The final book of the trilogy on army supply

The final  book of the trilogy on army supply
The third of my books on army supply

Sunday 25 February 2018

Why I wrote Ordnance

War on Wheels took me two years to write.

I researched my mother's albums of my father's war - he led the RAOC which carried out the mechanisation of the army and supplied the troops with all else they needed except food and fuel.

I researched reminiscences and diaries of many of the men and women who had served in the RAOC.

I researched the massive roles of the British and American Motor Industries.

I came away with questions.

Many of those who served had, only a quarter of a century earlier, gone through the hell of the Great War. It was clear that many lessons had been learnt but also ignored. I needed to find out what and why.

For example in both 1914 and 1939 a well equipped British Expeditionary Force had crossed to France. In both cases massive depots were set up in Le Havre and elsewhere to hold stores.

In 1914 the stores had to be evacuated at speed to escape the German advance and became so disorganised that little could be supplied until the advance and retreat ground to a halt.

In 1940 the Germans advanced again, but this time so quickly that men had to be evacuated back to England at Dunkirk leaving thousands of tons of stores behind.

Ordnance, which is to be published on 1 June 2018 by The History Press tries to answer this and other questions.

Tuesday 6 February 2018

Women and Ordnance

On this centenary of some women being given the vote, I have to take issue on an aspect of their role in WW1 and offer a couple of further observations.

The news report this morning spoke of the huge contribution of women to the war effort particularly in the armament factories. This was true. What the news item didn't say was that they had to fight hard to be let into workplaces.

The armaments story begins with a very few factories all manned by skilled men. In a time of precarious employment, those skilled men fought tooth and nail to keep out any unskilled workers, not least to preserve their pay differential. Employers were perfectly happy to go along with this; one less battle to fight.

It didn't take long before the scandal came to light of our troops being starved of ammunition; guns were being rationed to a handful of rounds per day. The consequence was the death and injury of a great many allied troops.

It was the then Chancellor of the Exchequer, Lloyd George, who took up the fight to ensure adequate supplies got through.

It wasn't just the need to bring unskilled workers alongside those with skills, there were many other barriers that needed tackling. But the issue of dilution, as it was called, was pretty central.

Skilled male engineers had to face more than unskilled men; they had to accept unskilled women. This was a cultural rubicon.

A key encounter took place between Lloyd George and Mrs Pankhurst. Thousands of women had marched on 17 June 1915, demanding the right to contribute to the war effort. Lloyd George accepted their arguments including, interestingly, equal pay.

Thousands of women entered the factories. Some factories were designated women only; others required substantial improvements in terms of women's toilets and proper welfare facilities. A great many young women were 'posted' to factories and lived away from their families in hostels.

The contribution women made to the war effort was immense.

Many thousands worked in the shell filling and fuse factories. At the massive Chilwell shell filling factory there is a record of the women's skin turning yellow through TNT poisoning. In some cases the poisoning cause serious illness or even death. As a result welfare officers were appointed. On 1 July 1918 some 130 men and women were killed in a massive explosion.

Women worked in heavy engineering. In Lincoln, women made up a part of the workforce producing the first tanks. They also worked where their skills in more delicate work could prove an advantage. One example of this was in optics, where before the war essentially all binoculars were made by Zeiss in Germany. A new British industry was created, staffed largely by women.

In later 1918, as the troops began to return home, the women who had done so much were told that their jobs were needed by the returning troops. They were sent home in their thousands.

Home was where many remained until 1940 when again the country realised that there were simply not enough men to do the work of equipping a mechanised army.

This time women were welcome at all levels of the work place, including the vast administrative machine that had been created, and, again, their contribution was immense.

In 1945 the men came home and the same thing happened, the women were sent home. However, this time the genie was well and truly out of the bottle and women would take their place alongside men in the workforce. The battle for equal pay would continue for decades, notwithstanding Lloyd George's assurance back in 1917.

Saturday 3 February 2018

The detail of Ordnance

Much of the challenge of Ordnance was in the detail. These are just a few examples.

Watchmakers had to be found to repair sufficient time pieces in Mesopotamia for zero hour to be set.

Thirty four different shapes and sizes of horseshoe, each with their own nails, had to be provided and matched to the horses each unit held.

Guns experienced far greater use than previously imagined possible.  Measurements were taken of the wear to gun barrels in order to estimate the scale upon which replacements could be planned. Mobile workshops were set up immediately behind the lines to keep them firing.

In Gallipoli, grenades were in such short supply that the Ordnance workshops took empty cans, NCT and detonators and made their own.

Wheels by their thousands were made in workshops in France. These demanded the skills of hundreds of wheelwrights.