Winston Churchill's Toyshop
This page was last updated at 7:00am on 5/12/15
Ministry of Defence 1 (MD1), also known as "Churchill's Toyshop", was a British
weapon research and development organisation of the Second World War. Many of these inventions would be used by the
The two key figures were Major Millis Jefferis and Stuart Macrae.
MD1 began in the "Military Intelligence Research" (MIR). The MIR was a department of the War Office set up
in 1939 under Lt-Col Joe Holland RE. Holland was the General Staff Officer Grade 1 (GSO1) and brought in Jefferis,
also a sapper (RE), an explosives expert, as GSO2 to head MIR(c) a division of MIR that was to develop weapons for
irregular warfare. Needing special magnets, Jefferis brought in Macrae initially as an outside contractor but later
to be brought into uniform and serve as his deputy.
MIR(c) started in a room at the War Office, Macrae secured offices and workshop space at IBC, owners of
Radio Normandie, in London.
The Firs, A postcode published by Tabor of Aylesbury.
Following an air raid, a large country house "The Firs", (fortunately the second home of a patriotic
Major) was requisitioned and the design and workshops relocated there, in Whitchurch near Aylesbury in
Buckinghamshire close to the Prime Minister at Chequers. There they developed and to some extent produced
During the phoney war, MIR(c) was engaged in developing the floating mine required for Churchill's
planned Operation Royal Marine which aimed to disrupt German shipping in their inland waterways by dropping these
mines into the river at Strasbourg.
Churchill lobbied for recognition of Jefferis, suggesting promotion.
When MIR was combined with other activities to form the Special Operations Executive, MIR(C) instead in November 1940 became a department in the
Ministry of Defence; effectively under the wing the Prime Minister, Churchill who was the Minister of Defence.
As First Lord of the Treasury as well, Churchill could provide funds. Churchill, Professor Lindemann and General
Ismay (Churchill's chief scientific and military advisors respectively) would protect MD1 from the Ministry of
Supply and the Ordnance Board whose areas they encroached on. The Ministry of Supply carried out the
administration but the War Cabinet was in control. Jefferis was promoted to Lt-Col and Macrae to
Other staff at MD1 included Stewart Blacker who was brought in after his privately invented Blacker
Bombard was taken on for official development.
With the end of the war and the removal of Churchill from office, MD1 was taken over by the Ministry of
Supply and the Weapons research establishment at Fort Haldane with the result that it was disbanded. Macrae felt
this was an act of revenge by those who had opposed it and the Professor. Production machinery went to the Rocket
Propulsion Establishment at Westcott effectively for scrapping. Jefferis received an appointment to the Pakistan
SOME OF THEIR INVENTIONS
Bomb - An anti-tank weapon
consisting of a glass sphere containing nitroglycerin covered in a powerful adhesive. It was
intended to stick to the target vehicle before exploding.
PIAT - A hand-held
anti-tank weapon based on the spigot mortar that launched a 2.5 pounds (1.1 kg) bomb using a
powerful spring and a cartridge on the tail of the projectile.
Limpet Mine - A type of naval
mine attached to a target by magnets. It is so named because of its superficial similarity to the
limpet, a type of mollusk.
Yes but not standard issue.
Time Pencil - A time fuse designed to
be connected to a detonator or short length of safety fuse. Also referred to as "Switches".
"AP Switch" - An anti-personnel
weapon based on a .303 inch rifle cartridge and a pressure-sensitive trigger.
| "Bomb, H.E., Aircraft, J.W.,
400lb"(the "Johnnie Walker" bomb) - Upon entering the water the bomb was expected
to dive underwater then surface. This would be repeated until it struck the relatively less
protected underside of a ship at which point the 90 lb Torpex warhead would explode. It was not
used until 15 September 1944 when the German battleship Tirpitz was attack at Kaa Fjord,
Find out more about these explosives by watching our Weapons & Explosives DVD.
READ THE BOOK
The inside story of one of the most famous of all the 'back rooms' of the
Second World War - and of the men and women who worked for it.
Conceived by Winston Churchill to circumvent the delays, frustrations and
inefficiencies of the service ministries, Department M.D.1. earned from its detractors the
soubriquet 'Winston Churchill's Toyshop', yet from a tiny underground workshop housed in the
cellars of the London offices of Radio Normandie in Portland Place, and subsequently from the
'stockbroker Tudor' of a millionaire's country mansion in Buckinghamshire, came an astonishing
array of secret weapons ranging from the 'sticky bomb' and 'limpet mine' to giant bridge-carrying
assault tanks, as well as the PIAT, a tank-destroying, hand-held mortar.
Written by Colonel Stuart Macrae, who helped found M.D.1. and was its
second-in-command throughout its life, the story is told of this relatively unknown establishment
and the weapons it developed which helped destroy innumerable enemy tanks, aircraft and ships.
Kindle version also available.
See inside The Firs here
See inside Stuart Macrae's Toybox here.
Discovery UK Press images, BRA, Wikipedia.