THE DESIGNER OF THE COMBINED OPERATIONS BADGE
Lt Douglas Adshead-Grant will be remembered as the man who designed the ubiquitous Combined Operations badge in early 1942. However, Churchill and the Joint Chiefs of Staff, seeing other wartime applications for his artistic talent and lively imagination, recruited him to the heart of the Command, as explained below. He was later promoted Lieutenant Commander.
Lt Grant was an accomplished sketcher/illustrator and a qualified architect. It was his sketching skills and fertile imagination that produced ideas for a badge for the newly formed Combined Operations Command. It depicted the Army, Navy and Air Force working together as a unified fighting unit on amphibious operations against the enemy. His design of the badge endures to this day in many parts of the world.
Other ideas relating to the conduct of the war, which he and others conjured up, were often difficult to describe in words alone. His graphical interpretations significantly improved understanding and helped high ranking decision makers in their deliberations. He was recruited to the Combined Operations Command Headquarters (COHQ) and accompanied Churchill and Mountbatten to the Quebec Conference in 1943.
He was not one for the back office. In 1940, he served on the Command Operations Base in Warsash, codenamed HMS Tormentor and became involved in early small-scale combined operations against enemy occupied territory, working with the actor, David Niven.
Lt Grant took part in a an early amphibious raid on German-occupied Guernsey, codenamed Operation Ambassador, which took place on the night of 14/15 July 1940. Beaching and un-beaching proved more difficult than expected due to tidal conditions and during the withdrawal, one of the dinghies got into difficulties. Lt Grant saved the life of one of the raiding party as he floundered in the sea. His swift humanitarian action was recognised by the award of the Honorary Testimonial of the Royal Humane Society.
This period, in the development of the Commandos, was a learning process. "Pin-prick" raids, of this type, often produced little or no military gain. However, it was a process from which much more effective raiding operations emerged through improved intelligence, planning, training and equipment. Lessons were learned.
At the time of the Quebec Conference, there was much debate with the Americans about providing sheltered harbours for a large scale amphibious invading force near to the landing beaches. Ideas included sunken ships, concrete caissons, concrete pontoons, collapsible canvas floating barriers and Pykrete. There was, unsurprisingly, scepticism on both sides of the Atlantic with some believing that Mulberry was an even more fanciful idea than Pykrete ships! To overcome the doubters in his ranks, Mountbatten called a meeting in one of the bathrooms of the Queen Mary.
As they entered the bathroom, they saw a partially filled bath, 40 or so ships made out of newspaper and a Mae West lifebelt. Half the 'fleet' was placed in the bath and the most junior officer present in the crowded bathroom, Lt Commander Grant, RN, was asked to make waves with the back of a brush. In no time, the vessels sank. The demonstration was repeated, this time with the 'fleet' floating inside the Mae West. To the immortal command "More waves please, Lieutenant Grant", the heavily braided onlookers saw that all the vessels survived.
No doubt Lt Grant's involvement in this demonstration was much greater than just making waves. It was a convincing practical demonstration that conveyed more powerfully than a thousand words, the benefits of breakwaters in the protection of vessels where traditional harbours were not available.
Lt Grant worked on Operation Habakkuk with Max F Perutz and Dr Geoffrey Pyke in a secret meat freezing store underneath the Smithfield Meat Market in London. With the aid of electrically heated suits to keep them warm, the team mixed wooden pulp with water (later called Pykrete) and froze the mix in a wind tunnel to test the feasibility of building an ice ship. They fired shots into the material to test its resilience.
In 1943, Churchill was sufficiently impressed to approve plans for a prototype ice-ship to be drawn up in Washington DC and he ordered Douglas to accompany him on the Queen Mary, to attend the Quebec Quadrant Conference in the Frontenac Hotel. Douglas's architectural plans were accepted and he was retained in Washington as Technical Officer. Although a small prototype ice-ship was constructed on Patricia Lake, near Jasper, Alberta, the project was abandoned for a number of reasons, including the high cost of steel needed for the refrigeration.
After the war, Lt Grant returned to his architecture practice at 40 Norland Square, London W11, where he was involved in the feasibility studies for Londonís Airports, which was a hotly contested issue at the time. The redesign of Lynmouth, after the devastating floods of 1952, was another significant project he was involved in. Lt Grant died in 1956 at the young age of 42, leaving behind a widow, a son (15) and a daughter (13). An incisive obituary, written by the headmaster of Silcoates School, in the village of Wrenthorpe, near Wakefield, which Lt Grant attended for 8 years, is reproduced below.
