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John Kenneth Shanklin 1926-2017 (longer version)

John Shanklin was born on 28th July 1926 and grew up at 22 Osborne Road in Birkenhead, then part of Cheshire, where his father, William Percy Shanklin, was a shipping clerk working in the Liver Building across the Mersey in Liverpool.  His mother, Marian Bradwall Shanklin (nee Johnston) known as Maisie, was very methodical and created a timeless routine for a child.  He recalled that on Sunday she prepared a joint which was carved by William for Maisie, his grandfather William Johnston, his sister Kay, and him.  He said that on Monday it was cold joint; on Tuesday - minced joint- rissoles; Wednesday - something from the shops; Thursday – casserole; Friday – always fish; and on Saturday a cold meat like ham with salad.  He had a sister, Kay, although he was closest to his cousin David; however, in his will he left a bookbinding press to David with which as a child he once teased David by squashing his fingers. 

In March 1944 aged 17, he volunteered for the Royal Navy.  He was first sent to Butlins camp in Skegness (HMS Royal Arthur) to be kitted out.  However, the Royal Navy only allowed one Christian name and from that day onwards he became known as John rather than Kenneth, which his parents had called him. His basic training was done at Butlins in Pwllheli (HMS Glendower) and took 12-weeks.  One memory he related was the open-air swimming pool had a large rowing boat with four oars on each side secured fore and aft to each end of the pool.  Every day for two hours the trainees rowed the boat moving it about 12 inches, to give them experience to save their lives if their future ship was sunk.

Having qualified as a sailor he was sent to HMS Valkyrie II on Isle of Man to become a radar operator.   The preliminary course lasted four weeks followed by a longer one lasting about 15 months.  He realised that if he went on the second course the war could be over before he saw active service.  At the end of the four weeks he managed to blow up the machinery in the exam and was immediately dismissed to a seagoing ship in Belfast harbour.  It was an American landing ship capable of carrying 30 tanks or lorries, and 200 troops, with bow doors to open when it landed on an invasion beach.  It had come straight from the USA full of wonderful American food which was eagerly wolfed by the British sailors.  Final preparations for the long voyage to the Far East were made in Birkenhead enabling his parents to see him off. 

He was posted to the South China Sea and after the atomic bombs were dropped on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki on August 6 and 9, 1945, he believed his life had been saved as he had been due to steer a landing craft in the planned invasion of Japan.  The designated beach was surrounded by cliffs containing Japanese fortifications that would have led to high fatalities.  He witnessed the surrender of the Japanese Admirals in Singapore harbour in September 1945 from a few hundred feet away.  Then, until he was demobbed, he served on a minesweeper and his favourite activity was shooting the horns off mines that the sweeper had cut loose, causing dramatic explosions.

After his war service, he went to Liverpool University to study geology in 1948. His interest in the subject came after nonchalantly picking up a “Teach yourself Geology” book by Arthur Raistrick. While he was at university he met fellow student Merryl Cotgrave whom he married after graduating in 1952.  After graduation, he started with the National Coal Board and they initially lived in a caravan before moving into a house in Wrexham.  After a couple of years, he moved to work for Sir Alfred McAlpine & Son, first as Geologist and later as Chief Geologist where his main duties were to find sand and gravel for road building and to find other sources of stone.  When the motorway construction started in the late 1950s he was heavily involved in finding sources of fill and also locations to deposit unsuitable material dug from the motorway.  He quickly developed the skill of finding “borrow pits” or quarries on the motorway trace a trick that avoided McAlpine vehicles going on the road so they could use untaxed diesel thereby increasing their profits.  He often had to negotiate with landowners near the motorway routes; most farmers were understandably persuaded with money, but in one case John bought the farmer a brand new red Ferrari to seal the deal.  When the M62 was built across the Pennines, it included the Scammonden Dam that required an enormous volume of “fill” to construct, which John found.  He also negotiated for McAlpine to buy Hendre limestone quarry, Penrhyn slate quarry and the sand and gravel quarry at Borras, near Wrexham where he was based for the rest of his working life. 

He joined the Liverpool Geological Society in 1947 and both he and Merryl were enthusiastic supporters of its meetings and were regular attendees on field trips throughout their lives. He was awarded its Silver Medal in both 1972 and 1994 that caused him to joke that they must have forgotten about the earlier one.

