A royal location problem

Last week I came across an interesting location problem.  Location problems are all about deciding where to site one or more facilities or buildings to meet some specific criteria.  There are several mathematical models which are used to help with these problems, and countless books and articles have been written about them.  My PhD student, now Professor, Shams-ur Rahman, modelled the location of health facilities in Bangladesh; one of the constraints was political - each sub-district had to have the same number of health centres, even though this meant that the locations were sub-optimal on other criteria.

The problem that I encountered dates from the second world war.  What would happen to the British royal family if the country was invaded?  Where would they go?  The government had contingency plans for a last ditch conflict on British soil rather than surrender.  And for morale, the king and his family were to stay in the country as long as possible.  So, it was necessary to plan for a relocation of the government and leading civil servants to a new base, away from London.  With the king close by.

The decision had been taken secretly that the new centre of government would be in the West Midlands, specifically Worcestershire and  Warwickshire.  That area satisfied several criteria; it was away from the coast (and one assumed that an invasion would be by sea and land, rather than by air); there were good transport links from London (rail and road) and also to both Liverpool and Bristol, in case a further evacuation was needed; the BBC had a broadcasting centre at Evesham in Worcestershire; and there were no major cities close by which might be targets for bombers; there were RAF airfields and military training camps; the land was not mountainous.  Also, secretly decided, some of the royal family would be evacuated by sea to Canada if the country fell. 

So, where do we send the king?  He would need a mansion or country house.  It must be in the right area, especially for communication and (possibly) further evacuation.

Now come the extra constraints on the location problem.  First, how many alternative houses do we plan for?   It would be unfortunate if the chosen site was rendered unusable, either through a direct attack, or because of the route taken by the invasion.  What if two choices were unusable?  Having several alternatives means that the actual choice can be left to the last minute depending on circumstances.  And second, we assume that the enemy has made the same analysis of where the government of resistance would be based.  So, the chosen home for the royals must be one that is not immediately obvious to the enemy.  Here comes a bit of game theory.  Enemy and UK both think of obvious places.  Both reject these as "Too obvious".  Enemy and UK both think of less obvious places, and reject these.  Enemy and UK think of even less obvious places.  Now we have a list of - perhaps - twenty sites - and the UK makes a selection from these, including some of the obvious and less obvious ones.  It's a bit of bluff and double-bluff.

Croome Court
Tina and I were visiting Croome Court, in Worcestershire, last week.  Records found there show that it was one of five houses (so there is the number of alternatives) surveyed and provided with emergency food supplies in early 1940.  It is a small country house, close to the Bristol-Birmingham road and railway, and also close to the River Severn - which might (at a pinch) be used for a water-borne evacuation.  There was an RAF airfield nearby at Pershore.

The first choice for the alternative royal residence was Madresfield Court, about 5 miles away as the crow flies.  It wasn't necessary to use it for this purpose, but Croome Court was used by the Queen of the Netherlands and her government in exile. 

I wonder what the civil servants thought when they were given the instructions about this location problem?  You are to choose a number of country houses in Worcestershire and Warwickshire for the royal  family.  How many is up to you, but you must justify the cost.  You are to choose ones which are adequate, but not obvious to an enemy.  Then you are to survey them and provision them.   They didn't have the tools for location modelling that we take for granted.

So far, I have been unable to identify the other three possible houses; Google only turns up Madresfield. 


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