My forthcoming book

My forthcoming book
My forthcoming book

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.