The Rob Thompson Memorial Conference
22 Jul

The late Rob Thompson was, in his own words, an "accidental military historian". But, in the opinion of others, he was "a true scholar … with a new way of looking at the Great War" and "an off the wall character with rock star charisma". This conference celebrates his lifetime achievements - in historical research, critical interpretation and public speaking - by reflecting Rob's interests and passions.


  1. Peter Hart : ‘Beasts of Burden: the British Soldier, 1918’
  2. Roy Larkin : ‘To Destroy a Road, Get a 3-Ton Truck’. 
  3. Dr. Chris Phillips : 'Logistics overshadowed: the Calais Conference of 1917'
  4. Alex Churchill and Andy Lock : ‘From mobilisation to Empire building, Railways in the Great War'

Details as follows:

Peter Hart : ‘Beasts of Burden: the British Soldier, 1918’

Peter Hart was oral historian at the Imperial War Museum for more decades than he likes to admit. These days, he hosts a podcast with Gary Bain and is producing new books at a rapid rate. He also continues on his mission to guide First World War enthusiasts around Gallipoli (and other battlefields). He is speaking at this event to bid goodbye to a friend. More than anything, he is going to miss how much Rob made him laugh. 

As Rob often hammered home there was so much more to the British soldier than ‘going over the top’. He was out of the line more often than in the trenches. And there was so much to do! New weapons and tactics had to be tested, analysed, learnt and practiced. Then there were the endless working parties - digging trenches, carrying forward the endless supplies and munitions on which the whole war effort depended.

Roy Larkin : ‘To Destroy a Road, Get a 3-Ton Truck’ 

Army Service Corps - evolution, bitter rivalries and meddling civilians.

A very brief history of the ASC in the First World War using lorries as the main ‘character’ illustrating the inter-service rivalries and the interference by the civilian lords and masters.

Roy’s interest in the First World War began with its influence on the British road haulage industry in the 1920s. Volunteering at the Royal Logistic Corps Museum provided an opportunity for more in-depth exploration of road transport on the Western Front. He has since diversified the focus to anything in the back area and the home front, the quirkier the better. He’s going to miss his lengthy phone calls with Rob. Even now, as he writes a sentence, he can sense Rob saying “do you really mean that?!”

Unsurprisingly, Roy has decided to speak about road transport and the Great War. His talk will focus on the massive contribution that it played in the war effort, another subject that was massively close to Rob’s heart.

Dr. Chris Phillips : 'Logistics overshadowed: the Calais Conference of 1917'

This talk will draw upon one of Rob's favourite subjects, emphasising the importance - and neglect - of logistics within the First World War. The talk will briefly map out the development of British logistics on the Western Front, before focusing on the significance of the Calais Conference. Best remembered now for Prime Minister David Lloyd George's attempt to subordinate Sir Douglas Haig under the command of General Robert Nivelle, the conference's original purpose was to discuss the collapsing French rail network and how the two coalition partners could best work together to resolve the challenges confronting them.

Chris is a Lecturer in the History of Warfare at Aberystwyth University and the author of Civilian Specialists at War: Britain’s Transport Experts and the First World War. He was awarded a PhD in History by the University of Leeds in 2015, having studied under Rob’s supervision for both BA and MA qualifications at the University of Birmingham. He credits/blames Rob in equal measure for his decision to study logistics in the First World War, and looks forward to the opportunity to celebrate Rob’s remarkable contribution to the field.

Alex Churchill and Andy Lock : ‘From mobilisation to Empire building, Railways in the Great War'

If there is one thing Rob loved, it was banging on about trains. In this talk, from the Western Front to the deserts of Arabia, Alex and Andy will take a broad look at the integral presence of railways in a multitude of theatres, and discuss how the great powers had no hope of coming down on the winning side without harnessing them. 
Alex and Andy are both Trustees of The Great War Group. Alex has a Masters in Research from the University of Leeds, and Andy is in the process of submitting his PhD thesis and loving every minute. They both wanted to speak at this event in honour of a dear friend, who is missed as much for the drinking and the pontificating about music as for the long and nerdy chats about all aspects of the Great War.

In the evening, we’ll be heading to Akbars on Hagley Road. We’ve put together a meal for  £20. Please let the office know if you're staying on for this by sending an email to so we can give the restaurant an idea of numbers. 

Then, we'll head to the pub to raise a glass to our friend.


Date: Saturday 22nd July 2023

  • Doors open 09:00am for 09:45 start. Ends about 16:30. 
  • After-conference: evening meal and pub outing to celebrate Rob's life and  achievements. 

How to book the conference: 

  • At the WFA Online Shop
  • By phone 020 7118 1914 
  • By email: 

Prices: £42 per head. Includes morning and afternoon light refreshments, plus a sandwich lunch 

Venue: Tally Ho! Conference Centre, Pershore Road, Birmingham, B5 7RN (parking available).

Profits: These will go to Rob's preferred charity, The National Deaf Children’s Society.

The Western Front Association in association with the Great War Group 

BM Box 1914, London WC1N 3XX. Registered Charity Number: 298365

Tally Ho! Conference Centre,, Pershore Road, Birmingham, B5 7RN
The Rob Thompson Memorial Conference,
22 Jul 2023 09:30