The ICE during World War Two

Building on experience after WWI, ICE established a Register of Engineering Services in 1938, to list individual members experience. So it was well placed to contribute when the Government set up a Register of Scientists and Engineers later that year. The Institution urged the government to distribute any engineering work for the ministries amongst the various consulting engineer firms to ensure as many firms would survive and engineers remain employed, should they be required for work during the war or reconstruction work after.

When war broke out, ICE considered evacuating and three of the Benevolent Fund’s houses at Mill Hill Close in Haywards Heath were kept empty for this purpose.  However the Institution decided to remain in Great George Street, and meetings were either suspended or held earlier to comply with the blackout. The Council Minute books were sent to Haywards Heath and the more valuable library books were removed to the basement. An air raid shelter for 60 people was also set up in the basement.

Considering the location, the building was very lucky and was only hit buy two incendiary devices, one of which burnt itself out on the roof, and the other fell through a glass roof, landing on a second glass roof below. Neither was discovered until later.

In 1940 a committee was set up to consider post war challenges. The President wrote to the Prime Minister Clement Attlee urging that preparation such as surveys would save up to six months at the end of the war, providing employment sooner.   The Government and others called upon the ICE and its members for technical advice and support throughout the war. David Anderson, ICE President 1943-4 was involved with evaluating Anderson (no connection) shelters. Sir William Halcrow, ICE President 1946-7, used his knowledge of dam construction to assist Barnes Wallis to develop the Bouncing Bomb.  

In September 1942, twenty Royal Engineer Officers and men took over the Upper Library (now the Members’ Resource Hub as part of the Technical Intelligence section of the Ports and Inland Transport Directorate.  Using the library resources, including overseas journals they secretly planned the D day landings.

The basement was also commandeered to provide living quarters for 200 guardsmen from the nearby Wellington Barracks and 50 radio operators from the Admiralty.

Several members of staff joined the Local Defence volunteers which later became the Home Guard. They attended a meeting with a War Office Official along with some 200 recruits from offices around Westminster in the gymnasium of Westminster school. Volunteers included the Secretary Graham Clark and Charlie Brown, the stoker, who as an ex-corporal had experience of drilling men and was put in charge of a platoon which included the Clark. As F V Doody wrote in his memoir entitled Anecdotage:

`We thus had the unusual spectacle of the Secretary of the Institution being drilled by the Institution stoker, and I am not sure who enjoyed the position more. Mr Clark certainly had a sense of humour’.

A small concrete pillbox was built on the roof and staff took turns fire watching and a guard would man the pillbox when planes were spotted.  Signals were sent across the rooftops by spotters on The Broadway building.

271 ICE members were killed in the War and they are recorded in the memorial roll on display in the building.