Peter Victor Dankwerts GC MBE FRS (Direct Recipient)

b. 14/10/1916 Emsworth nr Southsea, Hampshire. d. 25/10/1984 Cambridge.


Peter Victor Danckwerts (1916-1984) was born on 14th October 1916 in Emsworth, Hampshire, the eldest of five children of Rear Admiral Victor Hilary and Joyce Danckwerts (nee Middleton). Peter was educated at Winchester College and at Balliol College, Oxford, where he obtained first class honours in Chemistry in 1939.

Peter V Dankwerts

On the outbreak of the Second World War, he enlisted with the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve as a Sub-Lieutenant, and was sent for training in bomb disposal, as his education in the field of chemistry was seen as important for this hazardous work. His first posting was as a bomb disposal officer to the Port of London Authority in September 1940. Although he had learned about the defusing of bombs his training had not included anything on magnetic mines whose use against cities had not been anticipated by the Civil Defence authorities.

Over the next few months, after just six weeks in the service, he set out to deal with mines in his area, without orders and with incomplete equipment. He had only ever touched a mine under instruction, but he worked almost without rest for 48 hours and successfully dealt with 16 enemy mines. On one occasion he and Chief Petty Officer Beadle found two mines hanging from a parachute with their noses touching the floor. Their footsteps started the clock in one of them, but when they retreated the clock stopped. So they went back, undaunted, and dealt with the mine, knowing full well that its clock was highly sensitive and would only have a few seconds left to run. However, he managed to withdraw the fuse and then he dealt with the other mine.

On 20th December 1940, the London Gazette announced the award of the George Cross for Peter Danckwerts. He continued to work in London for a brief period before he took part in the invasion of Sicily. In 1942, he was awarded the MBE. At the end of the war, he transferred from chemistry to chemical engineering, and he moved to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology on a Commonwealth fellowship, and remained there to complete his Master’s Degree returning to Cambridge in 1948.

In a stroke of fortune for Peter, the Shell Oil Company had funded the establishment of a new Department of Chemical Engineering at Cambridge under T.R.C. Fox. While excelling at research and appreciating the opportunities offered in the Department Danckwerts knew that in order to teach he needed to widen his industrial experience. For this reason he accepted, in 1954, the chance to join the Industrial Group of the UK Atomic Energy Authority at Risley, as deputy to Leonard Rotherham. However, his stay at Risley was short-lived for in 1956 he was appointed to a professorship of Chemical Engineering Science at Imperial College, London. In 1959, he became the Shell Chair at Cambridge and also accepted a fellowship at Pembroke College, Cambridge.

In 1960, he married Lavinia Harrison, daughter of Brigadier-General D. A. Macfarlane. There were no children in the marriage. He retired due to ill-health in 1977 from his dual roles at Cambridge. The Danckwerts-Pergamon Prize was named in his honour at Cambridge University. Peter died on 25th October 1984, aged 68 in Cambridge and was cremated at Cambridge Crematorium. Peter’s medals including the GC, MBE, Defence Medal 1939-45, War Medal 1939-45, 1953 QEII Coronation Medal and 1977 QEII Silver Jubilee Medal are privately held.