Civilian Specialists at War: Britain's Transport Experts and the First World War


Christopher Phillips


The war of 1914–18 was the first great conflict to be fought between highly industrial societies able to manufacture and transport immense quantities of goods to the field of battle. In Civilian Specialists at War, Christopher Phillips examines the manner in which Britain’s industrial society influenced the character and conduct of industrial warfare. This book analyses the multiple connections between the military, the government and the senior executives of some of pre-war Britain’s largest companies. It illustrates the British army’s evolving response to the First World War and the role to be played by non-military expertise in the prosecution of such a conflict.

This study demonstrates that pre-existing professional relationships between the army, the government and private enterprise were exploited throughout the conflict. It details how civilian technologies facilitated the prosecution of war on an unprecedented scale, while showing how British experts were constrained by the political and military demands of coalition warfare. Civilian Specialists at War reveals that Britain’s transport experts were a key component in the country’s conduct of the First World War.

  • "an engaging, thoroughly researched study of logistics, civil–military relations, and the importance of logistics in war ... this book should be on the shelves of every First World War historian" Twentieth-Century British History (August 2020).

Dr Christopher Phillips is a lecturer in international security in the Department of International Politics at Aberystwyth University.

Civilian Specialists at War appears in New Historical Perspectives, an Open Access monograph series for Early Career Scholars from the Royal Historical Society and Institute of Historical Research.

Read more about the book, and its lessons for experts in modern government, on the Institute of Historical Research blog 'On History' (June 2020).


  • Introduction
  • 1. Forging a relationship: the army, the government and Britain’s transport experts, 1825–1914
  • 2. A fruitful collaboration: Henry Wilson, the railways and the BEF’s mobilization, 1910–14
  • 3. Stepping into their places: Britain’s transport experts and the expanding war, 1914–16
  • 4. Commitment and constraint I: the South-Eastern and Chatham Railway and the port of Boulogne
  • 5. Commitment and constraint II: Commander Gerald Holland and the role of inland water transport
  • 6. The civilians take over? Sir Eric Geddes and the crisis of 1916
  • 7. ‘By similar methods as adopted by the English railway companies’: materials and working practices on the western front, 1916–18
  • 8. The balancing act: Britain’s transport experts, the global war effort and coalition warfare, 1916–18
  • 9. The road to victory: transportation in the British Expeditionary Force, 1917–18
  • Conclusion


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April 30, 2020

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