Churchill’s Secret War – How The Pouter Was Born

“Fight Against Stupidity And Bureaucracy”

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“History will be kind to me for I intend to write it.”

Sir Winston Churchill

 

By and large the above statement is true. History does remember Sir Winston Churchill well. He was a remarkable war leader for Britain and indeed for the Allied nations throughout World War Two, and prior to and after the war years he had a remarkable political career.

Churchill was also an accomplished writer and historian, although he could afford a team of researchers to help him with his books. His multi-volume memoire of the war are remarkable and well worth a read for those interested in this period of history.  

Inevitably a lot of what went on during World War Two was of a top secret nature. These things covered a vast range of topics from spying and counter espionage, thru code-breaking and intelligence analysis, to developing a variety of gadgets that had the potential to be used for defense or as weapons against the enemy.

One of the groups involved in this work was given the nickname “Wheezers and Dodgers”.

They were commanded by a man named Goodeve, who was given to say to all new recruits something like, “You’ll have no set hours and no official leave. You will often be required to work all night as well as all day and seven days a week if necessary. You’ll see many secret documents. Don’t talk about what you see.”

One of their pressing tasks early in the war was to work on camouflage problems, because Goodeve had found, to his astonishment, that in spite of the increasing threat of German air power no serious attention had been paid to camouflage in the Royal Navy since the First World War.

His intervention led to a surprising incident.

One day into the department stamped an irate officer who introduced himself as Commander Pouter. Marching up to Goodeve, he said angrily, “What’s this I hear about your section meddling with camouflage?”

Goodeve told him that they were, “looking into it to see what can be done to make our ships less visible,” and that ” If no one studies these new conditions nothing will ever get done “

Pouter was one of those insufferable people who had no idea how stupid he was and who abused the positions he had been given by trying to control everything and stifle any outside input into his little empire, especially intelligent input. 

“I’ll have you know that I am entirely responsible for all Admiralty policy regarding camouflage” said pompous Pouter, “and that policy is that there shall be no camouflage . . . and no experiments either!”

Apparently startled by the outburst, it took Goodeve a few seconds to recover from this. As he got up to open the door for his visitor he turned to the others in the room saying, “Our way is now perfectly clear. You’re to go straight ahead with the experiments.”

Then addressing his remarks to Commander Pouter he said, a little brusquely, “Our report will go to the First Sea Lord. If you wish I will send you a copy.”

 

This story highlights yet again that if an idiot is put in charge very little, if anything, productive will get done. But it is interesting for a reason other than that.

This confrontation also led to the coining in the department of a new term for the measurement of the Unit of Obstruction. This unit became known as the ‘Pouter’.

However, on further reflection, this unit seemed altogether too large to have any application inside the Admiralty, since it was fervently hoped that this degree of obstruction would rarely occur.

So the term ‘micro-pouter’ was introduced and has been used ever since to assess all such absurdities. Such was its popularity that its use spread to other parts of the military and even further afield. 

Sometimes idiots get the fame they crave, but for entirely the wrong reason.

5 thoughts on “Churchill’s Secret War – How The Pouter Was Born

  1. There were actually some very interesting things done by the Brits in camouflage. One was a seaside town in North Africa (the name escapes me) that the Brits were worried would be bombed. A particular gent (whose name also escapes me – it’s not a good day on the memory front) suggested they set up a miniature harbour and town a bit closer up the coast on a similar bay, complete with lights. Sure enough, Jerry came over and bombed the dummy town!
    And that doesn’t even get into the fake truck/tanks used by the 8th Army, or the inflatable dummies set up as spoofs for the Normandy Invasion! 😀

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