Douglas Adshead-Grant joined us in 1922 and spent eight full, lively, happy years at the school. In 1930 he left us, but never ceased to belong - those who had been his teachers simply became his friends, and again and again he returned, always cheerful, always welcome.
His after-school life falls into three parts, pre war, war and post war. In part one he was preparing, cultivating his remarkable gifts, finding his way to beautiful art and construction. He took his degree, B. Arch,. at the famous Liverpool School of Architecture, and in 1936 was elected ARIBA. To our Architectural Exhibition in Hall (March 1937) he contributed a mass of fine work, his wonderful line drawings being specially admired. (To my amazement at such results in view of so great an economy of line he simply replied: "I go out on a two or three hours tramp at night and when I get back, I find I have reduced 6 lines to 5!") In partnership with Professor Adshead he was making a name for himself in London, when the war cried "Halt" to all such craftsmen.
His labours were now changed, but greatly and strangely multiplied. At first he was found among those who on moonless nights with blackened faces, made midnight flittings to the shores of France, accomplished their "Commando" project and then raced back to Dover in a fast motor boat. It was a life of high adventure and he revelled in it. Once it meant for him swimming for a long time off the Channel Islands in the dark, until a destroyer happily located him and picked him up.
In 1943 his higher service, of which we learnt nothing during the whole period of the war (he told me it was "all very secret, confidential and hush hush"), began. He had plans with regard to submarine losses and was interviewed in Downing St by the War Cabinet and questioned at length by Mr Churchill, who soon ordered him to go with him to the Quebec Conference. There, in the Frontenac Hotel, he gave a demonstration before the Combined Imperial General Staff. He was interviewed several times by both Roosevelt and Churchill, his plans were accepted and he was retained in Washington as Technical Officer. I believe at this time that his brother, Donald, hitchhiked over 1000 miles from Canada to see him. (Donald, alas, was one of the precious lads snatched from us in the last months of that appalling war).
Later, Douglas was attached to the Combined Operations HQ and was present at the daily meetings of the Chiefs of Staff, who made constant use of his exceptional talents in drawing to express their, and his own, ideas. His modesty did not permit him to tell even his family of the nature of his appointment, and in the years that followed he never alluded to those experiences unless specially asked to do so.
In part 3 of his too short life he had the chance of entering Government service, but he preferred to be free and built up a fine private practice in London and elsewhere. He erected factories in Birmingham and in Lancashire, a Congregational church at Pulborough, a church hall at Knebworth and above all, what he loved most, beautiful, roomy, comfortable houses.
He had not seen a doctor in years, but on a Saturday in February he came down to his little Kent cottage, and after a specially happy tea-time took his wife out for a drive. After five minutes he complained of a pain in the chest. They just managed to get back home when he collapsed, and was gone in a few minutes. He had worked at high pressure for too long. He was 42. He has left a wife, a boy of 15 and a girl of 13.
He was the last of the four sons whose loss those missionary heroes, Rev John and Mrs Grant, have had to suffer. They all have our sympathy, our admiration, our love. Douglas was a great and worthy son of Silcoates. He has shown how much can be accomplished by a life in which genius is wedded to hard work, to truth and beauty.
Sydney H Moore, Headmaster 1918 - 1943.
Professor Stanley Davenport Adshead was Lt Grant's uncle, who was at that time, professor of town planning at London University. Lt Grant's daughter, Jacky, now resides in Vancouver and his late son, Donald (1940-1996), shared his fatherís sense of adventure by serving 40 years in the Merchant Navy.
There are around 300 books listed on our 'Combined Operations Books' page. They, or any other books you know about, can be purchased on-line from the Advanced Book Exchange (ABE). Their search banner link, on our 'Books' page, checks the shelves of thousands of book shops world-wide. Just type in, or copy and paste the title of your choice, or use the 'keyword' box for book suggestions. There's no obligation to buy, no registration and no passwords.
It is 73 years since Lt Douglas Adshead-Grant designed the Combined Ops badge and 15 years since I appealed for information about him. We are grateful to his grandson, Ed Adshead-Grant, for providing the information for this page. [Geoff Slee (2015).]