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Edward Thompson: Wartime C.M.E. Discussion 2012 - 2019

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

  1. Jimc

    Jimc Well-Known Member

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    Doesn't it always... Especially where prototypes are concerned.

    And of course there's the complication when decisions are made at a lower level and sent upstairs to be rubber stamped. Pre war GWR loco cttee minutes have agreements for building programs to, say, withdraw 10 pre group 0-6-2s (unspecified) and build 10 new 51xx class, but I'm yet to spot a minute where the proposal was turned down so I assume the real as opposed to formal decision was made elsewhere.
     
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  2. jnc

    jnc Member

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    Right, but if the Great Northern uproar was effect, and not cause, that leaves me wondering about the cause. Why were people out for Thompson?

    Noel
     
  3. flying scotsman123

    flying scotsman123 Resident of Nat Pres

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    Because he wasn't Gresley, and everyone likes a pantomime villain?
     
  4. Hermod

    Hermod New Member

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    Easy.
    People who likes steamlocomotives are not rational.
    Thompson was somehow behind loss of Gresley who made worlds best locomotives
     
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  5. S.A.C. Martin

    S.A.C. Martin Part of the furniture

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    It is incredibly easy to ruin someone's reputation by making claims that cannot be refuted by the person in question. Largely, because he was dead.

    Most of the Thompson criticism only started to emerge after Thompson had passed away. The earliest printed direct criticism of Thompson with regards his policies towards Gresley/his loocmotives comes in and around the 1970s as LNER writers like Nock start to hit their stride in publishing books on steam locomotives.

    Most of the overdramatic stuff - e.g. "conducted a Machiavellian campaign against all things Gresley" - were written by people who either worked in and around Thompson and had been offended by him, or in this specific case, I would challenge, were covering their own backs.

    E.S. Cox was the man who wrote the Stanier/Cox report, ultimately, acting as Stanier's deputy when Thompson asked them to investigate the conjugated gear. (This is why I call it the Cox report, and not Stanier's).

    Cox's report is strong in its wording and then some. Unless the suggestion is that Thompson made Cox write it that way somehow, one can only conclude that Cox believed what he was writing, and as such, a report such as that is going to support Thompson's views.

    If we didn't also have the availability statistics out of Kew in addition to the Cox Report, you could potentially argue that there was room for suggesting Thompson was over-egging the issues, but I rather think we can put that idea to bed and conclude that, whether we agree with the solutions suggested and those carried out, or not, we have to conclude that the problems on the LNER with loco availability, and in particular the conjugated locos, was real.

    We can only call it a Machiavellian campaign if we think Thompson acted out of spite, not out of necessity.

    If we conclude that the problems were real, and that Cox is unlikely to have been incorrect in his report, and that the availability statistics are also largely correct, then it cannot follow that Thompson was acting out of spite, bitterness, or similar.

    The pattern for the criticisms of Thompson are all largely similar, and the more you dig into the factual stuff - reports, statistics, look at the timing of things - you start to realise what a web has been spun by a few small number of people which has led to a very big impact on any potential assessment of Thompson's time as CME.
     
  6. Jimc

    Jimc Well-Known Member

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    Its complicated I think.

    There's surely no doubt that Thompson made some major changes in LNER locomotive policy which in a number of respects were very different to Gresleys. Interesting that as far as one can tell Peppercorn largely continued the same way. Even if you can make an excellent business and engineering case for that policy change its still going to upset people.

    There's also no doubt at all that there was a great deal of dislike for Thompson. Ken Cook uses quite strong words in his autobiography - and what a shame it is that he never wrote up his time at Doncaster.

    To my mind though the Great Northern thing is ridiculous.
     
  7. jnc

    jnc Member

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    Yes, but what motivated them to act that way? That's what I'm trying to understand.

    Noel
     
  8. S.A.C. Martin

    S.A.C. Martin Part of the furniture

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    It’s the difference between:

    • Changing policy to spite memory of his former boss
    • Changing policy because he believed it was the right thing to do
    One could argue reasonably that Thompson was always going to upset someone at the LNER with any changes made. Would he have been criticised had he changed nothing? I think he would have done, given the circumstances he found himself in.

    Either way - following Gresley - Thompson made changes and upset people by doing so.

    The question you have to ask yourself is:

    • Was Thompson justified in making changes? Is there evidence to support this?
    If the answer is yes, he was justified, and yes there is also evidence to back this up, then there’s a big question mark over the legitimacy of someone saying “Thompson hated Gresley and wanted to rid the LNER of him” (or words to that effect).

    People are allowed to dislike Thompson. He was a difficult man and a stubborn one too, opinionated to a fault and a very conservative thinker, especially where religion, women and similar were concerned.

    But the dislike for him regularly overlaps with a desire to denigrate his ability and mask the truth about his views and relationship with Gresley and with his views on Gresleys work.

