AN UPPERMILL born physicist whose pioneering work helped saved countless lives during two World Wars is to be finally honoured in his native Saddleworth more than 50 years after his death.
The importance of Albert Beaumont (AB) Wood’s lifetime achievements, including a personal plea for help from Sir Winston Churchill, have gone largely undetected outside his sphere of expertise.
Now, after flying under the radar for so long a blue plaque is to be erected by Saddleworth Parish Council to celebrate the brilliant scientist from Pickhill, feted on both sides of the Atlantic.
Born in 1894, AB Wood OBE, DSc, who attended Huddersfield College of Technology, was involved in naval science and underwater acoustics for half a century.
Initially working alongside Sir Ernest Rutherford – the man credited with ‘splitting the atom’- he was recruited by the Admiralty in 1915 as one of two research physicists with a brief to work on antisubmarine defence.Wood, who graduated from Manchester University almost 100 years ago, helped develop the prototype underwater sound detection ASDIC system. It is probably better known by American name, sonar.
At the outbreak of World War II, he turned his talents to inventing counter measures to the German use of magnetic mines.
Keen historian and Saddleworth resident Roy Crozier is the man behind the campaign to recognise Wood with a blue plaque.
“Churchill said the only thing that scared him was the U-Boat peril,” he told Parish Council members at their February meeting.
“The UK was importing vast quantities of food and if we didn’t keep shipping lanes open we would be starved out of the war.
“The first scientific problem of the Second World War were magnetic mines the Germans again used to disrupt food supplies and raw materials.
“Churchill asked Wood personally to come and see him to discuss possible counter measures. AB is also the pioneer of British magnetic mines technology.”
The first German mine was recovered in November 1939 and Wood was described as having “great personal courage” in dealing with it.”
Mr Crozier’s proposals were backed by councillors. Cllr Max Woodvine said: ”Saddleworth has been and is made up of special people who have made special contributions to society both in and beyond the boundary of the civil parish.
“We should always seek to recognise them in a suitably special way.”
Cllr Jamie Curley added: “As a fellow physicist I am ashamed to say I didn’t know about Albert.
“But the fact he came from a group with Ernest Rutherford, Marsden, Chadwick and Geiger plus the undoubted many hundreds, if not thousands of lives he helped save, I support this proposal 100 per cent.
“This is somebody people probably don’t know about but deserves to be celebrated.”
Cllr Sam Al Hamdani added: “There may well be other people out there worthy of a blue plaque.
It would be good they can be appreciated for their contributions as well.”
A number of locations were suggested for the eventual siting of the plaque including Mr Wood’s early home at Pickhill.
However, Cllr John Battye said: “A private house set back in Pickhill is not a prominent site so I would suggest it should be in Uppermill square or on front of the civic building where lots of people will see it.”
Parish Council chair Barbara Beeley, added: “If we want to give acknowledgement to the important people who have lived in this area and done so much for mankind then it should be on the Civic Hall or perhaps better still the museum.”
Wood died suddenly while on holiday in July 1964. A year after his death eminent former colleagues decreed to launch the AB Wood Memorial Fund,
Writing in the Journal of the Royal Naval Scientific Service, WL Borrows said of Wood: “His work was his life and he was sustained in it by the devoted support of his wife Ethel who he married in 1916. His work will survive and others will build on it: AB would not have asked for more.
“Notwithstanding his remarkable achievements, he was a man of singular modesty and very great kindness.”
Wood is so highly thought of among academics that a medal named in his honour is awarded in alternate years to acousticians in the UK/Europe and in the USA/Canada.
It is aimed at younger researchers, usually aged under 40, whose work is associated with the sea.