COD Chilwell component store

COD Chilwell component store
COD Chilwell component store

Tuesday, 21 May 2019

Thursday, 11 April 2019

Middle East and East Africa 1944

Fascinating day writing up my mother’s account of the trip to the Middle East and East Africa she made in November and December 1944 with my father when she was his PA.

There are vivid descriptions of the places they visited.

A good deal of tough work was done much in preparation for a long and gruelling land war against Japan. A substantial Ordance infrastructure had grown to support the North Africa campaign. It now had to be cut back. Huge effort was being put into stripping scrapped vehicles for spares, but without regard to demand. The massive depot at Alexandria, dating back really to WW1, had to be closed leaving only Tel El Kebir and Tura.

I plan that this and other material I am working on will appear in a third volume of my trilogy on Ordnance.


The photograph is of a boot factory at Nakuru in Kenya

Preparing for D Day

For Ordnance, the preparations for D Day had begun probably in 1941 with the setting up of the network of depots, including the new purpose built Bicester, capable of supplying a vast invading  force. The Ordnance  team working as part of the 21st Army Group, lead first by Brigadier Swiney and then by former Seaforth Highlander, Brigadier Jim Denniston, had by April prepared plans and carried out live training.
One major problem remained, they were desperately short of spare parts for the thousands of vehicles and tanks which would cross the channel. Politicians had placed emphasis on the headline number of finished vehicles produced and had ignored the massive need for spares.
Bill Williams, armed with a letter from General Montgomery, boarded a plane at Hendon on 20 March on a mission to persuade bosses and workers at the big US motor companies to shift  production on to spare parts. It is said he also persuaded a ship builder to produce a ship specifically to transport those spares across the Atlantic.
In the course of three weeks he visited all the major companies including having meetings with Henry Ford senior and junior. He went to General Motors, Chrysler and Continental Motors. Mr Hoover acted as host when Bill visited the tyre companies, Firestone and Goodrich.
He ended up at the Pentagon where a year earlier on his first trip he had had the same argument about spares. This time it succeeded.

Sunday, 7 April 2019

COD Weedon

I was thrilled to find that the Royal Ordnance Depot, dating from 1803, is still standing and with a wonderful visitor centre and great bookshop. Its buildings, known as The Depot,  are in use for a whole range of activities.













Weedon began life as barracks with associated powder magazines and pavilion. The troops left at the time of the Crimea and Weedon was used for storage of uniforms. In 1885 it became the centre for the distribution of small arms and it was to this use that the depot was put in both world wars. It handled millions of weapons for our front line soldiers.

In Ordnance, I wrote:

The Army Ordnance Department already had one historic depot at Weedon in Northamptonshire. There had been barracks and powder magazines at Weedon since 1803. The records show that in 1808 the following announcement appeared in the National Register: ‘We learn from undoubted authority that the Government is about to establish an Ordnance Depot at Weedon in Northamptonshire of extra-ordinary magnitude and importance.’ Weedon was principally a small arms depot, however, during WW1 it took some of the burden of clothing supply from Pimlico. It had one shed full only of boots.

In War on Wheels, I added:

The central location in the country was a particular attraction. In WW2, Weedon became the centre for the supply of Small Arms and Machine Guns to the whole Army at home and abroad. Weedon worked with its fellow Central Ordnance Depot at Old Dalby in Leicestershire and locally with sub-depots at Northampton, Long Buckby and Heyford.

My current work in progress is looking at some of the men of the RAOC who served in both world wars. Weedon again features.

On 18 December 1941 a good number of these men met at Weedon to say au revoir to Colonel McVittie, who had served in Selonika in WW1, who had joined up again in 1939 but who had reached retirement. McVittie’s son, also an RAOC officer, was a prisoner of the Japanese having been captured in Singapore.

In August 1942 the Quartermaster General and Director of Army Equipment both visited Weedon with the Director of Warlike Stores, my father Bill Williams. In Bill's archive there is a programme of the visit. The programme has a fascinating list of the range of arms, obsolescent and otherwise, in the depot at the start of WW2: Rifles, .303; Bren Guns, .303; Boys Anti-tank Rifle, 0.5; Lewis Guns, .303;



Tuesday, 1 January 2019

A glance back and an attempt to see ahead

Publishing Ordnance was something I really wanted. Writing it had taught me so much about a terrible period in our history, in particular about ordinary men and women who had done extraordinary 'ordinary things' for those they loved. I wanted more people to know the story. I gave four talks on the book and found audiences thoroughly engaged.
Lincoln Drill Hall is inextricably linked with the Great War; it was where the Lincolnshire Volunteers mustered before beginning their journey to France. It was wonderful to introduce the only BBC Prom outside London, the highly appropriate Soldier's Tale. It was a privilege to be part of the Commemoration of Lincoln in WW1. It was wonderful to welcome Michael Morpurgo's Private Peaceful and then Sir Michael himself as part of the Lincoln Book Festival.
With thanks to Phil Crow
War on Wheels and Ordnance were inspired by my father who fought in both world wars. It was thus both appropriate and wonderful that I was invited to the RAOC Officers Association dinner to mark the centenary of the founding of the Corps to which my father devoted his life. A few weeks later I was at the Chilwell War Memorial on the centenary of the Armistice where my maternal grandfather had worked as supervisor on the Shell Filling factory and where my father had founded the Army Centre of Mechanisation in 1935. Unforgettable occasions.
William Smith Williams comes from a different age and a different world. To have an article on my research of him accepted by Bronte Studies was a great compliment; to have completed a draft of his biography was an achievement of which I am proud. Let's hope a publisher agrees!

The year ends with another work in progress. I had been struck by the massive impact on people's lives of serving in two world wars. I saw them as a Blighted Generation. I had noted that many I had written about had died young. They hadn't been killed in the trenches, on the beaches or in the POW camps but they had worked under massive pressure for years on end and this had taken its toll. I am seeking to tell some of their stories.

So, that is the glance back; what of the year ahead?

I so hope I can publish William. I will complete a Blighted Generation and explore publication options. I think I will have some work for Story Terrace writing some family stories. Beyond all else I hope we can find a viable path forward to my beloved Drill Hall.
Lincoln Drill Hall