HOWARD ANGAS (BILL) JOHNSON, M.B.E.
To quote his own words:
"Even from school days, work has been my only hobby, and has seemed to me so absorbing and so urgent. I am not bright, but I was around, I think, when they dished out the staying power, and, maybe, the dedication.
"After 32 years with never a day's sick leave (I have had a few upsets, such as gastric attacks, a bout of pleurisy when thirteen men and a DC3 were depending on me, dengue, and so many malaria attacks after my various trips to New Guinea I have lost count, etc., but none has ever stopped my being at my post the full hours and more) … I stepped down in 1968, having served my purpose, to make way for a younger man with better mathematical background.
"How Glory (my wife) has put up with me I cannot imagine, but you will understand my acknowledgement of her patience and understanding and help over the years, with not one single word or look of complaint.
"Time is running out for me, and also for Australia (of which as a fifth generation Australian I cannot express my overwhelming love and fierce and aggressive pride). Perhaps this gives me the sense of urgency because, always for me, mapping has been primarily for defence, and since 1945 an accurate geodetic intercontinental survey for nuclear missile deterrent in due course, if we are to survive."
Howard Angas (Bill) Johnson was born on 7th March, 1907. His early education was undertaken at St. Peter's College, Adelaide.
From December 1925 to January 1936, he was employed as a field cadet in the South Australian Department of Lands and Survey.
Although registered as a Surveyor on 3rd October, 1930, he continued his employment with the Department on 10s. 6d. a day throughout the depression. During those ten years with the Lands and Survey Department, he served under twelve Government Surveyors, four of whom subsequently became Surveyors-General of South Australia. During this time he gained a wealth of valuable practical experience.
Bill joined the Royal Australian Survey Corps in January 1936 and was immediately introduced into topographical surveying based on rigid trigonometrical control and rectangular co-ordinates derived from the Transverse Mercator Projection. He was fortunate that the plane table was in the process of being replaced by the new procedure of photogrammetry or mapping using aerial photographs, so he had an early introduction to this method. In 1937 Bill was posted to the newly established Geodetic Section in the Survey Corps under Captain, later Brigadier, FitzGerald. Geodetic Surveying was to become of absorbing interest to Bill and a major outlet for his professional interest. He gained great expertise in all aspects of geodetic surveying including base measurements using the newly developed technique of determining the temperature of steel measuring tapes by the electrical resistance method. He was involved in astronomical observations to establish La Place Stations and all the computations involved in First Order Triangulation.
Bill was appointed a Warrant Officer Class II on joining the Survey Corps in 1936 and subsequently commissioned in June 1939. In World War II he was promoted Captain and appointed 2IC in the 2/1 Corps Field Survey Company in April 1940. He served with the Unit in the Middle East during 1941-42, and on his return to Australia held many staff appointments in Australia and New Guinea. In 1944-45 Bill was Assistant Director of Survey Headquarters New Guinea Force and later 2nd Australian Corps. In this period he organised the production and supply of maps for the Bougainville Operations. For his efforts he was awarded the M.B.E. The citation to the award is an indication of the contribution he made to the war effort.
Text of Citation, Award of M.B.E. to
VX 17516 Major Howard Angas Johnson, Royal Australian Survey Corps
As Assistant Director of Survey, Major Johnson has worked indefatigably to produce a complete map coverage of the entire North Solomons area of operations. At the start of the campaign existing maps were few and inaccurate. In the face of considerable difficulties and lack of equipment, he delivered accurate maps of all areas. Further these maps were invariably produced in time to meet the requirements of all operations. This necessitated long periods of exceptionally hard work.
By his ability, energy and untiring devotion to duty, Major Johnson contributed materially to the success of the operations in this theatre.
Awarded with effect 2nd November 1946.
In the immediate post-war period he was engaged in the survey and mapping programme of the Corps including the establishment of control for the initial mapping association with the Long Range Weapons Establishment.
From January to November 1947 Bill was in England, Europe and East Africa to study radar controlled surveys and report on the desirability or otherwise of introducing such a survey for the main control in Australian mapping.
From January 1950 to February 1954 Lieut-Colonel Johnson was Chief Instructor at the Army School of Military Survey. He was responsible for the basic and advanced training of all survey personnel in the Royal Australian Survey Corps. During this period he revised the lecture notes of many of the courses and produced training manuals on many aspects of military survey. In his period as Chief Instructor he made a major contribution to the technical and professional standing of the Survey Corps.
