COD Chilwell component store

COD Chilwell component store
COD Chilwell component store

Tuesday, 2 July 2019

Recent reviews of War on Wheels and Ordnance

A Perry wrote reviews of both books on Amazon and had read Ordnance first. This is what was written:
A Good Look at a Something Often Overlooked

A good book, easily read, and with plenty of photographs. This gives an overview of the organisation that developed to support the British Army in the field during World War One. It generally avoids statistics, using instead photographs to illustrate the scale of the effort and particular aspects. The use of short chapters and general layout also makes it easy to read in bursts.
The review of War on Wheels is similar and equally pleasing. 
I should not offer only positive reviews for there is a negative one to which I respond after it:
Misleading title

Entertaining reading, but readers who are seriously interested in the mechanisation of the British army in WWII are bound to be disappointed. If you would like to know, for example, what types and how many vehicles an infantry division had in 1940 or in 1944, or how many vehicles of different types were produced and imported during the war, and the policy decisions behind that, you will not find that information here.
A more accurate and honest title would have been "Some memories of my father's service with the RAOC". It is as if the author emptied a box full of letters, photos, newspaper clippings etc. that he found in the attic, added some text of his own to place them in some kind of context and then just sent the lot to the publisher, including such irrelevant stuff as patriotic articles from "John Bull Magazine".
There are quite a few technical errors too, for example a picture of an AEC Militant Mk 3 recovery vehicle (p. 49) which entered service long after the war, in 1966 to be precise.
I offer a response:
I make it clear in the introduction that the book is about the people who mechanised the army, not the vehicles. It does use my father’s remarkable archive, but at least as much research from other sources including the recollections of ordinary soldiers of the work they did. I thought that quotes from newspapers of the time gave a flavour of the period. I do however apologise for errors. 

Saturday, 1 June 2019

The impact of coverage in the Telegraph

The article appeared in the Daily Telegraph on 30 May and, by the end of the day, War on Wheels was ranked as No1 Best Seller in its category:
Looking behind the headline, the sales trend was encouraging:

With a knock on for Ordnance:
What matters is that this story is becoming better known. So many thanks to the BBC for including COD Chilwell in their D Day coverage. (55 minutes into the programme)

Friday, 31 May 2019

The general who oiled the wheels of D Day

Daily Telegraph journalist, Joe Shute, together with photographer, David Rose, visited me to explore my mother's albums of my father's war and preparation for D Day. Joe had read War on Wheels. They were both fascinated by what they found not least in terms of the numbers: people involved (250,000), items packed (350 million), vehicles and troops crossing to France on D Day and the two months that followed. The full article can be found by following this link. My father, Major General 'Bill' Williams headed up the Royal Army Ordnance Corps which supplied the troops with anything from socks to scout cars. He was always clear that success was down to the team work of very many men and women, professional soldiers, ATS, civilians, school children and volunteers and logistics specialists from British industry. 

On the online version, please note the journalistic exaggeration! Bill Williams and his RAOC did, though, play a vital part.
Dan Snow and the BBC visited COD Chilwell to capture the story of how the invading troops were supplied. The footage is about one hour in if you follow this link to the BBC mini documentary

Tuesday, 21 May 2019

D Day in the Telegraph

In the weeks running up to the 75th anniversary of D Day, the Daily Telegraph is running a series of articles about the audacious invasion. 

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

Thursday, 20 December 2018

The Class of '22 and the Ordnance supply success on D Day

This photograph has accompanied me all my life. 

I have always known who one of the young men was, my father then known as Bill Williams although he had been baptised Leslie. Of the others, I could recognise the Duke of York and the largest man in the front row, as a child, I named , ‘prawns’, I suppose because of magnificent moustache. 

When it was taken or where I didn’t know, any more than I knew the names of the other young and not so young men. All was partially revealed in 2015 when I found the same photograph in the archive of the Royal Army Ordnance Corps annotated with names. I say partially revealed because whilst the names were there, I still didn’t know who they were, whence they had come or whither they would go. 

The photograph was taken on 2 May 1922 at the then HQ of the RAOC at Hilsea and many of those in the picture were on the very first Ordnance officers course. That course, comprising two dozen men from the RAOC but also the RA and Indian and Canadian Ordnance, produced no fewer than five Major-Generals and eleven Brigadiers. 

