My most recent book

My most recent book
My most recent book

Thursday, 1 July 2021

Dunkirk to D Day - reviews

Here are some of the reviews and comments received on Dunkirk to D Day 

"Bill Williams’s story, and that of his wife, friends and colleagues, so brilliantly set out for us by Phil in `Dunkirk to D-Day` is history, but I commend it as much for it's relevance to us all, military or civilian alike. Bill's portrait hangs in the RLC Headquarters' Officers' Mess. I have walked past it countless times since I was commissioned into the RAOC in 1973. I wish I had known then what I know now, about Bill and his family, his work and his colleagues, but above all of their accomplishments. I would have been better prepared for my chosen profession if I had."

The final paragraph of the foreword of Major-General Malcolm Wood. Earlier he observed:

"We are allowed to enjoy and share Phil's discovery that alongside his father, there were a group of people, many in the `Class of '22` as Phil calls them, most of whom, having served as young officers in World War I went on to have significant roles in supporting the mechanised Army of World War II. As he puts it, “In my research the same names kept reappearing”. What intrigues us as we read is that this group are a bridge in time from one World War to the next. We feel we get to know them as people; loyal, committed, open to change, driven by a sense of duty and nicely old fashioned." 

“I have the book and delve into it daily. Very interesting too“. - Fred Keogh ex RAOC

From a letter received from Elizabeth Campbell, daughter of 'Cutters' who was second in command of Ordnance Services for the 21st Army Group and later Controller of Ordnance Services:

"It is very special for me to read about all those who I knew who did so much for their country and indeed for them and my father to be commemorated. I shall read it carefully, every chapter and will learn a lot."

Toby Neal, feature writer for the Shropshire Star which covers the area which included COD Donnington, has written a fascinating review focusing on Charles de Wolff who conceived the idea of moving Woolwich away from the risk of bombs and was COO at Donnington to which it relocated for most of WW2: 

''In his new book "Dunkirk to D-Day" Philip Hamlyn Williams shines the spotlight on the key personalities, who had the common bond of being forged and shaped by their experiences in the Great War, who formed the supply team which made victory possible.''

The University where I took an MA in Professional Writing have written about the book as encouragement to the current cohort of students. 

Follow this link to find where you can buy Dunkirk to D Day

Sunday, 6 June 2021

What would life hold in store for these young men?

Bill Williams, Rivers Macpherson, Charles de Wolff and Cyril Cansdale (seated) taken in Woolwich following the first Ordnance Officers course after the end of the Great War. 
What would life hold in store? 
By D Day, Williams was Controller of Ordnance Service and Cansdale his deputy; de Wolff was COO of the vast depot at Donnington in Shropshire (Woolwich in the country); Macpherson had retired. Of others on that course, Dickie Richards was Director of Clothing and Stores, Geoffrey Palmer was COO Bicester and Alfred Goldstein was COO Greenford.

 

Thursday, 3 June 2021

The first week in June

 We remember the flotilla of little ships in the same week that we commemorate the largest sea-born invasion ever undertaken. Admiral Bertram Ramsay, more than anyone, must have been struck by the coincidence. 

Of those leaders of the RAOC, Dickie Richards as Director of Clothing and Equipment, Geoffrey Palmer as COO Bicester and Cyril Cansdale as Deputy Controller of Ordnance Services were all there at the sharp end of Dunkirk, and in 1944 had their reply. In 1940 Bill Williams was at the War Office and would have witnessed the absence of all the vehicles he had so carefully amassed at Chilwell for the BEF. His anxiety in the first week of June 1944 must have been off the scale, but then the immense satisfactory of an extraordinary job well done. 





Thursday, 20 May 2021

D Day supplies

For D Day many thousands of telegraph poles and miles of wire were taken to France in anticipation of the retreating Germans having destroyed their communications.

This abandoned pole near what was COD Old Dalby may have been in use then. 
This was but the tip of the iceberg. In all some 300 million items were packed in Ordnance depots around the country by RAOC men and women plus volunteers from many walks of life including school children.  

