Character Number Six

Roger SargentAnd then there was Roger Sargent.

Roger William Herbert Sargent and I met on September 16th, 1944 in one of the first classes of Imperial College’s new Department of Chemical Engineering.  In the break, we were both given a list of homes that had advertised that they were willing to board students. Roger and I accompanied by Ted Jeffers all took off to find “digs” for the next four years of our Bachelor of Engineering degrees.  Our list took us to Parsons Green where Ted Jeffers and I boarded at 25 Eddiscombe Road with Mr. and Mrs. Archie Webb and Roger found single boarding a few doors down and across the street.  We met many mornings walking to Parsons Green Station from where we commuted to South Kensington Station.  Imperial College was composed of three separate colleges, the Royal College of Science, the Royal School of Mines and the engineering college, the City and Guilds Institute.  We took our math, mechanical and electrical classes at City and Guilds and our chemical engineering classes in the Chem. Eng. Building and its overflow temporary buildings next to the Royal College of Music and opposite the Albert Hall and the Imperial College Union.  We ate lunch and used the air raid shelter at City and Guilds.  ( In 1944, the German bombing of London had been stopped by the RAF in the Battle of Britain, but we were still getting almost daily V-1 rockets and later, we got the un-announced V-2 explosions.)

On VE-Day, Victory in Europe Day, May 8th 1945, Roger persuaded me to go to a dance in Putney.  He had got interested in dancing and was actually taking lessons.  I met a seventeen year old secretary from the BBC, named Doris and we started a relationship that has so far, lasted for 71 years but that’s another story. Our second college year ended in June, 1945, just a month after the war ended and very soon after, those of us in the lower 50% of the class, having lost our draft deferment , were drafted for military service.  I went into the army and served my two years, ending as a Second Lieutenant in Gibraltar.  Roger Sargent was in the upper 50% of the class and graduated in 1948, just as I was leaving the army.  In the fall of 1948, I started my third year of studies and Roger started his research in the low temperature lab.  In my first two years, I had been in the Boat Club and enjoyed coxing our second eight but when I came back, I was far more interested in golf.  I found that there had been a golf club in the past but it had died.  With Roger’s help I renovated the Imperial College Golf Association with about twelve members and for my efforts I was elected as President with non-golfer Roger as Vice-President.  Rather than returning to my old digs in Parsons Green, I joined Roger in renting a below the side-walk, basement two room flat in Chelsea.  Our land-lady was a recent war widow and lived above us.  We co-existed like this quite well although in the summer vacation of 1949, while I was working in Finland as an international exchange student, I was called home to find my father dying of lung cancer in the local hospital.  In June of 1950 I completed my four year degree ( in six years ), and after a holiday at home, I returned to work with Roger in the lab.  I returned to the golf club and even played a few rounds with the London University team. My research project was to help in the building of a distillation column and to operate it to compare the distillation of liquid air with theoretical expectations.

In July of 1951, Roger married his girl-friend Shirley and two weeks later, Doris and I were married on the 28th.   We moved into lodgings on Seagrave Road and Roger and Shirley went to Paris where Roger started working in L’Air Liquide’s process division, leaving his Ph.D. work in limbo.  I continued building vapor and liquid sampling devices that Roger had designed for the distillation column.  After several trials and tribulations, in 1954, I completed my work and wrote my thesis that Doris typed on a non-electric portable type-writer.  We had baby Nigel on May 20th and Doris remembers proof-reading my thesis while nursing the baby.  On August 8th, after dropping the three copies of my thesis on Prof. Newett’s desk we left for Montreal and my first job as a process engineer for Air Liquide and an entirely different life in North America.  In the meantime, Roger came back to Imperial College, finished his Ph.D. and went on to an amazing and successful academic life.

Google tells me that Roger was Courtalds Professor of Chemical Engineering from 1966 to1992, Dean of City and Guilds College from 1973 to 1976, Head of the Department of Chemical Engineering from 1975 to 1988. He was internationally known as “Father of Process Systems Engineering, PSE” through his academic work and the  639 graduating students he supervised over the years he has built a world-wide network of PSE scholars and his work has been recognized everywhere as important academic pioneering.  His academic recognitions are numerous both in England and France and the Institute of Chemical Engineering     created a Roger Sargent Medal for computer-aided process control.

With such a prestigious record it may be wrong for me to describe some of Professor Sargent’s earlier activities when we worked together and shared our little basement flat in Chelsea. Roger developed an accurate and semi-lethal pea-shooter from a length of high precision steel tubing that we used in our air plant.  With this, he targeted the numerous cats in our neighborhood, many of which sat on the back wall of our back yard. Apart from the damage he did to the cats, his misses dropped over the wall and hit the kitchen window of a very irate lady who spoke very unkindly about Roger and his cat-shooter.  Another incident I recall was the invention of home-made Bombs that Roger called fireworks, for the Guy Fawkes bonfire at the foot of Queen Victoria’s Albert.  He used thick card-board drawing rolls about 6 inches in diameter with a large rubber bung stolen from the Chem. Lab to close off one end.  These were then charged with Roger’s own recipe for black powder and fitted with fuses far too short for such a lethal firework.  They caused the loudest bangs at the bonfire and actually left a hole in the ground.  We could never find the rubber bungs so they must have been impressive missiles.  I feel a bit ashamed about disclosing this information about such a wonderful scholar and friend but we all knew he was designated to receive a Roger Sargent Medal for something one day in his future.

2 thoughts on “Character Number Six

  1. Another good one. Your younger years were a bit more interesting and exciting than mine. New York City was a tame place, and college was difficult and competitive to maintain free tuition status. Keep writing. It is a legacy for you kids.


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