WWI + II ordnance survey stories

 In chronological order mixing my history with wider shared relevant history


Hitler commits suicide and Germany surrenders on 7 May 1945


United States, 101st Airborne, Easy Company capture Hitler’s ‘Eagle’s Nest’ in the Bavarian Alps Berchtesgaden, Germany

Once at Berchtesgaden, the 101st Airborne discovered Hermann Goering’s pilfered art collection which was catalogued and various items subsequently put on display before being taken to the allied authorities in Munich. Two of Easy Company’s sergeants also found Hermann Goering’s luxury Mercedes car – immediately informing Lieutenant Colonel Ronald Speirs, who took to the wheel and enjoyed a journey through Berchtesgaden and the surrounding countryside.


Kaufering Lager IV concentration camp was discovered by soldiers of the 134th Ordnance Maintenance Battalion of the 12th Armored Division led by Capt. John P. Jones around noon on April 27, 1945. On April 28, 1945 East Company, 506th Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division arrived as dramatized on the TV series Band of Brothers, see episode 9 “Why We Fight”.




123 former staff of Ordnance Survey gave their lives during the two World Wars / 342 million maps were drafted for Allied forces in World War II.

The role of Ordnance Survey changed dramatically between the two wars, moving 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.  Throughout the war Ordnance Survey was the main supplier of maps to the battlefields in Europe and north-west Africa, despite the bombing of the Southampton London Road head office. 56 Ordnance Survey staff lost their lives during the conflict. as well as printing maps, there were the Royal Engineers of the Ordnance Survey unit mapping the German positions. 

A former colleague involved in this, Archie Weir, was interviewed for the Daily Post. Archie was a sapper in the Royal Engineers, working in the Air Photographic Interpretation Unit. Archie told the Daily Post:

“…we did all the photographic stuff for the Ardennes – an officer would get a target coming in and I had to look up where it actually was and plot a route in for the aircraft – we had different maps and you could tell where the anti-aircraft guns were. I used to make a photograph so they could see what was in front of them. It is amazing – a photograph taken at 25,000 feet and you could tell where somebody had walked in a field, the footsteps through the grass.”

Archie returned safely from the war and continued to work surveying for Ordnance Survey.


6  June 1944 : Allies D-Day Normandy landings 






Hitler invades Poland on 1 September 1939

Britain and France declare war on Germany two days later.


Forte Family (Great Grand Father)

While Italy is being ruled by the fascist dictator, Benito Mussolini, the Forte family emirate from the Monte Cassino area of Italy to Northern Ireland, later establishing restaurants on the Shankill Road, and the Crumlin Road, in Belfast and in Warrenpoint, Co. Down.  



1918  At the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, in the French town of Redonthes, Germany signs an armistice with the Allies – the official date of the end of World War One.


Daniel Mc Alorum. (Great Grand Uncle) 

Lance Corporal, No. 3216, 6th Battalion, Prince of Wales’s Leinster Regiment (Royal Canadians)

Awarded the Queen’s Medal

Killed in action on Tuesday 15 May 1917 (aged 37), buried: Struma Military Cemetery, Greece (Grave V D 3). Born   in Conlig, Co.Down. Served throughout the South African War. Worked as a plasterer in civilian life and was survived by three children and his wife Anne. Several other Mc Alorum family members would later fight and survive through World War II. 

Captain Brabazon wrote to Daniel’s widow to express his sympathy.  He explained that Daniel had died ‘whilst gallantly leading his section in a raid on the advanced posts of the enemy’ and he also said that Daniel ‘had just been promoted lance-corporal although at first he was reluctant to accept non-commissioned officer’s rank.  He was one of the best NCOs in my Company’.

Daniel’s widow, Annie, placed a notice in the 22 June 1917 edition of the County Down Spectator and it contained the verse:

“On whose soul, Sweet Jesus, have mercy – RIP

As in life we fondly loved him,

We’ll forget him not in death,

But before God’s holy altar

Pray his soul may be at rest.

In a distant land a volley rings,

The bugles sound farewell;

A little cross, a passing flower,

Mark where a soldier fell”


By 1915 90% of all maps used in France were supplied by Ordnance Survey

The primary aim for Ordnance Survey staff working at the front was to provide a reliable ranging method to help the artillery hit their targets. Captain Winterbotham (later to be a Director General), earned himself the nickname of ‘the astrologer’ by telling the gunners the direction and elevation to fire their guns and the shells regularly hitting their distant targets. The gunners did not understand the work Captain Winterbotham had carried out to fine tune these ranging techniques.

In addition to the work on ranging methods, there was a need to map parts of northern France. Survey work needed to be faster than at their normal peacetime work and surveyors used plane-tables to achieve this. Their survey work in France was continuous from 1915 to the end of the war, not just mapping the country, but plotting positions of trenches, machine-guns and batteries for the allies and the enemy. As well as supplying trained staff, Ordnance Survey enlisted and drafted abroad a further 800 topographers, observers, draughtsmen and printers.

The war efforts saw 67 Ordnance Survey staff lose their lives, around 6% of the men they sent overseas for the War. In this time, Ordnance Survey supplied almost 33 million maps, plans and diagrams to the forces, a vital tool for the war effort.



In 1917-18, 46 women from the Overseas Branch of Ordnance Survey crossed the channel and arrived at the frontline to help set up a map making factory.  One of the 46 women was Martha Green. She was originally from Ancoats in Manchester and was the eldest of 16 children. She was a book binder by trade, but at the age of 24 she enlisted and went over to the OS factory on the front line to help produce the maps. Martha Green left OS at the end of the war and got married, settling in Gorton in Manchester and having one son. She died in 1968.      

By 1917 OS needed to meet growing demand for maps of the German trenches and overcome the supply issue of getting them from Southampton to the Western Front. War leaders worried that ships carrying maps from Southampton might be sunk in the Channel, so in 1917 formed the Overseas Branch of Ordnance Survey (OBOS). This was a unit of 103 civilian men (from the Corp of the Royal Engineers) and 46 women (under the Queen Mary’s Army Auxilliary Corp).  They made a bold decision to start map production in a factory close to the front line at Wardrecques in France.   

The move to the front was a successful one. At its peak we produced 300,000 paper maps a week from the factory and distributed them among Allied forces while the battle raged on.   

Although only in existence for the last stages of the war, the Overseas Branch of the Ordnance Survey printed almost 3 million maps.   


4th August, 1914 Germany invades Belgium, beginning World War I



“The unexamined life is not worth living”


(Born Asty-Deme Alopece, Athens c. 470 BC – Died Athens, c. 399 BC aged approx. 71)

Asty is an Ancient Greek word denoting the physical space of a city or town, especially as opposed to the political concept of a polis (city in Greek), which encompassed the entire territory and citizenship of a city-state. In Ancient Greece, a deme or demos was a suburb of Athens or a subdivision of Attica, the region of Greece surrounding Athens.


more to add, a work in progress …………