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Edward Thompson: Wartime C.M.E. Discussion 2012 - 2021

Discussion in 'Steam Traction' started by S.A.C. Martin, May 2, 2012.

  1. simon

    simon Part of the furniture

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    Qualitive and Quantitative research both have theirr strengths, although on a subject such as this and at this distance personally I'd put more faith in quantitative measures.
     
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  2. S.A.C. Martin

    S.A.C. Martin Part of the furniture

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    Couldn't agree more.
     
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  3. 8126

    8126 Member

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    I'll note here that one of the most interesting chapters of Harvey's work to me was his description on the work necessary at Norwich to get the B17s and B1s to run the mileages necessary for them to be accepted for shopping, while actually maintaining an adequate fleet to run the services, with the upshot that Norwich did a lot of work that, as a shed, they were not supposed to be doing, like reconditioning all the coupled axleboxes and hornguides. Inherently this does not show up in company records. It must have worked out fairly well, since he did note a Stratford driver, on being told that they could only provide a B1 as replacement for his failed Britannia, accepting perfectly happily, saying that a Norwich B1 was as good as a Stratford Britannia anyway.

    If I picked up anything from that book, it would have been the litany of faults and design issues that seemed to persist down the years, provided they were not severe enough to become an obvious issue for the works to deal with, even if that meant considerable wastage of fitters time on shed. The impossibility of keeping N2 superheaters steam tight for any extended period when replacement copper gaskets weren't available (and copper being a poor material choice for the application anyway) was another one that stuck with me.
     
  4. jma1009

    jma1009 Well-Known Member

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    Hi Simon,

    A very long reply to myself and 'Spamcan81', and which I don't consider addresses the issue of 'partial', or impartial, or being objective.

    When dealing with such contentious issues concerning Thompson, Cox, and Cook, you really do have to 'up your game' and deal scrupulously with these issues and back up any conclusions you reach.

    I'm not so bothered about Stuart Cox, but I am bothered about your dismissive response to what Cook wrote. And your reasoning which does not tally with a proper analysis from an evidential perspective as any proper historian would aim for.

    The counter argument you propose really doesn't make sense - at least to me!

    To paraphrase you - Cook arrived after Thompson had retired - so was totally bereft of any primary source evidence whatsoever that his judgment was based upon.

    Is this really a credible stance for you to adopt?

    Cheers,
    Julian
     
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  5. Bluenosejohn

    Bluenosejohn Member

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    Stuart Cox wrote about his involvement with Edward Thompson during Thompson's tenure of office as Chief Mechanical Engineer and his experience seems to have been as direct and involved as any outsider is likely to have had.

    In Locomotive Panorama Volume 1 Cox outlines that Stanier was chairman of the The Mechanical and Electrical Engineers' Committee set up by the Railway Executive Committee. Cox self-deprecatingly describes his own role as Stanier's 'dogsbody' and the passage relating to Edward Thompson is given below so people can make their own minds up:



    ''Another new boy was Edward Thompson who had succeeded Gresley in 1941. He was a most imposing figure, tall, aristocratic looking, immaculately dressed, whose wont at a beginning of a meeting was to set out on the table before him an assortment of gold pencils, chains and watches and other symbols of well-being. Although he played his full part in all that was going on, another part of his mind was clearly occupied by thoughts of the locomotives he was going to design, and the name he was going to make correcting the mistakes of his predecessor, as he clearly thought them to be. He had a considerable admiration for Stanier, and used to discuss with him, and even with me, the various projects he had in mind, the most effective and successful of which was the B1 class 4-6-0, conceived to play the same role on the L.N.E. as did the class 5 did on the L.M.S. This association led to an intensely interesting diversion in 1942 when he arranged with Stanier for me to visit Doncaster and prepare a report on the 2 to 1 valve gear. This was a Gresley feature which he particularly disliked and which, under wartime conditions of maintenance, was giving a lot of trouble. I could not, of course, report upon what it had been like in the heyday of the A4's pre-war. However, it was unassailable fact that unit play at each of the eight pin joints was multiplied by eleven by the time that it reached the middle valve, and in fully rundown condition the lost motion could amount to 3/8''. This resulted in reduced power at low speeds due to insufficient port opening, while at high speed the combined effect of overtravel of the valve, plus whip in the combining levers, could produce up to 50% more power in the inside cylinder than in either of the outside. There was also a spate of hot inside big-ends, ten times as many in the inside position as the outside, six times as many as the L.M. experienced with the inside big-ends on a comparable number of its own 3-cylinder engines. A certain lack of stiffness in the marine big-end arrangement also appeared to contribute to this result. All this, of course, was only saying what Thompson could perfectly say for himself, but he no doubt used the final report over Stanier's signature to full effect with his directors in the Machiavellian campaign he was conducting against all things Gresley.''
     
