Class of 1920 - 1929

Alexander King

Provided by Jane King:

Alexander King made an immense contribution to world society. Even as the Second World War came to an end he foresaw the looming ecological crisis and devoted his energies to alerting decision makers throughout the world. He was an innovator in many fields including the application of science and technology to human affairs and drew many awards, among which were the US Medal of Freedom, the Erasmus Medal from the Netherlands, a CBE and honorary degrees from several universities, including the University of Strathclyde and the Open University.   

His schooling was first in Glasgow, then London when his parents moved there for a time. He studied Physical Chemistry at Imperial College London and was awarded a DSc. During that period he led a scientific expedition to the remote Arctic island of Jan Mayen, and was one of the first to ascend the lofty summit of Beerenberg. He married his wife Sarah in 1933 and soon after the couple crossed the Baltic in a canoe. 

In 1939 he was as recruited by Sir Henry Tizard, then Rector of Imperial College, to assist in scientific aspects of war planning. Notably, he identified DDT as an insecticide, and organised its production. It is said to have saved thousands of British lives in the Far East conflict. He was sent to Washington in 1942 where he led the British mission for exchanging information with the US, also becoming Director of the British Commonwealth Scientific Office. Post-war he accepted Tizard's invitation to become Director of a Central Scientific Secretariat in the office of the UK cabinet, later becoming Scientific Advisor to the Lord President of the Council, then Herbert Morrison.

After the Attlee administration ended he was appointed a Chief Scientist in the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research. However he became increasingly dissatisfied with the UK government's approach to science and technology and moved to Paris as Director of the European Productivity Agency, part of what is now the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development), where he was appointed Head of Science, then in 1960, a Director General.   

While he was in France he bought and built up a ruined farmhouse in Provence, the Negronne, where he entertained friends and decision makers. It was his abiding personal creative effort. It was at that time that he embarked on his effort to warn the world of the dangers inherent in that complex amalgam of burgeoning population, environmental deterioration and misdirected economic growth. He met Aurelio Peccei, then Head of Fiat, and together they founded the Club of Rome. This informal high level group of leading thinkers from industry and academe met to consider what might be done. Perhaps it's most visible action was the sponsorship of the research that led to the publication of the Limits to Growth, which stimulated a yet unfinished global debate. With Peccei, he wrote The First Global Revolution, a commentary on the human predicament which was published in many languages with a wide circulation.  He succeeded Peccei as President of the Club and on retirement from the OECD devoted all his time and energy to it. He travelled the world, becoming on intimate terms with heads of state, kings and princes, politicians, scientists and economists. In 1972, following the first UN conference on the environment, he organised the formation of IFIAS, the International Federation of Institutes of Advanced Study, a group of  fifteen institutes which committed themselves to dealing with aspects of the 'world problematique'. 

After suffering a mild stroke in 1993 he moved to London to be nearer his two daughters and their families. Well into his 90's he acquired a computer and set out to write an account of the dramatic changes witnessed during his lifetime, from his boyhood in Glasgow to the present. Let the cat turn round: one man's account of the 20th century was published in his ninety-seventh year. Even though sorely affected by the death of his wife, he maintained a keen interest in world affairs to the very end, keeping in touch with his contacts internationally through email. It was fortunate that he was, as he himself put it, a biological optimist, for in spite of all the efforts of the Club of Rome and its successors, he saw the world slowly slipping into an unsustainable state. As he reflects in his book: "I am confident that when 2084 dawns, the world will have quite other preoccupations; the jungle society will have passed into history, as do all civilisations. Hopefully the eternal qualities of humanity will have survived the perils of ultimate materialism and be searching in new directions. The then current planetary problems will no doubt be every bit as threatening as jungle-ism seems to me today. Despite all my fears for the future of man and society, I find that I am still curiously optimistic. I still believe that Homo sapiens has the inner capability to develop to be something greater than itself."  Alexander King died on 28 February 2007, aged 98.

Christopher F Armstrong

Provided by Dinah Hinton:

Christopher Armstrong, on completing civil engineering studies at Imperial College London, pursued a career in road construction. A post with the County Surveyor in Oxford in 1929 on a road experiment sponsored by the Ministry of Transport led to an appointment with the Ministry's Experimental Branch at Whitehall Gardens HQ in 1935. His work with the County Surveyor in Oxford included designing the 'staggered junction' at various dangerous crossroads. In April 1937, newly married and on honeymoon, Christopher's first official visit abroad was to inspect the construction of the Reichautobahn at Kaiserslautern in Germany.   

He worked closely with the Road Research Laboratory and developed an interest in soil mechanics. He was author of a pioneer book on the subject published by Edward Arnold in 1950 with a second edition published in 1961; Soil Mechanics in Road Construction (Vol. 10 Roadmakers' Library).  During the war various tactics to confuse the enemy should they invade were brought into play. These included uprooting rural road signs at junctions and camouflage.  Almost all the airfields being built in the eastern counties had concrete runways and hard standings, making camouflage of their surfaces and airfIeld buildings of vital importance. The runways were sprayed with tar and a choice of approved dark stone, the giant airship hangars painted to look like a row of houses in an attempt to disguise their outline.

In 1946 he made another visit of inspection of the Reichautobahn under the auspices of the British Intelligence Objectives Sub-Committee.   After the Second World War civil engineering projects in the colonies were being encouraged by the government of the day. In 1947 Christopher sought permission and was granted 'approved employment' with the Public Works Department in Kenya to help improve the road transport system. On his return to the UK he spent four years with the Ministry of Transport South Western Division in Exeter. On promotion in 1956 he returned to headquarters in London in charge of the new Specifications and Materials Branch updating ministry requirements for design and construction of motorways and trunk roads.   

Christopher gave many papers on soil mechanics and attended international conferences, sitting on two international committees. In 1964 his work was recognised by being awarded the OBE. He was a chartered civil engineer, and was made a Fellow of the Institution of Civil Engineers having first been an associate, and then a member, for 50 years.   His working life is recorded, first in a self-publication entitled Highwayman, and later in The Chosen Road.