Tuesday, 11 May 2021

Where you can buy Dunkirk to D Day

Here are links to some of the wonderful bookshops selling Dunkirk to D Day

Lindum Books, Lincoln

Blackwells

Browns Bookshop Hull

The Portobello Bookshop Edinburgh

Foyles Charing Cross Road, London

PaulMeekings

WH Smith

Waterstones 

Byrd Books  Bethel, Connecticut, USA

Island Bound Bookstore Rhode Island, USA

Dymocks Australia

The Nile on line Australia and New Zealand

You can also order direct from Pen & Sword where it is also available in Kindle and ebook versions, and Amazon



Friday, 30 April 2021

Publication Day

Dunkirk to D Day is released today, and many thanks to Pen & Sword 

It comes at the end of a seven year quest to answer the question so many boys of the forties and fifties asked: Dad, what did you do in the war? My quest grew into a project, which expanded into something much bigger as I began to grasp the sheer magnitude of the task he and his colleagues undertook. 

For me it began with Mum's albums, some twelve five inch thick scrap books. My mother had been my father's PA and had recorded the activities of the RAOC from his viewpoint as Controller of Ordnance Services. When I first looked at them seriously, I was struck by the images of vehicles massed at Chilwell in 1938 should the need arise. 

This sent me off to the RAOC archive at the RLC museum and thence to the National Archives and Imperial War Museum where I found wonderful first hand accounts by soldiers who had done their bit in the RAOC. All this became War on Wheels and many thanks to the History Press for that. The focus was very much the motor companies and the role of the RAOC in supplying them. I wrote an article on this aspect for History Press.

It was clear from my research that for many of those whose story I wrote, this was not the first war in which they had served. I needed to find out about their experience and this led to Ordnance and again many thanks to the History Press. Ordnance explored the broader picture of how the British army was supplied and this time the RAOC archive itself had vivid first hand accounts. I also wrote an article on Ordnance for History Press.

The research for these two books left a big question mark, for what I had found was essentially ordinary men and women doing quite extraordinary things. I needed to find what in their lives had prepared them for the enormous task they undertook and so I dug deeper to find the people behind the names. This time the focus was on those who led the RAOC, not least my own father who had been Director of Warlike Stores in addition to becoming Controller of Ordnance Services. My mother also had left some delightful diaries and had painstakingly recorded my father's memories recalled during his final months. There were records of a number of the other leaders which helped to add flesh to the bare bones. I wrote an article for the Pen & Sword guest blog.

I feel affirmed in my efforts by the kind words of Major General Malcolm Wood who wrote a foreword to Dunkirk to D Day:

"We feel we get to know them as people; loyal, committed, open to change, driven by a sense of duty and nicely old fashioned."

The photograph is of many of those in the story with one woman, my mother, without whom I could never have told it.



Sunday, 25 April 2021

Dunkirk to D Day and the USA

It was clear after the withdrawal at Dunkirk that there would be a massive task of re-equipping the British army. It was even clearer after the Battle of Britain and the start of the air campaign waged by Bomber Command that the power of British industry would be directed primarily to aircraft production. Who would meet the army's need? 

Photo taken at Aberdeen proving ground

The answer came on 7 December 1941 when the USA was drawn into the war by the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbour. It is therefore interesting that the US Ordnance Chief, General Wesson, visited the UK and the massive RAOC armaments depot at Old Dalby in Leicestershire in September 1941. He was shown a state of the art depot run by former Dunlop Rubber Company director and now soldier, Colonel Bob Hiam. The General was impressed.

Old Dalby depot - now an industrial estate

The next reference to the USA in the albums, which I used as my main source material, was in July 1942 when Betty Perks wrote "the Yankees are here". Betty was the PA of the head of UK Ordnance Major-General Bill Williams, and on 17 May 1943 Bill and Betty set off for a six week visited to the USA taking in Ordnance establishments, the Pentagon and motor and armaments manufacturers. They were hosted by Major General Levin Campbell Wesson's successor as head of US Ordnance. Betty was aged 24 and had never previously flown or left English shores. What she did leave was a diary of her vivid and sometimes charmingly naive description of this and other trips, and I use extensive quotes in the book.