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  6. Spamcan81

    Spamcan81 Nat Pres stalwart

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    IIRC they were effectively Fowler locos that just happened to be built just as Stanier took office. Happy to be corrected though.
     
  7. jma1009

    jma1009 Well-Known Member

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    "Machiavellian campaign" states Stuart Cox in print and in retirement. K J Cook stated the same in print, in effect . Both far more informed, and of significant status and high level officials compared to that quoted by Simon of Richard Hardy that he unaccountedably gives greater prominence to!

    Why? Anyone involved in historical research over such contentious issues would I suggest not use the premise or approach that Simon adopts.
     
    Last edited: May 16, 2021
  8. Monkey Magic

    Monkey Magic Part of the furniture

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    I am struggling here. I simply do not see any evidence in the section quoted to support the claims made in the last sentence.

    No evidence to support claims made in the third sentence either.

    No direct evidence to support claim that Thompson disliked the Gresley valve gear, or why? Did he dislike it because it was Gresley or because of wartime maintenance?

    Sentence 1 seems irrelevant and ironically in the bio of L.P.Parker in the LNER 150, Parker's sense of style, wearing spats on a visit to Stratford is complemented. Maybe shows of wealth was some LNER thing? It doesn't strike me as unusual nor as evidence of a campaign against Gresley.

    The argument that seems to be made by Cox is that Thompson got Cox to do something that Thompson could have done himself. This then makes a number of leaps. Implicit seems to be that getting Cox to do this was to give Thompson cover and distance for what Thompson had already decided to do. To strengthen his hand in his dealings with the directors and I am assuming the works staff. The distance giving Thompson's already decided policy legitimacy. An outside endorsement for an already decided path.

    A couple of things strike me. Does Cox understand what a Machiavellian campaign is? Because I would not consider what has been outlined to be a Machiavellian campaign. It seems the wrong word choice. To be generous, alternatively, are we reading Machiavellian in a stronger sense than Cox intended? Are we misreading the passage and reading the first and last sentences, overemphasising them but not paying sufficient attention to the main body of the text? Strip out the personal stuff and we have Thompson as active, Thompson as engaged, Thompson as talking to his peers and juniors, Thompson as open to getting outsiders to investigate and confirm his thoughts about the problems with the Gresley valve gear.

    So, I am not sure what Cox's evidence for his claims against Thompson are? Happy to be corrected if I have missed something.
     
    Last edited: May 16, 2021
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  9. Hermod

    Hermod Member

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    Cox liked to write books for boys and were very good at it.
    I bought them all with hard earned pocket money without hessitation
    Cox was an expert in surviving .
    Cox could had writen that the LNER top was a bunch of upper class fools adoring themselves for having furthered worlds fastest self-destruction locomotive.
    This would have sold less books and boys in Europe at that time needed heroes like Battler Britton ,Stannier,Gressley and railway top management.
    Thompson could NOT have stated that without getting fired.
    Thompson was a competent engineer from middle class forced to be resistance figther against the old order.
    The next interesting railway book needed is an explanation of how Gressley survived so long on the ruins of conjugation and double swing link pony trucks.
     
