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Military service: planning and logistics

Planning and logistics

The collections of the Modern Records Centre include a small number of documents relating to the organisation and logistical operations of the First World War, mostly included in the papers of Sir Guy Granet, Director-General of Military Railways and Movements and Railways during the latter part of the conflict. Some of the highlights from the hundred documents digitised to commemorate the First World War centenary are described below.

Draft report giving preliminary impressions of transport conditions in France, September 1916

I am aware that the officers who are responsible for the work out there will say - "Has the Army ever wanted for anything in these last two years of fighting?" My answer to that is that if the Army has not wanted for anything, it is because it has been a stationary Army

This confidential report was written by Sir Eric Geddes for David Lloyd George, then Secretary of State for War, at the time of the Battle of the Somme. Geddes had spent two months in France, at Lloyd George's request, looking into the problems of military transport and logistics on the Western Front. In anticipation of likely army criticism "that it is impossible for the ordinary business civilian to understand what are the conditions under which [the army] have to work and that it is a mistake to allow them to interfere with an Army business that most of us have studied all our lives", Geddes also included remarks from Lieutenant-General F.L. Clayton made in response to an earlier civilian report on shipping control.

[Included in the archive of Sir William Guy Granet; document reference: MSS.191/3/3/2-21]

Progress report, week ending October 7th 1916: personnel provided by the War Office for railway construction and operation

Chinese labour - - - 6000 .... West Indian labour - - - 3000. For next Spring

This progress report shows in blunt statistics the scale of the task to keep the British army supplied on all fronts - in France, Greece, the Middle East and East Africa. It notes down the numbers of men (tens of thousands) provided and required to construct and run the military railways to transport men and supplies to the battlefield. Labourers from China and the West Indies and "colonial troops" are notable inclusions.

[Included in the archive of Sir William Guy Granet; document reference: MSS.191/3/3/99]

Map of the railway line from Buire to Longueval, Quarry, Gordon's Dump, Bel Air and Trones Wood, 1917Link opens in a new window

This map of transport arrangements in the Somme was sent to George V by Sir William Guy Granet, Director-General of Military Railways. Light railways could be constructed by the army to move men and munitions quickly to the front line over countryside (and roads) destroyed by heavy bombardment.

[Included in the archive of Sir William Guy Granet; document reference: MSS.191/3/4/49-50]

Index map of Syria, showing railway lines and routes, December 1916

Annotated War Office map showing Syria and neighbouring areas in the Middle East, including Palestine. The map was used by Sir William Guy Granet, Director-General of Military Railways.

[Included in the archive of Sir William Guy Granet; document reference: MSS.191/3/4/129]

War Cabinet report on shipping allocated to overseas expeditions outside France, 23 June 1917

In view of the gravity of the shipping situation and the undesirability of moving drafts to and fro across submarine-infested seas, it may be possible to use Australian, New Zealand and South African drafts for service in Mesopotamia and Egypt, while the English drafts, destined for these campaigns, could be sent instead to the Western Front...

This interim report was written by General Jan Smuts, a South African who had fought against the British during the Boer War. Partly in response to the German submarine campaign, the report suggests ways in which more efficient use of shipping (of troops, horses and stores, and as hospital ships) could aid the Allied war effort.

[Included in the archive of Sir William Guy Granet; document reference: MSS.191/3/4/145-149]

Second report on Air Organisation: precis for the Army Council, August 1917

The day may not be far off when aerial operations with their devastation of enemy lands and destruction of industrial and populous centres on a vast scale may become the principal operations of war, to which the older forms of military and naval operations may become secondary and subordinate

Summary of the second report of the Prime Minister's Committee on Air Organization and Home Defence against Air Raids, dated 17 August 1917. The precis commented on the "transformation" caused by aerial warfare - "It requires some imagination to realize that next summer, while our Western Front may still be moving forward at a snail’s pace in Belgium and France, the air battle front will be far behind on the Rhine, and that its continuous and intense pressure against the chief industrial centres of the enemy as well as on his lines of communication may form an important factor in bringing about peace" - and argued that a separate air service, at the same level as the army and navy, was needed to adminster this new form of warfare. The air arms of the British Army and Royal Navy (the Royal Flying Corps and Royal Naval Air Service) were finally merged on 1 April 1918, creating the Royal Air Force.

[Included in the archive of Sir William Guy Granet; document reference: MSS.191/3/4/177]