More Snippets from the Science Festival.

Big Bill and the Guns of El Alamein


Bill Sutherland of Orkney originally stationed in Orkney in WW II, but found himself posted to the remotest location available “for not complying with unnecessary discipline”, found himself posted to a Signals position in Egypt.

This may have been due to his skills as a Morse/Radio operator acquired during his work for the Orkney Telegraph office before the war. Here he wound up in a forward observation/communication post.

His description of the guns opening up on the German lines was that it was terrifying to them let alone to be on the receiving end. However German return fire inevitably cut the allied phone links which left Bill and his radio the only secure link for communications. He stayed at his post for over 36hrs. He had to make 2 trips of about 700 yds to get new batteries for his radio under fire. Indeed on one trip one of the batteries was hit with a bullet.

He received the Military medal for his actions here. There is an example of his radio type held in the Kirkwall Wireless museum.


Sailing by the Sunstone?


Wikimedia File:Silfurber

In a brilliant double act sprinkled with humour, Mark Shiner of Orkney College UHI and Dr Micheal Wharmby of Deutches Elektron-Synchhroton gave the likely truth behind this statement.

The Viking Sunstone is in fact the calcite crystalline allotrope of calcium carbonate.It was first imported from Iceland and was known as Iceland Spar. It has the property of polarising light. A property studied by Huygens. If a spot is affixed to one face and then looked through vertically upwards then shadows appear alongside the spot. Aligning these gives the direction of the Sun. It is thus more of a time telling device than anything else. It is normally found in Viking administrative centers. Mark went on to demonstrate the Viking Sun compass, plus a description of early Viking navigational skills, still being used by some Polynesians like the direction of the swell, clouds over islands, more broken water close to land  for example.

Reporter Nick Morrison

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