Obituary: Geoffrey Gollin

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The Independent Online
Geoffrey Joseph Gollin, engineer, born Liverpool 11 May 1901, married 1938 Mary West (two daughters, two sons), died Ashtead Kent 11 August 1992.

GEOFFREY GOLLIN had the distinction, dubious in his own eyes, of appearing both in a book by David Irving (The Mare's Nest) and in the radical American novel Gravity's Rainbow, by Thomas Pynchon. Both refer to the role he played in the development of a British liquid-fuel rocket in parallel to the V2 (1940-45).

Gollin was assistant on a team from Shell led by Isaac Lubbock which developed a rocket, initially to assist aircraft take-off (RATO) and to show the feasibility of liquid fuel as opposed to the solid fuel employed in cordite-propelled rockets. By 1942 a full-scale rocket, 'Lizzy', was being tested at the Ministry of Supply Weapons Research station at Langhurst, near Horsham. With aerial reconnaissance showing unknown cigar-shaped objects in Germany, the tests were rapidly scaled up. Lubbock and Gollin became embroiled in cabinet disputes with Churchill's personal assistant, Professor Lindemann, when they suggested that the objects observed in Germany could be rockets capable of carrying a 10-ton warhead over 200 miles. London would be within range of the French coast.

As a result Gollin was recruited for a wartime expedition to investigate the A4 test site at Blizna in Poland. Peenemunde had now come within range of Lancaster bombers from England and the rocket experimental station was evacuated to Blizna. A complete rocket fired from Blizna landed off range and fell into the hands of the Polish Home Army 80 miles east of Warsaw.

Gollin provided historians with a vivid account of the wartime journey via Teheran and Moscow. The parts of the rocket were duly crated up for dispatch to London but disappeared in Soviet hands en route. He did however retrieve a test-sheet giving details of the loading of alcohol and liquid oxygen. His expertise was acknowledged in the new Science Museum gallery on 'The Exploration of Space', and till the end of his life he kept the programme of the Moscow Arts Theatre Cherry Orchard which - typically - he regarded as a highlight of this hazardous journey.

Geoffrey Gollin came from the Anglo-Jewish establishment in Liverpool and was conventionally educated at the Jewish House at Clifton, followed by Caius College, Cambridge. He abandoned his wish to become an architect in the face of family pressure to earn a safer living as an engineer.

From 1922 he worked on diesel engines for English Electric and then the engineers Mirrlees, Bickerton & Day. In 1926 he joined what later became Shell Petroleum Company and commenced his lifelong work on continuous combustion. During the war period - apart from his work on rockets - he participated in the development of combustion systems for the Whittle jet engine (1937-39).

Returning to work on his speciality, light middle-distillate fuels, he wrote the definitive text Fuel Oil and Oil Firing, published in 1947 and translated into more than 50 languages. In 1965 he became President of the Institute of Fuel, later reconstituted as the Institute of Energy (1967), for which he obtained a grant of arms, designed by himself, and of which he was made an Honorary Fellow.

The misery Gollin witnessed in Liverpool at the end of the First World War liberated him from his background. He became a supporter of the Labour Party, an aficionado of Bernard Shaw and the Bloomsbury group and from 1926 one of the early members of a Liberal synagogue. Out of working hours he devoted himself to a succession of humanitarian concerns, becoming energetic as a Commissioner in the Scout movement, and in the cause of girls' education.

His enthusiasms and breadth of knowledge gave the lie to an England of two cultures. He collected a remarkable antiquarian library on the development of London, was Master of the Worshipful Company of Gardeners, was an expert genealogist and devoted his retirement to local history, on which he was author of the book Bygone Ashstead.

No list of achievements conveys his talent for sharing the pleasures and skills of his long life, whether as a young scouter camping and cooking over a wood fire or in old age getting out his bicycle and riding off in midwinter to repair the boiler at an old people's home.

He was a family patriarch who in many ways never stopped being a boy.

(Photograph and graphic omitted)