Reading Companies' Contributions to the War Effort

The economy was needed to be geared to war. Inspectors were sent out from the War Office to assess the capability of factories to produce weapons, ammunition and all the other things that were needed to sustain the armies in the field. The inspectors had a rude shock. The factory inspectors came mainly from the great arsenals which had been the sole producers of heavy weapons since Napoleonic times. They were convinced that their manufacturing techniques were so far ahead of the rest of British industry that it would be an uphill struggle to get any factory to produce even the simplest item. What they found was quite the reverse. It was the arsenals who had been languishing in complacency for a hundred years and more. The railways especially (and the GWR in particular) were years ahead of the government factories. Their capability to produce precision engineered items enabled a complete re-think to weapons design, but it took a long time before this message sank in. Local factories also were far more competent than had been believed and were able to produce specialist items to a high standard.

Most of the information was of course secret during the war, but when it was over many companies sent articles on their activities to the local newspapers. Here are just a few of the many stories of achievement.

Allens and Simmonds Ltd
Allens and Simmonds Ltd operated The Thames-side Engineering works. Before the war they had specialised in making their patented frictionless pistons and similar gear. Many of their patents were standardised for the air force and used in the manufacture of components for aero-engines. They also made gun mountings and made several patented improvements to Lewis guns. When they came to tot up after the war they found they had made 13,851 aluminium pistons, 153891 piston rings, 6,500 gun mountings, 10,000 yokes for Lewis guns and many thousands of other small components. Towards the end of the war they took over the GWR foundry in Vastern Road as well as the works attached to the British Automobile Traction garage in Caversham Road.

Brinjes and Goodwin
They operated from their premises on Caversham Road and one of their specialities was refurbishing used cartridges which saved enormous sums of money. They too made numerous parts for weapons as wellas searchlights and a special lathe for the manufacture of Lewis guns.

S Elliott and Sons
Reading Mercury 1/2/19

Huntley and Palmers
Huntley and Palmers played a very special role in the war by their supply of tins of biscuits to the army. It was the emphasis on 'Reading Berkshire' on the containers which had earned the Royal Berkshire Regiment their association with biscuits and their nickname 'The Biscuit Boys'. However by the time war broke out they had given up supplying the army. preferring to concentrate on fancy biscuits. They immediately set to and devised a new grease-proof packaging system which preserved the freshness and no less than 250 million such packages were made. They supplied all the biscuits to the central prisoners of war committee and four-fifths of their output went to troops in the field.

They turned their maintenance and engineering capabilities towards making shell cases and supplied over 60,000 to the Ordnance, of these only 98 failed to be accepted which was a great tribute to their largely females operatives who had been retrained from packing biscuits

However no less than 1833 men from the factories and offices of the Company served with the Colours. 145 of them were killed and these were listed in the Reading Mercury of 21st June 1919. 47 of them also won medals, 1 DSO, 4 MC, 5 foreign, 3 MSM, 1 DSM, 1 DCM, 5 MID, 1 MM and 1 MM & bar. Reading Mercury 7/6/19 and 14/6/19
By Jan 11th 1917 1395 employees had joined either the army or the navy and there were only 24 men remaining who were fit for military service (Berkshire Chronicle 19/1/1917)

The Pulsometer Engineering Company
The Pulsometer Engineering Company was located near Norcot Junction on the Oxford Road. It was where Fred Potts first worked as an apprentice. They made an incredible range of products, providing parts for munitions and equipment as well as supplying other factories with the gadgets they needed to assist the war effort. For the Navy they made special cooled magazines for keeping munitions cold, sirens and signalling apparatus, pumps for submarines and special water filters for paddle steamers working in Mesopotamia. For the army they made parts for howitzers and maxim guns, pumps for every type of vehicle and the tracks for the new tanks. For the air force they made special non-condensing goggles and vacuum pumps for making the dope that was used to coat aeroplanes. One of their best known prodicts were high pressure hydraulic presses for forcing cordite into shells. Their main business had of course been making pumps, they had one in particular which was capable of pumping solid sewage which was much used by the military sanitary units. They were also capable of making very high precision machine tools.

A very large number of their employees went to war, which added to their difficulties as they were continually being asked to make something new, however they took on a large number of female employees who turned out to both capable and very adaptable to changing circumstances.

Reading Schools
Reading Schools had some very good woodwork shop and the boys were employed to make splints, cradles and bandage winders to support the RAMC and hospitals

Suttons Seeds
The Royal Seed Establishment, as Suttons were formally known were one of the key suppliers of seeds which were needed to boost food production both at home and abroad. In addition they supplied seeds to troops who werre able to cultivate gardens behind the lines, although tyey were rarely able to benefit from the produce as they had moved on.

C A Vandervel
One Reading factory (C A Vandervell & Co) had designed and produced a fuse which was far superior to anything the military had and eventually it became the standard for the Stoke trench mortar. They employed up to 300 people making a wide variety of components including the CAV self-starter used in British tanks and aeroplanes.

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