Tuesday, 15 July 2014
‘A square mile of junk, weeds, railway lines’ was what we might have seen when Brigadier Williams visited Chilwell one cold November day in 1934; what he saw was the site for the ‘finest depot for the mechanisation of the Army in the world’. Chilwell had been a major Ordnance factory until partially destroyed by an explosion in 1918. It had lain empty since 1926. There was much work to be done. F Perks & Son of Long Eaton did much of this.
Armies of the 1930’s had to be mobile. Brigadier Williams saw Chilwell as the place where he could develop an entirely new organisation which would become the blueprint for many other depots and where he could assemble and train regular officers and men to go anywhere in the world where they were needed to open up overseas bases.
A whole new way of doing things was needed. Brigadier Williams picked the brains of the then blossoming motor industry and recruited some of their most able managers. There was a joke at Chilwell that it had become The Rootes Rifles or Lucas Light Infantry. I have read of a coach trip from Chilwell to Fort Dunlop in Birmingham (followed by a night out listening to Larry Adler!). There must have been more.
There were many visits to Chilwell. Photographs record the Duke of Kent and Captain Margesson, the War Minister. The head of the American Ordnance came, as did General Horrocks. Motor companies came including Commer Cars and Solex Carburettors.
At Chilwell men and women worked side by side, as did soldiers and civilians. I have read that, at least to begin with, ATS women had the job of delivering lorries, but without windscreens and so a very cold job. Also I have read of an argument about whether ATS could wear trousers (skirts weren’t a good idea when climbing up into a lorry!)
More to come....
Phil Hamlyn Williams's current project is a book entitled Ordnance telling the story of how the British Army was equipped for the Great War. It is to be published by The History Press in June 2018. His previous book, War on Wheels, tells the story of the thousands of ordinary men and women who together worked to mechanise the British Army in WW2. It was published by The History Press on 8 September 2016. He writes regularly on contemporary issues for a number of periodicals and his own blogs. He has written the story of the MacRobert's Reply collaborating with Story Terrace, published in December 2016. He was awarded an MA in Professional Writing at University College Falmouth in 2009. As a result of the this course, he wrote a novel, Broken Bonds, on human dimension of the Banking Crisis. His He has been writing for fifteen years, having spent much of his career in professional services and the not for profit sector.