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George Thomas Smith-Clarke

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Captain George Thomas Smith-Clarke (1884-1960) of Alvis

1884 December 23rd. Born at Lower Park, Bewdley, Worcestershire, the son of Henry Clarke (1850–1897), brass finisher and engineer, and Harriet (b. 1851), daughter of George Thomas Smith

Educated at the national school in Bewdley

1902 Joined the Great Western Railway (GWR) engineering department and was transferred to the GWR road motor department in Slough in 1905.

1910 Bus driver with the GWR in Leamington.

During WW1 he was seconded to the Aeronautical Inspection Department. George Purvis Bulman wrote, regarding work to resolve problems with the sizing of carburettor jets for aircraft engines, leading to much wasted time and effort in tuning: 'It was Smith Clarke, our leading character in Coventry, aided by Bobby Verney, Billy's brother who had earlier lost an arm, who set about tackling this problem. Many months of intensive effort elapsed, with much disappointment before a Standard Jet Tester machine came out which would give reliable and repeatable figures of actual flow, marked on each jet, and which reduced tuning time to relative insignificance. ..... Long may his name be honoured by those who knew the quaint unprepossessing but ardent soul who had no thought for himself but only of maximum service for others.'[1]

1915 Joined the Aeronautical Inspection Directorate with responsibility for the inspection of aero engines manufactured in Coventry and elsewhere.

1915 December 26th. Married Mary (1875/6–1944), daughter of William Walker, blacksmith

1916 August. Commissioned in the Royal Flying Corps and was promoted to captain in April 1917.

Post-WWI Assistant works manager at Daimler

1919 Designed and built a motorcycle for his wife, which was then put into production firstly by Booth Brothers (of Coventry).

1922 Chief engineer of Alvis

1926 He took out a patent for a loud-speaking telephone and subsequently tried to help children with hearing problems by providing the local hospital with an amplifying system and headphones.

1942 Chairman of the Coventry and Warwickshire Hospital Board of Management. [2].

1947 February 19th. Following the death of his first wife he married Elsie Richards (1903–1983), a nurse, the daughter of Thomas Richards, a colliery manager. There were no children of either marriage.

1950 Retired from Alvis

1952 he was co-opted onto a Birmingham hospital region subcommittee "to investigate the efficacy of mechanical ventilators". Upset at the distress caused to a patient taken out of an iron lung for nursing care, he redesigned all aspects of the existing Nuffield/Both iron lung or cabinet breathing machine, widely used to treat patients with respiratory paralysis caused by poliomyelitis.

Kits of parts to modify 500 Both machines were manufactured by a new company, Cape Engineering Co, set up with Smith-Clarke's support by several ex-Alvis employees.

1960 February 28th. He died at his home, Shenandoah, 4 Stoneleigh Road, Gibbet Hill, Coventry, on 28 February 1960.

1960 Obituary [3]. Died aged 75 years. Born at Bewdley. Chief Engineer and MD of Alvis. Developer of mechanical respirators.

1960 Captain G. T. Smith-Clarke. Memorial service. [4]


1960 Obituary [5]

CAPTAIN GEORGE THOMAS SMITH-CLARKE, whose death, we regret to note, occurred last Sunday, February 28, was chief engineer of Alvis, Ltd., for nearly thirty years. He was seventy-five.

Captain Smith-Clarke was a native of Bewdley and during the first world war he did a great deal of design work on military aircraft. He joined Alvis, Ltd., in 1921 and retired in 1950.

The work that Captain Smith-Clarke accomplished in the years since his retirement has become widely known for it was concerned with the development of various kinds of mechanical appliances to improve medical treatment. He IS acknowledged as a pioneer of modern research into mechanical breathing apparatus, particularly the iron lung. Captain Smith-Clarke began this work shortly after the second world war and among his first achievements was the successful modification of the Nuffield Both iron lung to make it a satisfactory mobile equipment.

The engineering work involved in this modification and in the design and development of subsequent mechanical breathing machines was described by Captain Smith-Clarke in a James Clayton lecture to the Institution of Mechanical Engineers in 1956 (THE ENGINEER, December 21 and 28, 1956). Shortly after the delivery of the lecture, Captain Smith-Clarke received from the Institution of Mechanical Engineers (of which he was elected a member in 1944) a James Clayton prize. This award was made for the invention, design and development of equipment used in medical practice, including mechanical breathing apparatus, and for the development of mechanisms used in connection with astronomical telescopes. The citation accompanying the award referred also to Captain Smith-Clarke's work associated with aero-engines and automobile engineering.


