RAOC War Memorial at Deepcut

RAOC War Memorial at Deepcut
RAOC War Memorial at Deepcut

Friday, 14 August 2020

VJ Day 75

The expectation of a long and gruelling land war against Japan was firmly in the minds of British soldiers fighting in the Forgotten Army, but also those wrestling with the massive problems of how such a war might be supplied.

I wrote about this in the final chapter of my 2016 book, War on Wheels. Over the last two years I have researched further and have uncovered material which I include in my forthcoming book, Dunkirk to D Day.

Much of the material is personal, since it was in my father's archive. In 1943, as Controller of Ordnance Service, Major General Bill Williams was asked by General Auchinleck to visit India and report on the Ordnance Services he found there. This is some of what he found:

There were ordnance bases spread right across the sub-continent from Bombay in the west to Calcutta in the east, and Madras in the south to Chaklala in the north, with Delhi, Agra, Jubbulpore and Cawnpore in the centre. Bill’s first point was that this spread was fine for general stores and ammunition, but for all other warlike stores (except complete vehicles) a single base depot, where all such stores are concentrated providing access in one place to all that is available, is the most efficient. Experience in North Africa had exposed the weakness of some stores being held at base A and some at base B. His recommendation did not completely follow, given the nature of India, and was for the Panagarh Calcutta base to form the main depot, but with a further base ordnance depot at Avadi near Madras. The space requirements would be considerable, with 2 million square feet of covered storage at Calcutta and 1.5 million at Madras.

The task was massive and had to be undertaken whilst preparations were being made for D Day and whilst the 8th Army was fighting its way up through Italy. 

Aside from the bigger picture, the detail mattered massively. Packaging became really important given the hostile climate of the Far East.


Thursday, 30 July 2020

Dunkirk to D Day - printer’s proof

It is all coming together. The proof of the text is just about there, as are the images and the index. Yesterday I received the text of the foreword from Major General Malcolm Wood, President of the RAOC Association. It is wonderfully affirming of my efforts, but, more so, of the remarkable story I seek to tell. 

Wednesday, 24 June 2020

War on Wheels and Ordnance still selling, and the third volume on the way

I had always hoped that War on Wheels and Ordnance would be of continuing interest. So it is heartening to see Amazon putting both back to full price, nearly four years after War on Wheels came out. Heartening too since the proof of third book, Dunkirk to D Day, has arrived from Pen & Sword, and I'm working through it. The story of a group of men, many of whom served in both world wars, is remarkable.
 



Friday, 8 May 2020

VE Day 75 RAOC

Bill Williams’s Victory message paid particular tribute to the non-regular officers, women of the ATS and civilians who worked so hard and well with regular officers and men. He welcomed the even closer links welded with the Ordnance Corps of the British Empire: India, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. He ended by encouraging renewed efforts for the war against Japan. The QMG added, '‘never before had British Armies been so adequately maintained under such difficult and varied conditions’


Five months earlier, Bill had written this in his Christmas message to the men and women of the RAOC and ATS:

1944 will be recorded in history as a year of wonderful achievement. Our heroic invasion army, this time last year, scattered throughout Great Britain and the Mediterranean is now battering its way through the last line of defence to the Ruhr and Germany itself. The gallant Eighth Army has fought a tough but brilliant campaign from the Toe of Italy almost to the Brenner Pass. Greece has been liberated, and, in the Far East, our men are proving themselves masters of the Jap. I would especially ask you at this Christmastide to remember this Army fighting in the jungle, swamps and hills of the Far East and who have held, no, more than held their own against a ferocious and fanatical enemy. To those of our Corps I send special greetings and assure them that we do not forget them.

How did it feel on 8 May 1945, for Bill and those who with him led the RAOC?

Reading diaries and other records, I can discern two strands. The first was a sense of needing to pinch themselves to know that it was really true. Back in 1940, with so much equipment left behind at Dunkirk, it must have appeared an almost impossible task to rearm with such success. The second feeling was the dull ache that it was far from over. The war in the Far East had to be won, and the difficulties of supply were massive.

