THE DOODSON FAMILY HISTORY SITE


Everything you wanted to know about Doodson family history

The Arthur Thomas Doodson story

New Feb 2021 New section: Storm surges, conscientious objection and ballistics - click here


Change Feb 2021 - links to Internet pages about Arthur Doodson moved to a separate page


New June 2019 Videos of programmes about Arthur Doodson

Click here to go to a separate page showing several extracts of TV programmes which reported on Arthur’s contribution to tidal prediction science and to the D-Day landing planning.


Introducing Arthur Thomas Doodson

One day there will be many more famous people sporting the surname Doodson. However, for now arguably the most famous and influential Doodson was Arthur Thomas Doodson, who has more direct and indirect references on the web than any other (with the possible exception of Mike Doodson, the motor sport journalist) - a few of the links are listed below.


Arthur Doodson, who died in 1968, was great-uncle of the author of most of the pages on this web site, and sadly I was only 9 years old when he passed on. I only have a very vague memory of him, mostly based on a black and white photo (see at left) of myself and "Uncle Arthur" playing with a football in our back garden when I was about five years old. 


Arthur was based for more or less the whole of his illustrious career at Bidston Observatory. He was director of the Liverpool Observatory and Tidal Institute, precursor to the National Oceanographic Centre, until his retirement in 1961.


Tide predictions and annual tide tables were produced at the Observatory in the 1920s, calculated by hand, using already well-documented (if rather complicated!) methods. Arthur was tremendously able in these calculations, having proved to be an excellent and enthusiastic mathematician in his youth, proving himself in 1912 with a 1st Class Honours BSc in Chemistry and Mathematics (despite becoming profoundly deaf during the course of the under-graduate studies), and an MSc in 1914. An early practical application for Arthur's expertise came in the form of calculations of the trajectory of shells used by the Army during the Great War. 


Early tide-predicting machines were in use at Bidston in the 1920s, but Arthur wanted to improve them. Initially he made small adjustments and eventually his understanding of them enabled him to take the design to new levels of sophistication. 


In 1949 the Doodson-Légé Tide Predicting Machine, arguably Arthur's greatest achievement, was installed at the Observatory (there's a photo of it,  click here to see , and a fascinating explanation of it at the National Tidal and Sea Level Facility here). This represents one of the closing chapters in the pre-computerised era - using numerous precision-engineered cogs and wheels the machine was able to predict tides anywhere in the world, and did so until it was superseded by computerised tide prediction in the late 1960s. The machine. now displayed in the Proudman Institute, represents the fruits of theoretical and practical work done by Arthur and others in the mathematics and physics of tide prediction. While today's computer programs are able to predict tides far more quickly, the tide predicting machine - which may have take a day and a half for each set of a year's calculations for a particular location - they use pretty much the same calculations and variables that Arthur built into the design of his machine. The Proudman Institute sells a descendent of the Doodson-Légé in a Windows program called POLTIPS, that produces tide tables for anywhere in the UK, more or less instantly. 


The tide predicting machine supplied tide tables for places throughout the world, but its (and Arthur's) moment of glory came when it was used in the planning of the Normandy landings on D-Day. There's a page on the National Oceanographic Centre web site explaining Arthur’s role in predicting these key tides.  In due course Arthur was awarded the CBE for his work on tide prediction, receiving the honour from Queen Elizabeth II in 1956. 


Arthur was also involved in a number of projects for the British government, including one that investigated devastating floods that killed 14 people in basements in central London in January 1928 - see  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1928_Thames_flood .  Arthur coined the term "storm surge" as part of this work.


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Added Feb 2021: Storm surges, conscientious objection and ballistics


A television programme about flood surges (following floods here in the UK in January 2021) reminded me that Arthur Thomas Doodson, who was key to predicting the optimal tides for the WW2 D-Day landings in northern France, also played a key role in analysing the reason for the 1928 London floods, which flooded many parts of the capital and resulted in the death of 14 people and homelessness for around 4,000.


Arthur was part of a team that analysed the reasons for the unexpected flooding, which was a combination of (among other things) an unusually high tide and low air pressure to the east of the Thames estuary.  Apparently Arthur also coined the term “Storm surge” to sum up this combination of factors.  (See https://underthecblog.org/2017/01/27/the-1928-london-flood-and-the-worlds-first-storm-surge/ and Anna Carlsson-Hyslop’s PhD Thesis at https://core.ac.uk/download/pdf/384955.pdf ) Sadly there were several more serious life-threatening storm surges that affected the east coast of Britain in the decades that followed, and it took many more years until the Thames Barrage was built to provide substantive protection from storm surges for London.


