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1904 - 1987

Clabon (Cla) Walter Allen was one of the four original staff physicists at the Commonwealth Solar Observatory (CSO) when it was first established in 1924 under the directorship of W.G. Duffield. (W.B. Rimmer, A.R. Hogg and A.J. Higgs were the other three physicists.) Allen developed the photometric atlas of the solar spectrum, a very important and influential work.

C.W. Allen

During wartime, the CSO still undertook a number of astronomical projects, and Allen preferred to be involved with this work. He and A.J. Higgs were sent to South Africa in June 1940 to observe a total solar eclipse. Allen and Higgs were restless while waiting for the eclipse to happen; the Second World War was getting into full swing and they hoped that there would be war work for them when they returned to Australia. Allen wrote to Woolley:

I have been having visions of joining up, or perhaps being sent somewhere else.(1)

When Allen returned from South Africa in November 1940, he discovered that the CSO had changed a great deal; and fitting in to the new war-time structure was difficult.

The only variety at work is made by the mistakes I make and their subsequent difficulty.(2)

As can be seen by the above quote from Cla Allen's diary, he found the wartime optical munitions work dull. Allen was a physicist first and foremost, and although he was keen to help Australia during the war, the change from scientific research to the design of optical munitions and operation of optical workshops did not agree with him.

After spending time on quality control, testing and assembling optical instruments, in 1942 Allen's focus changed to the forecasting of radio disturbances or fadeouts. This work was more in line with his original scientific research prior to the war, and Allen was able to successfully issue forecasts which warned when solar activity would affect radio communications. His work was greatly appreciated by the Australian armed services.

Allen, his wife Rose, and their sons lived on Mount Stromlo in one of the CSO houses. He was a serious man, enjoying gardening - especially his roses and fruit trees - and quiet evenings at home. He once won the Stromlo wood-chopping competition and was an avid bush-walker. Allen even published a booklet on bushwalks in the Canberra region.

(1) C.W. Allen to R. v.d.R. Woolley, 29 August 1940, Australian Archives, A 9103, Item 4.
(2) Diary entry, 30 January 1941, vol. 17, C.W. Allen papers, National Library of Australia, MS 7360.

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Published by the Australian Science Archives Project on ASAPWeb, 30 April 1997
Comments or corrections to: Bright Sparcs (bsparcs@asap.unimelb.edu.au)
Prepared by: Denise Sutherland and Elissa Tenkate
Updated by: Joanne Evans
Date modified: 4 January 1999

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