The Government demands Berkshire’s steamrollers

Military traffic was damaging roads at home, while road mending equipment was requisitioned to use on roads near the front lines.

Report of Highways Committee, 7 October 1916

MILITARY TRAFFIC

The Acting County Surveyor has reported that the road between Didcot and Harwell for a length of about 1 ½ miles, and a section of the Newbury and Abingdon road for a length of a quarter of a mile, have been completely ruined by Military Transport traffic from the camps in the neighbourhood. The Road Board has been informed of the damage and asked to make an inspection of the roads in question.

STEAM ROLLERS

On 4 September, 1916, the Road Board, at the request of the Government, made an urgent request that the three heavy steam rollers belonging to the Council should be handed over to the war Department for use overseas. As the matter was one of urgency, the request was reported to the Chairman of this Committee and the Chairman of the County Finance Committee, who provisionally consented to the rollers being released on the terms proposed by the Road Board, viz that the Treasury should accept a debit for the cost of three new rollers, and that the Ministry of Munitions should give the manufacturers a certificate to enable them to expedite the construction of the new rollers.

In the opinion of the County Surveyor, rollers of a lighter pattern would be more suitable for the work of the County than new heavy rollers, and the Committee have asked the Road Board to arrange for the delivery of one 8-ton roller and two 10-ton rollers. It has also been pointed out to the Board that the Government will effect a considerable saving by the substitution of light for heavy rollers, and a suggestion has been made that the War Department should discharge the cost of the hire of rollers required by the County in the meantime, to an amount not exceeding the estimated saving of £220.

Berkshire County Council minutes (C/CL/C1/1/19)

The County Surveyor offers himself

A letter from the County Surveyor to the Lord Lieutenant was read aloud to the Berkshire County Council Standing Joint Committee on 12 June 1915. It is hard to imagine one of today’s senior council officials volunteering to join the army, even if as terrible a war as the First World War were to engulf the nation, but Fred Hawkins of Berkshire wished to use his abilities on behalf of the nation:

Shire Hall, Reading
11th June 1915

Dear Sir

For a long time I have been anxious to volunteer my services to the Government during the War, but in deference to the strongly expressed opinion of Sir Robert Mowbray and Mr Ferard that my services were more required by the County, I have not hitherto felt justified in doing so. Now, however, matters have taken a different turn.

I understand unofficially that the Road Board in conjunction with the War Office are considering the formation of a Company of Engineers for work either in England or in France and Belgium for construction and repair of roads and bridges, and should such Company be formed, Public Bodies will be asked to release as many men as possible with practical road experience now in their employ.

Although I do not anticipate that my services will be required immediately I have been asked to put myself in a position of being able to take up an appointment at very short notice in the event of my being called upon to do so.

As I arranged for the general repairs to Police Stations to be carried out during the first quarter of the financial year as far as possible, most of this work will be completed by the end of this month, and I, therefore, consider that my present staff, with the addition of Mr Clayton, whose existing temporary appointment would in the ordinary course terminate about September 1st, should be able to carry on my work for the Standing Joint Committee, and even though the supervision generally cannot be so efficient, nevertheless, I feel strongly that it is my duty to give my services to the Government should they be required….

Yours truly
J. Fred. Hawkins
County Surveyor

[The Committee agreed to release him should he find a suitable opportunity.]

BCC Standing Joint Committee minutes, 12 June 1915 (C/CL/C2/1/5)

Road workers to keep on the lookout for suspicious foreigners

Road repair men had an unexpectedly important role to play in the defence of the country, as this order from the County Surveyor reveals:

At the request of the Chief Constable of Berkshire the following notice has been sent to all permanent Lengthmen and Roller Gangs throughout the County of Berkshire:

STRICTLY PRIVATE AND CONFIDENTIAL
NOTICE TO LENGTHMEN AND ROLLER GANGS
With a view to assisting the Police during the present crisis, you are earnestly requested to carry out the following duties:-

1. To keep observation on all bridges and culverts in your district and to examine them at least once each day.

2. To take a note of any foreigner or person acting suspiciously.

3. To take the number and particulars of any motor car or motor bicycle seen to stop on any bridge or culvert.

4. To take a note of any persons making suspicious enquiries; and in each case to immediately report to the Police.

J. Fred Hawkins
County Surveyor
August 6th, 1914

Standing Joint Committee minutes, 15 August 1914 (C/CL/C2/1/5)