) MP for Hastings and his wife heiress Marian Dana of Boston USA.   Wilson Noble had been a keen and influential advocate of  science as President of the Roentgen Society.  A former Eton scholar, his palatial country mansion nearby at Park Place, Henley-on-Thames, was later to be neglected during its WW2 requisition, then became a Middlesex County Council residential school, and was more recently notorious as the most expensive house in England when sold to an anonymous Russian buyer for a record £148 million in 2011.  As well as devoting some of his fortune to exploring the frontiers of science. Wilson Noble had been a keen pioneer motorist and his daughter Evelyn inherited his ease behind the wheel of a car.

Park Place, Henley-on-Thames

 The Royal Yacht Victoria and Albert 1899-1954

Engineer Rear-Admiral Horace George Summerford, C.M.G., C.V.O., was born in 1872 by Charing Cross in central London, the son of an upholsterer.  Trained at the Royal Navy’s engineering college at Keyham, Plymouth he was appointed an Assistant Engineer in the Navy in 1892. Advanced to Engineer in 1897, he served off China during the Boxer Rebellion.  He was first employed aboard King George V’s Royal Yacht Victoria and Albert in 1912.  On the outbreak of war in 1914 he moved to the battleship Royal Sovereign where he stayed for the duration and was appointed C.M.G. at the war’s end.  Summerford was advanced to Engineer Captain in the same year and resumed his royal service in the Victoria and Albert.  Further honoured by appointment to C.V.O. on leaving the royal yacht in 1923, he next joined the Atlantic Fleet as Fleet Engineer Officer. Summerford finally advanced to Engineer Rear-Admiral in 1925 and ended his career with an appointment on the Administrative and Technical Staff at the Nore.  He transferred to the Navy’s Retired List in 1929, and died in 1963.  His set of five medals were sold at auction in London in 2000.

On Saturday morning the New Zealanders drove to Henley with Miss Noble down the beautiful bitumen surfaced narrow country road hedged on either side.  It was one of her most familiar drives. In the afternoon there was a walk across the commons to Lane End and back.  In the evening after dinner we just chatted and read pleasantly by the fireside, and on going up to bed Jack and I yarned intently till all hours.

In Miss Noble’s drawing room at Fingest

On Sunday Jack and Winston joined Miss Noble, Admiral and Mrs Summerford in a drive to a little church five miles away -probably St Saviours Turville Heath.   They had awakened to find a very light fall of snow but later in the morning the sun and blue sky broke through and the New Zealanders saw the first real sun practically for a month or more, since grey days set in at Oxford,  A lovely drive, across wet rolling downs like North Canterbury, with larger fields than most we have seen, to a little brick and flint church, built on the common and on top of a flat hill, looking down into valley on two sides.  We had to walk across the grass from the car, left on the roadside under some beeches.  Jack and I rather fell in over the English regular church service, not knowing where to look for things, and not caring to be hypocritical enough to kneel for prayer.  Still, I think we offended nobody.  The preacher was most sincere, speaking in a slow and measured conversational style.  Winston quite enjoyed it, though like all such things, it savoured of the ridiculous and hypocritical.  Lunch back at the house was with the Admiral for the womenfolk went out, and the New Zealanders had a good long walk round the End villages, chatting with the Admiral about England and New Zealand and back in rather a hurry in the rain.  Fog and snow; glorious bright sunshine; rain, and this evening probably frost, is not a bad record for one day.

The girls at Fingest Cottage and a trying experience

Jack and Winston took tea in the kitchen with the three lovely girls in the house.  Jack fixed their gramophone for them afterwards in their sitting room. They are all jolly, civil, decent and obviously well educated, from the one that does the garden, Miss Jackson, to the two that make the beds, clean the rooms and wait on the table, Miss Isabel Weller and Miss Sheila Houston.  The latter, Jack discovered, was the daughter of the English general who had command of the Army of occupation in the Rhineland after the war.  What part they play I’m sure I don’t know; they are on practically equal social terms with Miss Noble, though they don’t come with us into the sitting room. Perhaps they are of adopted family.  Jack tells me the same sort of thing exists at Oxford: a girl waiting on table and going to the pictures with the family.  Quite this fashion would be uncommon even in democratic New Zealand.

After dinner and a yarn in the sitting room, the Admiral characterised an Oxford lecture as an institution whereby information was transferred from the notes of the lecturer to the notes of the student, without passing through the brain of either.  Joking apart, there was serious business in prospect before Sunday was over, with Jack the scientist marked as the target.  Miss Noble, the Admiral and his wife are all members of the Oxford Group and are very keen on it; but they obviously have no intention of pressing the cause of their religious beliefs on us, except by the good religious example which their daily lives may well appear to set.  They are very tolerant and broad-minded and to my mind live Christian principles better than any other people I have met.

6,000 gather for an Oxford Group house-party at Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford 1935

Winston was writing his diary upstairs in these reassuring terms, but Jack had been taken aside meanwhile for rather a trying experience.   Jack was baited by Admiral Summerford for his attitude to religion, and pumped into with Oxford groupism.  Jack gave his views on the subject and asked some awkward questions to which the Admiral had no reply.  Jack and I discussed the problems raised concerning our future relations with the household until about 3 am.  We concluded that it was best to leave them in absolutely no doubt as to our real attitude.  Unfortunately Jack had had to promise to come to bible-reading and “witnessing” next morning at 8.30 am.

As Monday 16th December dawned, Jack dutifully got up for bible reading while his friend lay abed.  On their morning walk, they discussed what had happened.  Miss Jackson who did the gardening had been there. She felt it was through God’s help that she was saved from pneumonia when digging the garden in the winter time.  A very well-read girl by the way, perhaps 30 years of age.

Miss Noble now asked Jack and Winston if –after their current stay was over- they’d like to come back again to spend Christmas and New Year with her at Fingest.  So very good of her, and so far as we can understand, made out of true kindness, and not out of any hope of conversion etc.  In the early afternoon, Admiral Summerford and his wife with Miss Jackson drove the two men for a trip into Oxford. They looked over books at Blackwells and Jack was able to collect his mail and photographs.  The Admiral’s daughter, a nurse in the Radcliffe Infirmary, joined them all for tea in the Cadena Café.  Jack and Winston then went to Oriel to collect more things before a 6.30 visit to the New Theatre to see ‘The Wind and the Rain’ played by a provincial company.


It seemed a very suitable evening out.  The play was a recent West End success by a young New Zealand physician and dramatist Merton Hodge, who was being hailed as the British Chekhov.   Its setting –the life of medical students in Edinburgh- was interesting because Jack and Winston’s Christchurch contemporary Alastair MacGibbon was studying medicine in Edinburgh and doing very well there.  Miss Noble generously brought a carload of friends in to the New Theatre to add to the Admiral’s party, 11 in total. But the New Zealanders, looking forward to showing their hosts something they were proud of, found it not quite as good as they’d hoped.  The play was not on the whole so well presented as it was in New Zealand.  The acting seemed more polished, but a little overdone.  Seeing the performance through the eyes of Miss Noble and her friends, they became aware that the theme was not brought out; there was no dramatic interest, and all that the audience was given was some amusing incidents in the more vulgar side of University life.  The whole party drove back via Stonor Church to Fingest Cottage for supper.  Perhaps already vexed by the brittle modern humour onstage, and tense after his drive, the Admiral was thoroughly disgusted at the women’s incessant chatter.  But back at Fingest the village carol singers arrived at the door and sang and sang, Miss N. inviting them to the hall, harmonium and all, and giving them supper.

On Tuesday Miss Noble had to drive to London for a relative’s wedding and Jack didn’t get up for bible reading a second time.  One of the girls, Sheila Houston, daughter of the erstwhile Rhineland commander, congratulated Jack on his not being there and said that the Admiral had tried to “bullyrag her into going in, but there was nothing doing”. She is an Irish girl, and well mannered and spoken, and the Admiral actually has the highest respect for her straightforward sensible outlook.  Jack and Winston took their usual long walk in the bracing morning air and the weather was simply glorious, the sun breaking through after a sharp frost.  They saw the Chiltern countryside of hill, dale and wood in very probably, its most charming winter aspect.

After dinner Jack brought out his big guns for the Admiral and Mrs Summerford’s benefit  -the hugely impressive photographs of the Southern Alps he’d gone to collect in Oxford.  As he showed them, he was able to reveal quite incidentally his remarkable abilities and experiences as a mountaineer and guide, geologist, botanist and practical scientist.  They were truly amazed and think the world of him. 


Wednesday 18th December, back to the Lab

On Wednesday morning, Jack and Winston had a six-mile walk through Wheeler End and back, passing Pank Lane and Lane End. After lunch, as they prepared to leave, the Admiral’s car was giving trouble again which the old man was unable to understand.  Jack worked out how to solve the problem. Then the Admiral, with Mrs Summerford and Sheila Houston, drove the boys into High Wycombe, Jack to return to his work at the Lab and Winston to study in London, both refreshed by the Chiltern air to renew their efforts but sorry to be leaving their hosts. Farewell. They are looking forward, I really believe, to seeing us again at Christmas; and really, in spite of their Godism, they are some of the world’s best folk, people with whom we can feel ourselves thoroughly at home, they are only excelled by Miss Noble who seems to be a really fine type of woman.

