Blue plaque honour for distinguished NI academic killed at Somme

Edgar Henry Harper was a leading mathematician and aeronautical theorist
Edgar Henry Harper was a leading mathematician and aeronautical theorist

A blue plaque will be unveiled on Wednesday in memory of one of Northern Ireland’s most gifted minds who made the ultimate sacrifice at the Battle of the Somme.

Edgar Henry Harper was born in July 1880 at Castle Hill, Dungannon and went on to become a leading mathematician and aeronautical theorist before dying on the battlefield at the age of 36.

Edgar Henry Harper died on July 10, 1916 during the Battle of the Somme

Edgar Henry Harper died on July 10, 1916 during the Battle of the Somme

The blue plaque in his honour will be unveiled on Wednesday at 11.30am at his former home at 3 Northland Place, Dungannon.

Harper, who was the eldest of eight children, attended Dungannon Royal School from 1892-1899 before entering Queen’s College, Belfast where he studied mathematics.

Travelling to Dublin, he extended his studies in mathematics at Trinity College and in 1904 was awarded a BA (first class) in Mathematical Science, and a Masters in Maths the following year.

For a short time, he returned to his old school in Dungannon to teach Maths, before taking up a position as lecturer in Bangor University, North Wales.

Whilst in Wales he took particular interest in the mathematics of flight and increased his interest when he was appointed assistant to Professor George Hartley Bryan who for many years had been carrying out similar research in the stability of the early aeroplanes.

The professor had been invited by the French aviator, Louis Bleriot, to apply his theories to the stability of Bleriot’s planes, and so it was to Edgar Henry Harper he turned for assistance.

By 1910, Harper had, with another colleague, published his book ‘Aerial Locomotion’ – the principles involved in aeronautical theory – with an introduction by Professor G H Bryan.

Harper also made a great contribution to Bryan’s own book which is classed as one of the seminal books on the theory of aviation, ‘Stability of Aviation’.

From Bangor University, Harper returned to his native country in 1913, to become professor of Mathematical Physics in Cork University.

Eamon de Valera had also applied for the post but the Dungannon man was elected to the chair.

This position was to be short lived as with the commencement of World War One, Edgar relinquished his position and volunteered in the service of his country.

Sadly, like so many of the young men of Ireland, he was killed on July 10, 1916 at the Somme.

His body was never recovered and he is remembered on the Thiepval Memorial, France and also remembered on the Memorial at Trinity College.

The family also lost another son to the Great War – Harper’s youngest brother Ernest Magowan Harper had been killed in action in the Dardanelles in August 1915.

It is thanks to the Dungannon History Forum and the Donaghmore Historical Society that the name of Edgar Henry Harper has been resurrected.

Chris Spurr, chairman of the Ulster History Circle, said: “Edgar Henry Harper was a distinguished mathematician, whose knowledge made a significant contribution to the theory of aeronautics. Sadly he is numbered amongst the thousands of Irish-born soldiers who died at the Somme.”

The blue plaque will be unveiled by Mid Ulster Council’s deputy chair, councillor Mark Glasgow.