When I ventured up to the observatory at Mt. Stromlo, a veritable jewel in the crown of the Australian National University (where I’m currently a Visiting Researcher) little did I expect to find anything written about the University of Reading in the visitor’s display. The walnut desk of Pioneer Director of the Solar Observatory, Walter Geoffrey Duffield, however, encouraged closer inspection, especially as it reminded me of our mock-up of the desk of Professor Percy Ure, our Pioneer Professor of Classics at University of Reading, in the Ure Museum of Greek Archaeology. And amazingly, Professor Duffield was tempted to Canberra to take up that directorial role from none other than University College, Reading, as it was then called, where he had served from 1913-1923 as Professor of Physics. After the observatory tour, as I climbed higher up the mountain, I discovered the great man’s grave, where he is buried also with Doris, his wife, and Joan, his daughter, who survived ’til the ripe old age of 104, just a few years ago. The simple wooden cross, with its Latin inscription, Per ardua ad astra, ‘Through struggle to the stars’, however, clearly refers to him and his work. After all, he & his family are the only modern persons buried on that mountain: unlike his daughter he died at an early age, in 1929.
Later that evening, while seated in St. John’s (Anglican) Church, Reid, just around the corner from the Australian War Memorial, my eyes began to wander & set themselves upon a distinctive plaque also with a Latin motto. And amazingly it commemorates the same W.G. Duffield, yet with a different and yet more appropriate Latin motto, Arduus ad solem. I say ‘more appropriate’ because he was in fact a solar scientist and a solar observatory director, thus spent his short life ’striving towards the sun’. I discussed it with Canon Paul Black, now Rector of that church, who had indeed buried Joan Duffield on the mountain a few years back, although the plaque was placed in the church long before his time, in 1954.
A small amount of research later, however, it became clear to me how and why these mottoes were chosen to honour Duffield. Per ardua ad astra is the motto of the Royal and Commonwealth Air Forces, thus a reflection of his time in service in the Air Force. Arduus ad solem is the motto of none other than Victoria University of Manchester, formerly Owens College and now part of the University of Manchester, where Duffield earned his PhD. The sun is emblazoned on that University’s shield and Duffield certainly took its message into his heart.
Professor Amy C. Smith