Shell filling

Tuesday, 27 March 2018

Talking about Ordnance - lessons learnt and lessons forgotten

I gave a talk on Ordnance to the Lincoln branch of the Western Front Association. This was done with some trepidation since I am not a military historian. I see myself as a writer of people's stories.

I explained that I came to Ordnance via a couple of large boxes of scrap albums which my mother had kept of my father's war. She had been his PA and he had led the RAOC. I found that the albums contained the story of how the army was mechanised in WW2; with some further research they became War on Wheels.

In writing War on Wheels it was clear to me that much had come from the earlier experience of the Great War of many of the those concerned. I needed to find out, and Ordnance is the result. It tells a story of the equipping of the British Army for the Great War.

I was pleased by the numbers attending my talk and by the questions they asked. It was not a subject well known by many. A few people knew much more detail than I do, and that was helpful to me.

Reflecting on the evening and the discussions that took place, I think more and more that it is true to say that Ordnance services learnt a great deal during the years of WW1. Many mistakes were made and much initiative used, but, by September 1918, the Ordnance supply machine was working.

It reminded me of what Max Hastings wrote of D Day, which I quote in War on Wheels:

To almost every man of the Allied Armies, the predominant memory of the campaign, beyond the horror of battle, was the astounding efficiency of the supply services…for young British soldiers, who had grown up with the legend of the War Office’s chronic bungling, and of the Crimea and the Boer War, Second Army’s administration in Normandy seemed a miracle.

It also seemed that in the years between 1918 and 1939 much had also been forgotten and so a great deal had to be re-learnt between 1939 and 1944. That is in the story of War on Wheels.

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