Obituary: Christopher Bere

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The Independent Online
Christopher George Tamlyn Bere, land surveyor, born Goatshurst Somerset 24 August 1913, Gunner Surveyor 3rd Survey Regiment 8th Army 1939-45, Surveyor Directorate of Overseas Surveys 1947-63, MBE 1961, Assistant Director Overseas Surveys 1963-71, Chief Survey Officer Northern Ireland 1971-77, married 1958 Anne Hichens (two sons, one daughter), died Overstowey Somerset 12 August 1992.

CHRISTOPHER BERE was a very quiet and gentle but strong character. He declined, when head of the Northern Ireland Ordnance Survey, an invitation to be listed in Who's Who, although he had previously been the senior field surveyor of the government's Directorate of Overseas Surveys (DOS). Between 1947 and its dismemberment in 1984 the directorate mapped some two and a half million square miles of developing countries - mostly in Africa.

Mapping was done at the DOS headquarters at Tolworth, in Surrey, from aerial photographs; but it was the DOS's field surveyors who established permanent national survey frameworks for this. As one of the early leaders, Bere taught many others in the eight- or 10-man parties which he ran firmly and efficiently. One surveyor has described how Bere's zest and energy drove them with an innocent charm to work to his own high standards of speed and accuracy; and several of them now fill top posts in the Ordnance Survey.

Bere was born in 1913, and educated at West Buckland School, in Devon. He learnt surveying in the Territorial Army Artillery. He was at Dunkirk, and served with the 8th Army Survey Regiment Royal Artillery in North Africa and Italy, retiring as a major. At the end of the War, with some 200 others, he was recruited into what was then the Directorate of Colonial Surveys.

He worked as a survey party leader in British East and Central Africa; and played as hard as he worked. A keen fisherman, he held the record for Nile Perch with one caught at the Murchison Falls at Lake Albert in Uganda. He was appointed MBE in 1961.

DOS surveyors like Bere needed exceptional qualities of initiative, guts, and adaptability to work in remote areas in sometimes very rough and even dangerous conditions; and later, dealing with newly independent governments required diplomacy.

In 1963 Bere came into headquarters at Tolworth with me; and at first he found it difficult not to tell the leaders of survey parties exactly how to run operations - attempting just the kind of close control he himself would never have tolerated.

When Bere left Tanzania he gave the African assistants a pay rise which was to last for at least six months; but they soon asked his successor for another. He referred it to headquarters; and the assistants objected fiercely when he announced its refusal. However, one of them then asked who at headquarters was responsible. Learning it was Bere, they immediately accepted the decision - a tribute to Bere's personality. His surveyors remember best how his huge hands could repair with gentle delicacy complicated survey instruments which no one else would dare to tackle.

On becoming the Chief Survey Officer of Northern Ireland in 1971, during the civil disturbances, Bere was successful in creating a family spirit among his staff to ensure the maintenance of the survey's role in the public service - no mean achievement. The most important of his technical innovations was the use of short-range electromagnetic distance measurement for field surveys; and he was very happy once again to have an independent command.

Retiring in 1977, he returned to his native Quantocks, where he continued to lead an energetic life.

(Photograph omitted)