I am an historian exploring the inspiring history of British Manufacturing
In writing my books, War on Wheels and Ordnance, on how the British army was supplied in the two world wars, I kept coming across the same names. I needed to find out who those people were. My research concluded in the publication of a third book, Dunkirk to D Day, published by Pen & Sword in March 2021.
As well as people, I kept coming across the names of companies who worked tirelessly for the war effort. I needed to find out who they were. My research led me a quest which went so much deeper and part of which is now in How Britain Shaped the Manufacturing World.
War on Wheels
‘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’ Max Hastings in Overlord
During the Second World War the British Army underwent a complete transformation as the number of vehicles grew from 40,000 to 1.5 million, ranging from tanks and giant tank transporters to jeeps, mobile baths and offices, and scout cars. At the same time the way in which the army was provided with all it needed was transformed – arms and ammunition, radio, clothing and places to sleep and wash.
In this fascinating volume, Philip Hamlyn Williams makes extensive use of archival material and first-hand accounts to follow some of the men and women who mechanised the British Army from the early days at Chilwell near Nottingham, through the near disaster of the BEF, Desert War and Italian invasion, to preparations for D-Day and war in the Far East. Stunningly illustrated throughout, War on Wheels explores the building of the network of massive depots across the UK and throughout the theatres of war that, with creative input from the UK motor industry, supplied the British Army. It is truly an impressive work to be enjoyed by anyone intrigued by the machines and logistics of the British Army in the Second World War.
Kitchener’s ‘Contemptible Little Army’ which crossed to France in August 1914 was highly professional, but was small and equipped only with what it could carry. Facing it was a force of continental proportions, heavily armed and well supplied. The task of equipping the British Army, which would grow out of all recognition, was truly herculean.
It was, though, undertaken by ordinary men and women all around the British Isles and beyond. Men fit to fight in the trenches had been called to the colours do just that, so it was largely those left behind. In time government recognised the need for skills of engineering and logistics and such who had survived the onslaught were brought back to their vocation. Women had a key part to play.
Ordnance is the story of these men and women and traces the provision of equipment and armaments from raw material through manufacture to the supply routes which put into the hands of our soldiers all the materiel that they needed to win the war.
Dunkirk to D Day
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 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.
These three books started an itch; I was impressed by all the British companies which had risen to the demands of war and I needed to find where they had come from. This grew into a much broader quest which has resulted in.
How Britain Shaped 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 whilst 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.
The book traces back from the exhibits in Hyde Park’s Crystal Palace to identify the factors that gave rise to this pre-eminence, just as the factory system at Cromford Mill. It then follows 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.