Wartime Industry - Neil R. Storey

ARRSE Rating
2.00 star(s)
This is the first book that the Arrse Book Review collective has passed my way, and I opened the email with a certain measure of anticipation. Hm, I thought, 'Wartime Industry' by Neil R. Storey, “a highly illustrated insight into how British industries, supported by thousands of newly recruited women, strove to meet the nation’s wartime need for munitions, armour, shipping, uniforms and aircraft throughout World War II”. Fantastic, a book about pen pushers and factories. It'll long winded, filled with statistics, and written with all the zest and liveliness of a provincial soviet newspaper's report on the latest potato harvest. Marvellous. Nevertheless, your wife's away for the weekend, she took the kids, you put your hand up, get on with it.

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Now, for those of you who haven't run across the work of Neil Storey before, he's a social historian from Norfolk who, according to the publicist, works the TV and radio circuit and knocks out a few lectures and articles for journals and the like – so we can from the get-go reasonably assume that he knows his stuff. He's also award winning – cue ooooh's and aaah's from the audience. I did a little research to discover which award this was (and by research I mean 'did a cursory google search and looked at the first five results', I do have a life) but, although there were numerous photos of the author and his magnificent moustache, there was no information available about the touted prize, which therefore leads me to quite reasonably conclude that it's one of those trinkets designed to give respectability to both the awarder and awardee but gives little indication as to the actual quality of the work produced; indeed, it might not even be connected to his historical scholarship. I can claim to be an award winning book review writer on the grounds that I a) write book reviews and b) and was a recipient of the 1982 Keighley and district cub scouts 5-a-side indoor football trophy – but it doesn't mean that this review is going to be be any good, and given the brevity and subject of the book it quite probably isn't. It is much the same with all 'award winning' authors or books. If it isn't named it could be for anything, possibly awarded by a best mate and his girlfriend, and it doesn't say a single thing about the quality of the work you're thinking of reading. Name dropping an anonymous award into the equation is a clumsy attempt to give credibility to the work in question and status to an author. It annoys me no end. Blame Science Fiction and Fantasy for that, the genres are awash with the bloody things and they always seem to be something like the village interestingly-named award for best of a fourth-rate pool of local knitting club writers or some such rubbish. But anyway. It's a pet hate, I thought I'd share it with you, you're welcome. Now I've got my harrumph out of the way, let's move forward.


Rather than being the dull, densely worded five ton tome that I was expecting, the book rolls in at a dainty 64 pages and appears to be the kind of introduction-to primer often used by first-year undergrad students who have left it too late to do any meaningful research before the essay is due. With each chapter being little more than eight heavily illustrated pages long, it leaps through the subject matter very rapidly, touching on the main movers and shakers in each economic area and the rapid increases in production resulting from their efforts. It does, however, seem very arbitrary in its focus and gives the impression that the book is something of a side project tossed together from leftover notes from a heavier one.


The introduction gives a two page overview on the cuts made to military expenditure following the end of the Great War and the rise of anxieties surrounding the possibilities of air attack in future conflicts, before spending three pages which probably could have been better used giving further details of these explaining in some minutiae the manufacture of respirators (commonly referred to as ‘gas masks’, as the author generously explains to those of us who were born yesterday). From asbestos filled gasmasks (yes, seriously) he leaps to raw materials and salvage, discussing the need for coal and shortage of manpower down t'pits. The Bevin Boys get a nod before he rushes on into the need for timber and the first recycling campaign in British history, in which, as everyone knows, scrap iron was collected by the cartload and turned into things that go boom in the night. This was, apparently, so successful that claims have been made that a lot of it was dumped in the Thames estuary, presumably by people who'd just seen it at low tide for the first time. The author tosses in a few generous dollops of statistics into this chapter before skipping onto the need to rapidly increase the rate at which aircraft were being produced. Beaverbrook is the main focus here, and although Winston may have been the right man at the right time the former was up there with him, by this account.


In common with the RAF, the Navy had been starved of funds for a substantial period between the wars and most ships were of WW1 vintage; as with most other areas, rapid expansion was undertaken and it is at this point that the author mentions women in what is, for this short book, some detail. I will admit that I lost a bet with myself as I thought the social historian author wouldn't get to page 5 before moaning on about misogyny in the workplace but he got 29 pages in before clutching his pearls. Now, you're probably going to have to sit down before you read this, but apparently dockyard workers were quite sexist back in the day. I know, I know, I was shocked as well, but there you go. Every day's a schoolday. He then jumps from women in the workplace to Mulberry harbours, to shipbuilding statistics, and on to a chapter about land forces, which is a fairly dry recitation of company names, what they used to produce, what they then produced, and quantities of weapons made. It's a statistics-fest to make the eyelids of even a 7 year-old ADHD-riddled sugar monster droop.