Bill, Betty his PA and Dick Hunt his 'eyes and ears', visited France, Belgium and Germany shortly after VE Day. This is what Betty recalled:

We travelled through war torn Belgium and Holland and then through the devastated towns of Germany. We were driven in a Rolls-Royce by a Belgian RASC driver with whom we entered into conversation. He told us that his uncle had been shot by the Germans and his aunt had just returned from a concentration camp with her arm covered in burns from cigarette ends applied in torture. With this fresh in our minds, we drove past a deserted concentration camp on their way to inspect the huge Ordnance depot at Antwerp.

In Belgium and Holland, we waived at passers-by; in Germany we had been warned not to smile. We inspected ordnance and ammunition depots. Our driver had to be wary of mines, although the roads had been cleared. We passed mile after mile of bombed farms and buildings. We drove through a place called Gelden - this was once a town no doubt, but certainly not now. We visited the site of the Battle of Waterloo; the Headquarters of the Base Ammunition Depot was nearby. It made sombre viewing.
Bridge on the Rhine





Wednesday, 22 April 2020

Changes in UK Employment

The table below was taken from data provided by the Office for National Statistics and shows the number of jobs split between Manufacturing (including Construction) [Orange line] and Services [Blue line] between 1978 and 2019 taking each quarterly return.
Service sector jobs increased by 11 million and manufacturing reduced by 4.5 million.

Looking at services the biggest increases were Health and social care 2.3 million, IT and Management Services 1.3 million and Accommodation, food and beverage 1.2 million and education 1 million.

In his book, Social History of Britain - British Society 1914-45, John Stevenson offers some broadly comparative statistics.

In 1914, textiles, coal, iron and steel, and shipbuilding employed almost a quarter of the total workforce. The comparative percentages for 1978 and 2019 are 14% and 2% respectively. The 'new' industries of motor vehicles, plastics and electrics rebuilt manufacturing jobs between the wars and, in the fifties and sixties, making up 11% of total jobs in 1978. They make up 3% in 2019.

If we go back further, David Canadine in his book, Victorious Century, offers again broadly comparable figures. Agriculture came first with just under 2 million, followed by 1million in domestic service. Next came cotton textile workers at half a million; whilst this number was equally split between men and women, men predominated in agriculture and women in domestic service. Next in number came building craftsmen, labourers and then a third of a million milliners, dressmakers and seamstresses, and 300,000 wool workers. There were 200,000 coalminers. Instead of listing the remainder, Canadine observes that there were more blacksmiths than iron workers and more working with horses on roads than with steam on railways. The total employed workforce in 1851 was 8.5 million (out of a total population of 27 million) compared to 31 million in 2019.

I look forward to getting access to hard copy of the Censuses to assess more clearly how employment patterns have changed.

These huge changes are, in a good part, why I am researching this whole area.


Tuesday, 31 March 2020

Engineering Connections with Ordnance and War on Wheels, Lincoln and the Great Exhibition of 1851

I am exploring the companies I came across whilst writing War on Wheels and Ordnance. I have already looked further at many of the people, and more on this soon, I hope.

What of the companies? I have found myself exploring some of the earliest machines, but also the economics that drove people to make them. I have come across names and, as always seems to be the case, connections. Here are just some examples: the number of engineers in the Stevenson family, the generations of Maudslays, and, more generally, the prevalence of families.


One fascinating source is the catalogue to the Great Exhibition, copies of which are in many libraries but which is also available on line. This revealed a connection with the Stokes Mortar, which was invented by the managing director of the Ipswich engineers, Ransomes, who had exhibited the equipment they were making for the railway companies. For Lincoln dwellers there is an entry for Clayton, Shuttleworth & Co with an oscillating steam-engine but with ‘arrangements simple and compact, suitable for working corn mills, sawing machinery etc

My great grandfather was secretary to the committee of Surgical Instrument makers and he managed the business of J Weiss Co at 62, The Strand. He was presented with a catalogue, the cover of which has been preserved.



