Papers and correspondence of Brigadier Ralph Alger Bagnold, 1896-1990

Scope and Content

The papers document Bagnold's career as a desert explorer, soldier and scientist. There is good documentation of Bagnold's early explorations in the Middle East and North Africa, 1926-1932. Scientific research is less well documented; most of the surviving material dates from after the Second World War and the later research on random distributions is the best represented. The Long Range Desert Group papers were assembled by Bagnold for a projected history of the Group and include original instructions for and reports of many operations and draft chapters of a 'war diary and narrative'. There are many maps relating to First World War service, desert exploration and the LRDG. The papers also include Bagnold's autobiography (posthumously published by the University of Arizona Press), childhood letters to his family from school and, of special interest, a 1928 letter to Bagnold from T.E. Lawrence ('Lawrence of Arabia').

Administrative / Biographical History

Bagnold was educated at Malvern College and the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich, and was commissioned in the Royal Engineers with the rank of 2nd Lieutenant in 1915. After First World War service he returned to England in 1919 to study at Gonville and Caius College for the Cambridge Engineering Tripos, resuming his army career in 1921. A posting in Egypt, 1926-1928, instilled in him a fascination with desert exploration. He went on expeditions with fellow officers into Sinai, Transjordan and the Libyan Desert and returned to North Africa to lead expeditions in 1929, 1930 and 1932. In 1934 Bagnold received the Gold Medal of the Royal Geographical Society and in 1935 recounted his desert expeditions in Libyan Sands. Travel in a dead world. During these expeditions Bagnold became interested in the physics behind the creation and movement of sand dunes. On his retirement from the army in 1935 he began scientific research at Imperial College, London using a home-made wind tunnel. This work culminated in Bagnold's 1941 monograph The physics of blown sand and desert dunes. At the outbreak of the Second World War Bagnold was recalled to the army and in 1940, with General Wavell's support, he founded the Long Range Desert Group (LRDG), a small motorised force which undertook reconnaissance and raids deep into enemy-held territory. Bagnold received the OBE (Military) for the part he played in establishing the Group and was later promoted to Brigadier. Bagnold returned to England in 1944. In 1947 he became Director of Research of the Shell Refining and Marketing Company. He resigned in 1949 to concentrate on research at Imperial College, London into the transport of solids by a stream of water. This led to collaborative work with L.B. Leopold, Head of the Water Resources Division of the US Geological Survey, on the annual rate at which rivers transport solids. He remained an authority on the transport of blown sand and in 1977 was invited by NASA to be key-note speaker at a meeting on the desert landscapes of Earth and Mars. In later years Bagnold also studied patterns of random distributions, work which had its origins in observations made in 1927. He was elected FRS in 1944. See R.A. Bagnold Sun, Wind, War and Water (University of Arizona Press, 1991) and R.A. Bagnold Libyan Sands. Travel in a Dead World.


By section as follows: Biographical, Expeditions and research, Long Range Desert Group, Maps, Photographs. Index ofcorrespondents.

Access Information

Readers intending to use the Archives Centre must write in advance to the Keeper of the Archives giving details of their research subject and listing the collections they will wish to consult. New readers should also provide a letter of introduction and some form of identification (such as a passport or driving licence).

Other Finding Aids

Printed catalogue of the papers and correspondence of Brigadier Ralph Alger Bagnold: NCUACS catalogue no. 35/3/92, 61pp. Copies available from NCUACS, University of Bath.

Separated Material

Bagnold's family retain a First World War narrative and photograph albums and the papers of Bagnold's grandfather Major General Michael Edward Bagnold (1787-1857), his great uncle Captain Thomas Maxwell Bagnold RN (1780-1848) and his father Colonel Arthur Henry Bagnold (1854-1943).

Bagnold's scientific correspondence with L.B. Leopold forms part of the Leopold papers in the American Philosophical Society Library, Philadelphia.

Bagnold's observations of positions, routes, heights in Egypt, 1929 are in the Archives of the Royal Geographical Society, London. Observations file no.123.

Custodial History

Received for cataloguing in 1991-1992 by the National Cataloguing Unit for the Archives of Contemporary Scientists from Mr S.C. Bagnold, son. Deposited in Churchill Archives Centre in 1992.

Geographical Names