Papers and correspondence of Reginald Victor Jones 1911-1997

Archive Collection

Scope and Content

There is biographical documentation of Jones's life from 1928 to 1997, including papers relating to his appointment at the University of Aberdeen and the honours and awards he received. There are a few printed articles about Jones and several autobiographical drafts. Also of biographical interest is a long sequence of correspondence and papers assembled by Jones under the title 'Bouquets and brickbats' which reflect his many achievements and also some of his failures. A record of day-to-day activities is provided by a series of twenty nine pocket diaries which runs almost continuously for the period 1957-1979. There is also a significant collection of press cuttings, illustrating his public profile, and a sequence of invitations to various social events.

Jones's Second World War papers are of great interest since it is for his work in scientific intelligence during the War that he is best known. There is a significant quantity of wartime documents, many of which were used in the writing of Most Secret War. These include copies of the Air Scientific Intelligence reports he wrote during the War, copies of intelligence reports he received and captured German documents. Jones's work as a consultant to the Control Commission for Germany from 1948 to 1951 is also represented. In addition to the wartime documents there is also considerable material relating to the historical treatment of the Second World War, focusing on topics such as the German air raid on Coventry on 14 and 15 November 1940, Farm Hall and the Oslo Report, and on individuals such as Sir Winston Churchill, Sir Henry Tizard and Lord Cherwell. There is also correspondence with wartime colleagues, British veterans of the war and former members of resistance organisations.

Jones's career as Professor of Natural Philosophy, University of Aberdeen, 1946-1981, is represented by correspondence and papers relating to the administration of his department, the Faculty of Science and the University. There are also records of Jones's teaching, with two significant sequences of manuscript lecture notes. Documentation of Jones's research topics and science interests at Aberdeen is arranged alphabetically by subject and includes correspondence with colleagues, drafts of publications and lectures, and manuscript and typescript notes. Research topics represented include aether drag, capacitance micrometers, crystal growing, optical levers and radiation pressure. There is also an interesting sequence of material on 'flying saucers', reflecting Jones's interest in unexplained aerial phenomena.

Jones's interest in defence and intelligence matters after the Second World War is documented including the Strategic Defense Initiative (commonly known as Star Wars) and warship design. There is also documentation of his interests in the history of science, for example James Clerk Maxwell and the history of infrared research, and educational policy, for example, university expansion and the teaching of science in schools. Of some insight into Jones's own thinking is a long sequence of papers assembled by him under the title 'Quacks', consisting largely of letters, circulars and pamphlets sent by numerous individuals and organisations.

There are records of visits made and conferences attended for the period 1948-1997. The material is divided up by country following Jones's own arrangement, with much relating to the United Kingdom, the United States and Germany. The papers for a number of countries also include general correspondence with friends and acquaintances living there. His German correspondents include several wartime opponents who later became friends. Societies and organisations material is extensive, reflecting his many professional and public commitments. His longstanding service to the Royal Society is substantially documented, particularly his work on the Paul Instrument Fund Committee and as an editor of Notes and Records. His service on numerous Government bodies is well represented, including the British Transport Commission, the Safety in Mines Research Advisory Board, the Electronics Research Council and the Infra-Red Committee of the Ministries of Supply and Aviation. There are also papers relating to Jones's attendance at International Conferences on the Unity of the Sciences, together with correspondence about the activities of the Unification Church. Records of consultancy work by Jones include the scientific instrument manufacturer, Hilger and Watts Limited.

Jones's publications are represented by a chronological series of drafts of books, articles, letters to newspapers, obituaries, reviews, and other contributions by Jones, covering the period 1946-1997. These drafts reflect the wide range of his interests, but are especially strong on the Second World War, intelligence issues, scientific research and education policy. The most substantial accumulations of material relate to Jones's two major books, Most Secret War, and its follow up Reflections on Intelligence. The papers relating to this sequel also include drafts for a book covering Jones's experiences before and after the Second World War, which he proposed to call 'No Easy Chair'. Although plans to publish this autobiographical account were abandoned, the drafts nevertheless contain interesting biographical information.

Lectures, speeches and broadcasts material covers the period of about fifty years from the end of the Second World War to the final years of Jones's life. He was a highly accomplished public speaker and many prestigious lectures are documented, together with the numerous invitations he had to decline. There is also a significant quantity of material representing his radio and television broadcasts. These papers include transcripts of recordings and are particularly extensive for the 1970s when he took part in a number of programmes about his scientific intelligence work during the Second World War.

Much of Jones's correspondence was kept with other material relating to the same subject and is therefore to be found with Second World War papers, for example or with the material for particular visits, conferences, lectures and publications. His remaining correspondence files include significant sequences of correspondence with two friends, Sir Harold Hartley with whom he was associated in editorial work on Notes and Records and Henry Cobden Turner who helped to develop the radio proximity fuse and other devices during the Second World War.

Non-textual material consists largely of slides relating to the Second World War, research interests and the history of science. There is also a video cassette of the Memorial Service for Jones at King's College, Aberdeen in 1998.

