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Model engineers - enlisted in war efforts?

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Bikepete02/01/2019 17:48:46
237 forum posts
34 photos

For no particular reason I was wondering if anyone knows (or remembers!) whether model engineers' and/or other UK hobbyist-type workshops were ever systematically put into service to help the war efforts during WW1 or WW2?

Were machines requisitioned for the war effort? Or did competent modellers get e.g. given contracts for instruments or small parts, if e.g. retired and not conscripted?

Just struck me that in a 'total war' context, all of the lathes etc. in sheds up and down the country would be a useful resource which would presumably have been exploited. But then again maybe most home workshops would have been pretty modest back then...and perhaps anyone available and skilled could be put to good use in a proper factory or the like.

Googling isn't turning up anything useful - just lots of links for wartime models - so would be grateful for any links or info! Just curious really.

MichaelR02/01/2019 18:07:06
448 forum posts
83 photos

I remember our garden wall iron railings being taken for the war effort, if there were any model engineers around at that time I would think their workshop stock would have been requisitioned for the war effort, and they themselves signed up for the defence of the country. See here

Bazyle02/01/2019 18:39:13
6081 forum posts
221 photos

I think there are various mentions in ME after the war of people making small items. Rather than specific war effort ie munitions it was more a way of mending and making things that the factories didn't have time for. Unlike WW1 when thousands of village blacksmiths made horse shoes for the MOD because that was a very manual craft. I'm sure I remember one person mentioning making the steel wheels for lighters and probably there were loads of bits of cars and bicycles made
The numbers of home lathes was probably quite low and mostly small treadle Drummonds and the like so not much value compared to a factory lathe of the time. Since most MEs were machinists in a factory anyway there probably weren't many available to be pushed into war work.

Michael Gilligan02/01/2019 18:59:46
19291 forum posts
960 photos

Martin Cleeve [who has had several mentions on this forum recently] seems to have refined his screwcutting technique whilst doing 'war work' in his home workshop.

I don't have the magazines to hand at present, but I recall several comments being made in the course of his Model Engineer series about the ML7.


Ady102/01/2019 19:02:22
4816 forum posts
717 photos

From the little I've read about it they did stuff like instrumentation piecework in the early days

Hand in your batch and get another box to do kind of thing

Things really ramped up from 1942 1943, serious mass production, I don't know if they did much in the latter half

Roderick Jenkins02/01/2019 19:27:41
2129 forum posts
586 photos

Edgar Westbury wrote a series of articles in ME during the war about industrial practise so that home engineers would be able to do some useful manufacturing work. The Sten gun was designed to have parts that could be subbed out to small workshops.



Frances IoM02/01/2019 19:30:19
1175 forum posts
28 photos
King William's College - a public school on the Isle of Man being somewhat adventurous had a good science lab and engineering section pre WW1 _ I have seen an article in the house mag "Barrovian" from c.1920 but not immediately to hand that they produced many thousands of small items in brass I think used in munitions.
For WW2 there is a hint in an article dated 19 June 1941 describing a 'New Mandrel for a small cheap lathe' (page 493) which mentions volunteering for war work at a technical institute and using a loaned Adept for repetitive work hence the Mandrel

Edited By Frances IoM on 02/01/2019 19:31:06

J Hancock02/01/2019 19:47:58
778 forum posts

I think you have to remember that ,at that time, we were well set up for manufacturing just about anything

anyone could 'conceptualise' as a war-winning item.

Robert Atkinson 202/01/2019 19:59:57
1106 forum posts
20 photos

Probably the bigest hobby contribution to WWII was amateur radio. They contributed listening stations from home as well as using their "hobby" for war emplloyment either as radio operators, training, development or manufacturing.

Chris Gunn02/01/2019 20:03:55
404 forum posts
27 photos

I remember reading in some old issues of the ME magazine that Model engineers were recruited to make parts of shell fuses during WW1.

Chris Gunn

Swarf, Mostly!02/01/2019 20:18:04
615 forum posts
65 photos

I seem to remember reading that Edgar T. designed a portable ('luggable? ) steam driven electrical generator used by the 'Chindits' to power their radios in the jungles of Burma (now Myanmar).

Precursor to Drax?!?!

I don't know who would have made them.

Best regards,

Swarf, Mostly!

Nick Clarke 302/01/2019 20:41:05
1291 forum posts
52 photos
Posted by Swarf, Mostly! on 02/01/2019 20:18:04:

I seem to remember reading that Edgar T. designed a portable ('luggable? ) steam driven electrical generator used by the 'Chindits' to power their radios in the jungles of Burma (now Myanmar).

Precursor to Drax?!?!

