Tuesday, 10 February 2015
The time came at 11.00am on Sunday 3 September 1939, when war was declared.
Bill Williams, now Deputy Director of Ordnance Services (MT) at the War Office, went to Chilwell that morning to lead a group of senior serving officers meeting, possibly for the first time, the newly called up members of the Army Officers Emergency Reserve. These included Reddy Readman who would take over as Chief Ordnance Officer at Chilwell, Bob Hiam, who would command the depot at Old Dalby, Robby Robinson, who would command the depot at Sinfin Lane, Derby, and Dan Warren who would take a lead role in scaling, the dark art of estimating the quantity of stores needed for battle.
Also on that Sunday in Birmingham the executives of the Nuffield Motor Company met to put into action the plans they had prepared for war. Through the various parts of the Nuffield Group it would over the next five year contribute aircraft and weapon production in addition to a great many vehicles. It is probably true to say that elsewhere in Britain similar gatherings were taking place. Nevertheless much of the country would soon return to a certain normality, for example, the motor companies still brought out new cars for the growing market.
Mobilisation had been ordered on Friday, 1 September and, at the RAOC’s new Headquarters at Hilsea near Portsmouth, took the Corps by surprise simply because of the sheer numbers (6,000) who had volunteered and been allocated for Ordnance work. This needs to be set in context. At the point when the nation went to war, the total strength of the whole RAOC at home and abroad was 727 officers and 5,292 soldiers. Indeed, the War Office estimate of the likely number of recruits had been only a misleadingly precise 237 men. The huge influx initially overwhelmed the small recruitment team, but it also necessitated the taking over of every school building in north Portsmouth and Cosham. The NAAFI was quite unable to cope; it was only the absence of rationing and local purchasing that saved the day. At Hilsea, there was neither enough space, nor uniforms, nor equipment. To compound the problem, the Corps was responsible for supplying not only itself but the army as a whole. In time things began to settle, but it was very much ‘make do and mend’.