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4 Rivett to White

Letter MELBOURNE, 5 January 1944


I had a letter from Oliphant the other day which shewed that the tube alloys [1] work was going ahead with amazing vigour in U.S.A. I won't put details into this note, but evidently the possibilities are being taken increasingly seriously.

Oliphant all through has been very keen that Australia should play a part in this work. I discussed the whole matter with Tizard [2] in some detail, but he was inclined to the view that Oliphant was exaggerating things a little and suggested that we hasten slowly.

Since his return, I have heard nothing further from him, but I am expecting a message soon.

Oliphant hinted some time ago that he would like an Australian or two to be associated with the work, and I have just received the following most secret personal telegram from him. It runs:-

'Would you release Burhop [3] for the duration to take part in urgent semi-theoretical work on tube alloys problems with Massey and Condon in Berkeley. [4] On account of his past experience Burhop could advance materially the use of the new weapon. Recent release of Cockcroft [5] and Massey for this work is indication of its impor tance. If you are favourably inclined can arrange for official request from Appleton [6] and the Lord Chancellor [8] who can confirm this problem.'

I have, of course, not spoken to Burhop about this, nor shall I until I hear from you. It seems to me a good opportunity to get one of our fellows into a line of work, and amongst a group of people, which will give him wonderful opportunities for activity; but is Burhop, the right man, and what will happen to the valve laboratory here?

Martin' may regard this as an added argument for his coming down here to take charge, but I feel very certain that you must have somebody to relieve you of laboratory control to some extent in order that you may be able to get out more amongst the Service people. There seems to be no one but Martin for that job.

Altogether the matter is just a little difficult and provides another reason for my disappointment at being unable to get up to Sydney tonight for oral discussion with you.

  • 1 Code name for the Anglo-American program to develop an atomic bomb.
  • 2 Sir Henry Tizard, President of Magdalen College, Oxford.
  • 3 Dr E. H. S. Burhop, a Melbourne graduate with Cambridge research experience had joined the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research on secondment. He was released for work on the Manhattan Project, that part of 'Tube Alloys' based in the United States, in May 1944.
  • 4 Dr H. S. W. Massey, Technical Officer, U.K. Scientific and Industrial Research Mission to the University of California at

    Berkeley. He was a Melbourne graduate with Cambridge research experience. Dr Edward V. Condon was a U.S. physicist who helped to

    assemble the Manhattan Project personnel.

  • 5 Dr J. D. Cockcroft, Chief Superintendent of the U.K. Air Defence Research and Development Establishment, became Director of the

    Montreal Laboratory of the National Research Council of Canada in 1944.

  • 6 Sir Edward Appleton, Secretary of the U.K. Dept of Scientific and Industrial Research.
  • 7 Matters relating to 'Tube Alloys' were normally handled on behalf of the U.K. Govt by Sir John Anderson, Chancellor of the

    Exchequer, and it appears to have been Anderson who was intended rather than Lord Simon, the Lord Chancellor.

  • 8 Dr L. H. Martin, Associate Professor of Natural Philosophy, University of Melbourne, seconded to C.S.I.R.


Last Updated: 2 February 2011

Category: International relations

Topic: History