    In one article OS Nock states that Thompson told him that Gresley was “the best engineer we’ve had by a long way” and then also criticises Thompson for being anti-Gresley too.

    Engineers are allowed to disagree on engineering and CMEs are allowed to plough their own furrow.

    Surely?

    What’s the title of his book Jim, out of interest?

    Totally agree.
     
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  9. 30567

    30567 Well-Known Member Friend

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    Maybe he was a marmite person. We all know people like that who divide opinion, often quite abrasive. Add to that the task of following a great in truly demanding conditions and there's your recipe. The critics voices always sound louder than the defenders.

    But you don't get to be CME of the LNER without having something about you! No way.
     
  10. S.A.C. Martin

    S.A.C. Martin Part of the furniture

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    In Bert Spencer’s case, Thompson dismissesd him from the design team and replaced him with Robert Thom.

    Peppercorn never actually wrote anything denigrating Thompson - but others wrote of how Thompson treated him. This can be interpreted a number of ways.

    The late Dorothy Mather, Peppercorns widow, had strong views - rightly so in my opinion - because of the time Thompson took after work was finished each day.

    There may be other reasons but I refuse - unlike LA Summers in Backtrack recently - to come out with any crass, unprovable accusations to level at Thompson or indeed her. I think she would have been mortified by those articles and I remain quite angry on hers and Thompson’s behalf.

    Then of course you have the issues where stories and anecdotes get passed around, and what might have been a small discussion takes on mythical status.

    Then there’s the issue of following someone very different in a totally different set of circumstances. Gresleys LNER years had hope, boys own adventures and glamour. Thompson’s years were austerity driven through necessity in wartime.

    The contrast leads to misunderstanding about both engineers I feel.
     
  11. Jamessquared

    Jamessquared Nat Pres stalwart

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    Think about any walk of life - what happens if you take over from someone else? And what if that someone else happens to have had either a very long tenure, or been very well regarded, or both? Remember, Gresley had been CME of either the GNR or LNER for nearly thirty years: any new broom is going to be met with a degree of scepticism.

    Suppose you follow a very well regarded CME. Strikes me there are broadly three ways your career could go:
    • You follow broadly the same policies, with incremental but not radical development. In a small-c conservative organisation such as railways tended to be, that provides reassurance, and few people will openly vilify you, either at the time or later. Examples would be Billinton following Stroudley, Fairburn following Stanier or Collett following Churchward - or indeed Gresley following Ivatt.
    • You make significant changes to policy, but have the chutzpah and strength of character to bring people with you: to get them to believe in your changes. Examples would be Bulleid following Maunsell or, less successfully, Drummond following Adams (LSWR).
    • You make changes, but without that force of character. At that point you will get people upset at the change if you are unable to sell it, even if the change makes sense. That to me describes McDonnell after Fletcher on the NER, and Thompson following Gresley.
    To me it’s about what in modern terms is described as change management: if the organisation is innately conservative, change requires considerable skill even if absolutely required.

    McDonnell on the NER is an interesting case. In many ways his changes were fairly trivial, but he was widely disliked, following as he did the widely admired Fletcher. Ironically McDonnell’s successor (Worsdell, after an interregnum) was able to bring in far more sweeping changes from the Fletcher designs, but had the advantage of sufficient distance to have taken the heat out of the argument. Of course, the whole story happened before the mid twentieth century boom in railway publishing with authors wanting an “angle”, so is less well known. Thompson strikes me as having suffered the perfect storm of following a great and long-serving CME; made sensible changes but without the personality or nous (or maybe just the time) to fully explain them; and then suffered at the hands of subsequent authors who generally took a “great man” approach to writing history.

    Tom
     
  12. 60525

    60525 New Member

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    .... and Freddie Harrison can't be seen as an impartial witness and wasn't at Doncaster at the time these events were taking place ....
     
  13. S.A.C. Martin

    S.A.C. Martin Part of the furniture

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    Freddie Harrison is a tough one. I feel like his views lend more balance to Thompson’s work - you can’t dismiss him out of hand but you can remember that he wasn’t present for the major controversies.
     
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  14. Jimc

    Jimc Well-Known Member

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    K J Cook, Swindon Steam 1921-1951 ISBN 07110 0511 7
    This page and a half is most of what he has to say about his 8 years at Doncaster. There is more specific detail about the big end modifications elsewhere in the book.

    cook.jpg
     
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  15. 35B

    35B Part of the furniture

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    Interesting that a memoir from someone who worked at Doncaster well after Thompson's retirement, written another 20 years later, by someone who doesn't obviously have a lot invested in LNER steam, should refer to "the discord brought in by Edward Thompson's tragic desire to obliterate Gresley". Unless I'm missing something from the sources - in which case I'm sure @S.A.C. Martin will provide a nudge in the right direction - this is to me a clear pointer that:
    • something was wrong there,
    • that this was a consequence of Thompson's actions and approach, and
    • that subsequent writings may have been unjust but were anchored in something more than the comments of a few embittered individuals.
     