As Jack returned to Oxford, the Baldwin Government was destabilised by the resignation of Sir Samuel Hoare, the Foreign Secretary over the Hoare Laval peace scheme for Italy and Abyssinia, apparently as a scapegoat, for Baldwin must have been in touch with him all along, probably the whole thing a pre-arranged trial of public opinion.

There was snow in Oxford for the next few days, until Christmas Eve came round and it was time to return to the hospitality of Fingest.  Bus was the chosen means of travel this time.   With rain on top of frozen snow, the roads were in a terrible state.  Winston’s bus from Victoria Coach Station arrived in High Wycombe 20 minutes late, Jack’s bus from Oxford was delayed by over an hour.  Even with the rain pouring down, Wycombe on Christmas Eve seemed to the New Zealanders almost unbelievably busy and picturesque: a hive of Christmas energy; flower men and vendors of children’s toys had their roofed shopping carts everywhere at the kerb.  The footpaths were thronged. 

From Wycombe, Jack and Winston took a bus to Lane End where Miss Noble’s gardener, with Admiral and Mrs Summerford, were waiting for them on foot. We tramped it then, luggage and all, to Bolter End and Fingest Cottage, where we were just in time for afternoon tea.

Christmas 1935 & New Year 1936 with Miss Noble and the Summerfords

At the cottage Jack and Winston found some additions to the  group.  The Riley family were staying for Christmas.  Mr Roger Riley was game-legged, bright and hearty: perhaps a little too sophisticated. Mrs Riley who he treated more as a baby than as a wife was the dearest of little quiet, retiring, self-sacrificing women imaginable, John a very likeable naval schoolboy, and Hilary, his younger sister, just a little naughty.  They had with them a dirty little 11 year old dog named Andrew.

In the evening Jack and Winston took the Riley children across the street to Mrs James a fairly well-to-do woman who lived on the other corner of the crossroads at Bolter End, across from the Peacock Inn.  She was holding a kind of estate dance for her staff and some of the villagers.  Beside her house she had a big disused building with a room large enough to dance in, dedicated to deer’s antlers and other trophies of the chase, of which there seemed to be a very fine collection.  There they met Mr Credwick, gardener to the Jameses, a very likeable simple soul, apparently in indifferent health, who at one time had thought earnestly of emigrating to New Zealand or Australia, but had been debarred on account of strict health regulations.  They also met two Credwick sons, Cecil aged 18 (like Jack with a big bony head and reputedly very brainy) and Leslie aged 22 who had become a schoolteacher.  Very likeable, both were at Reading University which had much in common with the University of New Zealand and almost nothing with Oxford.  Chatting together in their home at the gardener’s lodge, and later on a long walk with Jack and Winston across the common, Cecil and Leslie Credwick had little to say in favour of public schoolboys.  At Reading, unlike Oxford, they are in a minority, but just as cliquey as we have seen them be.  When you get to know them after much effort, you are very meagrely repaid.

At Mrs James’s party, the Christmas tree was wonderfully arrayed.  It was a yew, with lighted candles and innumerable presents, sufficient for all who came along, grown ups as well as children and tiny tots. Even Jack and I, who arrived at the last moment, were thought of and given cigarettes.  About a dozen tots were there, and Father Christmas came in with his bag… We concluded a delightfully English Christmassy evening by dancing Sir Roger de Coverley.

Jack and Winston returned to Fingest Cottage to get to know the Rileys and Summerfords, and the helper girls, and play games under the holly, mistletoe and streamers.  “Nip-it”, played with small steel balls and tweezers, was a favourite game right through the stay.  Little Hilary Riley was the champion.

Hodder & Stoughton’s By an Unknown Disciple -a Christmas present  for Miss Noble bought at Foyles


Christmas Day was a great day indeed.  Everyone gave everyone else presents, and quite expensive ones at that.  Not only had Jack been able to warn Winston in advance that this was coming, with great foresight he had also brought extra presents which allowed the two of them to cover the unexpected houseguests.  Winston had bought Miss Noble’s “Unknown Disciple” present at Foyles during his week in London, plus a cigarette case for Sheila Houston, an eversharp pencil for Miss Weller, and plenty of Christmas cards.  Receiving a purse (Jack) and wallet (Winston) from Miss Noble, the New Zealanders in nominal and virtual partnership presented socks to the Admiral and a handkerchief to his wife.

The household travelled en masse to church on Christmas Day at little St Saviours, Turville Heath: late Victorian Gothic in flint and brick.  .  Though the New Zealanders were not to know this, the church was a favourite of John Piper (1903-1992) who lived nearby at Fawley Bottom, and his friend John Betjeman (1906-1984) (Piper made an exquisite commemorative stained glass window when St Saviours closed in 1972).  After church the party returned to Fingest Cottage for Christmas Dinner –traditional turkey and ham, plum pudding and mince pies.  Miss Noble produced a lovely silver bowl of fruit, and very nice Wethered’s beer was available with the cheese, in spite of a little disguised opposition from the Summerfords and Mr Riley.  In the afternoon Jack and Winston with young John and Mrs Riley, the Admiral and his wife, all went over to the James’s and in company with a tremendously huge and fat vicar of Lane End, listened to the King’s Christmas Day Empire Address from Sandringham.  The idea of getting representatives from different parts of the Empire to speak back didn’t work well, at least not for New Zealand, where an elderly English banker spoke to his two grandchildren in London –hardly the right voice for the Dominion.  And the radio signal relayed from different parts of the world was varied. ` The King spoke full of sincerity, but he sounded a trifle hoarse and his voice did not come through very well.


Boxing Day was scheduled for a coffee and sandwich lunch with Mrs Hornell at Turville Heath followed by a spot of beagle hunting in which apparently most of the local Chiltern society indulged..  Old and young ran, or rather walked or waddled, dressed in most unseemly clothes for traversing wet fields, woods and hedges.  The beagles proved to be low-lying, short legged, fat, varicoloured dogs, inordinately slow and full of yelp, who startled every hare in the neighbourhood far out of reach, and who could never have caught a hare, had they sighted it, and who, anyhow, preferred yelping at rabbits and pheasants to hare-hunting.  After a couple of hours of tiring futility in these exertions, it was time to break away and walk free across the commons.  A fearful din of uncouth noises and yells, like all the animals in the Zoo let loose, signalled another group out hunting on Turville Heath.  About 30 villagers, sloppy featured folk, armed with knobly sticks and with wiry terriers were hunting rabbits, and had already caught 32.  Determined to have their bit of fun, these lusty villagers, old and middle-aged and young, looked thoroughly happy, running and yelling fiendishly. After a rendezvous with Miss Noble who was picking up her visitors in the car, Jack, Winston, Mrs Riley and Isobel Weller walked back to Fingest Cottage for tea and comfort, and more games in the evening.

The next day, Friday 27th  was a time for getting mail and sending replies.  In the afternoon a walk and after tea, Jack and Winston went over to see the Credwicks in their gardener’s lodge.  Old Credwick was a kindly man and his wife a nice little woman.  Jack said  that a chap would be able to work if he had a home like that to come back to it.  They returned to Fingest Cottage for dinner, games and bed. On Saturday Mr Riley left, probably a jolly bright chap though we didn’t get to know him. His wife, impressive son John and young Hilary were staying on, and since one of the Summerford offspring had come over for the day to see the Admiral and his wife, Jack and Winston took themselves out of the house for a morning walk to Turville Heath and back.  On the walk they quarrelled handsomely.  In fact we had frequent quarrels, but I returned Jack’s affection by my effected, but steadily I think becoming natural, bonhomie.  He proves homosexually inclined like myself; but I’m fortunately quite unattracted to him.

On Sunday Miss Noble, who had half finished and was thoroughly enjoying By an Unknown Disciple, said that it was, by its refreshing treatment, clearing up new points in her fundamentalist attitude to scripture.  That day’s chosen church service for the household was at nearby Fawley where we listened to badly sung carols and saw the recumbent figures of its seventeenth century Whitelocke benefactors.


Afterwards it was back to games of puff-billiards with the kids and a walk in the afternoon with rhe Credwick boys.  After supper, Frederick Deane, an Oxford Groupist from High Wycombe, came out to convert Jack and Winston, the Credwick brothers Leslie and Cecil, young John Riley, and some small boys.  The Admiral did his best too, but sordid stories of past misdeeds (often incredible) and regeneration just left everybody cold, even the small boys who only looked tired and refused to say the Lord’s Prayer.

