The War Office Subsidy Schemes

With the gathering war clouds, the European Powers also recognised the potential of motorised transport. The British, French and German governments instigated subsidy schemes designed to provide fleets of lorries when seemingly inevitable war broke out.

Initially the British War Office provided a subsidy to the vehicle maker by way of prizes for winning trials. These trials determined what the vehicle had to do with design left entirely to the maker. As ideas progressed the subsidy was changed to provide incentive to the operator to buy lorries of a specification determined by the War Office. The makers submitting their lorries for trials to gain approval and acceptance into the scheme.

The first trial in December 1901 at Aldershot, required that the lorry had to be able to carry 5 tons, with 3 tons on the lorry and 2 tons on a trailer permissible. It had to be able to travel anywhere a country cart could, drive through a 7'6" wide gate, maintain 8mph on well-maintained roads and 5mph on poor or hilly roads and climb a 1 in 8 incline. It had to run for 48 hours without need for maintenance or cleaning.

Prime considerations for the judges were initial cost, efficiency, distance covered without refuelling, durability, ease of driving and absence of vibration, noise and smoke. War Office engineers rode with each entrant throughout the trial and civilian observers from the motor industry made up the judging panel.

Thornycroft won the first prize of £500, Foden were second (£250) and Straker came third (£100). Both Thornycroft and Foden were purchased by the War Office and sent to South Africa for further trials.

The second trial was announced in October 1901, requiring a gross load of 25 tons to average 3mph for 40 miles, not exceeding 5mph, without need to refuel. A gross load of 12.5 tons had to be driven for 1 mile at 8mph and up a 1 in 6 gradient. In addition it had to traverse rough ground, wade through water two feet deep, have ground clearance of 18" and be crewed by no more than two men. It could be no more than 12' high, 7'6" wide and 20' long.

Prizes of £1,000 for first place, £750 for second and £500 for third were given plus and addition £10 for each additional mile completed over the trial distance.

Despite a large entry, only the Hornsby-Ackroyd powered Hornsby made the start of the trial and was awarded the £1000 first prize plus £180 bonus for mileage.

A trial for light tractors was commenced on March 1st 1909, initially with no prize offered. The political argument being that the extra business gained by the entrants would be enough incentive. This proved not to be the case and a single prize of £750 was subsequently offered. This comprised £500 from the War Office and £250 from the India Office.

The terms were broadly similar to the 1901 trial, though an 8 ton load was to be hauled for 100 miles without refuelling and 50 miles without oiling or greasing. The War Office paid an allowance of five shillings per day to both driver and driver's mate for the duration of the trial.

Of the ten entrants, seven failed to make the start, a reflection of the severity of the War office requirements.

Thornycroft won the £750 first prize and the tractor was purchased by the War Office for £975.

A registration scheme where owners were paid a fee in exchange for making their vehicles available to the war office when needed was muted in 1902. Lack of available vehicles and political complexity meant that the scheme was not finalised until 1907. Even with the complexities ironed out in 1907, the scheme remained overly complex.

Vehicles registered were divided into two classes, 'A' for traction engines and 'B' for heavy motor cars. Vehicles could be registered for purchase in wartime only or for purchase or hire in peacetime as well. At least 25% of each owner's registered vehicles had to be registered for hire with a minimum of one vehicle registered such. Vehicles needed an initial War Office inspection on registration and again at time of hire or purchase. Registration was for one year only, renewable annually.

FEES FOR VEHICLES AVAILABLE FOR PURCHASE AND HIRE

CLASS
TYPE
FEES PER ANNUM
A

ROAD TRAINS

(TRACTION ENGINE + 3 TRAILERS + WATER CART)

£2.02.00d plus £0.02.06d per additional trailer
B1
TRACTOR + 1 TRAILER (3 TON PAYLOAD)
£2.00.00d plus £0.02.06d per additional trailer
B2
MOTOR WAGONS (3 TON PAYLOAD)
£2.00.00d with no trailer provision
B3
MOTOR VANS (2-3 TON PAYLOAD)
£1.10.00d
B4
MOTOR VANS (1-1.5 TON PAYLOAD
£1.00.00d
B5
OMNIBUSES (3 TON CARRYING CAPACITY)
£2.00.00d