While I was searching for more information about Arthur Thomas Doodson’s involvement in this, I came across a fascinating web page (http://www.pixnet.co.uk/Oldham-hrg/World-War1/Conscientious-objection/COs-pages/dootson-arthur-thomas/doodson-arthur-thomas.html) describing his strong anti-war views in the First World War.  He registered as a conscientious objector, but didn’t have an easy time convincing the authorities (a local recruiting tribunal, consisting of local town councillors) that he should not be forced to do military service.  


He had a strong religious faith, but not a mainstream set of beliefs.  His church was named in the tribunal as the Community of the Sons of God, based in Halifax. Try as I might, I cannot find any information about this particular group in 1916, but according to the biographical obituary essay written by J. Proudman of the Liverpool Oceanographic Institute for the Royal Society of London (see  https://the-eye.eu/public/Papers/royalsocietypublishing.org/pdfs/rsbm.1968.0008.pdf ) they were a breakaway from Plymouth Brethren, mostly known later as the Church of God, but also called Needed Truth Brethren (see Wikipedia entry: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Needed_Truth_Brethren ) Arthur edited a book called “The Search for the Truth of God”, published in 1947 which explained the group’s beliefs and why they broke away from the two branches of the Plymouth Brethren that existed at the time (the Open Brethren and the Exclusive Brethren).  The full text of this book is available online at  https://www.mountforestchurch.ca/?page_id=3203).  


Anyway, the gist of Arthur Doodson’s objection to military service, whether on the front line or in supporting roles (mine-sweeping and field hospital work were mentioned in the tribunal, both of which he objected to) was that war was objectionable to his faith, and that attesting (signing up for military service) would make him into a “member of the instrument of war”.  It must have taken a lot of courage and firm religious belief for the 25 year old Arthur to be harangued by the tribunal, who seemed very irritated and unsympathetic towards Doodson’s position.  He wasn’t helped by his admission that he did not vote in local or national elections.  He is recorded as saying “I am a pilgrim. I am a stranger in this country. My citizenship is not here. It is in heaven.”  He asserted that the Community of the Sons of God was not a sect (“A sect is the following of the preaching of some particular man” - the Plymouth Brethren believed that the only instruction or law that they or anyone else needed was what was written in the Bible.)


One of the Tribunal panel, one Councillor Hopwood, got very cross and abusive towards Doodson, saying “I think you are exploiting God to save your own skin and I think it is nothing but deliberate and rank blasphemy. A man who would not help to defend his country and his womankind is nothing but a coward, a cad. You are nothing but a shivering piece of unwholesome fat.” Thankfully someone came to Doodson’s defence by writing to the local newspaper, criticising Hopwood’s language, adding “Whatever our views about warfare, we are surely agreed that a man's conscientious difficulties ought not to expose him to vulgar abuse of that description.”


The tribunal and appeal process eventually did excuse Arthur from active service,  and instead he took up a position at University College London, working on statistics.  Unfortunately, he was moved onto using his prodigious mathematic skills to work on ballistics, specifically developing formulae and tables for long range guns so that they would more likely hit their targets.  This must have weighed heavy on Doodson’s mind, given his profound objections to being a part of the “instruments of war”.  Anna Carlson-Hyslop, who wrote about Doodson’s involvement in the analysis of the 1928 London flood also wrote a paper that refers to Doodson’s involvement in ballistics (“Human Computing Practices and Patronage: Antiaircraft Ballistics and Tidal Calculations in First World War Britain” - see https://www.jstor.org/stable/43737501?seq=1) .  Much of Arthur’s work on ballistics was circulated officially, and in due course published in a book “Text-book of Anti-Aircraft Gunnery”, in 1925.


Footnote: 

The Plymouth Brethren were originally an evangelical off-shoot of the Anglican Church in Ireland in the early 1800s. They rejected non-biblical teachings of what might be called the traditional Christian churches, and believed that the Bible gave mankind all the laws and instruction that were needed.  Importantly they also did not believe in the usual hierarchical clerical organisation  of other churches - nobody had more right to preach than anyone else, for example, though ultimately they did accept that elders did have a role to play in the church.  It’s important to note that there is a group of Plymouth Brethren today, called the Plymouth Brethren Christian Church, that is shunned by other Brethren, and is often considered to be a sect, being led by an Australian man called Bruce Hales.  They do lots of charitable work in their local areas, but they remain controversial to many, not least because they shun TV, radio, computers (except in their schools), and contact with non-members.  What Arthur Thomas Doodson would have made of this particular church will never be known.


Internet Links related to Arthur Thomas Doodson

… see separate page - click here.