In World War 1 surveyors played a vital survey and mapping role in war, as they do today.

In 1914 many Queensland surveyors and drafters volunteered to serve at the front line. Their skills in surveying and mapping were used ‘to survey the trenches and record the location of their own and enemy trenches at Anzac Cove and many other locations.’

The collector and Creator, from the Museum of Lands, Mapping and Surveying Mr Bill Kitson advises as follows:

‘Surveyors and cartographers volunteered in their droves for the First World War. If you are going to have a war, you need maps, and if you need maps, you need surveyors and cartographers.

The surveyors and the cartographers would plot up the survey they did during the daytime, and the next day they would have the maps for the troops to act on.

Using just a compass and 20 feet of string, surveyor Ronald McInnis (see article below) mapped the trench locations at Quinn’s Post at Gallipoli in intricate detail. 

Mr Kitson says in the late 1930s, with the threat of invasion by the Japanese, survey teams mapped Queensland in intricate detail in just a 3 year period.

 “We had no topographic maps to fight a good war with on the Queensland coast, so in 1939 they got teams together at Kilcoy showground and taught them the art of topographic mapping, and they surveyed from Brisbane to Cape York, between 1939 and 1942.”

Courtesy of ‘ABC Rural – Anzac surveyors critical to Australian war effort – Robin McConchie – Posted Wednesday 24 April 2013

Source: Royal Engineers Museum, Library & Archive

If you visit the Australian War Museum’s online website, there is mention of 9 surveyors of WW1 – link here.

Their names are:

  • Private Edgar Robert Colbeck Adams (Died at war)
  • Private Rupert James Crew (Died at war)
  • Sergeant John Dunbar Devine
  • Major William Gordon Farquhar
  • Captain Clarence Smith Jeffries (Died at war)
  • Corporal Donald Bennett Lane (Died at war)
  • Lieutenant Ronald Alison McInnis
  • Lance Corporal Marshall Western Moore Way (Died at war)
  • Sapper Arthur Wilson

All provided outstanding service to the nation. The museum has their transfer documents and diaries online to read about their careers and their lives before, during and after war.

We provide some details on 1 of these great servicemen – Ronald Alison McInnis – below.

Source: Roll of honour board to those Qld Surveyors of WW1 at the Queensland Lands Department.

Lieutenant Ronald Alison McInnis (Surveyor)

Born and raised in Mackay, Queensland, Ronald Alison McInnis became registered on 8 October 1912 as an Authorised surveyor. At the age of 24, he enlisted with the Australian Imperial Force and departed Australia from Brisbane on 24 May 1915 with the 26th Infantry Battalion.

McInnis was deployed to Gallipoli that year and for the first two months, he rotated in and out of the trenches as he surveyed and mapped the extensive trench and tunnel system at Quinn’s Post. After that, McInnis in early 1916, was sent to the Western front. In September 1916 he was promoted to the rank of officer of the 53rd Infantry Battalion where he was tasked with the construction & repair of the trenches. His diaries describe in great detail the battles in which he participated.

In October 1916, he experienced some heavy shelling and what he described as a brush with death when a salvo of shells landed nearby, forcing the wall of the trench to collapse on him. The soft earth was hard to get out of, and without assistance from his unit, who dug him out, he would have been crushed to death.

In 1917 he was promoted to Lieutenant and participated in the battle at Passchendaele, and his last major battle was at St. Quentin Canal in September 1918.

After the Armistice, McInnis left via London to return to Australia on 23 March 1919

Source: Australian War Memorial, The mapping of the trenches & tunnels at Quinns Post, Gallipoli

Source: Enlisting Paper for William Gordan Farquhar, Australian War Memorial

The full story is described here at the Australian War Memorial website – https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/P11013294
Feature Image: Military Survey – Pinterest