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William George Hamer Hodges, 1921 - 2005

Bill Hodges was an outstanding teacher of geotechnical engineering and a sought-after practitioner of his profession. He attended Portsmouth Grammar School from 1930 to 1938 and then began a University of London External BSc (Engineering) degree at Portsmouth Municipal College. Like many of this generation, war service intervened and he was selected for the Royal Navy as a cadet (special entry) - engineering. After a relatively short period of commissioned service he was released on medical grounds, to study at King’s College (University of London): graduating BSc(Eng) in 1947.

His first civilian engineering appointments provided valuable experience of heavy construction and major civil engineering projects. However, in the late 1940s, Britain was in the midst of post-war austerity and Bill made a life-changing career move, joining the Robert H Ray Geophysical Company as a geophysicist in Syria and Iraq. Bill had no previous training in geophysics and, as was the norm at the time, learnt essentially “on the job”. This was followed by employment with the Iraq Petroleum Company; one of his reports dealt with a well velocity survey near Basrah, Iraq and he maintained an informed interest about the more recent events in that country.

In 1954, he returned to the UK on appointment to Soil Mechanics Ltd. For a period of six years he was fully engaged in the work of that unique organisation where young engineers and geologists were exposed to the cutting edge of geotechnical engineering. In addition, Soil Mechanics Ltd was also retained for major mineral-related investigations overseas and Bill was on-site in West Africa, South America and Sri Lanka during his time with the company. After leaving Soil Mechanics Ltd, he spent three years with Enterprises Bachy and Icos Milano, gaining experience of geotechnical processes - especially diaphragm wall construction, then a technique new to the UK.

In 1963, Bill was appointed Lecturer in the (then) Portsmouth College of Technology to teach soil mechanics and associated topics; promotion to Principal Lecturer following in 1969. He taught his subject with great authority and enthusiasm, not only to civil engineering students but also as part of the innovative Honours degree in Engineering Geology and Geotechnics established by his colleague, Neil Duncan (Senior Fellow). In addition, Bill formed a geotechnical consultancy, the Sifeg Partnership; over the years completing more than a thousand reports, mainly for sites in the Hampshire Basin. His reporting style was always meticulous and compared favourably with that required of peer-reviewed papers.

On retiring from Portsmouth Polytechnic in 1986, he continued as an active consultant, co-operating both with the Polytechnic (University from 1992) and specialists in Tertiary geology. Recent publications include a paper for the Skempton Memorial Volume focusing on the geotechnics of south Hampshire and he succeeded in finishing a contribution for the forthcoming 5th International Congress on Environmental Geotechnics just before his final admission to hospital.

Bill died of cancer on 6 October 2005, at St Mary’s Hospital, Portsmouth in whose grounds he had completed a geotechnical investigation some years before. He will be greatly missed by family, friends and colleagues - many of whom are grateful former students.

Geoffrey Browning, with the kind assistance of Bill Hodges' family and colleagues