War on Wheels

War on Wheels
Book cover

Wednesday, 23 May 2018

The stories of the World Wars need to be told

A century has passed since the end of the most horrific conflict the world has ever seen. Surely it is something to forget. Yet, there can hardly be a family, in this country and the others involved, which was not in some way connected. We all have stories of bravery or tragedy, dogged hard work and suffering: all these need to be told to honour those whom we remember.

War on Wheels and Ordnance tell the story of one small aspect: how the army was equipped. It is a story though that reaches deep into the lives of ordinary men and women everywhere. These were not wars the impact of which was limited to the military; its tentacles spread far and wide.

The wars too are linked. It is probably true to say that without the first, the second may not have happened. Who knows. What is abundantly true is that one particular generation was caught up in both wars: young men and women who survived the first only to bring their wealth of experience to the second. My father was but one.

I found his story in albums my mum had kept of his second world war. With further research and the stories of others this became War on Wheels. It was though clear that much of what he and others did was informed by earlier experiences. This led to my research into the Great War and the second book, Ordnance.

George Dewar wrote, in the 1920s from his first hand experience, about the provision of armaments. In this he declared in 1916, on seeing the number of motor lorries behind the lines in France, that this was a war on wheels. In the first war, most of the wheels were wooden or made to run on rails. Yet in both the British and indeed American motor industries had huge parts to play.

It was not just armaments or vehicles, it was socks, boots, camp beds, tents, periscopes and compasses, so much and so many that involved so many people in their making and supply.

These two books tell the stories that I found. They are available from my Amazon author page 

I hope that others may contribute their stories, and indeed images, for me to post on this blog
The war memorial at COD Chilwell which commemorates those killed in the explosion at the former shell filling factory on 1 July 1918

Friday, 28 October 2016

The RAOC depots and some of their stories

During the course of WW2 and shortly before, Depots were set up in a great many parts of the country.
Chilwell families remember the village, just outside Nottingham, before Viscount Chetwynd built his WW1 shell filling factory. They remember the munitionettes with their yellow faces, discoloured by TNT poisoning. They remember the derelict site in the late twenties and early thirties, how it blossomed into life in 1935 with the beginning of the army centre for mechanisation and how it grew and grew during WW2.

Old Dalby residents will remember their peaceful village nestling in the south of the Vale of Belvoir and the harsh awakening as builders moved in to create the massive RAOC armaments depot. They would see tanks and Bailey Bridges, they would hear talk of secret wireless equipment.

Derby folk were justly proud of the Rolls-Royce factory in Sinfin Lane and so may not have noticed the huge vehicle depot that sprung up close to it in the early years of WW2. They would have seen the traffic and may have heard from neighbours who worked there what a good place it was to work, how well they were taken care of.
Donnington people must have hated it when the builders moved in in 1939 to begin to erect the massive sheds that would house Central Ordnance Depot Donnington. near Telford in the Shropshire countryside. They may have heard stories about its eccentric deaf commandant. They would have seen row after row of tanks and, each morning in the dark with a lamp to the fore and a lamp to the rear, the marching column of ATS on their way to work.
Corsham mums and dads must have been anxious for the safety of their children when they went out to play, in the fields outside Bath, knowing as they did that 100 feet below the surface there were vast caverns storing the ammunition to feed guns and aircraft.
Greenford streets in west London in the mid summer of 1944 would have been buzzing with activity as ATS riding motor cycles would arrive with endless requests for more equipment for the armies advancing across northern France. The bikes would be followed by lorry after lorry on their way to the docks.
Twickenham school children that same summer of 1944 would have felt a quiet satisfaction at the work they did in the previous Easter holidays packing thousands of items ready for D Day. In all 375 million items were packed, many by volunteers like those school children.
Branston residents may have missed the smell of cooking pickles, but they would have seen the hive of activity in the old factory just outside Burton on Trent which was then the place that handled most of the army's clothing.
Didcot is now better known for its former power stations. In 1915 the Oxfordshire villagers would have seen the building of a huge general stores depot to supply the western front, served by re-routed railways. In 1944 the site was even bigger as all the non-armament stores were assembled for the invasion.

Bicester was also a quiet Oxforshire village and is now an out of town shopping centre soon to become a new town. In 1944 it was the most carefully planned all purpose depot geared to supply the troops crossing into France. It had then the biggest tank repair facility anywhere.
Did you know anyone who worked in one of these amazing places? If they told you stories about them, please let me know, using the contact form.

Thursday, 15 September 2016


It is a week since War on Wheels was published. I have sold signed copies. I have been told that people have ordered and received theirs. I wait for feedback!

The History Press has published on their website an article I wrote on the British Motor Industry's contribution in WW2.

For me, it was always the story that counted. I know there are more parts of the story as yet untold.

I look forward to hearing them and recording them on this site.

This image is of just some of the albums my Mum left and from which much of the story has been told

Tuesday, 26 July 2016

Two thousand views

Thank you all for visiting this blog two thousand times so far.

BUT....the purpose of this blog is to capture people's stories.

In my forthcoming book, War on Wheels, I have included stories of those who worked on the supply of vehicles and armaments in WW2. I did research the Imperial War Museum, the RLC Archive and I collected stories that people sent in response to articles in local newspapers. However, I am sure that there are many stories that I could not find.

Please let me have them to record for posterity.

If you are interested in the book, War on Wheels. and I hope you are, you will find more about it on my other blog which you can visit by clicking here.

Saturday, 23 April 2016

Extracts from War on Wheels

These extracts from the publisher's proof give a flavour of the book which is of 65,000 words and 120 images divided into these chapters:

The Beginning
The British Expeditionary Force
The UK Motor Industry
The Depots and Mechanisation
The Desert War and Italy
Preparing for D Day
D Day and the battle for Europe
The Far East

It is to be published by The History Press in September 2016 and is available to pre-order on Amazon

The Beginning

Had you been a passenger on the omnibus from Nottingham railway station to the little village of Chilwell on a wet November morning in 1934, you may have seen a tall, heavily built soldier fidgeting as he sat, his eyes scanning all that they passed. In his pocket was the letter from the War Office instructing him to visit the site of a former shell filling factory. In his mind there could well have been wild imaginings: a fully mechanised army, light years from that which he had experienced in the four dark years of the Great War. He had been asked to see whether the site could be right for the first Royal Army Ordnance Corps Depot specifically for motor transport and, if so, how he would create it.

Saturday, 5 March 2016

The stories around the book

War on Wheels, a story about the men and women who mechanised the British Army in WW2, is to be published by The History Press in September 2016. It is available to preorder on Amazon.

“The British Army which crossed to France in 1939 differed from other armies at that time in being fully mechanised.” Report on the British Expeditionary Force

In a little over eight months they discovered to their cost just what a truly mechanised army could do as German General Guderian and his blitzkrieg drove all before them and would have taken the whole force prisoner had Hitler not hesitated.

The next five years would see a completed transformation of the British Army as the the number of vehicles grew from 40,000 to 1.5 million.

The driving force behind mechanisation was the Royal Army Ordnance Corps and the 250,000 soldiers, ATS and civilians who worked in over one hundred massive depots in the UK and in the theatres of war worldwide.

Wheels of War is the story of those men and women, of workers in the motor industry and the vehicles themselves.

This blog will record stories prompted by the book but which could not be included because, for example, I heard about them too late for inclusion. They are nonetheless part of this remarkable story.

This is the link to my own stories about the book and the book's Facebook page.

Ammunition stored by the roadside following Dunkirk