On Monday the Admiral got up after a sleepless night of anxiety to drive with Mrs Summerford to London.  Jack declined but Winston took young John along to visit his London rooms and do some city exploration together.  Without Jack in the car to reassure him with the engine, the Admiral worried and fumed, and the car broke down twice on the way back from Lancaster Gate.   Home at last, the Admiral for once took two glasses of beer for dinner.  Each day after he took beer too.  So much for resolutions when even the flesh is weak.

Tuesday was the last day of 1935.  Jack and Winston took a walk in the morning, and in the afternoon Miss Noble drove them with Mrs Riley, John and Hilary, to Windsor and Eton via Maidenhead. Unlike the Admiral, Miss Noble was an experienced and reassuring motorist. Perhaps she also had a better car.  At any rate, on her familiar roads with her father’s old school as the final destination, it was a most interesting drive; up hill and down dale; through woods and along picturesque avenues; we even passed en route through the Heath where Dick Turpin rendered his most famous escapades.

Windsor Castle was the finest old building Jack or I had seen. It was situated high on a hill and suffered not at all from the very wet weather that has prevailed and that even now is flooding the Thames Valley.  The silhouette of its walls provides a sight to stir the heart indeed… St George’s Chapel, alone of the buildings, we were able to go in, because we were late.  It was magnificent, lit with candles, canopied with the banners of the Knights of the Garter, whose patron saint is St George, and above all it was homely, intimate and holy.

Then to Eton, which with no-one about, and in the wet, looked bare and squalid like any other college.  Its chapel too was splendid; but not so intimate as St George’s, being rather more purely on the fashion of an Oxford college.  We saw the wall paintings dating back to 15th century, which were only discovered in 1923.  I should like to see the Eton boys in full rig of swallow tails and top hats.  Afternoon tea in Windsor, and then back, through Windsor Great Park with its hundreds of tame deer, near Ascot, to Maidenhead., and Marlow, and Bolter End.  They took an early night in view of the race next day.

January 1936

January 1st 1936 like any other day in the Chilterns, broke wet and continued showery.  The day began with Jack and Winston, John, Hilary and Mr Riley walking on stilts. After lunch some 40 odd visitors came, and nearly all competed in a paper-chase.  Jack Mitchell, Sheila Houston, and a likeable Eton boy Victor Hannell, laid the trail with sawdust.  And a finely laid trail it was.

Winston Monk led much of the way, running alongside the 15 year old Don Byrne, son of the famous author.  They were often lost, but were first home of those that completed absolutely.  Don Byrne proved a very likeable little chap… he looked well, in drying his wet clothes, in my sports coat, trousers, tie etc.   Games, then, after tea, till nearly every one was gone by 6.30pm. Mr and Mrs Lister stayed for supper. They have invited Jack and I to Stonor Church to see them; they are South Africans, but she would talk the leg off a chair.

On Thursday 2nd January it was time for Jack and Winston to say their farewells.  Miss Noble they thought highly of –she asked them to come again and gave Winston a letter of introduction to James Pollard, a shy lad at Lincoln College. The household girls Miss Waller and Sheila Houston said their goodbyes. Admiral and Mrs Summerford were off to Bournemouth proselyzing Oxford Groupism; Mrs Riley, John and Hilary invited them to call at Wimbledon and young John left them his school boarding house address, Harbinger, at the Nautical College Pangbourne.

Jack was heading back to the Lab.  Winston was for London  to pick up mail and meet friends in readiness for Saturday’s All Black’s match at Twickenham.  Arriving in New Zealand House that  very Thursday he ran into Jack’s former mentor Professor Speight, looking well in spite of his age (76) and recent affliction in the loss of a daughter.  Old Bobby Speight wanted to know how Jack was getting on and keen to get in touch on chemistry and geology –the scientific borderland of which Jack had seemed destined to master.  Winston confided, perhaps unwisely,  the insider knowledge that Jack was almost now on the point of wanting to give up chemistry as it and the Oxford climate had begun to affect his nerves and health.   Speight will give him sound advice.  I wrote to Jack about it, however.

Jack can have had no idea that his grumbles to Winston about the winter drudgery of his interminably boring laboratory work would find their way directly to Bobby Speight and perhaps through him to the cortex of the Oxford scientific establishment. Was the cat now well and truly among the pigeons? Jack’s reply which Winston received on 8th January used a different phrase. Winston had evidently cooked Jack’s goose by mentioning chemistry and geology to Professor Speight.

There may have been some initial embarrassment for Jack.  But from now on, although his grim lab work shows no respite, Oxford begins to tempt him with attractive research possibilities at the end of the tunnel.


Erwin Schroedinger (1884-1961)

Saturday January 16 “…Round to Jack in Trinity Lab after lunch; he doesn’t look over-well and was glad to come for a stroll with me in Christchurch meadows.  Next year, after this year’s lab experimenting, he hopes to spend in luxury doing theoretical work under the great scientist Schroedinger.  What an opportunity! And what a man to take advantage of it to the full.”  This was around the time that Schroedinger outlined his cat paradox, a reminder that whatever the probabilities accommodated in theory, reality will always be something definite.  Schroedinger used a photographic analogy that Mitchell would have recognised:  “There is a difference between a shaky or out-of-focus photograph and a snapshot of clouds and fog banks.”  In January it seemed likely that Schroedinger would be taking up a post at Edinburgh University where Jack might have joined him.  But there were visa problems connected with his unconventional ménage and in the autumn the great man went to Graz instead.   Friday January 31: “…Dinner in hall for almost the first time this week; even though abstention only saves my stomach and not my pocket.  Afterwards round for the evening to Jack Mitchell’s where I played a game of chess.  He gave me his ring to give back, saying that I must keep it as my own if I heard that he had blown himself up, or done anything like that.  What he means I’m sure I don’t know, though I believe he is working with some explosives.  He mentions that in his four months in digs, his landlady has changed his sheets etc., once, at the end of two months: he expects the next change to come shortly.  He is boiling with anger at her, and intends leaving her during next term, when he will go into Winkler’s digs up Headington way, that worthy being off on a tour of Spain, after having completed his D.Phil.”.  Winkler [Carl Arthur Winkler (1909-1978)] was a Rhodes Scholar and physical chemist who had been studying the kinetics of decomposition reactions with Hinshelwood; he had previously researched at McGill University under the prodigious Canadian scientist Otto Maass.  After Oxford, Winkler returned to Canada to work for the National Research Council, and later became Head of Chemistry and a vice-principal at McGill.

February 1936

Sunday 23 “…Jack is thinking of going to Munich to study next year as he is not, he says, going ahead at Oxford”   Sunday 27  “…Tea at Balliol, when Jack dropped in, and went, God alone knows why.  He’s beyond me completely these days.”

March 1936

Saturday 7 “…In the afternoon Mitchell in for some hours; he may go with Motz on the cycling tour” Thursday 12  …Jack and Motz listened in to Hitler’s speech at Karlsruhe in the Rhineland. … -Jack gave me some camera instruction.  He’s the soul of goodness to me: it’s better we don’t see too much of each other.”


German troops entered the demilitarised Rhineland and Hitler dissolved the Reichstag on 7 March.

France, Britain and Italy did not intervene and German elections on 27 March gave a 98% endorsement.


Jack had toyed with the possibility of a cycling holiday in the Easter vacation with Gunther Motz, but his Trinity lab work offered little break.  It was dispiriting, after consecutive winters in New Zealand and Britain.  A year ago he was surveying the South Island mountains at summer’s end, an intensely practical student of solid materials, tutored by Bobby Speight and eager to use his skills and wide-ranging intelligence to the full.  Now he was here in the promised land academically.  And yet New Zealand’s most brilliant student, instead of extending his own ideas about petrology and crystalline structures as he might have anticipated, was stuck with the grim reality of slogging away forgotten in the Labs at gas research that did not excite him.   Living in dreary digs, he didn’t even have the decent College social opportunities that Monk and Motz enjoyed.  And his affection was insufficiently understood.  All very depressing.  Winston Monk was able to arrange a few weeks inexpensive study and travel in Spain in the company of chubby history colleague the American Matthew Fitzsimons, and Fitz’s friend at Cambridge, the physics student (and later Nobel laureate) Norman Ramsay.

April 1936

Returning from the break in Spain on Wednesday 22 Winston was in London at New Zealand House and “met Dr. Denham, looking just a bit dowdy, going up to Oxford in a week to see Hinshelwood and Jack Mitchell.”  Denham was pleased with the new Labour government in New Zealand which was getting things done. He was diffident about guaranteed prices however.