Wednesday, 18 March 2020

Economic Parallels with 1914-18 and 1939-45

A package equivalent to 15% of GDP is of the magnitude of support for the war effort.

In 1914-18 there were still gold reserves, gold mined in Empire nations and investments overseas. One and a half centuries of industrial growth, during most of which Britain had been the workshop of the world, had built up substantial resources. Even in 1914, when Germany and the USA had caught up in terms of industrial production, British shipyards produced one third of the world’s ships and the cotton mills of Lancashire produced enough yarn and textiles to clothe half the world.[1] The war came at a great economic and well as human cost; some £11,325 million was spent, including loans to Russia which were never repaid. About one third was raised through taxation, £500 million from the sale of investments but the bulk from borrowing; the National Debt increased from £650 to £8,000 million and £1300 million was borrowed from overseas, mainly the USA.[2] All this was needed, amongst much else, pay for incredible quantities of guns and ammunition. Businesses across the country devoted production to the needs of the Ministry of Supply.

The country entered the interwar years much the poorer for having the meet the cost of war. The 1920s saw exceptionally hard times for traditional industries as other countries, not least the USA, took over the industrial and indeed financial lead. The 1930s saw growth in new industries such as cars, but nothing like that in Germany and the USA.

When the country went to war in 1939, the treasury was not full, and very soon massive borrowing was needed and has only recently finally been repaid. The cost of WW2, taken from the Statistical Digest of War was some £22,856 million.[3] The way in which this was financed was influenced strong by the writing of JM Keynes in his book How to pay for the War. Essentially Keynes argued successfully that substantial government borrowing was not only necessary but acceptable.
Writing more recently, Adair Turner in Between Debt and the Devil, argues that as a one off ‘money finance’ is acceptable in exceptional circumstances. COVID-19 is surely such a circumstance. [4]
Munition workers in WW1



[1] John Stevenson, Social history of Britain, British Society 1914-1945 (London: Pelican 1984, 1990), p.104.
[2] John Stevenson, Social history of Britain, British Society 1914-1945 (London: Pelican 1984, 1990), p.105.
[3] John Stevenson, Social history of Britain, British Society 1914-1945 (London: Pelican 1984, 1990), p.447.
[4] Adair Turner, Between Debt and the Devil, (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2016), p.227).

Friday, 13 March 2020

100,000 post views

Today this blog was viewed for the 100,000th time. A huge thank you to my visitors.
I began the blog in 2008, whilst studying on the MA in Professional Writing at University College Falmouth. I hardly used it between 2011 and 2014 (when I was working as Chief Executive at Lincoln Cathedral), but since then have been posting on the military subjects on which I have been writing.
I write this having begun another project. The one I have just completed in draft looked at the lives of some of the men who supplied the army. The project I am beginning looks at the companies which supplied the army, whence they came but also what happened to them, for many have disappeared.

Sunday, 16 February 2020

Moving towards a final draft of ....

I am talking to a publisher and awaiting a contract. We are discussing the title...
(its working title is Soldiers who armed an Army)
In the meantime, I am working through a final draft having received really helpful comments from three wonderful readers. I am using some pieces of contemporary writing which, for me, give a wonderful sense of period. Some, though, are better paraphrased, and that means more work.
I need also to choose the right images. I have hundreds. In War on Wheels and Ordnance I used images of places and equipment. The book the foreword to which I wrote, D-Day Before and After has some wonderful images. The current book is about the people who armed the army, so it has to be pictures of them doing their jobs on official occasions or at play. There are exceptions. The story has a strong link between the RAOC and the Rootes Group well illustrated by this 1950s image of Chilwell. The hat belongs to Major General Bill Williams, then Export Director of Rootes but who had previously founded Ladbroke Hall