I am now embarked on a quest and, just in case it may seem to the reader a rather pointless quest, I can reveal that from this group would emerge the small group who masterminded the Ordnance supply success of D Day. This quest digs beneath many of the names that appear in my books, War on Wheels and Ordnance.

Monday, 3 December 2018

Ordnance Reviews

Ordnance was published by The History Press in June 2018. Here are some of the reviews:

Norman Cherry, former Pro Vice -Chancellor at the University of Lincoln wrote:

Informative and accessible

Like Phil Hamlyn Williams' previous War on Wheels, this book offers genuinely interesting insights into the immensely detailed and often overlooked organisational aspects of fighting a successful war. His is a light but not lightweight approach to the subject, meticulously researched and well-referenced, and written in a very accessible style. If you have an interest in just how complex a business supplying the fighting services and their auxiliaries was during the First World War (and still must be in contemporary conflicts) this book will most definitely inform you and go a long way to explaining why wars are not just about the actual fighting.

Alex Lewczuk Editor, Siren FM and the University of Lincoln wrote:

Excellent, albeit challenging

An extraordinarily well researched and insightful overview of a period of history which recalls the George Santayana saying `Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it`. The level of scholarship present in this work is first class throughout and provides an impressive backdrop to the challengers faced by the country in the second decade of the twentieth century. Excellent, albeit challenging, reading.

Rob writes on Amazon

Long overdue

With a plethora of books recently published to commemorate and remember 1st World War, Phil Hamlyn Williams book on Ordnance tells the untold story of the organisation that basically enabled Britain and its Empire to fight the war. Well laid out and easy to read it is a book that I have recommended to many of my friends and colleagues.

Norman Penty, who found out so much about the man who discovered Charlotte Bronte wrote: 

I was delighted to receive your book Ordnance yesterday and spent a pleasant afternoon in the garden looking through it and needless to say I was most impressed by the publication and its whole presentation.   I only wish that I had had the same skills that you have clearly demonstrated - are you involved in the publications business or have you inherited your great-great uncle's genes or both?

Ken Weston, commenting on Facebook:

An excellent book.

Toby Neal has written in The Shropshire Star had the massive depot at Donnington in deepest Shropshire became the new "Woolwich' in WW2, with echoes of the old Woolwich in WW1 as told in Ordnance

Tuesday, 13 November 2018

A longer perspective - Historical Association Lincoln 19 November

I have spent the last four years writing about how the army was supplied in the two world wars. It is now time to take a step back and look at the results of my research in a longer historical frame.

I could begin with bows and arrows, or with gunpowder and shot; I decided to take as my starting point the Crimea and the groundbreaking work by William Armstrong in the invention of the rifled heavy gun. I then follow the story of guns and ammunition through to the modern arms industry. If ever there was an example of the law of unintended consequences, surely this is it.

I look at three aspect of Ordnance supplies. So, in addition to the first, guns and ammunition, vehicles demand serious attention. It wasn't by chance that my book on WW2 was called War on Wheels. What I found was, to all intents and purposes, the history of the motor industry.

The third aspect is the nitty gritty: just how you get the right item to the right place at the right time and indeed in the right condition - far from simple. Apparently my father is still known for his attention to packaging. I shall tell why, amongst much else.

So, for those who have heard me before, this is a new talk!

Sunday, 11 November 2018

Reflections on Remembrance

I offer two reflections on Remembrance

Standing on a pavement trying to peer over the people pressed against the railing around the Tower of London, I wondered what we were doing.

We were expecting to hear the Last Post and I found myself wondering how many people now know what it is, and then whether that actually matters. We were expecting to see lights lit to represent the fallen of the Great War. What I came away with was a sense of peace.

I had asked myself what the boys who lives had been stolen would have thought, being remembered a century after they died; well, not actually remembered since no one knew any of them. I then recalled my researches that in 1921 the last of the Ordnance Factories, that had supplied the arms they used, had been closed because they were thought no longer to be needed. I remembered my initial reaction on reading that: how stupid! I now know how wrong I was and how sane that decision.

The tragedy that is the world wars of the twentieth century cost many millions of lives; it transformed the fortunes of nations; most sinisterly it nurtured a monster that we now know as the arms industry. If it didn’t create it, but it most certainly fed it and when the war ended the industry, hungry for work, found willing buyers wherever they could be found: a dreadful example of the law of unintended consequences.

This week we remember the dead and rightly so, but then let’s truly honour them by getting on with the job of living well the life that they never could.