I don't know who would have made them

Stuart Turner perhaps?

Cornish Jack02/01/2019 20:50:03
1218 forum posts
171 photos

Sfuart Turner it was. They made small combined boiler/engine packs which were small and light enough to be used for Special Forces and similar, to power radios in the field. etc. Pretty sure that ME had an article about them maybe 20/30 years back



SillyOldDuffer02/01/2019 20:54:59
7690 forum posts
1697 photos
Posted by Chris Gunn on 02/01/2019 20:03:55:

I remember reading in some old issues of the ME magazine that Model engineers were recruited to make parts of shell fuses during WW1.

Chris Gunn

Me too! May have been done on a large scale in WW1. I've got a WW2 magazine suggesting it should be done again but it doesn't seem to have been taken up. Most likely reason is the rapid changes in technique that occurred in the twenties and thirties.

During WW1 industrial lathe work was similar to what goes on in my workshop - simple lathes and parts made to low tolerances with lots of fitting. It's expensive and unreliable - in WW1 about 30% of British shells failed to explode because of badly made fuses.

By WW2 industry had upped their game considerably in terms of precision, quality management and mass-production methods leaving less opportunity for home workers.

'Our' kind of equipment produces first-class results in the right conditions. At its best for making prototypes and low-volume runs. Requires skilled operators. But it's not good at rapid production of interchangeable parts to tight tolerances using semi-skilled labour. Might be fun to get a few dozen members to make different loco parts from a plan and then get Jason to assemble them into a running engine. I think Jason would be doing a lot of remedial work!

Likewise, if 500 of us each turned a mild steel rod to 6.00mm diameter over a length of 25.00mm ±0.01mm, how many finished rods would meet the specification?


Max Tolerance02/01/2019 20:59:33
55 forum posts

Many model engineers and home mechanics were encouraged to make parts in WW1 particularly shell bases. A local group would be set up usually with some worthy such as the local vicar in charge. He would send off for the blank bases, normally drop forged, and these would then be sent to each individual worker to be finished turned, threaded, etc. Then collected and posted back to the factory to be fitted to the shells.

As can be imagined many of these bases were no use. The problem was that without gauges and factory methods of Q.C. it was just hit and miss if they fitted or not. It should be remembered that the modern tolerances achievable with today's electrically driven lathes and cheap ( relatively) micrometers where not easy to obtain when many home lathes were treadle powered and calipers and a rule where as accurate as it got. Thread gauges in a home workshop were unheard of.

Some groups proudly produced many thousands of these and were congratulated by the dignitaries of the day for their patriotism and contribution to the war effort. But when you look at the countless millions of shells and other ordnance discharged during the war it must have been a drop in the ocean.

The real work was done on Herbert and Ward capstan lathes using "unskilled" female labour.

Frances IoM02/01/2019 21:12:12
1175 forum posts
28 photos
Hall Caine's propaganda book "our Girls" using War Dept publicity photos illustrates some of the many women employed - see - most photos were I think taken at the Royal Arsenal

Edited By Frances IoM on 02/01/2019 21:12:33

Neil Wyatt02/01/2019 21:44:18
18807 forum posts
733 photos
80 articles

Here you go:

Any resemblance to the Stuart Sun/Sirius is NOT coincidental!


<edit> and:

Edited By Neil Wyatt on 02/01/2019 21:46:43

Fowlers Fury02/01/2019 21:53:10
387 forum posts
88 photos

Bikepete, you raise an interesting question, I often wondered whether such activities were commandered for war work.
But pulling a copy of M.E. from the shelf for Jan 30th 1941, it would seem that model engineering was continuing as before - herewith the front page and note "In this issue":-


Further evidence (?) is shown by the back cover where lathes etc are being advertised. Yet inside in the Classifieds, Buck & Ryan state "Lathes can only be supplied for war work". Note the block advert "STEAM CARS IN WARTIME" !

me1941 back.jpg

Maybe of course that things changed after 1941 but my bound volume of 1943 M.E. suggests that the contents are pretty much similar to that above. ME Societies are having regular meetings, the letter pages are mainly concerned with model making and the "make do and mend" attitude in war time.

Edit for typo.

Edited By Fowlers Fury on 02/01/2019 21:54:23

Roderick Jenkins02/01/2019 22:19:24
2129 forum posts
586 photos

I seem to recall an ME article encouraging readers to collect a kit of parts and convert them into stirrup pumps for the ARP.


John Olsen03/01/2019 06:05:54
1215 forum posts
92 photos
1 articles

LBSC was involved in the War effort during WW1, he acted as foreman/instructor for a group of young ladies operating machine tools. Of course that was probably more in a commercial setting.


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