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.  

I describe in How Britain Shaped the Manufacturing World the astonishing efforts made by all parts of British manufacturing to supply the war effort, yet still more was needed. 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, had 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 and which were complied by Betty Perks, was in July 1942 when Betty wrote “the Yankees are here”. Betty was the PA of the head of UK Ordnance, Major-General Bill Williams (Controller of Ordnance Services). 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. A highlight was surely the visit to the Chrysler tank factory (shown in the top image). 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 Dunkirk to D Day. The establishments visited are described rather more in my book on the mechanisation of the British army in WW2, War on Wheels.

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.