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.