It is chilling to think that many of those men born in the 1890s would serve through two world wars (if they survived) and could also be part of the step change in British manufacturing witnessed in the twentieth century.
Ronald Weeks was one such man. He was the first Director-General of Army Equipment in WW2 and later became Deputy Chief of the Imperial General Staff with a focus on organisation and equipment. He plays a key role in my book on soldiers who armed an army entitled Dunkirk to D Day. He was also an innovative manufacturer and plays an equally important role in my book How Britain Shaped the Manufacturing World. He is one of the civilian soldiers I wrote about in my article Civilian Expertise in War.
He was the son of a Durham mining engineer. The family had been farmers in County Durham for many decades. Ronald went from school in Durham down to Charterhouse in Surrey and then to Cambridge, where he was an exceptional student. He was one of the first Cambridge graduates to pursue a career in industry.
In 1914, he was commissioned in the Prince of Wales’s Volunteers and later gained a regular commission in the Rifle Brigade where he gained a reputation for leadership and initiative in battle. He was awarded an MC in January 1917, a DSO in January 1918, a Bar to the MC in July 1918 and the Croix de Guerre as well as being mentioned in despatches. He ended the war as a major in the Rifle Brigade.
He then worked at Pilkingtons becoming a director. In the 1930, he was part of Management Research Group No.1 with Seebohm Rowntree, exploring management issues which were presented by companies growing ever larger.
After WW2, he became executive chairman of Vickers, a massive job. He was much involved with the nationalisation and de-nationalisation of the steel industry.
J.D. Scott, writing The History of Vickers, recognised in Weeks something quite special. He writes ‘by the end of the Second World War, Weeks’ brilliance as an administrator had become recognised as something of a phenomenon. If his career and his personality had been designed for the chairmanship of Vickers they would have differed very little from the actuality’.