Gresham's School in Wartime

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James Humphrey Cole - OG surveyor of the Great Pyramid of Giza

James was born in 1891, the fourth of six children of Herbert and Amy Cole, who lived at Hill House in Brundall, Norfolk.  His father was a solicitor, and James attended King Edward VI School in Norwich before registering at Gresham’s in September of 1904. James’s older brother Arthur also attended the School (1902-5) and his adventures in the silver mining district of Canada are recorded in The Gresham magazine, followed in November 1917 by his death at Passchendaele while serving with the Canadian Mounted Rifles. James won an Open Scholarship to Gresham’s and boarded in Bengal Lodge.  He soon proved himself to be a sportsman, playing rugby for various teams, and doing well at athletics and gymnastics, as well as representing his House at swimming.  James won several prizes for science and maths, and was a regular and entertaining speaker at the debating society, addressing some ‘more or less coherent remarks’ on Turkey in 1908 and denouncing the war with Italy. After leaving at Christmas of 1909 he was to return to play in an OG rugby match the following year, and much later in 1920, attended an OG reunion at the School.

In 1909 James was awarded a scholarship of £80 per year to study maths at St. John’s College, Cambridge where he achieved First Class Honours, as well as playing cricket and stroking for the Lady Margaret Boat. In 1912 he was appointed to a post with the Egyptian Civil Service as a mathematician carrying out survey work. During the War James was asked to assist the British Army in compiling maps from aerial photographs, becoming so successful he went to Mesopotamia at the request of renowned T.E. Lawrence of Arabia to conduct the first ever aerial survey of the town of Baghdad. In 1917 he left to carry out further surveys in the Sudan and Egypt on which the entire irrigation system of the two countries was based. He was Mentioned in Despatches for his work in 1918, and later made a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society.  After the War James was in charge of survey work in the Nile Valley which occupied him for the next twenty years and led to the publication in 1925 of the first accurate survey of the Great Pyramid of Giza.  James Cole retired to Sheringham, and his obituary in the 1963 OG Magazine described him as “a man of quiet and modest disposition who was much liked and esteemed by all who knew him.”


Sun compass designed for use in tanks in the desert during WWII by James Cole.

Photograph copyright  IWM(FEQ 416)

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