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George Rocke, 1927 - 2010

Dam specialist George Rocke, who dedicated 45 years to the profession, is remembered by son, Iain.

George Rocke was proud to be a civil engineer, although his mother used to joke that he was a Harley Street specialist. He was born in Harley Street in Partick in Glasgow’s West End. Educated at the local primary school he was then evacuated to Ayr and Strathaven due to the war. He returned later to Alan Glen’s secondary where he had won a bursary before evacuation. He did well academically here, as well as enjoying playing rugby.

After studying civil engineering in a wartime continuous two and a half year course at the Royal Technical College in Glasgow he gained a Glasgow University degree in 1947. As civil engineering was a reserved occupation at this time, he avoided his conscription to be a Bevin Boy down the mines (apparently 10% of conscripts from 1943 to 1948 were sent down the mines) – he told us this was a good incentive to graduate.

He joined the civil engineering consultants Babtie Shaw and Morton in their offices on Blythswood Square in Glasgow earning £54 per year.  He was to remain with them throughout his working career other than for a short, sponsored break to study for a PhD in soil mechanics in 1949.  The company was then in one office but over the years increased in size until it employed 1500 people.  George was appointed an associate in 1973 and retired in 1992 a technical director of the company.

In the early years he was involved in the huge hydroelectric projects being constructed at this time in Scotland.  He was posted to the construction of Shira Dam, up the glen from Inveraray.  There he lived in a caravan where his new wife and newer daughter joined him.  My older brother and sister remember car trips a few years later as young children to ‘the echo place’ - a passage set inside the concrete dam which rewarded the caller with an astounding echo – how health and safety has changed!

George’s specialism became soil mechanics, particularly related to earth dam design. He gained experience on embankment stability, tunnel works and chemical grouting as well as developing his knowledge of hydraulics related to spillway design, wave action and piped flows.  In later years he applied for and was awarded the status of panel one engineer for dams, a status recognised within dam regulation and one of responsibility for the safety of dams.  He gained membership of the Institution of Civil Engineers in 1954 and became a Fellow in 1965.

He designed Turret Dam above Crieff and Backwater Dam which supplies Dundee.  He spent many years working on the large Kielder Dam project in Northumberland, selecting the most suitable valley and then location, giving evidence at the planning public enquiry, developing the design, and then overseeing construction. He was particularly proud of being presented to the Queen at the opening of both Backwater Dam and Kielder Dam.

As a family we were sucked into his enthusiasm for engineering, soil mechanics and geology, but the impact on the environment and local residents of his projects was particularly felt after spending several caravan holidays in the Kielder Valley, walking around the areas to be flooded by the reservoir. I was later to work for the contractor as a student engineer over the final summer of muckshifting, giving me an understanding of the close affinity my father felt to the places, the engineering achievements and the new landscapes created.

During this time he also appeared on a BBC documentary describing the stages leading to the impounding of Kielder Dam using sods of turf and plastic pipes to create the dam in miniature in a small stream – reminding me of happy days as a child damming many a Scottish burn. It was not surprising that both my brother and I became civil engineers.

After Kielder was completed, and at a time when few new dams were being commissioned in the UK, he was pleased that his experience was recognised by being asked to investigate and advise following the collapse of Carsington Dam in England.  One of the last pieces of work in his career was to publish a technical paper on this, as he had done several times before on aspects of the other projects he had worked on. Indeed, he was a recipient of the Telford Medal from the Institution of Civil Engineers in 1983 for a technical paper on the Kielder Dam headworks.

In the late 1970s and early 1980s he also travelled to Iran, Jordan, Nigeria, Hong Kong and Indonesia, either related to Babtie projects or as part of a four year Overseas Development Agency funded technical assistance project. These trips were hard work, but he enjoyed passing on his knowledge and experience to the engineers he met from other countries who were enthusiastic to learn and had interesting projects to show him. He would talk about this period of travel many times in his later life.

In his private life, he enjoyed walking and as he got older driving in the countryside, his caravan holidays and singing. He sang for many years, both in the church choir and in the Glasgow Phoenix Choir, of which he was President in the mid 1970s, and each gave him much pleasure. He outlived both his first wife Aida, who died in 1986 and then Anne whom he subsequently married. He is survived by his daughter, three sons, and six grandchildren.

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