It is clear that Bill and Betty, as well as falling in love with each other, fell in love with the USA. I am their son and had an American godmother, the wife of the head of ordnance in Pennsylvania. 

After the war, Bill and a number of colleagues were honoured by US decorations; Bill was created Commander of the Legion of Merit. Levin Campbell was created honorary Knight of the British Empire. 

Saturday, 24 April 2021

Jim Denniston - DOS 21st Army Group

James Guy (Jim) Denniston served first as private in the London Scottish, and was then commissioned on 13 August 1915 in the Seaforth Highlanders. He served in France and then in Egypt. He transferred to the RAOC in the late twenties and attended the 7th Ordnance Officers Course. 

In the thirties he was posted to Singapore where he is credited with the major expansion of the RAOC depot there. In WW2, he 'marched with the 8th Army' in North Africa, before a posting with RAOC training. 

He was appointed DOS 21st Army Group. In my blog piece for Pen & Sword, I describe the scene when he addressed the assembled leaders of the RAOC in the final preparations for D Day. This is how he began his speech:

‘We in the Expeditionary Force are the “happy few.” Let us remember that there may be, in our bases behind, many who are thinking of our good fortune; let us remember that they, too, would very willingly take our places in the front.'

He led Ordnance in the 21st Army Group until Cyril Cansdale took over when it became BAOR. Denniston was then posted back to the Middle East until his retirement. This final posting had coincided with a difficult phase of economic re-organisation which was made still more difficult by receding manpower, reduced estimates and a certain element of doubt and indecision. 'General Denniston (as he became) met all difficulty with indomitable courage and unfailing cheerfulness’

Denniston, Williams and Clarke (DDOS 2nd Army)
 

Monday, 19 April 2021

Wolffy - COO Donnington 1944

Charles Esmond de Wolff, always know as Wolffy, is surely ‘the’ character of Dunkirk to D Day. He left two volumes of memoirs ‘not to be published’; I have honoured his wish but drawn on his memories, not least those that had been published in the RAOC Gazette. 

His grandfather served in the French cavalry, but, by the time Wolffy was growing up, his family lived in Wimbledon. On leaving school, Wolffy trained as a solicitor attending evening classes at Birkbeck College in London  

In WW1, Wolffy served in Selonika suffering damage to his ears which would require him to wear a hearing aid, a rather cumbersome device. 

At the end of the war he was posted to Russia to liaise with White Russian forces. It was then that he rescued a Russian princess, for which he was awarded a CBE

He was one of the Class of ‘22, and shared a house with Bill Williams on whom he played a celebrated practical joke, of which I tell in the book. 

In the interwar years he served in Malta, the island where he would eventually retire. With his deteriorating hearing, he considered moving to a civilian job  We can thank his boss, Basil Hill, for taking a different view and giving him the job of creating 'Woolwich in the country' safe from enemy bombing, a project Wolffy himself had conceived.

At COD Donnington, Wolffy commanded some twenty thousand people, gaining a reputation for effective and sensitive management. He had a most wonderful collection of stories many  of which I tell in Dunkirk to D Day  

Wolffy with the Queen on a visit to COD Donnington

Sunday, 18 April 2021

Dunkirk to D Day - talking about my incredible source material

 Dunkirk to D Day looks at the lives of the leaders of the RAOC in WW2. Key to this was the progression towards becoming a fully mechanisation. This began in earnest in the mid thirties when my mum began collecting press cuttings for her boss, later Controller of Ordnance Services. Soon photographs were added together with copies of speeches and information booklets. Later there were diaries of overseas trips to build relationships with vital suppliers from the USA and Canada. I talk about these albums in this video  



Thursday, 8 April 2021

Dickie Richards - a human cyclone

 Dickie Richards was larger than life. He was described as 'a cyclone in human shape'. Dickie had served first in the London Regiment and then in the AOD and, at least at one period, had commanded an ammunition train. There is an intriguing piece of evidence suggesting that Dicky had travelled much further afield, for he was awarded a Japanese medal. Japan had joined with the Entente in 1914, and soon took possession of the then former German colonies in the eastern seas. Dicky was awarded an MC. 