John was elected as a Fellow of the Geological Society on 14th May 1952.  This may have led him to being involved in the politics of geology over several decades.  In the early 1970s, the Council of the Geological Society were pressurized by a group of young geologists to establish a professional qualification for geologists. In 1971, it sent out a questionnaire to Fellows to gauge their attitude.  This led to the establishment of a working party to "study the feasibility of maintaining a professional register of geologists", chaired by Professor John Knill who co-opted John Shanklin amongst others. From this working party a group with the cumbersome name of the Association for the Promotion of an Institution of Professional Geologists (more usually known by its initial letters APIPG each pronounced separately) was created. The Inaugural Meeting of APIPG took place on 24 March 1975 at the Scientific Society’s Lecture Theatre in Savile Row, London. At this meeting, a Committee was formally elected with the objective of forming an Institution for Professional Geologists, a process that took three years.  The Institution of Geologists (IG) had its inaugural meeting in the Birmingham on 24 February 1978 when the first President was installed and the first Council was elected including John Shanklin.  He continued to serve on the IG Council with different responsibilities being Chairman (1980 – 82) and President (1988-91) serving an additional year to see the reunification of IG with the Geological Society. The merger (as it was called in IG) took a great deal of discussions starting with the first meeting of the joint Co-operation Committee in January 1987 until the reunification that took place on 1st January 1991. Many geologists were involved in this process including John Shanklin with Professors John Mather (IG Chairman) and Derek Blundell (President of the Geological Society) taking leading roles.  After the merger was complete John continued his interest in furthering the geological profession by successfully standing twice for election to the Council in the sessions that ran from the AGM in 1991 to that in 1994, and from 1995 to 1998.  Initially the professional qualification of IG was Member and in 1985 the Council made him one of six Founding Fellows to establish the qualification of Fellow of the Institution of Geologists.

In the late 1970s John Shanklin was one of a group of far-sighted geologists from Belgium, France, Italy, Portugal, and Spain who recognized the need for a European professional qualification for geologists.  The European Federation of Geologists was formed in Paris in July 1980 and John was elected as the first President. He successfully guided the EFG through its formative years, helping to develop policies and draft the its literature to start the enlargement process. This meant that he was able to hand over to the late Renzo Zia a fast-growing organisation in 1983.  When he ceased to be one of the UK’s delegates, John served on the Registration Committee for the new EurGeol title.  On its 20th anniversary in 2000, EFG recognised its huge debt to John Shanklin by awarding him the first Honorary European Geologist title and medal in December 2002.

In 1989 John attended the World Geological Congress in Washington, USA where he met Bill Knight the Executive Director of the American Institute of Professional Geologists (AIPG), a meeting that led to a growing relationship between EFG and AIPG culminating in 1998 in the establishment of reciprocal associate membership between the two organisations. In 1993 AIPG awarded John Honorary Membership for distinguished service to the profession and to AIPG, a rare honour for a foreigner.

The family moved to Dodleston near Chester in 1964 to enable his two sons to fall into the catchment area for the King’s School, Chester. His daughter Liz, was born at home in 1965.  Initially the house was shared with RCB Jones (Doc Jones), a geologist who had worked for the Geological Survey for many years and his daughter Dilys Jones, also a geologist.   

John entered local life by serving as a Cheshire County Councillor for many years and was a Governor at the King’s School from 1990 to 2009.  He was the Chairman of Dodleston Parish Council for 32 years and Vice-chairman of the Dodleston Village Foundation for over 20 years, and was a Governor at Dodleston Primary School.  He thoroughly enjoyed campaigning for the Conservatives and became a friend of with Gyles Brandreth during his election campaign.  John drove him round the constituency to meet the electorate to help get him elected as the MP for the City of Chester from 1992 to 1997.

His last few years were marred by illness with type-2 diabetes and over the last five years blindness. He died in hospital on 4th May 2017 at the age of 90.  Merryl died in 1981 and he is survived by his three children, Jonathan, Simon and Liz as well as Simon’s children Sandy, Pip and Tori.

By Rick Brassington & Richard Fox

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