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Brockley's most important contribution to the D-Day landings

The most important local contribution to the invasion of Europe was made indirectly by William Potter Stone & Co., plumbers of Malpas Road. Frank Stone (1913-2004), a partner in the firm and the son of the founder, was born in Brockley, and was an old boy of Mantle Road School and Addey and Stanhope. He had become the leading expert on the welding of lead pipes, and in 1942 was called in by Siemens of Woolwich to advise on the design of Pluto (Pipe Line Under The Ocean), which supplied the Allied armies with fuel for tanks, planes, and trucks. Frank and his brothers personally welded together all the sections of the twenty-one pipelines laid under the Channel. At its peak Pluto was delivering one million gallons of fuel a day to the front line.

Located close to the pathway adjoining Brockley road lies the recently restored family grave of the Stone family. Frank Stone, was one of the unsung heroes of the civilian effort in the Second World War; a leadburner by trade, his skill and ingenuity made possible the construction of "Pluto" - the Pipeline Under the Ocean - which supplied fuel to the Allied forces after D-Day.

The establishment of a reliable source of petrol for the period following the D-Day landings was a high priority for the military planners. Any loss of momentum caused by problems in fuel supply could have jeopardised the whole operation, giving German forces the opportunity to re-group and counter-attack. Conventional tankers and ship-to-shore pipelines would be vulnerable to the Luftwaffe, and it was Lord Mountbatten, Chief of Combined Operations, who suggested an undersea pipeline. At first this seemed an impossible proposal: no pipeline had yet been built that could be relied upon to be flexible in rough seas and stand up to the pressure under water.

If a pipeline failed, it would have been impossible to carry out repairs. Yet, in 1942, Siemens Brothers of Woolwich were commissioned to design a suitable pipeline. It was a complex task, and there were many failures at the design stage arising from kinks, bursts and collapses due to external water pressure and other forces; the joints between pipe sections were particularly vulnerable.
In 1942 Frank Stone and his brother Albert, then working in the family lead specialist business, W P Stone, were called upon by Siemens and asked to develop a method of jointing 700-yard lengths of extruded lead alloy pipes, capable of being fully flexible, as strong or stronger than the lead pipe itself, able to withstand coiling, and capable of passing over special wheels in order to be covered in steel pressure tapes and steel armour wires.

The two brothers set to work, producing sample joints for test purposes, and, after a short period of intense effort using various lead alloys, a joint was produced which passed all the bending and pressure tests. The Stones were duly awarded the contract to make the joints for a five-mile length of armoured pipeline for laying trials in the River Thames. The final specification for the pipeline was for a flexible tube comprising an inner lead pipe 3 in in diameter, encased in layers of tape, bitumen and steel and wire. As Siemens did not have enough capacity at their works in Woolwich, Callenders Cables of Erith were co-opted to increase the overall output.

For about two years, Frank Stone and his brothers, Albert and Ron, worked at Woolwich and Erith, making more than 500 joints at Siemens and more than 800 at Callenders. They worked 18-20 hour shifts, seven days a week, leadburning nearly all the joints that eventually made up the 11 pipelines laid between Dungeness and Boulogne (each of 32 nautical miles), and the two pipelines laid between Shanklin and Cherbourg, each of 70 nautical miles. The pipelines were ready by D-Day, but were not laid until after the French coastal area had been cleared of the enemy. The millions of gallons of fuel they supplied helped to ensure that the Allied armies could break out after D-Day. General Eisenhower described the Pluto project as "second in daring only to the artificial 'Mulberry' Harbours".

The Stones' work was so secret that they could not even tell their father - had the secret leaked, the cable works would have become prime targets for enemy aircraft. The secrecy also meant that the Stones' efforts went largely unrecognised; but the pipeline never failed in its operational life.

PLUTO, the WW2 Pipeline Under the Ocean, was designed to supply petrol from storage tanks in southern England to the advancing Allied armies in France in the months following D-Day.

In a very short time a continuous flow of fuel was up and running. It is estimated that between August 1944 and May 1945 PLUTO delivered over 172 million gallons to France. As the Allies moved inland, the pipeline was transferred from the Isle of Wight to Dungeness in Kent to shorten the supply route. PLUTO was the world’s first undersea oil pipeline and made a major contribution, not only to the Allied war effort, but also to subsequent pipeline development.

Pluto (Pipe Line Under The Ocean), which supplied the Allied armies with fuel for tanks, planes, and trucks.

The second of seven children, Frank William Stone was born at Brockley, south-east London, on November 19 1913. His father, William Stone, had founded the family ship and chemical plumbing business, W P Stone, in 1896. The firm became one of the first specialist leadburners in London.
Frank was educated at Addey and Stanhope Grammar School, Deptford, where he won prizes for art, then joined the family business as an apprentice in 1929, becoming a director in 1933.
At the outbreak of war, as members of a reserved occupation, Frank and his brothers were exempted from military service. Albert joined the Home Guard, and Frank and Ronald served as fire watchers. In addition to their work on Pluto, they manufactured hundreds of lead-lined tanks for the chemical and electroplating industries, carrying out maintenance site-work in chemical plants.
After the war, Frank became managing director of the family business, which remained involved in undersea cable work and, during the 1950s, went into making lead radiation protection equipment for hospital radiotherapy departments.

In 1957 Stone joined James Girdler, another lead specialist firm, based at Acton, as managing director. He built up the business, taking advantage of the increased demand for lead shielding in the nuclear industry and in specialist cancer hospitals. He also became involved in the production of diagnostic and therapeutic "phantoms" - simulacra of human bodies with real human skeletons inside. These were designed to avoid the use of human volunteers during the calibration of X-ray and radiation therapy machines.

Stone retired from James Girdler in 1978, though he remained a consultant to the firm for a further three years and continued to work as a freelance consultant to the cable industry until the age of 83. In 1987 he returned to Erith to leadburn nine joints for a high voltage supertension submarine cable to be laid across the Madura Straits, from Surabaya to Madura Island, Java, in Indonesia.
Frank Stone married, in 1939, Margaret Cassidy, converting to Roman Catholicism on his marriage. After the war, he joined the Knights of St Columba and was actively involved in homelessness projects in the capital. In 1967 he was awarded the papal medal Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice by Pope Paul VI for services to the Roman Catholic Church. In 1999 he was awarded the Inaugural Lifetime Achievement Award by the Lead Sheet Association.

Stone family grave near Brockley Road with a new headstone which recognises Frank’s contribution to the D-Day landings

(Source : Daily Telegraph Obituary 2004)