It is at around this point that the author presumably lost the will to try and include any human interest factors and simply starts filling the pages with company names and statistics. Did you know that uniforms were made by The Fifty Shillings Tailors, F.W Harmer of Norwich, J. Compton, Son & Webb, Town Tailors Ltd, Denhams (1933) Ltd, Harry Levine Ltd of London (I'll do you a favour here and skip the rest) and that the quantities of battledress produced were 1940, 17.5 million, 1941, nearly 17 million, 1942 9.5 million...and so on and so forth. Riveting stuff. The thankfully final chapter is a broad overview of the way in which people were pulled into the workforce. Women are the main focus, which is reasonable given the numbers which were conscripted, and the workload which those women carried was phenomenal. The needs of kids and other dependants didn't stop just because Mum was in a factory all day and their stamina was admirable. I'll point it out to my Mrs the next time she's collapsed on the couch being exhausted after the second of her two days a week private tuition, I'll let you know how that works out for me.


The book concludes with a very short further reading list, which I have no intention of following up on, and an equally short list of places to visit which are, for me, on the other side of the world – but go for it if it takes your fancy. The author also has a short selection of other books for sale. Google them yourself, I'm not your mother.


I'm going to give this book(let) 2 mushroom heads, on the grounds that the illustrations are excellent and the subject matter is mildly informative and would provide a good entry into the subject for any student. However, it is really quite dull, seems hastily thrown together, and I've no doubt that there are books out there which are both more informative and better written.

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jmb3296

LE
Book Reviewer
This is the first book that the Arrse Book Review collective has passed my way, and I opened the email with a certain measure of anticipation. Hm, I thought, 'Wartime Industry' by Neil R. Storey, “a highly illustrated insight into how British industries, supported by thousands of newly recruited women, strove to meet the nation’s wartime need for munitions, armour, shipping, uniforms and aircraft throughout World War II”. Fantastic, a book about pen pushers and factories. It'll long winded, filled with statistics, and written with all the zest and liveliness of a provincial soviet newspaper's report on the latest potato harvest. Marvellous. Nevertheless, your wife's away for the weekend, she took the kids, you put your hand up, get on with it.


Now, for those of you who haven't run across the work of Neil Storey before, he's a social historian from Norfolk who, according to the publicist, works the TV and radio circuit and knocks out a few lectures and articles for journals and the like – so we can from the get-go reasonably assume that he knows his stuff. He's also award winning – cue ooooh's and aaah's from the audience. I did a little research to discover which award this was (and by research I mean 'did a cursory google search and looked at the first five results', I do have a life) but, although there were numerous photos of the author and his magnificent moustache, there was no information available about the touted prize, which therefore leads me to quite reasonably conclude that it's one of those trinkets designed to give respectability to both the awarder and awardee but gives little indication as to the actual quality of the work produced; indeed, it might not even be connected to his historical scholarship. I can claim to be an award winning book review writer on the grounds that I a) write book reviews and b) and was a recipient of the 1982 Keighley and district cub scouts 5-a-side indoor football trophy – but it doesn't mean that this review is going to be be any good, and given the brevity and subject of the book it quite probably isn't. It is much the same with all 'award winning' authors or books. If it isn't named it could be for anything, possibly awarded by a best mate and his girlfriend, and it doesn't say a single thing about the quality of the work you're thinking of reading. Name dropping an anonymous award into the equation is a clumsy attempt to give credibility to the work in question and status to an author. It annoys me no end. Blame Science Fiction and Fantasy for that, the genres are awash with the bloody things and they always seem to be something like the village interestingly-named award for best of a fourth-rate pool of local knitting club writers or some such rubbish. But anyway. It's a pet hate, I thought I'd share it with you, you're welcome. Now I've got my harrumph out of the way, let's get on with it.


Rather than being the dull, densely worded five ton tome that I was expecting, the book rolls in at a dainty 64 pages and appears to be the kind of introduction-to primer often used by first-year undergrad students who have left it too late to do any meaningful research before the essay is due. With each chapter being little more than eight heavily illustrated pages long, it leaps through the subject matter very rapidly, touching on the main movers and shakers in each economic area and the rapid increases in production resulting from their efforts. It does, however, seem very arbitrary in its focus and gives the impression that the book is something of a side project tossed together from leftover notes from a heavier one.


