Remembering the Fallen: on this day in 1915, Second Lieutenant Henry Gwyn Jeffreys Moseley, the Royal Engineers, was killed in action during the Battle of Sari Bair at Gallipoli. Isaac Asimov called his killing “the single most costly death of the war”.
The son of an Oxford professor, Second Lieutenant Moseley was educated at Eton College and Trinity College, Oxford. After graduating, he obtained a position at the University of Manchester as a demonstrator and graduate research assistant before deciding to move back to Oxford over three years later. He formulated a law, which became known as Moseley’s Law, which proved that the frequency of x-rays is proportional to the atomic charge, and the elements could be ordered according to atomic number.
His career as a physicist was interrupted when he chose to obtain a commission with the Royal Engineers at the outbreak of the Great War, instead of continuing with his research. He believed it was his duty to serve, and could not be swayed from his decision despite pleas from his family, friends and colleagues. He had been in Australia at a meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science on hearing of the declaration of war, and immediately began his journey home, sailing to San Francisco, then taking a train to New York where he boarded the Lusitania for England.
In April of 1915 he began serving as a technical officer in communications at Gallipoli. His battalion had been ordered to the strategic high ground of Chunuk Bair, relieving a New Zealand battalion after travelling cross-country, over rivers and through dense woods. By August they were overwhelmed by the Turks, one soldier reporting, “The Turks came again and again … calling upon the name of God. Our men stood to it and maintained, by many a deed of daring, the old traditions of their race. There was no flinching. They died in the ranks where they stood.” Among those who died in the carnage was Second Lieutenant Moseley, shot in the head by a sniper as he telephoned an order.
That year he was nominated for the 1916 Nobel Prizes in both Chemistry and Physics - the posthumous award of a Nobel Prize was only possible of the committee had completed their deliberations prior to the nominee’s death of the recipient. Second Lieutenant Moseley was killed before the committees met, and therefore there were no awards for Chemistry or Physics in 1916. It is believed that the death of such a genius led to the government refusing to allow scientists into combat.
Henry, from Weymouth in Dorset, was 27 years old.