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The production engineer who modernised the LMS railway and equipped the RAF for war

by Terry Jenkins

119 b/w illustrations

softback ISBN 978 0 901461 60 5

h = 234mm, w = 156mm, 272 pages

PRICE £15.00

(Despatch to UK POST FREE; Europe airmail add 15%; rest of world airmail add 30%)

Ernest John Hutchings Lemon rose from the humblest beginnings to become a Vice-President of the LMS Railway. He was born in 1874, the son of a labourer in an obscure Dorset village, and a fortunate set of circumstances led to his apprenticeship at the North British Locomotive Company in Glasgow. In 1914 he joined the Midland Railway as Chief Wagon Inspector, soon rising to become Works Manager at Derby in the Carriage & Wagon Department. In association with ‘Bob’ Reid, he revolutionised the way wagons, and later carriages, were constructed, by introducing assembly-line techniques. Further promotions followed after ‘grouping’ in 1923, and in 1931 he was appointed Chief Mechanical Engineer of the LMS Railway – a post he held for less than a year before his appointment as Vice-President in 1932.

Throughout the 1930s he continued to overhaul the way the railway worked, seeking to eliminate old and inefficient practices. Lemon was one of the first proponents in this country of ’Scientific Management’, a business philosophy first developed in the USA, and he introduced the principles to all phases of railway working and management.

In the summer of 1938, Lemon was seconded to the Air Ministry, as Director-General of Production, when the Government finally reacted to the charges of incompetence in the re-armament of the RAF. The programme had been dogged by controversy, monetary restrictions and delays, and the defence of this country still rested largely on obsolete aircraft. Production of the much-vaunted new generation of fighters had stagnated and was months behind schedule. The aggressive behaviour of Germany lent an even greater urgency to the situation, and Lemon was charged with the task of expediting and reorganising production. His reforms successfully enabled the programme to be completed ahead of schedule, and it was for this work that he was knighted.

When this country had to face the full might of German air attacks in the summer of 1940, the RAF was ready. The Battle of Britain was a close-fought affair, but the RAF did have sufficient aircraft – just! The story of the war in the air has been told in innumerable books. What is not so well-known is how the aircraft were produced in the quantities required – and the dynamism and urgency brought to the project by one man.

This book is the story of his life, both professional and private. The author has been fortunate to have had access to Lemon’s own personal papers, and these – together with hitherto unknown archives discovered during research – shed new light on the management of the LMS at the time. This is especially true of the circumstances surrounding both Lemon’s, and then Stanier’s, appointments as CME and the importance of Sir Harold Hartley in the affair, which will cause many long-held views to be reassessed.

’The London Midland and Scottish Railway was one of the most important companies in Britain from its creation in 1923 to nationalisation in 1947. Lord Stamp, the President, is rightly cited as a key player in British business, but he was supported by very able managers. Ernest Lemon was one of the most capable engineer/managers of his generation, as evidenced by his role in the LMS as Vice-President; and, later, in the Air Ministry as Director-General of Production supporting Sir Wilfrid Freeman. This biography of Lemon is an important contribution to business and political history and tells the story of Lemon’s career in both railways and aviation. It sheds light on an important player in British engineering, using important new archival material, to reveal a complex personality and the very human face of business and policy.’ — Dr Roy Edwards, Southampton University School of Management, 2011