1960 Obituary [6]

George Thomas Smith-Clarke was educated at Bewdley Secondary School and at the Regent Street Polytechnic. He joined the Great Western Railway in 1902 and in 1905 he was transferred to the G.W.R. Road Motor department, where he worked his way through the various shops to the drawing office. At the outbreak of the 1914-18 war he was chief draughtsman. During the war he served with the Aircraft Inspection Department and his work included the design and development of engine-testing plants and special measuring appliances.

From 1919 to 1922 Capt. Smith-Clarke was assistant works manager to the Daimler Motor Co., Ltd., and from 1922 until his retirement in 1949 he was with Alvis, Ltd., as Chief Engineer and General Manager and he became a director of the Company in 1931.

He was elected a Member of Council of the Institution of Automobile Engineers and after amalgamation he became Chairman of the Automobile Division for 1947-48. He was a Member of Council from 1948-52.

The task of writing a full appreciation of George Smith-Clarke is one not lightly to be undertaken and it is difficult in a few words to do proper justice to a remarkable character. He was a great man and a great engineer. A great engineer in that he combined tremendous enthusiasm and true creative spirit together with a most complete knowledge of manufacturing processes and the ability to handle all the tools of the engineer himself. He was a great man because of his human qualities and his power to direct and inspire confidence in others, but above all for his intense desire to alleviate suffering and distress. With all these gifts, however, he was of a modest and retiring disposition which endeared him to all his friends.

His work for the automobile and aircraft industry was well known, but there were other aspects of his life which were known only to his friends and neighbours in the Coventry district. As an engineer he was able to design and personally construct any piece of apparatus no matter how complicated and his activities covered a very wide range. One of my earliest memories is of him as a radio enthusiast with a very complete transmitting station making contacts with all parts of the world, but this passed in favour of the more rewarding science of astronomy to which he made valuable contributions. His astronomical interests started in 1920 and led to the foundation of the Coventry branch of the Royal Astronomical Society of which he was elected a Fellow.

The first observatory of his design, housing a Cooke 8-inch refracting telescope, was presented to and installed at the Coventry Technical College and he then set about a piece of work which was perhaps the most outstanding of his astronomical achievements namely the construction of a telescope and its associated dome to incorporate and house an 18-inch reflector which he had acquired. The final result was a tribute to his engineering skill and ability and aroused such interest in astronomical circles that he was asked to advise on the proposed 100-inch Newton reflector for the proposed observatory at Hurstmonceaux. These proposals were illustrated by an exquisite set of models now preserved by the R.A.S.

As a result of serving on this Committee and of his contacts with Professor Lovell he then decided to donate the equipment together with a spectro-helioscope of his design and construction to Manchester University and it was installed at the Jodrell Bank Experimental Station, where it is doing valuable service.

But even before relinquishing his astronomical work in favour of that on the 'iron lung', for which he was awarded the James Clayton Prize and which is recorded in the PROCEEDINGS of the Institution, he was actively engaged in designing and constructing medical equipment and I well remember him proudly showing me some apparatus he had made for taking a rapid series of radiograms in cardiac diagnosis.

Possibly because of indifferent health he became acquainted early with hospital routine and took a keen interest, not only in the equipment needed, but in the management and administration. During the 1939-45 war as Chairman of the Coventry and Warwickshire Hospital he was largely responsible for making arrangements to alleviate the difficult position which resulted from air raids on the city, and his interest in hospital administration was actively maintained up to his death.

It was perhaps his work on the 'iron lung' which really brought into prominence the intensely human side of his character. His personal interest in all the unfortunate victims of the poliomyelitis epidemic in Coventry was most intense.

Captain Smith-Clarke was indeed a great engineer, a great man and a true Christian.


See Also

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Sources of Information

  1. 'An Account of Partnership - Industry, Government and the Aero Engine: The memoirs of George Purvis Bulman' edited and with a commentary by M. C. Neale, Rolls-Royce Heritage Trust, Historical Series No. 31, 2002. 376 pages
  2. The Times, Thursday, Nov 19, 1942
  3. The Times, Monday, Feb 29, 1960
  4. The Times, Saturday, Mar 12, 1960
  5. The Engineer 1960/03/04
  6. 1960 Institution of Mechanical Engineers: Obituaries
  • [1] DNB
  • Coventry’s Motorcycle Heritage by Damien Kimberley. Published 2009. ISBN 978 0 7509 5125 9