  10. S.A.C. Martin

    S.A.C. Martin Part of the furniture

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    You have conveniently ignored that Richard Hardy was working in the drawing office at Doncaster and was actually present for many of the decisions that Thompson is criticized for.

    Again.

    Very convenient from you Julian to forget that.

    We’ve already done this dance, you and I. Go read the book when it’s published, I’ve already adequately responded to you on this point before.

    Its always a delight to see your posts Julian. They do provide some entertainment, to be sure.
     
  11. Matt37401

    Matt37401 Part of the furniture

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    Hang on a sec Brian, does this mean we should disregard people like Mr Riley or Mr Meanley junior because they weren’t around at the same time?
     
  12. johnofwessex

    johnofwessex Part of the furniture

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    It seems to me that rather than looking at CME's perhaps it might be worth looking at the management of all the Big 4 Companies?

    After a poor start, the LMS under Stanier & Stamp were clearly looking at costs.

    The GWR almost completely replaced its loco fleet in the inter war period.

    The Southern was working on electrification, indeed in a number of years built no new steam locomotives.

    The LNER was cash strapped, built record breaking streamliners, but what about the rest of its business?

    Clearly the CME's worked under the boards direction and the available resources, the most competent CME could not spend money he didn't have, or would have to work on pointless projects if he was directed to do so.
     
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  13. Johnb

    Johnb Resident of Nat Pres

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    I think Mr Bulleid’s work rather contradicts your last paragraph
     
  14. S.A.C. Martin

    S.A.C. Martin Part of the furniture

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    I do go into detail into the book as to why some of the commentary on Thompson makes no sense.

    There was undoubted strong ill feeling from a few select people about Thompson. Nobody is denying that. What we are questioning is whether it was fair.

    Correct me if I am wrong - when making a claim such as a “Machiavellian campaign” - normally you need to provide proof that such a thing exists or was carried out.

    • The use of engine power document proves the issues of locomotive availability on the LNER in WW2 were real
    • The Gresley conjugated classes were the newest and among the most unreliable during the war years
    • In 1941, the war was increasingly bloody and not looking to end any time soon
    • So something had to change in order to improve the availability of locos
    If you accept this premise, then you accept that the conjugated valve gear didn’t have a future for new locomotives on the LNER.

    So whether Thompson had been picked, or not, it was highly unlikely that the LNER would continue on as they had before.

    If we accept this premise, then it is clear the issues required a change from Gresley.

    So here’s the thing. Just saying there was a Machiavellian campaign, does not make it so. Rebuilding only 20 Gresley engines in comparison to over 50 Robinson ones - where are the claims about Thompson conducting a campaign against Robinsons work?

    There are none - because it’s a nonsensical claim.

    These CMEs are engineers. They are not Shakespearean actors working in a theatre with music playing in the background making their every movement more sinister or less. They’re engineers. They look to fix problems. The problems were real - one could argue cogently Thompson didn’t go far enough, in reality, when you look at the figures - his actions and motives has been ascribed the worst possible interpretations unquestionably.

    And yet - the problems of the LNER were real. So if Thompson had done nothing - would we be saying he wasn’t a fool for doing nothing instead?

    Somehow, I doubt it. Because the big revelation about all of this is that some writers, commentators and even other engineers are blind to the facts. They would prefer to make huge, over reaching claims of Thompson than address the basic facts and evidence which shows us in 1941 that the problems of the LNER were real.

    When you accept this premise, and see how little Thompson actually changed Gresley’s work by way of rebuilding, then you have to accept that the claims being made by some commentators are ludicrous.

    I will not apologize for pointing out the obvious.
     
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  15. MellishR

    MellishR Part of the furniture Friend

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    This one point from Julian does perhaps deserve further discussion.

