Willem Jacob van Stockum

Born:  30 November 1910, Hattem, Netherlands.
Died: 10 June 1944, nr. Entrammes, France.
Father:  Abraham van Stockum
Mother: Olga Emily Boissevain


St. Andrew's College, Dublin
1929-1933 Trinity College, Dublin, B.A. Mathematics.
    Sizar (1929), then Scholar (1931). Won a large gold medal.
1934-1935 Dept. of Applied Mathematics, Toronto University (M.A.: funded by Trinity, Dublin).
1935-1937 Edinburgh University. Isaac Newton Research Fellow. Ph.D. "Axially symmetric gravitational fields".


Willem's main academic achievement was to solve Einstein's field equations for an infinite rotating cylinder. See Proc. R. Soc. Edinburgh, 57, p. 135 (1937). The solution is known as Van Stockum dust. His work has frequently been cited by those interested in the idea of time travel.

Between 1937 and 1941 worked variously as a Mathematics instructor at Brooklyn College, a Mathematics instructor at Maryland University and an actuary for Prudential. He was also an assistant to Professor Oswald Veblen at the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton, New Jersey, USA, in the early part of 1939.

Joined the Canadian Air Corps in June 1941 (according to his sister, he was asked to join the Manhattan project, but chose this instead). Taught mathematics to pilots. Then became a bomber pilot himself. Moved to Britain in the spring of 1943 and joined no. 10 squadron at RAF Melbourne in Yorkshire. Flew a Halifax Mk-III, MZ684, ZA-'B' bomber. Completed 6 missions before being shot down by German A.A. fire near Entrammes in France on the night of 9/10 June 1944.  All seven crew were killed and are buried at the Cimetière Vaufleury at Laval, Dept. Mayenne, France.

Other information:

Wrote this article on his reasons for becoming a bomber pilot.

The Dutch physicist Carlo Beenakker has posted an article about Willem on his web site.

He has also translated an article about Willem by Erwin van Loo, a historian for the Royal Netherlands Air Force.

Here are various  letters for the period 1934-1936.

The following excerpt from his sister Hilda van Stockum's book The Mitchells, is about Willem (NB: he is "Uncle Jim" in the book and I have replaced his name and others with their real names). It describes his visit to his sister's family in Washington D.C. during the war:

"Uncle Willem certainly was a wonderful person, and it was a delight to have him back again. The house rang with his laughter and high spirits; cigarette smoke spiralled up to the ceilings and mother's rugs served again for ashtrays, since Uncle Willem had many more exciting things to think of than where the ashes went to. All of life was a party to him. He carried celebrations around like the lady with rings on her fingers and bells on her toes. As Randal said, Uncle Willem was better than a birthday. Perhaps it was because no comfort seemed too humble for him to enjoy. He loved grannie's open fire and played with it like a child, throwing on bits of paper and kindling to make it flame up and quarrelling with grannie about the best way to keep it going. He loved good food and a glass of beer and he must have read all the books in the world, thought Olga, for he could recite so many poems and sentences by heart. He had a flute, too, on which he played a little, and after dinner he would ask grannie to sit at the piano and then they would stand around and sing Drink to me only with thine eyes, his favourite song.

"Uncle Willem was interested in everything. He made jokes with Birdie in the kitchen, he taught grannie a new game of solitaire and learned one from her. He made paper aeroplanes for Randal immensely superior to those Randal made himself. He inspected Olga's hut and pronounced it unsafe, working a whole morning to fortify it. He replaced all the severed arms on Sheila's rubber doll, which was a test of will as well as muscle. He romped with Johnny, talked politics with Miffy, read fairy tales with Brigid, and praised the children to their mother until there wasn't a nook or cranny of the house which hadn't basked in the rays of his presence. But sometimes Uncle Willem would snatch his cap and go out on an errand of his own. Then the Marlin household would relax into its humdrum grooves, the day having lost its glamour."