This year’s centenary of the start of World War One brings extra poignancy to Remembrance Day events. In a ‘special’ for BBC1’s flagship programme Countryfile (showing on Sunday 9 November from 6.30 pm) Ordnance Survey has been chosen to reflect life on the front line.
OS’s military heritage saw surveying and map making skills put to the harshest test and also coupled to many parallel military fields of expertise – like sound ranging for allied artillery batteries. So how could we explain skills honed a hundred years ago? And who should be chosen to meet the wonderful presenter of the film – Ellie Harrison?
As some of you may know, far from our traditional image as the publisher of leisure maps for ramblers and cyclists exploring idyllic countryside, where the only disturbance is the rustle of a cagoule or the whir of a freewheel, Ordnance Survey’s origins are associated with preparation for war and we played a major role in the mapping of the First World War battlefields.
We blogged on the topic back in February and have also written about our efforts in both World Wars in the past. After our February article The National Archives got in touch and asked if we’d write a guest blog for them. Of course, we were more than happy to and the post was published this week. Read it on the history of government blog here.
Our press team have been working with the BBC to put together a short film and radio broadcast about the role which Ordnance Survey carried out during World War 1. It’s supporting some activity, launched this week, on the BBC website and in quite a few of their programmes. We are also expecting the film to be featured on BBC South tomorrow evening as part of a series of features about the impact of the war on local people.
Ordnance Survey was formed in 1791; set up initially to map the south coast of Kent, when the British government was worried about a French invasion. However, in 1914, Ordnance Survey helped with the war effort, mapping the battlefields of France and printing some 33 million maps for use in the trenches in the four years of war.
Being a fan of mapping often runs in the family and there are a few people who work for us at Ordnance Survey who have relatives who also worked for us in the past. We are trying to pull out some stories about what it was like to work for Ordnance Survey during World War One (WW1) and would be really interested to hear from anyone who has heard stories from relatives or friends about working either here in Southampton, or on the battlefield mapping the trenches.
Recently, we held a service of dedication for the new War Memorial at our head office. The memorial commemorates the names of 123 of our former colleagues who gave their lives during the two World Wars.
Our history catalogues our efforts during the two wars and shows how our role changed dramatically between the two wars as we moved from survey work producing trench maps on the ground in the First World War, to printing some 342 million maps for Allied forces in World War II.
Following the declaration of the Great War, Ordnance Survey was immediately placed at the disposal of the War Office and lost 16 of its 22 officers to war duties and 285 civilians volunteered for war too. This, twinned with the demands of war on Ordnance Survey, meant that ‘normal’ work was heavily cut back. By 1915, some 22 printing presses were working solely on producing war maps and 90% of all maps used in France were supplied by Ordnance Survey.