Who's Who - Sir John Norton-Griffiths

Sir  John Norton-Griffiths (1871-1930), known as "Empire Jack" for his keenness for all things imperial, established an engineering company - Griffiths & Co. - prior to the war which specialised in the construction of tunnels through clay.

Once war was declared, in August 1914, Norton-Griffiths was quick in approaching the British War Office to recommend the establishment of mining companies dedicated to the construction of underground mines using the silent and efficient techniques honed by his own company (known as 'clay-kicking').

The War Office, after some persuasion from the eccentric Norton-Griffiths (who would lose no opportunity in demonstrating the mechanics of clay-kicking to senior officers), took him up on his offer of help and appointed him liaison officer to the Engineer-in-Chief, R.N. Harvey.

Working well together with Harvey, Norton-Griffiths took to touring the British lines on the Western Front in his battered Rolls Royce loaded with crates of fine wine.  These he used to persuade commanding officers to release men who Norton-Griffiths believed to be ideally suited to mining (generally those men who had previously worked in engineering companies before war broke out).

Ironically, Norton-Griffiths had been redeployed by the War Office before the culmination of British mine laying was reached on 7 June 1917, when the Battle of Messines was launched with the blowing of 19 enormous mines.  The explosions are said to have been heard by the British Prime Minister, David Lloyd George, in Downing Street.

The attack itself was one of the great British successes of the war, and confirmed the value of Norton-Griffiths' work (although curiously mine construction never again reached the peak witnessed at Messines, either in this or any subsequent war).

The year before the Messines attack Norton-Griffiths himself had been sent to Romania in order to arrange for the destruction of oil wells there before they fell into German hands.  However by this time the mining companies of the Western Front were capable of operating without the necessity of Norton-Griffiths' enthusiastic vigour (and which had proven so vital earlier in the war).

Click here to read Lord Northcliffe's account of the early stages of the Battle of Verdun.

"Devil Dogs" was the nickname given to the U.S. Marines by the German Army.

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