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Terence Armstrong

Terence Armstrong

Dr Terence Edward Armstrong, polar geographer, born 7 April, 1920; died 21 February, 1996.

This obituary is by Harry King, the former Librarian of SPRI, and is taken from The Guardian, 29 February 1996.

Our friend in the far north

Terence Armstrong, who has died aged 75, was Britain's leading expert on the Russian Arctic, whose support of Cambridge's Scott Polar Research Institute for more than 36 years contributed largely to the department's reputation as a centre of excellence.

Educated at Winchester and Magdalene College, Cambridge, he took first class honours in French and Russian, and was supervised by that legendary Russian teacher Dr (now Dame) Elizabeth Hill. In 1940 Armstrong joined the Army Intelligence Corps. serving in North Africa, Italy and Holland - he was parachuted into Arnhem and wounded - Germany and Norway.

Postwar he was the Scott Institute's first research fellow in Soviet Arctic studies, a post established on the reasoning that the Russians knew more about the Arctic than anyone else. Armstrong covered the development of the Soviet north at a time when hard facts about the area were few. Thus did the linguist metamorphose into a geographer. He chose the economic development of the Soviet northern sea route - the old Northeast Passage - for his 1952 thesis, before examining the economic effects of sea ice on the route and carrying out studies for the Royal Navy Scientific Survey. In 1954 he joined the maiden voyage of HMCS Labrador through the ice-packed North-west Passage. His observations led to an ice atlas, Sea ice north of the USSR (1958) a model for similar atlases covering Arctic and Antarctic waters.

In 1957, following the incorporation of the institute into the university, Armstrong was appointed an assistant director of research. Despite the additional duties he wrote Russian settlement in the North (1965), contributed to the Illustrated glossary of snow and ice (1966), and travelled throughout the Canadian north and the Soviet Arctic. His fluent Russian established contacts which led to exchange agreements with academies and libraries. The polar institute's collection of Russian language material is today one of the most comprehensive in the world.

A 1970-72 sabbatical at the University of Alaska led to seminars on cross cultural education with representatives of the indigenous northern peoples. In a collaborative publication, The circumpolar north, Armstrong reviewed the Arctic and sub-Arctic's political and economic geography. He compiled a Unesco report on the Arctic's cultural and economic problems.

In 1975 the polar institute initiated a polar studies M Phil. Its success owed much to Armstrong's skills and charismatic, engaging personality. In 1976 he was awarded an ad hominem readership in Arctic studies.

He was a founder fellow of Clare Hall graduate college, and for 25 years was joint honorary secretary of the Hakluyt Society, for whom he edited an edition of Yermak's voyages (1975). He was the Glaciological Society's treasurer from 1965-1970; academic honours included the Royal Geographical Society's Victoria medal.

After retirement in 1983, he was a visiting professor at Trent University, Ontario, and chaired the Natural Environment Research Council's working group on Arctic science policy. He also travelled, walked, and made music (he was an accomplished oboe player). With his wife Iris he contributed greatly to village life in Harston, where he was churchwarden and treasurer for many years, and to entertaining a wide circle of friends. He is survived also by two sons and two daughters.

© The Guardian