Oriel College

Back at Oxford on Friday 24, Jack dropped in at Oriel having just returned from a week in the Lake District with a friend whom he’d guided in New Zealand.  Although they looked very beautiful indeed in the spring when Jack saw them, the “lakes and mountains were all on such a minute scale he thought he could traverse the whole of the Lake District and climb every peak in a single full day. The highest peak in England he didn’t take his hands out of his pockets for.  From it you could see Snowdon in Wales and look north across the Scottish border. The mountains however tiny and the company had done Jack some good.  Perhaps also Dr Denham’s impending visit had prompted Hinshelwood to take an interest in the case of NZ’s brightest student.   Jack looked much better for his holiday and even drank a beer.  He says he has cleared up his difficulties about his work and will be staying on at Oxford next year.”  The next day, Anzac Day Saturday 25, Jack came round to Oriel in the evening.  With the promise of spring and summer, though the days of wet and cold were not over, warmth radiated from the Oriel quads and sweetened the joys of college life, even if the rooms were cold and damp.  Jack Mitchell, with his friends among the Rhodes scholars Winston Monk, Gunther Motz, Wilfred Sellars, Matthew Fitzsimons and Charles Sleeth, went to see the film Stormy Weather at the Scala starring Tom Wall, Yvonne Arnaud and Robertson Hare. It was an enjoyable and slightly risqué Gainsborough comedy of its time by Ben Travers. 

North Oxford cinema Scala Jericho Yvonne Arnaud

The Scala, Oxford’s arthouse cinema near Jack’s digs                     Yvonne Arnaud           .

   in Walton St., Jericho banned sweets and ice cream.                                                          .

Back at Oriel later Motz put up a lovely painted blade of an oar he’d won for Torpids.  Apart from Jack, the five friends had Sunday breakfast together at Lyons, and Jack came back to Oriel to spend Sunday evening with them.  Possibly on a jaunt with the Bledisloes, he’d been motoring to Gloucester via Worcester, skirting the Cotswolds on the north. Jack said he’d rather enjoyed it, but declared that “if you’ve walked from Oxford to Wytham, you’ve seen England”.  From Oxford to Wytham is just four miles.

Were events now moving towards some kind of a crisis for Jack?  Oxford on Monday 27 was bathed in beautiful sunshine.  Jack was becoming ever more devoted to Oxford, and to his friends.  But he was nobody’s fool.  To protect the tender vulnerability of his ego he could renounce all and everything bitterly if he was not properly appreciated. On Tuesday 28 he stayed with Monk and Motz all evening till supper at eleven, writing a letter. The next few days seemed quiet. He knew that on Wednesday 29 their young New Zealand medical student friend, Alastair MacGibbon would be presiding over the ceremonies to install Lord Allenby, the hero of Damascus, as Rector of Edinburgh University.  In Oxford, the visit of Jack’s old New Zealand tutor was looming.  Dr Denham had helped him in the past.  His impending visit was possibly helping him even now.  But to Jack he was an unwelcome reminder: a man for whom he had little respect.

May 1936

On Saturday 2, as Addis Ababa fell to the Italians, Jack called at Oriel and went for a stroll across Christ Church meadows in late afternoon.  On Sunday 3 he arranged to give his friends Fitzsimons and Monk lunch at his digs in 29 Walton Crescent, then they joined Motz for tennis for a whole afternoon at the Oriel grounds in Southfield Road.  As a group they were all bad players, but patient enough to enjoy gradually improving their game.  Jack stayed in Oriel all evening while Winston studied Trevelyan. He was there again the next evening enjoying a little beer with Motz.  Jack was back the next weekend on Sunday 10 to walk with Monk round Christ Church meadows, go for lunch with Motz, then spend another joyous tennis afternoon at Southfield Road; Sellars and Sleeth joining in to make it a six this time.  All had tea together in Monk’s room.  Jack Mitchell stayed on working at German texts for three hours while Winston Monk worked on at his Trevelyan.

An unexpected outburst

The next day Monday 11 Winston got a surprising letter from Jack saying that he could no longer bear his ways which irritated him, and that they had better part.  He felt that Winston was evoking a different self in him, one whom he loathed.  This is how he put it: “You have two manners of speaking both of which irritate. One time you are flattering, soft-soaping, simpering, purring, or bull-shitting. The other time you speak from bitterness of heart in a voice which stings.  First you flatter and glut your selfish instincts with the foolishness of the flattered, and then you sting with ill-concealed contempt.  One is as painful as the other.  Having stung the bitter heart relents and tries to ease the wound by purring.  The Mitchell whom the few that knew him remember was a quiet, helpful, unobtrusive chap, not the loathsome, intolerable, arrogant, overbearing, obnoxiously selfish, swollen-headed specimen, capable of using every dishonest trick of intellect, whom you have evoked……  How is it that Motz induces the one yet never the other?”  Winston took this to heart as an echo of another old friend’s criticism and added: “Well the fault is mine, partly my manner, and partly that I’ve never understood Jack.  God knows I don’t follow him now. We shall see.”

On Tuesday 12 Jack came to lunch in response to Winston’s invitation “…we walked hard for 3 hours in the afternoon, scarcely hinted at row, and so, I take it, are friends again or still. What came over him God knows; he ought to know me better by this time; but is infernally sensitive.  We walked up the river past punts with women and punts with men, and finally crawled through fields to get to Elsfield, a village on a tidy little hillock, with a good view of the spires of Oxford showing like teeth of a saw above the trees: on a really clear day it should make a fine photo.  (The writer John) Buchan’s place is a bare block-stone two-storey building, fair on the footpath, and doesn’t look suitable for Lord Tweedsmuir, Governor General of the premier dominion.  It was fast shuttered. 

“The fields and trees had a lovely golden tinge in the sunlight among the green and were a very beautiful sight below us. Jack told me innumerable names of English field flowers: cowslips, forgetmenots, bluebells and others, the wild varieties from which exciting lilies, primroses, etc. have been cultivated. The paddocks are teeming with these beautiful wild weeds.”

In the week that followed it’s fair to guess that Jack was engaged in shepherding his New Zealand chemistry lecturer Dr Denham around some of Oxford’s scientific facilities and inhabitants, and listening to what Denham and Hinshelwood had to say to each other about scientific education and research.  On Friday came the disturbing news that a Balliol undergraduate had been found murdered in a field near Stadhampton.  What did Jack and Winston’s profound philosopher friend Wilfred Sellars (1912-1989) make of it?

On Saturday 16 about 6pm Jack called on Winston so they could go together for dinner with Dr Denham and his wife at Iffley Road. “We had a good meal and quite a pleasant evening.  The Doctor was very companionable and Mrs Denham very homely in a prim sort of way. I drew a rather strained picture of Oxford life to encourage Dr Denham to go ahead with the residential life at Canterbury College; he is going to use every endeavour to get a warden system and tutors going, but leaving to the chaps a maximum of self-government in contrast to the Oxford system.” 

St Catherines versus Trinity: tug of war for Jack  -“what a dust-up!”

Nevil Sidgwick FRS  

Nevil Sidgwick FRS                          Lord Halifax

Lindsay of Balliol  

Lindsay of Balliol               Ross of Oriel “very intelligent and obliging”

There was much to-ing and fro-ing on Sunday 17.  Jack came round to read in the morning, Winston returned to Jack’s for lunch, they played tennis in the afternoon at Bartlemas, and Winston put on tea for Jack.  Clearly, their skirmishes had ended for the moment.  But at another level, University tectonics were clashing with Jack at the epicentre.  In a visit to Winston at Oriel late that evening, Jack confided “how he had had to fight -with Hinshelwood’s and Sidgwick’s support- to be allowed to leave St Catherine’s Society and enter Trinity. Trinity is one of the 2 colleges that can co-opt in that way.  Brooks of St Cath’s appealed to the Vice Chancellor, Lindsay, who, finally, upheld him on the statute he quoted.  Sidgwick then sent an appeal to the Chancellor, Lord Halifax, a lawyer, who asserted Trinity’s ancient right. The effort was being made to help Brooks save his face, though whether Jack’s vicious letter of this right to the point, seemed a different matter. Jack had dealings with Oriel’s provost, Dr Ross, and found him very intelligent and obliging –he was representative of St Cath’s.  What a dust-up!”  No matter what sensible Thurso-born Provost Ross of Oriel was prepared to concede on behalf of St Cath’s, Brook the combative head of this non-collegiate Society was not going to let Jack go without a fight.  Professor Nevil Sidgwick FRS of Lincoln College, the author of The Relation of Physics to Chemistry (1931) was the senior figure in Oxford chemistry in the awkward interregnum caused by Professor Soddy’s virtual departure –in fact he had probably been wielding a good deal more clout than Soddy for almost a decade. He was obviously determined to secure Jack’s services by going to the very top – over the prominent head of Vice-Chancellor Lindsay of Balliol, to the University’s Chancellor Lord Halifax, the leader of the House of Lords, former Viceroy of India and trusted member of prime minister Stanley Baldwin’s inner cabinet.  And did Bledisloe put in a word on Jack’s behalf?  It’s not impossible, since Halifax and Bledisloe had worked together at the Ministry of Agriculture in Baldwin’s first government of 1924. 

Thursday 21 saw the start of eights week and Motz and his team kept Oriel I at the head of the river.  On Friday 22 they kept their place with New and Magdalen behind them; Jack came over to Oriel in the evening to play chess.  On Saturday Jack Mitchell was round again, and on Sunday 24 Fitz, Stewart, Sellars, Sleeth, Mitchell and Monk played tennis at the Oriel courts, enjoying it greatly: Jack returning with Winston for tea. 

