Miss Rosemary Thwaites

?????????????????Rosemary Thwaites was the youngest child and only daughter of Captain Sidney Herbert Thwaites, a retired soldier-turned-farmer and a member of the Yorkshire brewing family. Her older brother Leslie Basil Thwaites, a farmer, engineer and inventor, set up Thwaites Agricultural Engineering Company, and Rosemary too grew up interested in motors and mechanisms, driving a car from an early age and becoming something of a rally driver. With fellow Lillington resident Miss Milne, she took part in RAC and Scottish rallies and hill trials, winning several prizes.  She hoped one day to take part in the Monte Carlo rally but then, as she put it in an interview with the Leamington Spa Courier, “Munich [i.e. the advent of WW2] put a stop to that.”   Although still only in her early twenties, Miss Thwaites took up the serious job of teaching driving skills to ARP personnel and at the outbreak of WW2 she joined the YMCA Mobiles and “was able to do my bit in the Coventry Blitz”. It was whilst she was driving for the YMCA and looking after the Warwickshire section of the stores that she met Mrs Norton Griffiths of Norton Griffiths (Plant) Ltd and began to work for them at their headquarters just outside Leamington.

In January 1943, Leamington Courier ran an article under the headline “Lillington Girl on Strangest War Job”, going on to explain that Miss Rosemary A F Thwaites of 1 Vicarage Road Lillington was literally helping to “scrape a road to victory.” Before the war, Rosemary Thwaites drove a Singer 9, a 60 mile-an-hour light racer, but she exchanged that for a Koehring 107, and reduced her speed from 60 to 25 mph in order to take on a win-the-war task which involved the driving, overhauling and servicing of the Koehring diesel-engined machines.  These American cable and pulley-operated rough terrain monsters were used to level sites in all parts of the country to provide new aerodromes to meet the war effort.  In her role as stores manager for Norton Griffiths (Plant) Ltd, Rosemary had the job of meeting the Koehrings at British ports as they arrived in sections from America.   She helped to assemble them at the dockside and with a team of men, drove them in convoy to their various destinations all over the country. The Koehrings were gargantuan-tyred four-wheeled tractors with two-wheeled scrapers attached.  Each machine weighed 14 tons.  They were cumbersome in length and build and very tricky to handle, but Miss Thwaites took it all in her stride.

Prior to the interview with the Leamington Courier, Miss Thwaites had completed a challenge which involved driving to a port in the west of England (unnamed because it was wartime) to meet the Koehrings as they were being unloaded, and with a nine-man party, assembling them and driving them in convoy to the Midlands. She had also directed a working party of six men levelling a big Midland site in preparation for an important new aerodrome. This had taken three weeks, but they had completed it in a record time for such an enormous job. The redoubtable Miss Thwaites then returned to Norton Griffiths, helping to overhaul and service the machines. To some she had become “The Road Convoy Queen,” but she deflected such compliments, praising instead her work colleagues, “the great fellows who are doing a great job of work.”  One of her teams had recently worked four days and four nights on end to level the ground for a new aerodrome. She said, “I take my hat off to them. I’m proud to be associated with them.”

Rosemary Thwaites came from a privileged background but never sought the limelight or privilege for herself.  She worked with energy and unquellable enthusiasm throughout the war, doing whatever was asked of her to the best of her considerable ability. She looked forward to resuming her driving career, and achieving her dream of competing at Monte Carlo. Miss Thwaites clearly enjoyed her wartime job and the responsibilities (and respect) it brought. Always modest about her own achievements she was unvaryingly full of praise for the teams that she worked with.  Her wartime job had proved a revelation, in that it had shown her how much British civilians were pulling their weight in the war effort, and she greatly appreciated that.

Margaret Rushton

April 2016

Sources: Leamington Spa Courier online archive; Kelly’s Directories; Find My Past online database

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