© Peter Hodgkinson 2016

Dr Peter E Hodgkinson Chartered Clinical Psychologist - Military Historian

There are some men whose contribution to the Great War raises them head and shoulders above others.

For some, this is because of their action on the battlefield; for others it was the tireless, inventive application of their minds.

Conrad Hugh Dinwiddy was a surveyor working in his father's London-based architectural practice at the outbreak of the Great War. He was an active local Conservative politician who undoubtedly would have become an MP, a tournament tennis player, an experienced mountaineer, and a journalist. A workaholic, he'd write maybe ten letters before going to bed each night.

Major Conrad Dinwiddy

Three of his brothers had been infantry Volunteer officers, and one brother was a regular major with the Royal West Kent Regiment, taken prisoner at Kut. Two were officers in the navy, one on the Auxiliary Patrol, one on cruisers. His family typifies the contribution made by the professional middle-classes to officering during the war.

In June 1915, when on night-duty as a Special Policeman, and pondering the Zeppelin threat to the capital, he began to devise a range-finder that would allow anti-aircraft fire to be more swiftly and accurately brought to bear on aircraft. The principles were in place by the morning, and he had a full scheme within a week. He then devised a slide-rule which would allow the battery commander to make the calculations necessary for the final fuze-setting to be made.

In 1916, when his range-finder came into use in the London defences, he was commissioned into the Royal Garrison Artillery, and in December that year was sent to the Western Front to a 6-inch howitzer battery. Within two months he was a captain, second-in-command, and within six was a major, commanding the battery. His commitment to applying his skills and intellect didn't stop there – within two months of being in action he had invented a method using lit parallel aiming posts to improve the accuracy of night firing. He submitted a scheme for barge-mounted batteries, and methods of ammunition supply using monorail. Even under the stress of war and command, Dinwiddy's intellect remained keen and focussed on problem-solving.




At the end of August 1917, Conrad was posted to be second-in-command of a 9.2-inch howitzer battery and on 26 September, during the battle of Polygon Wood, his battery (though not in action) was likely caught by counter-battery fire, and he was mortally wounded.

We often focus on the action of war, recognise the technological changes, but fail to show curiosity about the how and the who of such change. The intellectual and practical achievements of men like Conrad Dinwiddy should not be forgotten.

Peter’s biography of Conrad, based on his papers and letters from the front, is available from