A further reflection following the Service of Remembrance at Chilwell.

I wanted to attend this because my maternal grandfather had worked as a supervisor in the massive shell filling factory that had been built there in WW1 and where 130 men and women workers had been killed by an enormous explosion on 1 July 1918. My grandfather and his men and women had reported for work as usual the next day determined to do their bit for the war effort. The factory was one of those closed in 1921.

My other reason was that my father had founded there in 1934, on the site of the then derelict factory, the Army Centre For Mechanisation which would spearhead the introduction of vehicles of all types into the Army for WW2. It was there he met my mother; my grandfather was then running the large local building company that did much of the work on site.

At 10.45 on 11 November 2018 we gathered on the opposite side of the garrison road from the memorial to those killed in the factory explosion which is also the war memorial. There were people from outside the garrison, but more so wives and children from within together with soldiers not involved in the parade. First the soldiers marched up and took there place in front of us, and then the officers. Finally two military chaplains. The ceremony was simple, with wreathe laying and the saying of the time honoured words.

We then all walked over to one of the massive sheds which certainly date from WW2. it had been  set out with chairs and in front were two large screens showing images of the two world wars and later conflicts. The Chilwell Military Wives sang two very moving pieces, (including Remember from their 2018 album) essentially about losing their men. The chaplain ended with a poem unequivocally supportive the the soldiers in his care. He spoke of the bravery and loyalty of soldiers to their brothers in arms. This was tangible.

So I come away with strands of thought intertwining. The men and their love for each other; the women and their heart break at the loss of their men. But then the obscene loss, I might say theft, of young lives and the wholly unintended and awful legacy.

Earlier in the day on Radio 4 Michael Morpurgo offered his reflection and underlined the importance of continuing to tell the stories ‘of what thy have done’, to take words from the song from War Horse.

Women filling shells at Chilwell

Monday, 29 October 2018

The War of 1914-1945

The more I explore the story of how the Army was equipped, the more I am drawn to a single narrative covering both World Wars.

It most certainly was not intended. The war machine of the controlled establishments, created by Lloyd George in order to produce the arms to enable our men to fight, was dismantled by 1921. Men had been de-mobbed and my father, Bill Williams, was one of them. Many returned to their old jobs, and the women, who had been doing those jobs so well, had to return to their kitchens. During the war women had also played football in place of the men, both to great effect and to huge crowds - as many as 50,000. In 1921 the FA banned the women’s game. 

Life had returned to its peacetime normal. Missing, of course, were the 700,000 British men who had died. Many more of their wounded brothers needed nursing care and yet more carried their disabilities through life; there were no Invictus Games. 

In terms of equipment, the battle fields had been largely cleared of ammunition and arms. The last of the tanks had rolled into Woolwich to rust. The cavalry believed that they were back in business. The numbers in uniform dwindled. The army’s job was to go back to policing the Empire, the occupied territories and dependencies. 

Bill Williams had returned to his old office job only to find that those who had not been to war had been promoted above him. He told them ‘what they could do with their job’ and returned to what had recently been renamed the Royal Army Ordnance Corps and which would become his life. It wasn’t long before he was posted to Gibraltar as Ordnance officer to both the Army and the Navy, under Tom Leahy (well known to readers of Ordnance). There is then a photograph of the last Ordnance depot in Wiesbaden in Germany in 1928 when Bill was the last RAOC officer to leave. 

By the time the 1930’s came, thought was being given to Army mechanisation. Catterick, the large army camp on the Great North Road where Bill had then been posted, was gaining a reputation for its work with vehicles. As I record in War on Wheels, November 1934 was the date when Bill was sent to visit the derelict shell filling factory at Chilwell with a view to setting up the Army Centre for Mechanisation, but on a shoe string budget. From then on it was fight after fight to secure enough funding and then full speed ahead to drag the British Army into the mid 20th century. The pressure wouldn’t stop for another ten years.

It wasn’t only my father; there were a great many who worked with him and many others who had survived the First only to serve in the Second World War. There were others who had gone back to civilian life but remained in the Reserves and who came back to serve in 1939. There were those a little older who would see their sons and daughters leave for war as they had done in 1914. Antony Horowitz’s character, Christopher Foyle, in the much loved TV series, Foyle’s War, is an example. It was men born in the last two decades of the 19th century. 

I see them all as part of a Blighted Generation and my current project is to research their story.