War on Wheels

War on Wheels
Book cover

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.

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