In February 1954 he resigned his Army appointment and commenced duty as a senior geodetic surveyor in the National Mapping Section of the Department of the Interior and subsequently of the Department of National Development. In this position he was able to satisfy his overwhelming ambition to take an active part in the field work of the Geodetic Survey of Australia.
Except for the post-war Tasmania and Woomera connections, the main geodetic survey of Australia had virtually come to a halt in 1941, and his task was to re-start it in the field in 1954.
With a party of eight men, in continuous turnover, classic triangulation was observed by him during the years 1954 to 1956, from Cobar to Broken Hill to Port Augusta to Port Lincoln; from Port Augusta, through the abrupt and spectacular Flinders Ranges, to Marree, Oodnadatta, Alice Springs and Tennant Creek.
Near Tennant Creek, just as the suitable triangulation hills faded out in early 1957, advice was received of the advent of the Tellurometer. Traverse reconnaissance was commenced and angles observed by him before this revolutionary instrument had even arrived in Australia - the first country to adopt Tellurometer traverse methods for its geodetic control.
He supervised both in the field and in the office and reconnoitred most of the central geodetic traverses. In addition to supplying geodetic control, these surveys have been mainly responsible for initial vehicle tracks and the availability of survey connections through a large and previously very little known area of Australia, which subsequently received special attention in oil search. He led the two reconnaissances which opened the two first motor vehicle tracks from Warburton to Carnegie and from Lake Mackay to Callawa; also he reconnoitred most of the Canning Stock Route by motor vehicle for survey control.
In July 1959, after 14 years away from the country, he recommenced the geodetic ground reconnaissance and beaconing of the main spinal ranges of Papua and New Guinea. From May 1963 to February 1965 Bill supervised the geodetic triangulation and trilateration of the high survey over New Guinea.
Even with the use of a high altitude helicopter, this was a somewhat difficult survey. With the almost continuous cloud cover, turbulent winds and restricted, rough and dangerous landing areas on the 10,000 and 15,000 feet peaks, with their raw, wet cold and rarefied atmosphere, observing parties remained at each station from two to six weeks.
A further difficult and time-consuming operation undertaken by him was making the high survey connections to the low level coastal survey and to the United States Hiran survey. Even with both levels free of cloud, often great banks of cloud lay between.
On the principles that a geodetic survey is only as good as its marking and its records and that the more costly it is to reach and establish a station, the better marked and observed it should be, about half the effort put into National Mapping surveys by him and the men under his control has been in their marking, both in Australia and New Guinea. This work was to a professional standard and in the tradition of the early trigonometrical surveyors who, a hundred years ago, in remote and hostile areas, set the pattern.
After 32 years Commonwealth service, without a single day's sick leave, he voluntarily stepped down on 23rd April, 1968, from the supervisory position to make way for a younger man. This allowed him to return to the field for his few remaining years of service, as a Government Surveyor, where his most useful contribution has been given to the country and to the profession.
On 6th October, 1969, in recognition of his service to the surveying profession and to Australia, Bill was awarded The Medal of The Institution of Surveyors, Australia. The citation read in part:
HOWARD ANGAS JOHNSON, M.B.E. F.I.S. Aust., a person whose outstanding technical achievement has reflected credit on the Surveying Profession in Australia, is awarded The Medal of the Institution of Surveyors, Australia.
Bill Johnson died in Melbourne on 14th September, 1990. Our deepest sympathy is extended to his wife, Gloria, and family.
From the Institution of Surveyors, Australia, S.A. Division newsletter TIELINE.
Known affectionately as Bill, Lieutenant-Colonel Howard Angas Johnson M.B.E. died on the 14th September 1990 at the age of 83. His surveying career spanned over forty years but began in Adelaide in 1925 when he was accepted as an Articled Cadet by the Department of Lands. He received a Licence in 1930 and that year became an Associate of the South Australian Institute of Surveyors.
In 1939, Bill joined the Australian Survey Corps as a Lieutenant and served as a trigonometrical surveyor in a number of overseas quarters during World War II, rising to the rank of Captain in 1946.
In 1952, Bill became a foundation member of the South Australia Division of I.S.A., and was elected to the rank of Fellow in 1959.
In 1957, he was associated with the Commonwealth National Mapping group as trigonometrical surveying was his specialty. His efforts in this field earned him an M.B.E.
Although he moved interstate in later years, Bill always had a soft spot for South Australia, and his memory will be perpetuated in our surveying museum to which he donated a valuable collection of his artefacts.
No doubt the Australian Surveyor will publish more details of Bill's work shortly, but Tieline would like to take this opportunity to bid farewell to an old surveying campaigner who has left his mark on our landscape forever.