FEES FOR VEHICLES AVAILABLE FOR PURCHASE ONLY

PERCENTAGE OF VEHICLES AVAILABLE
FEE
75-99%
75% of full fee
50-74%
50% of full fee
25-49%
25% of full fee

COMPARISON WITH FRANCE & GERMANY IN 1910

ALLOWANCE AGAINST PURCHASE COST (£)
ANNUAL ALLOWANCE FOR MAINTENANCE (£)
BRITAIN
2
15
FRANCE
120
40
GERMANY
200
50

The purchase price was to be the current market price plus 25%. Market value was determined by initial price with depreciation between 15 and 7.5% depending on class. The War Office guaranteed to pay no less than 30% of the initial cost. Vehicles had to be delivered to a nominated War Office depot within 24 hours.

Hire charges were either £2 or £4 per day depending on class and seasonal adjustments to account for lost earnings. Vehicles had to be delivered to a nominated War office depot in a fit and suitable condition, was responsible for maintenance during hire periods and for providing a driver and mate. All fuel used was supplied by the War office.

New terms and conditions were announced in 1911, applying to all vehicles built after January 1910. By this time the War office had determined the specification of qualifying lorries, with trials held to determine reliability and quality. Only approved lorries were accepted onto the scheme.

This new scheme was 'The Provisional Scheme for Subsidising Petrol Motor Lorries' and in keeping with its predecessors was complicated as only government can achieve.

The owner first enrolled their vehicle onto the scheme and then received the initial subsidy (subvention) payment. This comprised, £12 for a live axle lorry, £10 for a chain drive lorry if chains were enclosed or £8 if chains were exposed. An additional £10 was payable if the owner carried a spare magneto, ready for immediate fitting and waterproofed.

An annual subsidy of £15 was paid half-yearly, in arrears and subject to satisfactory War office inspection, to cover maintenance. Every vehicle had to be kept under cover and protected from frost. Only properly qualified drivers were to drive subsidised vehicles, although 'properly qualified' does not appear to have been quantified.

Purchase of each subsidised lorry was compulsory in time of 'national danger' or if proclamation was made under the Reserve Forces Act, 1882. The owner was required to deliver the lorry in full working order, with spares to any depot in the country nominated by the War Office within three days.

Purchase price was calculated on depreciation of 7.5% per half year, plus 25% up to initial price, though not less than 30% of initial cost.

A lorry with initial purchase price of £600 would therefore be valued thus:

AGE - MONTHS
DEPRECIATION (£)
VALUE (£)
25% SUBSIDY
PRICE PAYABLE BY W.O. (£)
0-6
45
555
139
600
6-12
90
510
127
600
12-18
135
465
116
581
18-24
180
420
105
525
24-30
225
375
94
469
30-36
270
330
82
412
36-42
315
285
71
356
42-48
360
240
60
300

The press of the day were quick to praise the War Office for their efforts in providing a quickly available fleet of standardised lorries, while condemning the Treasury and MPs for the paucity and complexity of the scheme. It was also noted by owners that the Treasury was particularly slow with the payments.

The specification of the subsidy lorry was almost universally derided as being too heavy, too big and too costly compared to makers existing model ranges that could carry the same weight. The British Government continued to pursue a policy of approval and development trials whereas by 1910 the German and French policy was one of acquisition with subsidy schemes designed to encourage this.

By 1913, entries had fallen for the trials with manufacturer's declaring an open lack of interest and Lieutenant R. Snowden-Smith, the Inspector of Subsidised Transport, was compelled to write to all lorry users reminding them that only approved subsidy lorries were eligible for the scheme. The letter reiterated that the payment for subsidy specification lorries was £110 spread over 3 years, which compared favourably with the Provisional Scheme which by this time was £42 over 2 years. The additional funding for subsidy lorries failed to cover the extra costs of buying and running a subsidy lorry compared to its civilian specification counterpart.

Abridged from my original article in Vintage Roadscene, Vol 14, 56 (September-November 1998)

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