Westwood Works 1903-2003
Many of the guns which helped to bring us Victory were made at Peterborough’s Westwood Works. And not only the guns our Armies used, but the ovens which baked the bread they ate … The full story of the adaptability and resourcefulness behind Westwood Works’ amazing war-time achievements is told in a splendidly produced, lavishly illustrated publication issued this week.
In 1939 Baker Perkins turnover had touched a record peak. By early 1940 conversion from a peace to a wartime footing had become well advanced and commercial business had been practically eliminated. Altogether 157 6-inch howitzers which the firm had had a hand in making during the 1914-18 war, had been reconditioned at Westwood by early 1940.
The foundry was converted into a steel foundry and men who had previously specialised in engraving biscuit cutters came to realise their skill in making breech mechanisms! Citizens of Peterborough will remember the firing of big guns. Westwood Works were the first contractors to create on their own premises a range for the proof firing of the big guns.
As war production all over the country was getting into its stride new machine tools were in great demand everywhere, but the shortest of the periods quoted for delivery was far too long. For instance, for the manufacture of recuperator mechanisms for gun carriages special lathes were needed. Nine months for delivery and a high price were quoted. Westwood Works needed six of them urgently – so they made them for themselves. Within twelve weeks of their designers putting pencil to paper the first of these lathes was in use and the average cost of production was less than a third of the price that had been quoted.
Platforms for Bofors guns provided another instance in which the resources of Westwood works helped to clear the road to victory. The standard design provided by the War Office appeared over-complicated to the firm’s Technical Director and Chief Designer, and they brought out a much simpler design of sheet steel construction, welded instead of riveted and with other improvements. A test platform was ready for delivery in twelve days and within a week the Westwood design had been accepted and made standard throughout the country, as was another Westwood idea for the construction of gun recuperator bodies of tubes welded together instead of from heavy steel forgings.
Man (plus woman) hours worked at Westwood during the war totalled over a score of millions excluding the administrative drawing office and clerical staff. Men predominated, but the women were numerous, young women for the most part but grannies as well.
Among the various types of artillery made at Westwood were the 25-pounder field guns, 4.5 and 5.5 gun-howitzers, anti-tank guns and twin six-pounders for coast defence and anti-aircraft work.
Letters from former employees in the Services told how they had been served or supported by guns made in the shops in which they had worked and of how their bread issue constituted a direct link with home.
That last sentence may seem rather strange, but in elucidation, it has to be stated that mobile field-bakery units were another important contribution to the war effort from Peterborough, 205 of these mobile plants with 615 mobile ovens and 34 spare ovens required to make them efficiently balanced units were despatched from Westwood Works, besides nearly a thousand of the transportable types of field oven and 5 complete Base bakeries.
Eighty years ago, the War Office adopted a Perkins’ patent steam oven which baked 90 4-lb loaves every two hours. The mobile bakery of the war just ended not only baked, but mixed the ingredients, dividing and moulding the dough and baking loaves at the rate of 10,500 2-lb loaves per 8 hours, thus easily meeting the requirements of a Division of 16,000 men.
Another peace-time speciality made available for war production was the “Universal” mixer, capable of innumerable adaptations to a variety of industrial purposes, which was extensively used for mixing the ingredients of high explosives.
Mr A.I. Baker (Chairman of Messrs Baker Perkins Ltd) in a foreword to this praiseworthy volume, points out that the story of this firm’s war effort has been planned, not only to give the staff of Westwood Works some record of what their team work produced but to help clients of the firm realise why more could not be done for them during the war and why, after such a complete change-over, it is taking time to get back to a steady flow of peace-time production.
Mr Baker says: “It is a year since V.E. Day and we are now all fighting the battle to win the peace. What with controls, shortage of skilled personnel and of materials, we sometimes feel we are only at the Dunkirk stage of this new war. We are, however, as determined as we were then.
The team spirit which inspired the production of vast quantities of precision instruments of death, inspires us all to-day in the reconstruction of a peaceful world.”
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