NCC flashback to a historic moment in 1939,
told by W.M.
Hon. Secratary of the NCC 1939 -1949
Hon. Director 1941-1951
In the year in which the National
Caravan Council celebrates its first 21 years, and the disarmament
is a headline international issue, the story of one of the
Council's first activities - the report on "The Use of Caravans
in Wartime" - may be of interest.
The shadow of war in 1939 was darkening over Europe.
Czechoslovakia had been overrun, the pressure against Poland was mounting.
The Council had been formed on May 18, and in June half a dozen men forming
a sub-committee started meetings at The Caravan offices, from which the
NCC was then operating, to examine urgently what contribution caravans
could make if Britain were involved. The report was ready about a month
before the war started.
It covered a great deal of ground, but three uses were given special
importance. First was evacuation from cities and other target areas to
safe zones in the country.
This demand had already started. People were placing caravans on suitable
remote sites as refuges from bombing. Children, mothers attending them,
expectant mothers, invalids, and the elderly were some who could be sent
to safety, thus reducing the worries of their families and the burdens
on Civil Defence. Caravans would be useful also, the NCC pointed out,
for housing research workers and other perhaps almost irreplaceable people
who were not needed for the day-to-day running of the country and whose
lives ought not to be risked purposelessly.
Caravans make good temporary homes, said the report, and had the special
advantage that if a danger spread to new zones they could be moved quickly.
Moreover they could be installed without calling on scarce labour or
sterilising agricultural land.
The report went into such detail as the food supplies and first-aid equipment
with which an evacuation caravan should be stocked.
Next the sub-committee glanced back to 1918, when Field marshal Haig
sent to England for 50 horse caravans as a mobile headquarters for following
up the great German retreat which succeeded the breakup of trench war.
A second world war, they said, would be a war of movement from the start,
a motorised war. Caravans would make ideal mobile operations rooms and
personal quarters for commanders, who would be under great stress. Vital
battles might turn on whether a commander, faced with a crucial decision,
was rested or worn-out.
|Vans for Civil
Third was the use of caravans
in Civil Defence. Between 1,000 and 1,500 existing caravans,
the sub-committee suggested, could be adapted as emergency
dressing stations. This was merely a large-scale development
of the pre-war use of caravan first aid posts by the St.
Johns Ambulance Brigade at large open air events such as
sports meetings and pageants.
Older readers will remember that the late Mrs. M.M.M. Fowler, of Leamington
Spa, a vice-president of the Caravan Club, pioneered this use and until
her death in 1957 used her own Blue Caravans for first aid work at successive
The late Mrs. M. M. M.
Fowler was a pioneer of the use of caravans for
first aid purposes. She is seen here during a War office inspection in
|The mobile hospital
Much more venturesome was an idea due, if
I remember, to Mr. N. Wilkinson-Cox, founder of the caravan
manufacturing firm of Raven. It was a scheme for a mobile
hospital all accommodated in trailers.
Sixteen ward vans with four beds each would provide for 64
in-patients, and other caravans would provide living quarters
for the unit commander, two doctors, nurses, stretcher bearers
doubling the jobs of drivers, cook, etc., dispensary, operating
theatre, office, kitchen, water tankage, power unit, etc.
Each fleet comprising 30 trailer caravans and one lorry,
would be able to rush to a blitzed city and deal with the
most urgent of cases within minutes arriving, even if the
local water and electric mains had been destroyed.
Think what a boon the suggested Army caravans would have
been in the North African campaigns. As it is, we shall never
overtake the popular belief that the Allies copied the idea
from the Italians and Rommel. It was not until the preparations
for the Normandy landings that the Allies were provided with
these essential aids to a war of movement.
Think, too, what a boon the mobile hospitals would have been
to Coventry, Plymouth, and other victims of the Nazi bombers.
But the report was literally lost in the pigeon holes of
Whitehall. We were advised that Sir John Anderson was the
man to send it to. He was Neville Chamberlain's Chief co-ordinator
on war and defence questions touching more than one Department.
I handed the report to Dr. Leslie Burgin, the former Minister
of Transport and a friend of THE CARAVAN'S managing director,
who had persuaded him to become a Vice-President of the Club.
Dr. Burgin handed it personally to Sir John Anderson. He
never heard any more.
War started. I went to Whitehall to find out what the Council
could do to help, and was passed on from one official to
another, from one building to another.
A woman in Sir John Anderson's office thought she had seen the report. "It
was something to do with evacuation, wasn't it? So we sent it to the
Ministry of Health". After hours of inquiring and waiting I found another
woman in the Ministry of Health who thought she had seen it. "But I don't
know where it is now, and I can't spare anyone to search for it".
Back to the office. I dissected the report and sent suitable chunks of
it separately to the War Office, Air Ministry, Ministry of Health, British
Red Cross Society, etc. Some of them were acknowledged. There is some
reason to think that some of them bore a little fruit indirectly and
tardily, but the results of this effort, if any, will never be really
What we do know is that today the caravan industry is recognized , resources
and skills are known, and its voice is powerful. That it can make a unique
contribution in any future national emergency as the experts in the design
and manufacture of all kinds of specialised accommodation and functional
units on wheels is clearly established.
Air raid drill at the Elstree site
of the London Caravan Co. twenty years ago.