THE SOCIETY OF SWEDISH ENGINEERS IN GREAT BRITAIN
Founded on the 5th March, 1924 by Consul-General E. G. Sahlin and Baron O. Thott.
The Society of Swedish Engineers in Great Britain was formed in 1924 by a group of Swedish engineers whose immediate objective was to create an organisation to receive the Swedish delegation to the World Power Conference held in London that year.
Any record of the history of the Society must contain the names of two of its founders.
Consul-General E.G. Sahlin (1879-1966) was, as President of the Society, its “benevolent dictator” until his departure for Sweden in 1945. Staunchly supported by the Vice President, Baron O. Thott (1885-1958), he complemented the Chairman and Councils which were democratically elected in accordance with the Society’s constitution. The best of both worlds!
Gustaf VI Adolf
H.M. The King of Sweden
H.E. The Swedish Ambassador to the Court of St. James
FOUNDER & 1st PRESIDENT
Sahlin, E. G. Consul-General for Sweden, London
HKH Sveriges Kronprins Gustaf VI Adolf
Emil Gustaf Sahlin
Erik M. Bergstrom
J. Birger E. Dahlerus
Gustaf L. M. Hellstrom
Elias F. Peterson
Herman Th. Pyk
Ove Friherre Thott
Ingenior Axel Welin
The growth of the Society’s membership has from the very beginning been rapid and by 1934 the society had 127 members.
An important event in the history of the Society was the meeting in March 1931 when it invited to a dinner members of the Society of Danish Civil Engineers in Great Britain and Ireland headed by the Danish Minister in London, Count Ahlefeld-Laurvig, and their chairman Mr. H. Faber. The dinner was followed by a highly interesting lecture on Danish Engineering Activities in Great Britain, given by Mr. J. C. Wulff.
The Society of Swedish Engineers in Great Britain with Danish guests celebrating the tenth Anniversary of the Society at Grosvenor House, Park Lane, London on May 25th, 1934
The Danish Society returned the invitation and Mr. Bo Hellstrom then similarly outlined the work of Swedish engineers in this country. These two meetings formed the beginning of a most appreciated and friendly co-operation between the two Scandinavian societies and an extended intercourse between their members.
The Society’s twentieth anniversary occurred during the war but nevertheless a dinner was held at the Dorchester Hotel on the 27th April 1944. Several Norwegian engineers participated. During the war many of them arrived in the U.K., and as their Society in Norway was taken over by the Nazis in 1941, they re-established it on British soil in 1943 with active support of H.M. King Haakon and H.R.H. Crown Prince Olav. Danish guests, members of the Society of Danish Civil Engineers in Great Britain and Ireland, were also invited as the Society sought from early on to form bonds and co-operate with other societies.
During the war the three Scandinavian Societies had the very best co-operation and it is regretted that the Norwegian engineers did not remain as a Society in the U.K. after the war.
The most outstanding event was, however, the celebration of the twenty-fifth anniversary. This took place on the 3rd May, 1949 and took the form of a dinner and dance at the Dorchester Hotel. The founder and Honorary President of the Society, Consul-General E.G. Sahl in, specially over from Sweden for the occasion, was in the chair. A number of distinguished guests attended, of which should be mentioned His Excellency the Swedish Ambassador Mr. G. Hagglof and Dr. Frederik Ljungstrom, who had recently been awarded the James Watt International Medal.
The 25th anniversary was apparently so thoroughly celebrated that the third decade passed without ceremony. However, the 40 years anniversary was celebrated by a memorable dinner dance in the Park Lane Hotel on 1st May, 1964, presided over by Folke Lindskog, the Society’s Chairman. This was the occasion when a great supporter of the Society, Baron Goran von Otter, opened his speech by saying “I am a Consul-General and specialise in generalities”.
The most popular annual events are perhaps the Society’s dinner-dances. Since the war these events have taken place around the last day of April. This day, Walpurgis night, is of course in Sweden the occasion when spring is traditionally celebrated with song and dance.
A Society’s Annual Dinner Programme cover from 1942 scanned from the Society’s Archive.
In this context the Society must pay generous tribute to its Danish friends. Their annual dinnerdances which many of our members have greatly enjoyed, have sometimes even outdone our own in delight and geniality. The annual river outings of the Society of Danish Civil Engineers in Great Britain and Ireland are also popular with us Swedish engineers. It goes without saying that members of the Danish Society are welcome guests at all of our functions.
The 70th anniversary was celebrated in the presence of its Patron, HE the Swedish Ambassador Lenart Eckerberg. Formal awarding of the SIS scholarship of E 4000 was shared equally between four young and talented engineers who presently work as trainees at the Swedish Office of Science in London.
By the 75th the main activity was our lectures of which there are four to five each year followed by dinner and discussion. The topics for the lectures through the years have covered most aspects of engineering; civil engineering, telephony, cables to optical fibres, shipping, building, paper and pulp, aviation, cars, world economy, different aspects on war and increasingly telecommunication and computers.
Times change and so does engineering, which originally equalled civil engineering. Nowadays it includes nearly anything within the technical and scientific fields. But it does not stop there as many obviously wish to acquire the shine of the engineer’s highly respected profession. Thus, we have inter alia: business-, social-, language- and genetic engineering.