Jack Mitchell, Gunther Motz and Winston Monk against Wilfrid Sellars, Matthew Fitzsimons and Charles Sleeth

On Monday 25 May Jack photographed Gunther Motz at the start of the race, with great crowds watching; Oriel kept the lead. Jack watched the rowing on Tuesday and came over to Oriel bringing medicine for Fitzsimons’ athletic foot.  Eights week ended on Wednesday 27, Oriel rowing flat out, coming in a length and a half ahead of new and showing its clear supremacy on the river, as a great many very beautiful visitors watched under overcast skies.  On Friday 29 Jack called again for a walk with Winston out to Headington Hill, to get a long view of Oxford spires from Pullen Lane, then back to beat him badly at chess.

  A curious discussion

Jack was over again for tea on Saturday 30 and a curious discussion about Dr Denham, who, in his recent visit from New Zealand, had not taken the slightest interest in the excellent labs he’d been shown at Oxford. He might have learned a lot that would have been useful back in Canterbury University College. Instead, he’d quizzed Jack about the different masters at the Christchurch Boys High School and criticized some of them himself.  Denham was looking to find a new headmaster there.  He was also looking to change the nature of Rhodes scholarships in New Zealand.  What he wanted to encourage was scholarships to Oxford for graduates who’d done some teaching work at home. These might then return to New Zealand to become headmasters of schools for which there was a continuing paucity of good men.  He had written to C. K. Allen at Rhodes House along these lines. Wondering what chance Denham had of putting this idea across, Jack was convinced that he must have an enormously swollen idea of his own importance. 

Jack had gathered that Denham and Hinshelwood shared a dislike of Rhodes scholars “from unfortunate experience.”  So he now turned the spotlight on himself. He was not a Rhodes scholar but something very similar. And he did not like what he saw, “thinking inwardly a lot and disparaging himself for his lazyness and complacency and lack of ambition to get ahead. He had been riding on the crest of a wave and he felt if he didn’t look out it would soon deposit him.  His memory was so good that he had not had to work as hard as others had, and he had become intellectually lazy.  Most of his cracks, I could see, applied to me too.  He said we would get on better if I stopped regarding him as a tin god.  Really he sets himself infernally high standards.”

It was time for another uproariously enjoyable tennis match on Sunday afternoon for Motz, Stewart, Mitchell and Monk. Afterwards, joined by Sellars and Fergusson, they had a solid argument about Germany and Hitler, Sellars and Stewart leading the charge and Monk backing up Motz.


June 1936

On Wednesday 3 Jack went out for coffee after dinner with Motz and Monk to Stewart’s. They discussed various ways to make money quickly, from gold in New Guinea to gold in South Westland, New Zealand.

 “A good man at Göttingen”

On Saturday June 6, Jack talked for an hour or so with Winston and their American friends Fitz and Sleeth. Matthew A Fitzsimons was later professor of history and psychology at Notre Dame, and Charles R Sleeth was a philologist student of Tolkien and Onions who later edited Webster’s Third.  Sleeth had an invitation to meet the Emperor of Abyssinia in London because he’d contributed a pound to the Abyssinian defence fund, but Jack had his own tale to tell. “Jack it seems has no option but to leave Oxford for Göttingen because Brook, the censor of St Catherine’s Society, will resign if he is admitted to Trinity.  It is a real shame; though Brook (Revd. Victor J. K. Brook 1887-1974) has some case, he is ruling out all possibility of reasonable settlement by threat of going to resign if his view is not upheld.  It means that Jack will never have the advantage –however small it may be- of belonging to an Oxford College.  The old President of Trinity, in his nineties, would admit Jack right away and let Brook, who is hated here, resign and be damned to him.  There is a good man at Göttingen: probably Jack will spend part of his time in Germany with me in the vac.  Ods bods.”   The long-serving, ever-partisan but not-quite-so-elderly President of Trinity was Herbert Blakiston (1862-1942), and among the seven younger Fellows (the fellaheen) on Trinity’s Governing Body available to fight Jack’s corner were his tutor Cyril Hinshelwood and the respected New Zealand ancient historian Ronald Syme.

For a while the outcome of the battle was uncertain.  On Thursday 11 June, Jack called round to show Winston some Auckland Weeklys he’d been sent and explained how he had got thoroughly tight with Hinshelwood the previous night. It was his first experience of this, as he’d always held it before. Still dopy, but glad; he was not too keen on things in general just now.   After Winston’s dinner in hall, Jack called in again, and the two of them walked for an hour through Mesapotamia, the island between the upper and lower Cherwell.  “Jack is definitely going to Göttingen.” They yarned and worked into the night in Winston’s room at Oriel. “Then Motz came in tight with Oliver from a pub crawl and after we had all expressed our dissatisfaction with the world, in his old way, threw the sherry glasses at the wall.” For this their scout Ashenhurst reported them a second time to the Dean.


July and August 1936 with Winston Monk and Gunther Motz at Engelskirchen


New friends at Trinity


Haslam and Motz

Travels in Europe

Back in Oxford again

Happier times for Jack at Trinity

Hinshelwood’s kindness

Working with HW Thompson

Spectroscopy course in the Old Labs

Reaction Kinetics at Manchester September 1937


On 12 October Winston called to find Jack in Trinity. They had not seen each other since June when Jack had been Gunther Motz’s farewell guest at dinner in Oriel.  Jack was more established now. “He has done wonders for himself, being now university demonstrator in spectrology, and tutoring in a minor way. He still remembers his homely ways though. In the summer he made a splendid cycle tour: Oxford – Southampton – Brittany – Nantes – Tours – Rheims – Basel – Black Forest – Switzerland again, round and round, just near us at Grundelwald and then right down the Rhine and into Holland. Only £16 in all and 8 weeks on the way. I believe he’s looking better in health too”. Charles James Laubscher (1915-1996) ­ a South African Rhodes scholar studying law from St Andrews College, Grahamstown, was with Jack at Trinity and Winston walked home with him.  Two days later Jack helped Winston host a visit to Oxford by their mutual friend from Canterbury College days, the New Zealand poet Lillian Jeffreys. Winston took her to Elliston’s for coffee and around Blackwells and Rhodes House in the morning, then handed her over to Jack at Trinity for lunch and the afternoon while he attended graduation at the hands of Vice Chancellor Lindsay in the Sheldonian.  Lillian was charmed by Jack as a host, and she, Jack, Winston, and Johnny Hays (Dyson-Perrin Lab chemistry and engineering Rhodes scholar from Montana) had tea together. Winston hurried her back to London and that evening he first met Lillian’s Irish-Burmese room-mate Kay Bruen, the girl he later married.


HW Thompson’s interest in thiophosgene

More about Sir Harold Hartley FRS


September 1937

E.J. Bowen FRS and photochemical problems

Photographing the Raman spectrum

The Faraday Society

Bronzed and well in April 1938

Faraday discussion on Chemical Reactions Involving Solids at Bristol

New friends from the Swiss Alps: Philip Heafford and family

Jack in August 1938 with Philip Heafford’s son Michael, his first godson

A new direction for Jack’s scientific enthusiasm

A future in physics?

Perhaps as a result of his friendship with Philip, by now Jack had decided that he wanted to be involved in teaching and research in physics, rather than chemistry. But, as he reflected later, he had taken no formal advanced courses in physics and there was little hope of employment.  What was to be done?  The problem was resolved by Trinity.  At a College Gaudy in the summer of 1938, Jack was introduced to Ernest Greswell, Educational Secretary of the Oxford University Appointments Committee. Greswell, a former cricketer with family interests in India and Ceylon, was an old scholar of Repton School and Oxford University’s representative on its Board of Governors.  Repton could use Jack’s services in preparing pupils for scholarships while he broadened his own knowledge of physics with the school’s Chief Physics Master, Arthur Barton, who’d been one of Rutherford’s team at Cambridge in the early twenties.

Repton School was the closest public school to the London Midland Scottish Railway’s Derby HQ and featured (above) on one of their well-known Wilkinson railway posters.  Director of the LMS Research Laboratories in Derby was Sir Harold Hartley FRS, noted physical chemist, former head of Trinity Labs and Hinshelwood’s tutor.

As a mainstream establishment public school, Repton sought young masters to inspire the next imperial generation. They could learn there as well as teach.  Oxford and Cambridge sent Repton some of their academic role models on approval, and Cadburys sent Repton their chocolate bars to test.  Britain’s film industry sent a film crew to project its own image of Repton in Goodbye Mr Chips.  Aldous Huxley had taught there briefly; Christopher Isherwood, Basil Rathbone and Roald Dahl were former pupils.  Two Repton headmasters, William Temple and Geoffrey Fisher, were to become successive Archbishops of Canterbury, to be followed in turn by former Repton boy Michael Ramsay.  At the very heart of the nation, Fisher crowned and anointed the Queen in 1953. Later as chairman of the British Museum trustees in a 1960 cause celebre Fisher sacked the controversial zoologist Denys Tucker with the words “forget eels and turn to God”.  Fisher asked his successor as Repton headmaster, John Christie (a Trinity Oxford graduate, later headmaster of Westminster School and Principal of Jesus College) to head the church’s commission on suicide in 1959.