The introduction gives a two page overview on the cuts made to military expenditure following the end of the Great War and the rise of anxieties surrounding the possibilities of air attack in future conflicts, before spending three pages which probably could have been better used giving further details of these explaining in some minutiae the manufacture of respirators (commonly referred to as ‘gas masks’, as the author generously explains to those of us who were born yesterday). From asbestos filled gasmasks (yes, seriously) he leaps to raw materials and salvage, discussing the need for coal and shortage of manpower down t'pits. The Bevin Boys get a nod before he rushes on into the need for timber and the first recycling campaign in British history, in which, as everyone knows, scrap iron was collected by the cartload and turned into things that go boom in the night. This was, apparently, so successful that claims have been made the a lot of it was dumped in the Thames estuary, presumably by people who'd just seen it at low tide for the first time. The author tosses in a few generous dollops of statistics into this chapter before skipping onto the need to rapidly increase the rate at which aircraft were being produced. Beaverbrook is the main focus here, and although Winston may have been the right man at the right time the former was up there with him, by this account.


In common with the RAF, the Navy had been starved of funds for a substantial period between the wars and most ships were of WW1 vintage; as with most other areas, rapid expansion was undertaken and it is at this point that the author mentions women in what is, for this short book, some detail. I will admit that I lost a bet with myself as I thought the social historian author wouldn't get to page 5 before moaning on about misogyny in the workplace but he got 29 pages in before clutching his pearls. Now, you're probably going to have to sit down before you read this, but apparently dockyard workers were quite sexist back in the day. I know, I know, I was shocked as well, but there you go. Every day's a schoolday. He then jumps from women in the workplace to Mulberry harbours, to shipbuilding statistics, and on to a chapter about land forces, which is a fairly dry recitation of company names, what they used to produce, what they then produced, and quantities of weapons made. It's a statistics-fest to make the eyelids of even a 7 year-old ADHD-riddled sugar monster droop.


It is at around this point that the author presumably lost the will to try and include any human interest factors and simply starts filling the pages with company names and statistics. Did you know that uniforms were made by The Fifty Shillings Tailors, F.W Harmer of Norwich, J. Compton, Son & Webb, Town Tailors Ltd, Denhams (1933) Ltd, Harry Levine Ltd of London (I'll do you a favour here and skip the rest) and that the quantities of battledress produced were 1940, 17.5 million, 1941, nearly 17 million, 1942 9.5 million...and so on and so forth. Riveting stuff. The thankfully final chapter is a broad overview of the way in which people were pulled into the workforce. Women are the main focus, which is reasonably given the numbers which were conscripted, and the workload which those women carried was phenomenal. The needs of kids and other dependants didn't stop just because Mum was in a factory all day and their stamina was admirable. I'll point it out to my Mrs the next time she's collapsed on the couch being exhausted after the second of her two days a week private tuition, I'll let you know how that works out for me.


The book concludes with a very short further reading list, which I have no intention of following up on, and an equally short list of places to visit which are, for me, on the other side of the world – but go for it if it takes your fancy. The author also has a short selection of other books for sale. Google them yourself, I'm not your mother.


I'm going to give this book(let) 2 mushroom heads, on the grounds that the illustrations are excellent and the subject matter is mildly informative and would provide a good entry into the subject for any student. However, it is really quite dull, seems hastily thrown together, and I've no doubt that there are books out there which are both more informative and better written.
Well harrumphed sir.

informative, great supporting rationale and interesting review.

thank you
 

Whining Civvy

LE
Book Reviewer
He does churn out some amount of ghost/Dracula/Walt shite, doesn't he?!
Damned if I know mate, I won't be reading anything else by him unless I'm told to that's for sure.
 

CharleyBourne

War Hero
Book Reviewer
Dick Taylor's "The Second World War Tank Crisis; The Fall and Rise of British Armour, 1919-1945", Pen & Sword 2021 is a very well written account of not only the deficiencies in British Tank design throughout most of the war, but also the inadequacies of British industrial organisation and practices during the same period. For example, factories often not running night shifts, which is contrary to the usual image of everybody pulling out all the stops to supply those at the sharp end. Well worth reading.

The cover price is £25 but knowing I would not pay that, I probably bought it from either Post Script or The Tank Museum, both of which do excellent discounts on military themed books.

David Fletcher's "The Great Tank Scandal" is on the wish list.
 

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