On the 29th April 1924 Karl Bryhm delivered the Society’s first lecture when he dealt with “The Port of Shanghai – A phase of Swedish civil engineering abroad”. Civil engineering subjects have been popular over the years and amongst others may be mentioned “Swedish Bridge Construction and the Sando Bridge”, in 1938. In 1955 Bo Ekelund spoke about “The Oresund Bridge project” and in 1973 E.F. Glover developed the theme “History and development in channel tunnel thinking” – both projects of seemingly never ending interest.
Broadcasting is another subject which has captured the interest of members. As early as 1925 Sven Bylander gave a lecture, “The London Broadcasting Station in Oxford Street”. Lectures on broadcasting occurred approximately every 10 years, notably one which was made in 1960 by Sir Harold Bishop who was for many years Technical Head of the BBC.
Photography has also been a popular subject for lectures especially one· on the 6th November 1953 entitled “Photography in the Service of Science and Industry”. The Society was on this occasion honoured by a visit of its patron His late Majesty King Gustaf Adolf.
The Society has always been interested in topical subjects even if not strictly technical. Thus, during 1930 one of the Society’s founders, Baron 0. Thott, presented a paper entitled “The Andre Expeditior”. This expedition set out in 1897 to sail by balloon over the North Pole and the sad remains had been found earlier in 1930.
In the early 1930’s the civilised world experienced a severe economic depression and this is reflected in the choice of lectures. For instance, in 1931, Dr. E. Classen, head of the Swedish Chamber of Commerce for the United Kingdom, gave a lecture on “The Present Crisis and its Political Reactions”. In 1939, when World War 11 broke out, the Society’s activities were reduced especially during the first wo years. Some members were not even allowed to take part in the Society’s meetings, thus, Curt Lange – later Chairman of the Society – was directed by the authorities not to attend any Swedish gathering, religious or otherwise, because his factory produced secret war material.
Lectures during 1943 showed that during the war, members were interested to learn about the conditions at home. H. Wernekinck lectured on “Technical Supply Problems in Sweden during The Blockade” and Gunnar Hagglof spoke about “Swedish Trade in War Time”. Mr. Hagglof became Swedish Ambassador in London after the war. During 1943 Gunnar Anderson, then President of the Swedish Trade Unions, lectured on the subject “The Contemporary Trade Union Movements in Sweden”. This was not the first time a social subject had been discussed; in 1924 J. von Sydow spoke on the subject “A Bill for Regulation of Industrial Democracy in Sweden” and there were other lectures pertaining to human welfare and industrial relations.
The economic and industrial expansion which followed during the years 1950-1970, was reflected in several lectures dealing with subjects such as interplanatory flights, electronics and, of course, atomic energy, notably one entitled “Engineering and Atomic Energy” presented in 1952 by Sir J. Cockcroft – Nobel Prize Winner for Physics in 1951.
In 1973 the world once more found itself in a fuel crisis and this time it was P.B. Rees, the National Coal Board’s planning chief, who told members how this problem can be solved, in a lecture entitled “Coal and the Energy Balance”. Two months later Professor G. Wilkinson, Nobel Prize Winner in Chemistry 1973, gave a lecture to the Society after which in the discussion members were told that there is in fact no energy shortage; it is only a matter of using our resources more efficiently. Professor Wilkinson was the third Nobel Prize Winner to lecture to the Society, because apart from him and Sir John Cockcroft, Sir Edward Appleton, winner of the physics prize in 194 7, spoke in 1946 on the subject “The Scientist in War Time”.
Right from the start SIS put money aside for a Scholarship Fund with the aim to provide opportunities for Swedish engineers to study in the UK.
> LEARN MORE ABOUT OUR SCHOLARSHIPS
1999: The fund has been able to support students from Chalmers in Gothenburg and young assistants at the Swedish Office of Science. To celebrate our 75 years it was decided to award a one-off Jubilee Scholarship. SIS is honoured to have found a worthy recipient in the person of Martin Depken from Lund’s Technical lnstitute who will be doing his PhD on the topical subject of “Neural Networks” at Oxford. Few subjects could better represent the purpose of SIS.
Through history all major inventions often have limited applications initially and the major breakthroughs come with their application in a wider field. So the Society’s most important role will remain a forum for cross-fertilisation between disciplines. The engineers’ quest for knowledge is obvious at our meetings when the dinner-cum-discussion, following the lecture, sometimes might not allow the lecturer to enjoy his meal fully. Despite the mass of data and information, which no human is able to digest, there is an increasing need for personal communication across borders and disciplines. The lectures and thus SIS serves this vital need.
The engineers’ role in the society has often been a subject of discussion, sometimes they are heroes and at other times they are being accused of being technocrats, instrumental in environmental destruction and even war. In general, though, engineers have been regarded with great respect throughout the history as creators of wealth and human progress. No one doubts the engineers’ role in our future society, as they are needed more than ever. But with that may come new responsibilities, as engineered products become every man’s property. Few ever learn to program their video tape recorder properly, most have problems following the instructions in their computer user guide, and even engineers hit the wall when trying to install a modem.
As engineers it will no longer be enough to design equipment, we have to design benefits, which are easily usable to the customer. This implies increased need for personal communication across the engineering disciplines and also with professions outside the engineering sector.