He was on the First Ordnance Officers Course and, in the interwar years, his postings included York and Egypt, the latter as an adviser. 

In 1939, he set up a massive general stores depot in Le Havre, returning to the UK after Dunkirk albeit briefly, before being sent out to join General Wavell in Egypt where he ran Ordnance Services until 1943. This was a massive task as Ordnance learnt how to supply a mobile army, with repeated advances and retreats. 

He returned to the War Office as Director of Clothing and Stores bringing with him a wealth of experience of supplying a mechanised army. 

Dickie and Bill in lighter mood

In 1946, he succeeded Bill as Controller of Ordnance Services.

I tell much more of Dickie Richards and his fellow RAOC officers in Dunkirk to D Day 


Wednesday, 31 March 2021

Reddy Readman - COO Chilwell 1944

A feature of the world wars was the crucial role played by people from civilian jobs.

Edgar Readman worked in the steel industry in Sheffield before serving as a lieutenant in the South Staffordshire Regiment. He was posted to the Tank Battalion, being promoted to captain on 30 November 1917. After the war he returned to the steel industry in what became English Steel. He remained in the territorial army during the interwar period and was called up in the RAOC on the declaration of WW2. He succeeded Bill Williams and then Harry Whitaker as COO Chilwell in 1940, and ran it and the Motor Transport activities of the RAOC until he returned to English Steel after the war.

I looked at the management style of a number of the officers who had come from industry.

Reddy Readman at Chilwell wrote his management report with a focus on numbers; we might view them as Key Performance Indicators. In April 1944 he reported that during the month some 17,573,206 items had been packed in cartons bringing the total to date to 143,643,187 using some 6,265,340 cartons. The packing operation was extraordinary, with volunteers from all walks of life including school children helping the military and civilian staff of the depots. 

He reported on the printing of labels which was saving many man hours. The printing department at Chilwell had expanded into an operating employing some 250 people.  

It is also clear from his report that the field operations were being put together ready for transit on and after D Day. The Advance Ordnance Depots were staffed and supplies were being earmarked. The same was the case for the Forward Trailer Sections and Ordnance Field Parks as well as for the Landing Reserves and Beach Maintenance Packs. Of crucial importance he reported that work on Wading and Ventilation Equipment was complete and so the department could stand down. 


Civilian packers at Chilwell on an visit by the Queen




Friday, 26 March 2021

Alfred Goldstein - COO Greenford 1944

Alfred Goldstein was commissioned from the Royal Military Academy at Woolwich, “The Shop”, to the Gunners; he served from 1916 until the end of the war in France with the 154 Siege Battery RA, and there he rose to the rank of major, in command of the battery, at the age of twenty-two. He was twice wounded whilst in action with the battery and he carried a number of pieces of shrapnel in his arm for the rest of his life. 

He passed out top of the First Ordnance Officers Course at Woolwich (Class of '22). In the interwar years he served at Catterick and Didcot; in both postings introducing modern management methods. 

He was posted as COO Greenford on his return from Malta having served there during the siege. Greenford’s main functions were the receipt of warlike stores from manufacturers, their storage, maintenance and issue to units at home and overseas. The depot also assembled complete units from many thousands of single parts. As with the other depots, there were workshops working alongside.

Greenford played a major role following D Day, as the focus for armaments and technical stores and the first port of call for demands from the Advance Depots over the channel. 

Goldstein with the Queen on a visit to Greenford

Friday, 12 March 2021

Geoffrey Palmer COO Bicester 1944

Geoffrey Palmer always took great pride in the fact that he had risen through the ranks. He had served during the Great War in the London Regiment rising to the rank of captain. He then transferred to the RAOC and was one of the group of officers to attend the first Ordnance Officers course (the Class of '22) to be run at Woolwich after the war. His service during the interwar years included a three year posting to Palestine.