At the start of Jack’s time at Repton, the school was used for filming Goodbye Mr Chips.  The production company (Michael Balcon’s MGM British Studios) had just made “A Yank at Oxford”. As with Jack, links between Repton and Oxford University may have played a part in their choice of location. The sound operator on both films, John W Mitchell, is not this one, however attractive such an unlikely possibility may seem.

What were Jack Mitchell’s working and social relationships in a place like Repton during these years of European crisis?  His notes give hardly a clue.  By the time of Jack’s appointment with destiny at the Trinity Gaudy, the head of Repton was Michael Clarke. An unusual personality, a churchman and, like Fisher, an ardent freemason, Clarke was a little more popular with the boys than Christie had been, though staff and governors apparently found him less satisfactory.  The school needed stiffening, they thought.  Arthur Barton was the person Jack was sent to work with.

Arthur Willoughby Barton (1899–1976) was the son of Edwin Barton FRS, Professor of Physics at University College, Nottingham.  Educated at Nottingham High School he entered Trinity College Cambridge after military service with the Royal Engineers. He read physics and was awarded First Class Honours in the London BSc examination in 1922.  From 1922 to 1925 he was a research student with Rutherford’s group at the Cavendish Laboratory.  Barton was perhaps one of the lesser lights of this sparkling Cambridge constellation, but at least he could prepare the young to follow in his footsteps and he was appointed by the then Repton headmaster Geoffrey Fisher in 1926.  Repton was far from a backwater, as Jack was to discover.  The school’s good connections gave opportunities for some serious research.  While at Repton Barton gained a doctorate from the University of London for a thesis in radioactive decay supervised by Rutherford (measuring the half-life of Radium C).  And Barton was exercised in other fields too. He was a keen walker and climber (Switzerland’s Saas Fee became his favourite spot).  Like the Trinity chemist Harold Warris Thompson (Margaret Thatcher’s future tutor), he was a prominent football official.  Barton had refereed at the 1936 Berlin Olympic Games. He’d taken the match at which Germany was defeated by Norway, and four days later he’d been referee for the semi-final between Austria and Poland.  He’d also been a linesman at the 1936 FA Cup Final between Arsenal and Sheffield United.


Jack back in Oxford for Michael Heafford’s christening, October 1938


Arthur Barton and Jack Mitchell overlapped at Repton for only a year.  Barton’s later career took the science-aware-headmaster role envisaged by Dr Denham which Jack had once been irked by.  In 1939, Barton was made headmaster of HW Thompson’s alma mater, King Edward VII School, Sheffield. And from 1950 to 1965 he served as headmaster of the City of London School: kindly and diligent if uninspiring, he was earnest in helping boys to aim for university, and remembered for his northern accent, occasional gaffes, and shouts on the football field.


                             Goodbye Mr Chips.             like a film set, Repton Common Room in later years

At Repton for two academic years from September 1938 to June 1940, Jack said he concentrated his energies on systematically studying the whole range of university physics with all the relevant mathematics, on teaching the candidates for university scholarship examinations, and on formulating tough problems for them. He played squash regularly with the boys, took groups of them on climbing expeditions, and spent holidays climbing in Wales, in the Black Coullin of Skye from Loch Scavaig, in Switzerland, and in Northern Italy.  He also took the opportunity to learn Italian, adding to his proficiency in German and French.     


Jack leaves Repton June 1940

War work at Woolwich in the Battle of Britain

Nation at war: evacuated girls from Roedean School Brighton in the streets of Keswick


Jack with Michael Heafford in early summer 1941

Problems with Browning cartridge cases

Analysis of axial sections

Measuring hardness contours

Vickers Diamond Pyramid machine

Problem eliminated: promotion follows

To Grantham to develop Hispano-Suiza cannon ammunition

 and “the most amazing story of the war” filmed in 1942

British MARCo cannons, Lord Brownlee, Denis Kendall and aircraft production

Home from home: Jack (front left) and his good  friend Ian Coop (back right) in August 1943 with Philip Heafford’s family

 The modest hardworking  Ian Coop (1914-2008)  in Britain for wartime radar research, later returned  to Christchurch

 and became New Zealand’s sheep expert:; as Professor at Lincoln University established the productive Coopworth breed.

Jack Mitchell was to be Ian Coop’s best man when he married Margery Turner in Wootton Bassett, Wiltshire  in 1944.


Jack out with the Heaffords Easter 1944


Jack out with the Heaffords September 1944


Developing the Arditron discharge tube to photograph metal deformation at high speed

Fort Halstead in the Armament Research Department


 Bristol University Physics Department

H.H. Wills Physics Laboratory at Bristol opened by Ernest Rutherford in the 1920s has hosted the work of Cecil Frank Powell (Nobel Prize 1950); Hans Albrecht Bethe (Nobel Prize 1967); and Sir Nevill Francis Mott (Nobel Prize 1977) as well as Jack Mitchell and Nicolas Cabrera.

By the time his wartime labours at Fort Halstead ended in 1945, Dr Jack Mitchell was an international expert in photographic chemistry and its underlying structural principles.  He was selected by Nevill Mott to join his resurgent Physics Department at Bristol University, joined the team that September and coming out of the shadows he began to travel more widely.  On September 3 1947 for example he was briefly back at Christchurch New Zealand to give an address to the Canterbury Branch of the Royal Society of New Zealand on “Ultra High Speed Photography”.

Ballantynes, the landmark Christchurch store, was wrecked by fire before the year was out


The ability to travel and make contact with people in several languages brought Jack a lot of correspondence, and he began to collect stamps in a Brampton's Instantaneous Binder.  It was a springback filing system he’d probably found useful in wartime. Soon he would give a Brampton’s Instantaneous to his godson Michael to start his stamp collection.

Brampton’s Instantaneous Binder

But work was the thing.  With the ability to travel and make contact with fellow scientists in several languages, Jack Mitchell was able to pull together people and ideas across the board.  He recruited Nicolas Cabrera, son of the exiled Spanish physicist Blas Cabrera, in Paris to join Nevill Mott and himself in Bristol in post-doctorate work. In Bristol Cabrera produced not only the fundamental theory of crystal growth, but also, with Mott, an important paper on the theory of the oxidation of metals.  Cabrera was offered a post in Physics at the University of Virginia in 1952 and Jack Mitchell was to follow him there seven years later.


Nevill Mott (1905-1996)               Nicolás Cabrera (1913-1989)

.                                                as he appeared in later life


Work in progress, section being developed


Frederick Charles Frank (1911-1998) after wartime work in air intelligence developed theory of dislocations and of crystal growth and surface physics at Bristol from 1946

Work in progress, section being developed

Gottingen  April 1948

Summer of 1949 with Kodak in Rochester

Professor Thompson’s History of Bristol University Physics Department notes that “J.W.(Jack) Mitchell was one of the people that Mott recruited in 1945 as a result of his war service at Fort Halstead. He was a New Zealander who had previously spent three years at Oxford and two years school-teaching. Originally a physical chemist, he became heavily involved in problems of the photographic process and related matters concerning ionic crystals. He ran a research group of half a dozen students. It was said of him that "he works with an unusually high concentration of energy" and he expected his research students to do the same. This was to put it mildly: one of the students put it more bluntly by describing him as a slave-driver. He was awarded the C.V. Boys prize of the Institute of Physics in 1955; this is given for "distinguished work in experimental physics which is still in progress". In the following year he was elected to the Royal Society. He eventually left in 1959 to take up a professorship in the University of Virginia at Charlottesville, where he stayed for the rest of his working life.   Among his more eminent students we may mention Douglas Keith who held junior staff appointments here for five years, and left in 1957 to take a job in Bell Labs, where he did notable work on polymeric materials. Perhaps the most distinguished, however, was E.W.J.(Bill) Mitchell - no relation. He was seconded to Bristol by the Metropolitan-Vickers Research Labs in Manchester to take a PhD. On leaving Bristol he was appointed to the physics staff of the University of Reading. His distinguished subsequent career involved professorships at Reading and Oxford, and the chairmanship of SERC. He became very influential in the politics of physics research, and received a Knighthood in 1991.”

K.F.Tindall’s memories of the Bristol Physics Department have more background to add: “A man who was very particular about the quality and standard of his photographic work was Dr. J.W. Mitchell. Since his research was into the structure and mechanism of the photographic emulsion this was not surprising. He had a reputation for being a hard man, certainly he was very strict with his postgraduate students and demanded 100% effort from them. I learned to reach his exacting standards with regard to slide making and to accept his occasional criticism, "No, no. That hasn't sufficient contrast" without resentment. I respected him, slightly from afar, and on one occasion, when he was preparing material for a conference in America, I found myself making slides for him up until 10.30 one night. I was quite happy doing this as I knew that he would be in the laboratory until about 3 a.m. preparing material for me to finish the next day. His manner in his dealings with me earned my full co-operation.”

