The Controller of Ordnance Services, 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.