  16. Jimc

    Jimc Well-Known Member

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    'Heal the discord' is an interesting phrase though now I think of it.
    If everyone had hated Thompson there wouldn't have been any discord. Does it imply that the staff were divided into two camps, pro and anti? Perhaps a consequence of bringing in much change and failing to take everyone with you?
     
  17. S.A.C. Martin

    S.A.C. Martin Part of the furniture

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    “Tragic desire to obliterate Gresley”

    It just sounds so phenomenally stupid when you compare it to the rest of the sensible, literate, reasoned wording elsewhere in those two pages.

    Thompson rebuilt under 30 Gresley locos, kept the vast majority of the Gresley locos unmodified and in addition restored the traditional liveries with accoutrements to the big Pacifics. He built more V2s and O2s too.

    The idea that Thompson divided the LNER might be entirely correct from a ground level - a lot of drivers and firemen really were not keen to have anything he designed, seeing Thompson as the enemy effectively.

    The idea that within the design offices and in the board Thompson wasn’t supported is wrong though. If they weren’t happy with him, he wouldn’t have made it to retirement.
     
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  18. S.A.C. Martin

    S.A.C. Martin Part of the furniture

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    Probably on the money there Jim. Thompson changed the drawing office main design team and assistants very quickly once the cox report was published to the board.
     
  19. 30567

    30567 Well-Known Member Friend

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    Accepting that Richard Hardy never wrote a bad word about anyone, Ch 6 of Steam in the Blood is worth reading. It is too long to quote but includes

    ' I believe he was a splendid administrator, and in the opinion of many, a fine leader of men.'

    'One or two things happened to me during those years which convinced me that Mr Thompson was an extraordinarily human man'

    ' I thought Thompson was a great man, though when I knew him .... I saw him as the apprentice sees the man at the top. Many of his locomotives, I would contend, made a great contribution to the successful running of the railway, were built relatively cheaply,were of simple and straightforward design,and will be remembered with respect by those responsible for their operation. That, when all is said and done, is the acid test.'

    Hardy does also say that he never had anything to do with the A2s and can't comment on them, but he does comment on all the others, mostly favourable except the B2s 'made a bad engine worse'.
     
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  20. jma1009

    jma1009 Member

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    Hello Simon,

    I have spent the last 2 years researching what is known as 'The Californian Incident'; the actions or inactions of the Leyland Line SS Californian the night Titanic sank. Opinion is polarised, and has been since 1912, but by adopting a proper approach to historical research, and analysing a wealth of documents and considering properly the navigational data, we are probably much nearer the truth as to what happened in April 1912, and far more and better informed than the British Inquiry into the Titanic disaster in 1912!

    This is the approach I consider you ought to adopt.

    I don't want to sound too pompous, but I have designed more locomotive valve gears, and corrected far more, than ever E S Cox ever did , and as a consequence I can drive a coach and horses through the 'Cox Report'. If it was not written with bias, it was written to an agenda.

    Thompson must have been a pretty poor or a blinkered CME to realise that deficiencies with the Gresley conjugated gear could easily, cheaply, and simply have been resolved during WW2, and he failed to get a solution to the middle big end bearing problem and this was left to K J Cook to resolve.

    An argument can be constructed that Thompson simply didn't have the motivation or the expert knowledge required of a CME in such circumstances to get the conjugated gear in WW2 to be properly maintained; and you can further construct an argument that this suited him... Let the Cox Report condemn an essential Gresley element of Gresley big engines - Thompson's own failure to find a proper resolution to the middle big end design (whereas K J Cook did, pretty easily!), and to simple tighten up shed proceedure so that the conjugated gear got properly greased/latterly oiled, and smokebox ash did not pile upon the levers and bearings.

    In my view, Thompson did none of these things. He failed in his basic remit to get the big Gresley locos in service properly maintained during WW2.

    He even kept the P2s on unsuitable duties when they would have been far more of use in England on the LNER mainline in WW2.

    When you, Simon, provide availability records of LNER loco classes, one must take into account one can construct an argument that Thompson didn't do a good job in making the big Gresley locos more available, due either to his own lack of valve gear knowledge, not knowing how to correct a design fault in a middle big end, and failure to effect discipline at the sheds. You can also construct an argument that Thompson's failure to do all this might - just might - have been motivated from something else, which many would consider is his hatchet job on 'Great Northern' as further evidence of.

    I would submit in considering Thompson and the Cox Report you first have to have an understanding of the Gresley conjugated gear, and how easily K J Cook solved the middle big end problem. When you have a grasp of both, the Cox Report is riven with bias, misunderstanding, poor engineering analysis, and much else besides, and simple failure to understand how lack of grease/oil and smokebox ash affects crucial bearings of the valve gear.

    I hope I am not going over old ground again, but I would suggest the above approach must be considered as a possibility when considering your availability data extracted from the Kew Records

    Cheers,

    Julian
     

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