“A colleague of [Bristol Physics researcher] Mr. Gibbs, a Dr. Van der Plank of the Zoology Department, was interested in the problem of the tsetse fly in Africa and Mr. Gibbs had agreed to produce a powerful electronic flash to enable him to take high-speed photographs of their flight. The scheme was to arrange a large box with two beams of light at right-angles crossing about the centre of the box. Each beam was received by a photo-electric cell and a fly interrupting the beams where they crossed would react on both cells and trigger the flash. A camera would be focussed on the intersection.  Electronic flash tubes were relatively new developments and Dr. Jack Mitchell had brought from America an Arditron flash tube giving a flash of around one microsecond, but requiring an operating voltage of 6kV. This was achieved using an induction coil from a Ford car engine, probably a pre-war one since, as I recall, the coil was cased in wood. A 2-microfarad, high voltage capacitor about the size of a small suitcase was used to store the charge. The whole assembly was contained in a war-surplus box with folding legs obtained from Thomas Best's surplus stores in Bath. The finished article was a two-man lift. The first test firing was made with a camera set up in the laboratory focussed on a dribble of water from the tap. The flash, though brief, gave me green spots before my eyes for several minutes but the picture of the water drops was most satisfactory. At the end of the afternoon, having put away the precious Arditron, we realised that the great capacitor was still charged to around 6KV and held an unhealthy number of joules. We hadn't got around, in our excitement at the success, to fitting a safety bleed resistance so the system was lethal. Neither of us felt like shorting the capacitor with a screwdriver, a common enough trick with much lower energies involved but not one to try on our only giant capacitor. There was only one thing to do so we left the room, locking the door behind us, in the hope and expectation that natural leakage would make it safe by the morning. Even so, when I, very cautiously, shorted the terminals the next day there was still a respectable spark albeit a small one. Safety measures were installed and Dr. Van der Plank took it away to Africa. That Christmas he sent Mr. Gibbs a card, the insert to which contained a magnificent picture of a tsetse fly photographed with the apparatus. I say 'magnificent' but a giant enlargement of the head of a tsetse fly is not a pretty sight except, perhaps, to its mother.”

Tindall continues: “The first dry copier system was the Xerox process. This used carbon powder, a strong electrostatic field and heat fixing for the positive image. Because of its application of electrostatic principles it served as a practical topic in lectures on electrostatics. I was present at one of Dr. Jack Mitchell's lectures to the Third Year Honours students when he, having recently visited America and witnessed the process, quoted this instance. I remember, at the conclusion of his explanation, his informing the class that the scheme had a very promising future and he advised them that the Xerox Company represented a very sound financial investment. I wish now that (a) I'd had some capital and, (b) that I had taken his advice.”    The Haloid Company made the first public announcement of xerography on October 22, 1948, and sold their first Haloid XeroX Copier in 1950.  Haloid received research grants from the US Department of Defense to develop the process in the 1950s.  In 1956 Haloid formed Rank Xerox jointly with the Rank Organisation.  Rank’s optical subsidiary was already a supplier of lenses to Haloid.

Joseph C Wilson, head of The Haloid Company in Rochester NY

 Jack Mitchell’s connection with Haloid was presumably because of their eminence in producing papers for photo-reconnaissance.  The Haloid Company was a few years older than Jack and had been founded in 1906 in Kodak’s home town of Rochester, New York. Specialising in high-grade photo-sensitive papers, their new Record quality paper had led them to great profitability in the mid thirties and with a share issue they were able to take over the larger Rectigraph photocopy machine company which used Haloid sensitised papers. Wartime demand for Haloid’s specialised high-quality photographic papers for reconnaissance increased the company’s financial position and encouraged company head Joseph C. Wilson to look for leading-edge technical investment opportunities in its niche market after the war.  From Rectigraph, Haloid had inherited photochemical engineer John H. Dessauer who had earlier worked for the Farben-controlled Ansco company.  At the end of the war it was Dessauer who first prompted Wilson to invest long and hard in the dry-process electron-photography techniques developed by Chester Carlson, though photographic papers would continue to provide the bulk of Haloid-Xerox profits until 1960.  Fuji Film (another photographic company with which Jack Mitchell had excellent contacts) were to join Haloid and Rank in exploiting the Xerox technology after 1962.


In the early 1950s, Jack Mitchell began to visit his friends the Heaffords less; the regular Christmas visits fell away as Jack spent more of his winters travelling in warmer climes.  But the bespoke stamp collecting supplies for his godson continued.  Jack took pains to prick out extra pages for Michael’s instantaneous binder, marking them with lines and sometimes even catalogue numbers to accommodate the many different sizes of stamp.


A highlight of Jack’s travels in the early 1950s which he would later recall with particular pleasure was the walking tour he made in 1953 with A. R. Reynolds of the English Department of the University of Bristol, along the route of Robert Louis Stevenson's Travels with a Donkey in the Cevennes from Le Monastier across the Massif Central through Le Pont de Montvert to Ales.

Jack was now an important figure on the international knowledge circuit. His work –and his uncompromisingly practical science perspective- illuminated the frontiers of materials technology.  It was vital to air defence, and sought after by those leading a host of research projects in developing supersonics and high-level rocket and missile propulsion.


The US Air Force Air Research and Development Command (ARDC).was headquartered in Baltimore, Maryland


Some ARDC top brass in 1955: Holzman (Air Weapons); Bleymaier (Astronautics); Ostrander (Development)

Newton (Cambridge Research Center); Gossick (ARDC Europe); Haugen (Wright Air Devt..Center); Estes (Weapons Systems)


Carpenter (Insp.Gen.); Putt (Scientific Advisory Board);Long (Geophysics+Research);Canterbury (Special Weapons)


In 1955 Jack Mitchell made a passing contribution to work at the Engineering Research Institute of the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor funded by US Air Force Air Research and Development Command (ARDC).  In that year he made a lecture tour through the United States which ARDC sponsored.  The research at Ann Arbor was concerned with the theory of certain energy surfaces and Brillouin zones. Part of this work was an experimental study of features of photographic latent-image formation to contribute to improved understanding. The influence of grain size on the low-intensity reciprocity failure was examined. The work on photographic latent image was reported in two papers at the March meeting of the American Physical Society at Baltimore, Maryland, by R. L. Martin, J. H. Enns, and E. Katz. They had the opportunity at the meeting to discuss their work with Dr. J. Webb of the Kodak Research Laboratory who gave helpful advice. “Dr. J. W. Mitchell, from Bristol, England, visited Ann Arbor on March 19-21 and again on March 31, 1955, on his lecture tour through the United States sponsored by ARDC. He delivered two very interesting lectures at The University of Michigan and discussed at great length with us the results of his work and its relation to ours. This discussion proved very stimulating. Dr. Mitchell's attitude tended more than previously to be phenomenological, which was particularly valuable. Also, grateful mention should be made of the continued kind cooperation received from the Kodak Research Laboratory. Dr. J. A. Leermakers furnished us with emulsions especially prepared for our work on grain-size effects.”



Photoaggregation theory

Liege 1959 “un feu roulant des questions”

International Colloquium on Scientific Photography held at Liege in September 1959: Linking the photographic process to recent data acquired in the field of solid state physics by studying the physical properties of crystals and the practical application of this basic data to basic photographic processes.

Work in progress, section being developed


 New start in 1959 at University of Virginia

Jack Mitchell joined what the Royal Society was to describe as the Brain Drain when he left Bristol and Macmillan-era Britain to live and work in the United States of America. At the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, Jack Mitchell was a member of the faculty for twenty years from 1959 to 1979.  With Jack Mitchell and after 1963 Doris Wilsdorf (who had spent a year in the research team at Bristol and longer with Nabarro in South Africa) and her husband Heinz Wilsdorf (in Materials Science), Virginia became a leading centre of research on dislocations and mechanical properties of crystals, and Jack Mitchell’s links with the Kodak Research Laboratories where Dr Leermakers became Director in 1964 were stoutly maintained.  Jack always believed in sharing a close contact with industry, and this was a particular feature of Bristol and Virginia during his active time with both Universities. 