    Clearly the conjugated gear was one cause of problems in wartime, and clearly the arguments set out against it in the Stanier/Cox paper were valid, regardless of anyone's personal opinions about anything or anyone, then or now. However it had worked well enough in the inter-war period and it worked well enough again when maintenance had improved after the war.

    Now, what did Thompson actually decide to do about it? He rebuilt one P2. After a good long period to see how that worked out in practice, he rebuilt the rest of that small class of Gresley locos and a very few locos of other Gresley classes as prototypes for post-war construction. He decided not to build any more members of those classes but to retain the existing stock as they were. That looks to me like a very well balanced decision.
     
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  16. S.A.C. Martin

    S.A.C. Martin Part of the furniture

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    Exactly. It was a well balanced decision. Thompson actually carried out a measured response to the issues he was presented with.

    Those protesting the loudest about a few claims of ill feeling are fundamentally ignoring the primary evidence in front of us.
     
  17. MellishR

    MellishR Part of the furniture Friend

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    Should we also try to work out what caused that ill feeling?
    How much of it was due specifically to the rebuilding of Great Northern, despite
    (a) the selection of that particular A1 having apparently not been Thompson's, and
    (b) the decision to transfer the name to what was largely a brand new locomotive, against Thompson's general preference not to name locomotives at all?
    Where did the notion that Thompson wanted to destroy Gresley's legacy (which Simon has demonstrated to be false) originate?
     
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  18. Bluenosejohn

    Bluenosejohn Member

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    An old but as far as I can see undated edition of Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable that is online includes under the entry for Niccolo Machiavelli:

    ''whose name has long been used for an intriguer or for an unscrupulous politician, while political cunning and overreaching by diplomacy and intrigue are known as Machiavellianism or Machiavellism.''

    Personally I read the use of Machiavellian by Stuart Cox as being more like Sir Humphrey Appleby in Yes Minister rather than Malcolm Tucker in The Thick of it but everyone will have their own interpretation.

    ( Link to above book, warning it is very addictive browsing! )

    https://archive.org/details/brewersdictionar000544mbp/page/n583/mode/2up
     
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  19. S.A.C. Martin

    S.A.C. Martin Part of the furniture

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    There's the million dollar question. I personally think that there's an argument that we already know what caused this ill feeling. A perceived slight against Gresley by way of changing engineering tack and rebuilding a select few locomotives to his designs.

    Where did the notion originate? Difficult to say, but I feel strongly that the sources and resources available to us show that it starts gaining a head in the 1960s, after Thompson had been dead for around a decade. There are a number of writers and societies who wrote on Thompson up until the early 2000s, and regurgitated each other's claims (with Peter Grafton and Richard Hardy notable exceptions).

    No one here is trying to make a claim that was no ill feeling. There is plenty of evidence for that. The question has always been was this fair?

    How much of it was Great Northern - how long is a piece of string? How much of it was the P2s? We don't hear anywhere near the level of outrage towards the D class, K1/1, or B2s after all.

    The basic facts remain that Thompson rebuilt a small number of Gresley locos, had designed a new series of standard designs, left office in 1946 whereby his successor continued to build most of those standard designs, largely unmodified, with a few changes to the Pacific outline to suit his remit. Hardly the stuff of a "Machiavellian campaign" by Thompson.
     
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  20. 30567

    30567 Part of the furniture Friend

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    My take is that Cox was asked to do what many consultants are asked to do--- provide a peer review and an expert opinion. I don't see anything dishonourable on either side in that. Presumably there was a small chance he would come up with some brainwave from left field which would change the thinking. But if not, well, one person's cover is another person's professional confirmation. Sometimes you have to consider the consequences of not doing that.

    Thompson middle class? OK he was not from the landed gentry, but Marlborough and Cambridge pre first world war? Definitely well within the top 1 per cent.

    What caused the ill-feeling in some quarters? He was a prickly individual taking over from a legend. He was a man with a change agenda. That is probably enough as a combination.
     
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