On the declaration of the Second World War, he returned from Palestine to become Chief Ordnance Officer at 1BOD in Nantes supplying the British Expeditionary Force with warlike stores. In June 1940 men from the  Nantes depot were evacuated together with RAF ground crew and many others on the SS Lancastria which was sunk by enemy fire with the loss of three thousand lives. It is not clear whether Palmer was a survivor, but there is evidence of him suffering trauma. 

In 1941 he was given the task of creating a whole new depot at Bicester near Oxford. This combined armaments and vehicles and boasted the largest tank repair shop then in existence. He commanded Bicester until the end of the war, when he was moved to Chilwell to head up all Motor Transport activities with the rank of Major General.

Geoffrey Palmer in conversation with Bill Williams at the Chief Ordnance Officer's meeting in March 1942


Monday, 8 February 2021

Bob Hiam, COO Caen and Antwerp 1944

 Whilst the Dunkirk evacuation was taking place, Bob Hiam was busy setting up what was intended to be an overflow Motor Transport Depot for COD Chilwell. Soon it became clear that a further massive depot for armaments was needed to support COD Donnington, and COD Old Dalby began to take shape. 

COD Old Dalby as it is today

Bob Hiam had worked in tyre sales and distribution at Dunlop and was one of many such people who had  joined the volunteer reserve and then, on the declaration of war, was commissioned in the RAOC. As I tell in Dunkirk to D Day and indeed War on Wheels, there was a management challenge of some magnitude to mesh those skilled in logistics like Bob, with officers who had made they way up the RAOC many from service in WW1.

Bob was given the job of creating the Old Dalby depot. His success is perhaps evidenced by a visit to the depot by Dunlop management who came away having learnt a lot from the way Hiam had developed Dunlop methods to serve the army.

As a Chief Ordnance Officer, Bob met each quarter with his peers in the depots and their chief, Major General Bill Williams. The photo is of Bob addressing one such meeting in March 1942.

There is evidence in the War Diaries in the National Archives that Hiam wrote more than one report for Bill on methods.

The high regard in which he was held is further evidenced by the choice of him to become the COO of the Advance Ordnance Depot set up near Caen to supply the advance across northern France and then AOD at Antwerp for the final push into German.

After the war he returned to Dunlop as Sales Director in the business supplying tyres to the garage trade. He also, like a number of his colleagues, set up an association for those who had served at Old Dalby and which met right through to the sixties.

Bob Hiam was born in Somerset in 1905 the son of a French born draughtsman who worked for the railways. He died in 1979.

Dunlop and many other companies moved mountains to support the war effort. By releasing people like Bob Hiam, they greatly enhanced the ability of the RAOC to meet the army's needs.


Sunday, 31 January 2021

Vaccines and Arms - odd bedfellows

 I was surprised when I read in the newspaper about vaccine production by Oxford University/Astra Zeneca to discover that the government had backed the development of the vaccine by paying money up front; not just money, but many millions. 

I was reminded of two other periods in our history when government has put is money where its mouth was.

In the Great War, Lloyd George spear-headed an astonishing network of factories built or bought by government money to make the shells so desperately needed on the western front.

In the mid 1930s, a reluctant government began a structure of shadow factories to manufacture desperately needed aircraft. In the end, the greater part of British manufacturing industry leant its shoulder to the war effort.

Astra Zeneca, which was born after the break up of that British institution, Imperial Chemical Industries (ICI), took up the challenge of manufacturing the vaccine developed in Oxford and built the necessary production facilities with advance payments by government. 

Students and Dons from Oxford Colleges volunteered at the Ordnance Depot in Didcot in WW1. Oxford was also the home to Morris Motors which played such a big role in the shadow factory initiative in WW2. 








Friday, 15 January 2021

How Britain Created the Manufacturing World

I'm thrilled that Pen & Sword have confirmed their intention to publish my current work in progress, How Britain Created the Manufacturing World.