Doris (1922-2010) and Heinz (1917-2000) Wilsdorf arrived in Charlottesville in 1963


National Chemical Laboratory

Jack Mitchell’s long tenure at Virginia was not to be completely unbroken.  In 1963 he was encouraged to return to England as Director of the National Chemical Laboratory at Teddington, Middlesex.   Headhunted by Lord Todd, Jack felt honoured by the appointment and was eager to systematically apply his own ideas.  He passionately believed in the importance of research to long term industrial development and industrial prosperity.  But he soon found himself enmeshed like so many others in the administrative complexities and short-term thinking of civil service and political masters.  He resigned his post in frustration after less than a year, feeling he’d been led up the garden path.  The National Chemical Laboratory did not long survive him.  Its closure had already been on the cards, and some of its elements were amalgamated with its better known Teddington neighbour, the National Physical Laboratory. Across the world, India’s sister National Chemical Laboratory has since carried the torch forward to great effect.  With a heavy heart in the immediate aftermath of the NCL debacle, Jack Mitchell was able to put across some of his cherished ideas in his Jubilee Memorial Lectures for the Society of Chemical Industry in February 1965.

Why was Jack chosen for the job?

Jack had very firm views on the organization of research in industry, so when he’d been picked out to lead the National Chemical Laboratory he naturally assumed that his practical experience over many years would be given full rein. All in all, his interactions with industrial research laboratories would extend over more than 45 years. Jack later recalled many discussions on the role of basic research in industry with H. Frieser, Director of the Research Laboratories of Agfa AG at Leverkusen and later of the Institute for Photographic Science of the University of Munich; J. Eggert, former Director of Research for Agfa AG at Wolfen and later Director of the Photographisches Institut of the E.T.H. in Zurich; E. J. W. Verwey of the Philips Research Laboratories in Eindhoven; C. E. K. Mees, F.R.S., Director of Research of the Eastman Kodak Research Laboratories in Rochester, New York; C. G. Suits, Director of the Knolls Research Laboratory of the General Electric Company in Schenectady, New York; and W. Shockley of the Bell Telephone Laboratories in Murray Hill, New Jersey (with whom he climbed on the cliffs of the Shawangunks in the Catskills of New York State). He believed passionately that these deep interactions and visits to industrial laboratories gave him real insight in organizing and maintaining adequate levels of basic research.  

Jack emphasised that from 1945 until 1965, remarkable advances were made in knowledge of the physics and chemistry of crystalline solids. A high rate of new discovery was maintained by creative groups of outstanding scientists and engineers in industry. This led to inventions which were protected by patents, to new technologies, new products and new manufacturing operations. It continued a period of rapid expansion in industries based on the physical sciences which began with the establishment of industrial research laboratories in the early years of the icentury. The directors of research were distinguished scientists or engineers, and the activities of the research scientists were managed by research scientists in an environment favourable for creative research and development. In the organization of the laboratory, the scientists were usually hired and grouped according to disciplines, and the needs of the company for new patents and new products were covered. With the retail demand for the new products, relatively little initial competition, and rapid growth of the industries, financial and marketing problems were not dominant factors. Jack Mitchell analysed this first phase of industrial research in his Jubilee Memorial Lectures to the Society of Chemical Industry in Manchester, Edinburgh and Dublin in 1965. (1965 Chemistry and Industry, London p. 908) As he noted,  after general approval of the area of work and the projects, the research was essentially self-managed by the scientists and engineers who devoted long hours of perseverent effort to it and created branching chains of new discovery and invention. These satisfied both the short-term and the long-term needs of the companies. Detailed management of the fundamental research which was undertaken by these scientists was not possible and was not needed. New discoveries cannot be defined in advance and can therefore not be made on demand within an assigned time.

Nurturing scientific creativity and enthusiasm

Circumstances didn’t allow this rate of new discovery to be sustained. The companies expanded rapidly, and manufacturing capacity for new products was provided creating a demand for developments and services determined by these products. The research laboratories expanded, but the creative ability and enthusiasm of an increasing fraction of the scientists and engineers declined. Mitchell watched the developments with increasing concern.  It looked as though his short tenure at the National Chemical Laboratory was already too late.  He saw that around 1965, research management began to pass from scientists to managers with manufacturing, marketing or business administration experience. The groups in the research laboratories were reorganized to reflect product areas, manufacturing operations and marketing considerations. Detailed project management of the activities of the scientists and engineers was introduced with analysis and prior evaluation of projects and targeted completion times.  As Jack said, this tended to result in concentration on the organization and management of short-term product development and of incremental improvements in current products and processes. Development project management could be applied to central and divisional "research" laboratories and overall priorities established.  It was the wrong path to follow.  The unpredictable long-term basic research and development which leads to new inventions, new patents, and fully competitive new products cannot be organized in this way and was progressively neglected.

As Jack saw it, this reorganization of research and development for industries dependent upon the physical sciences was driven by a number of factors. Not least among these was increasing competition from overseas manufacturing corporations with lower production costs. Overheads increased as the business, manufacturing and marketing administrations increased in scale, and there was ever-present pressure from the financial markets for short-term profitability.  So a short-term-profits approach was imposed on business and research management.

Jack could see that this approach seldom leads to competitive new technology and new enterprises, as has been well established by a declining number of new patents, smaller entrepreneurial companies, more effective in these respects, were acquired to provide for business expansion and to maintain market share. This increased the scale and diversification of the corporation and further accentuated the problems of correlated overall management of corporate research and development.

The organizational environment of the large corporation was often inimical to basic research, and it tended to quench the enthusiasms of the entrepreneurs. Attempts were often made to license recent patents and new technology from more competitive and innovative firms. These were frequently unsuccessful if the corporations had nothing to offer in exchange.  Jack was always convinced that corporations are heavily handicapped if they rely on licensing patents and on acquisitions for business expansion and fail to allow or encourage long-term basic research and aggressive in-house development of entirely new competitive products. For the survival of a corporation, long-term market share is more important than short-term profits, he said, and this can be ensured only by the organization of in-house, long-term research and development and a scale of operations which makes this feasible and profitable.

Jack Mitchell recognized an incompatibility between the confident, enthusiastic, uninterrupted and perseverent hard work needed for efficient creative activity and the deadening effect of management procedures and committee assignments by which large corporations tried to control and maximize this activity.  Experience since 1965 bears out Jack’s warnings.  Was it all inevitable anyway?

Return to Virginia, marriage and retirement

Professor J. W. Mitchell at the University of Virginia in April 1967

 Reproduced here by courtesy of the Special Collections, University of Virginia


1968 marriage to Jo Overstreet Long


Work in progress, section being developed

1976 marriage to Virginia Hill



Jack’s fondness for Great Smoky Mountains National Park

1977 A year of travel

Work in progress, section being developed


1978 Jacksonville lakeshore

Work in progress, section being developed

Las Cruces

Work in progress, section being developed

Jack and Virginia Mitchell in the garden of their home in Kent Road, Charlottesville, photographed in 1979 by David J. Barber.

Jack Mitchell died in July 2007 after a long illness at the age of 93.  In the words of the University of Virginia Physics News “his research interests were in the theory of photographic sensitivity and plastic deformation of solids. He was held in the highest esteem by Kodak and other film companies because of his significant work. Jack Mitchell was a fellow of the prestigious Royal Society of Great Britain. Professor Keith Williams presented a memorial colloquium in October about Mitchell’s photography research.”


Jack Mitchell gave a legacy of nearly $1,000,000 to Trinity College Oxford to provide funds for outstanding third and fourth year undergraduate students. His Trinity College obituary can be found here.

From their beginnings in 2009, these biographical notes are being extended little by little, year by year..  The first impulse to record Jack’s life came from the diaries covering the early Oxford years left by his New Zealand friend Winston Monk, my father-in-law.  Winston’s extensive diaries have been transcribed by his son Francis, who has written a biography published in 2012 (Winston Francis Monk 1912-1954: A Modest New Zealander ISBN 978-87-92824-37-0)..  A firm backbone for Jack Mitchell’s life has been provided by the eighty pages of Jack’s autobiographical notes, thanks initially to the generosity and encouragement of Jack’s step-daughter Jodie Fidler,  though happily since 2013 it has been made available online by the University of Virginia at Extracting and analysing these two main sources and exploring and expanding some of the historical context,  I have drawn on reminiscences and photographs kindly provided by Jack’s godson, Michael Heafford, on commentaries published by Jack Mitchell’s Bristol colleagues, and some personal research in archives during visits to Wellington and Christchurch in 2009 encouraged by Monk cousin Judith Hughey.  Fred Dainton’s quoted remarks about chemistry at Oxford appear in his introduction to “The World Made New: Frederick Soddy, Science, Politics, and Environment” by Linda Merricks (OUP 1996).  I would like to acknowledge a series of very helpful exchanges with David J. Barber, author of the 2011Royal Society memoir of Jack Mitchell’s life and work, which forms a further source of authoritative information, particularly for the Bristol and Virginia years onwards.  Chronologically, from Jack’s first term at Oxford and beyond, much remains for me to do.  Responsibility for assembling the information and commentary presented here, and for any inaccuracies, lies with me the author: Roger Kelly .  It is a labour of love for the hardworking, kind and sometimes intemperate Jack Mitchell, - don’t hesitate to write to me if you have information, insights or corrections on his life and work.

Sir George Thomas Beilby FRS  flow of metals

Sir James Arnot Hamilton  Concorde design




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