Administrative / Biographical History

Reginald Victor Jones was born in Dulwich on 29 September 1911. He attended Sussex Road Elementary School, Brixton, from where he won a scholarship to Alleyn's School, Dulwich. In 1929 Jones was awarded an Open Exhibition in Natural Science to Wadham College, Oxford, where T.C. Keeley was his tutor, and graduated with first class honours in physics in 1932. He was awarded a Research Studentship and at F.A. Lindemann's suggestion began developing new infrared detectors in the Clarendon Laboratory, Oxford. Jones took his doctorate in 1934 and was elected to the Skynner Senior Studentship in Astronomy by Balliol College, with the intention that he should work with H.H. Plaskett on the infrared spectrum of the sun. These plans, however, were not to come to fruition. Instead in late 1935, with Lindemann's encouragement, Jones took part in trials to detect aircraft by infrared. As a result of these trials the Air Ministry's Committee on Air Defence, chaired by Sir Henry Tizard, employed Jones from January 1936 to work at the Clarendon Laboratory on the development of an airborne infrared detector which could be mounted on night fighters. In October 1936 he was appointed as a Scientific Officer and full-time member of Air Ministry staff. In January 1938 the airborne infrared project was terminated. After an initial decision to send Jones to the radar establishment at Bawdsey, Suffolk was reversed, he was posted to the Admiralty Research Laboratory, Teddington, Middlesex. This move was clearly a disappointment to Jones who viewed it as an 'exile' from the important task of air defence research. His stay at Teddington was short-lived, however, and in September 1939 he was attached to the intelligence services to investigate the German application of science to air warfare.

This move to intelligence work proved to be a masterstroke as Jones proceeded to play a vital role during the Second World War in identifying and counteracting German weapons developments. He built a small staff at the Air Ministry, and arranged in 1940 for the transfer of his close friend from Oxford, Charles Frank, from the Chemical Research Establishment, Porton, Wiltshire. An early success was the identification and jamming of the radio navigational beams systems used by the German air force to guide bombers to their targets. This achievement established his reputation and in 1941 Jones was promoted to Assistant Director of Intelligence (Science). He continued to make important contributions to the Allied war effort, playing significant roles in the success of the Bruneval Raid in 1942, the development of 'Window' and the Allied understanding of the German V1 and V2 rockets. A full description of Jones's work during the war can be found in his autobiographical account Most Secret War (Hamish Hamilton, London, 1978), published in the United States as The Wizard War.

In 1946, despite promotion to Director of Intelligence, Jones decided to leave Government service because of his unhappiness at proposals for the post-war organisation of scientific intelligence. He applied for the vacant chair of Natural Philosophy at the University of Aberdeen and was successful, thanks in part to the vigorous support of Sir Winston Churchill. At the request of Churchill in 1952 he returned briefly to intelligence work as Director of Scientific Intelligence at the Ministry of Defence, but this proved to be a largely unsatisfactory experience and he resumed his academic duties in Aberdeen at the end of the following year.

Upon his appointment to the chair of Natural Philosophy Jones was faced with a decision over which direction his research should take. His work for the Air Ministry had kept him out of academic research for about ten years and placed him at a disadvantage to many contemporaries. Much of his earliest research after the War related to crystal growing and under his guidance the Department of Natural Philosophy became a world leader in this field. During his years at the University of Aberdeen, however, the main focus of his research was the development of instruments capable of precise measurement, such as optical levers, capacitance micrometers, microbarographs and tiltmeters. His ability to design highly sensitive instruments led to a number of important scientific contributions, highlighted perhaps by his work on the radiation pressure of light. Despite little teaching experience at the time of his appointment in 1946 Jones proved to be a popular lecturer. He captured the interest of his students by enlivening lectures with a variety of demonstrations, including the firing of a pistol to illustrate momentum conservation. Unfortunately Jones's later years at the University of Aberdeen were clouded by disagreements with colleagues, particularly over the proposals of the Robbins Committee to expand higher education, to which he was opposed. He retired in 1981.

Jones remained busy following his retirement. He travelled widely to give lectures and attend conferences, frequently visiting the United States where he was held in very high esteem in intelligence circles. He also continued to serve on committees in London until his arthritis made travelling from Aberdeen difficult. He died on 17 December 1997.

Jones contributed numerous research papers to scientific periodicals and a selection of these was published in 1988 under the title Instruments and Experiences (John Wiley&Sons). He also wrote and lectured extensively on defence and intelligence issues, education, the history of science and a variety of science-related issues. His best known publication, Most Secret War, achieved distinction as both a critical and commercial success and a follow up was published in 1989, Reflections on Intelligence (Heinemann).

Jones played an active role in public life after the Second World War, acting as chairman of numerous government committees and other bodies. These include the Infra-Red Committee of the Ministries of Supply and Aviation, 1950-1964 and the Air Defence Committee Working Party of the Ministry of Defence, 1963-1964. He also served the Royal Society in a number of capacities. He was a Vice-President, 1971-1972, Editor of Notes and Records of the Royal Society, 1969-1989 and Chairman of both the Paul Instrument Fund Committee, 1962-1984 and the British National Committee for the History of Science, Technology and Medicine, 1970-1978.

Jones was elected FRS in 1965. For his intelligence work during the War he received the CBE in 1942 and the CB in 1946 and was also honoured by the US Government with the Medal of Freedom with Silver Palm in 1946 and the Medal of Merit in 1947. The high esteem in which Jones was held across the Atlantic was further demonstrated in 1993 when the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) established the R.V. Jones Intelligence Award in his honour and made him the first recipient. His achievements were also given greater recognition at home with his appointment as a Companion of Honour in 1994.


By section as follows: Biographical, Second World War, University of Aberdeen, Research topics and science interests, Defence and intelligence, Science-related interests, Visits and conferences, Societies and organisations, Publications, Lectures, speeches and broadcasts, Correspondence, Non-textual material. Index of correspondents.

Conditions Governing Access

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 Reginald Victor Jones: NCUACS catalogue no. 95/8/00, 608 pp. Copies available from NCUACS, University of Bath.

Custodial History

The papers were received for cataloguing by the National Cataloguing Unit for the Archives of Contemporary Scientists in May 1998 from the executors of R.V. Jones and in October 2000 from Churchill Archives Centre. Deposited in Churchill Archives Centre in 2000.