Inventions and Official Secrecy: A History of Secret Patents in the United Kingdom

By T. O'Dell H. | Go to book overview

2
The Second World War

8.1 The Health of the State

Writing of the Great War of 1914-18, Randolph S. Bourne ( 1886- 1918) put forward the slogan 'War is the Health of the State' in one of his essays ( Resek ( 1964), 71). Bourne also remarked upon the enthusiasm with which men with administrative or managerial expertise had volunteered for military service in the war, 'as if the war and they had been waiting for each other' (ibid. 60). In the Second World War we find a very similar situation with men of technical expertise, the 'boffins' as they were called in the United Kingdom, although the origin of this new word has been lost.

Enthusiasm for a technical fix, a quick technical solution, is not, however, the monopoly of men with technical knowledge. A very unusual essay, undated and unsigned, was written by an Admiralty official, probably in the summer of 1940, entitled "Inventors without Bars" (PRO: ADM1/1 1768). In this, we read that 'in the first five months of the present war' the Department of Scientific Research at the Admiralty had 'carefully examined' no fewer than 18,000 ideas put forward by members of the public. These ideas had come from all parts of the world, by post, cable, and telephone, and were usually addressed to the First Sea Lord, but some were to the King or the Prime Minister. It so happened that the Admiralty, as the senior service, had put itself in the position of dealing with all communications of this kind.

What is remarkable is the number of communications this anonymous author could vouch for, as well as the range of people involved. We read of how ideas came in from the unemployed and from employers of thousands, from clergymen and criminals, and from stockbrokers (who took the precaution of writing through their solicitors). Money was sometimes mentioned as a factor, but people writing in from abroad often brought up the possibility of British citizenship, or 'permanent asylum' as the anonymous author put it. And he added, in view of some of the crazy suggestions

-95-

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Inventions and Official Secrecy: A History of Secret Patents in the United Kingdom
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Figures viii
  • Abbreviations ix
  • Acknowledgements x
  • 1 - Introduction 1
  • 2 - The First Secret Patent 4
  • 3 - The Secret Patents Act of 1859 19
  • 4 - Towards an Official Secrets Act 35
  • 5 - The Secrets of Two Technical Revolutions 49
  • 6 - Introducing the Examiners 62
  • 7 - Between the Wars 79
  • 2 - The Second World War 95
  • 9 - Making Wartime Procedure Permanent 113
  • 10 - The Last Secret Patent 129
  • List of References 140
  • Index 145
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