The peoples of the British Isles gave to the world the foundations on which modern manufacturing economies are built. This is quite an assertion, but history shows that, in the late eighteenth century, a remarkable combination of factors and circumstances combined to give birth to Britain as the first manufacturing nation. Further factors allowed it to remain top manufacturing dog well into the twentieth century, although other countries were busy playing catch up. Through two world wars and the surrounding years, British manufacturing remained strong, albeit whilst ceding the lead to the United States.

This book seeks to tell the remarkable story of British manufacturing, using the Great Exhibition of 1851 as a prism. Prince Albert and Sir Henry Cole had conceived an idea of bringing together exhibits from manufacturers across the world to show to its many millions of visitors the pre-eminence of the British. 1851 was not the start, but rather a pause for a bask in glory. 

I trace back from the exhibits in Hyde Park’s crystal palace to identify the factors that gave rise to this pre-eminence. I then follow developments up until the Festival of Britain exactly one century later. Steam power and communication by electric telegraph, both British inventions, predated the Exhibition. After it, came the sewing machine and bicycle, motor car and aeroplane, but also electrical power, radio and the chemical and pharmaceutical industries where Britain played a leading part.  



Thursday, 14 January 2021

Dunkirk to D Day

 I am thrilled to post the cover of my forthcoming book, Dunkirk to D DayAt Dunkirk, the British Army had lost most of its equipment, yet of D Day, only four years later, Max Hastings would write in Overlord:

 I am thrilled to post the cover of my forthcoming book, Dunkirk to D Day

At Dunkirk, the British Army had lost most of its equipment, yet of D Day, only four years later, Max Hastings would write in Overlord:

‘To almost every man of the Allied Armies, the predominant memory of the campaign, beyond the horror of battle, was the astounding efficiency of the supply services.’

None of this happened by accident. It was by dint of hard work, a willingness to learn from mistakes, and an openness to new ideas.

The book is a quest to find who the leaders were, what fitted them for their task and what they did afterwards. It follows the lives of some twenty men and one woman caught up in war. Most of the men served in two world wars, many came together on a course in 1922 (the Class of ’22) when enduring friendships and rivalries formed, some came later from careers in the industrial world. The woman would keep a faithful recorded of their deeds.

The story begins in Victorian south London. It goes out to Portuguese East Africa and then to Malaya, before being caught in the maelstrom of the Great War. Between the wars, its heroes work at Pilkington, Dunlop and English Steel; they serve in Gallipoli, Gibraltar and Malta; they transform the way a mechanised army is supplied. They retreat at Dunkirk - the army losing most of its equipment - and, by hook or crook, re-arm the defeated army. They supply in the desert and the jungle. They build massive depots, and relationships with motor companies here and in the USA. They successfully supply the greatest seaborne invasion ever undertaken: D-Day. After the war they work for companies driving the post-war economy: Vickers, Dunlop and Rootes. Many died, exhausted, years before their time.

You can preorder Dunkirk to D Day from this link to Pen & Sword. It is to be published on 30 April. 

Monday, 11 January 2021

United Africa Company

I am working on a book about how Britain created the manufacturing world, and have explored the story of British manufacturing industry. There were, however, other ways in which Britain was creating manufacturing industry elsewhere. 

In the mid 1930s, investigations had been made to assess the possibility of setting up industrial production in Kenya to remove the necessity of importing so many manufactured goods. The place chosen, Nakuru, was conveniently located on the Kenyan communication system both for the collection of raw materials and distribution of finished goods. With the coming of war and the entry of the Italians in 1940, Nakuru was mobilised to produce what was needed to defend the northern frontier. There was a tannery capable of producing five tons of leather a month, a whole plant for the manufacture of blankets, shoe machinery and a soap plant. 

Perhaps in parallel with this initiative in East Africa, Lever Brothers had acquired the Niger Company in 1920 to secure supplies of palm oil. In 1929, the Niger company merged with the African and Eastern Trade Corporation Ltd, to form The United Africa Company Ltd. From the late thirties, through the war and into the later forties, the UAC shifted is focus to provide African countries with what they needed to set up local manufacturing.

Nakuru