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Author’s Corner: A Q&A with Colin Baxter

Holly Viers • May 27, 2018 at 6:30 PM

For many years, history scholars have largely overlooked the story of RDX and its impact on World War II.

Recognizing the lack of awareness on the subject, former East Tennessee State University professor and current Kingsport resident Colin Baxter decided to take the matter into his own hands.

His recently released book, “The Secret History of RDX,” outlines the history and development of the powerful explosive and explains how it ultimately helped the Allies win the war.

What’s your background?

Originally from Harrow, England, Baxter eventually moved to the United States and attended Unicoi County High School for one year. From there, he received his bachelor’s degree from what was then known as East Tennessee State College.

He continued his collegiate education at the University of Georgia, where he earned his master’s and doctorate degrees. He went on to teach at Furman University before coming to ETSU, where he taught history for more than 35 years.

Now that he’s retired, Baxter has devoted much of his time over the last few years to researching RDX and its connection to East Tennessee.

“I had heard rumors and stories about what had happened here during WWII, but virtually no one else outside the area is familiar with the fantastic achievement of Holston Ordnance Works, and as one of my colleagues notes on the back (of the book), this is the only study on this subject,” Baxter said. “So it had to be written.”

Tell us more about the book and what it includes.

Baxter said the book documents the journey of RDX, a super-explosive, from conceptualization in England to mass production at Holston Ordnance Works in East Tennessee during the World War II era.

It also explores the explosive’s use in the bomber war over Germany, in the naval war in the Atlantic and as a key element in the trigger device of the atomic bomb.

Along with library archives and other historical texts, Baxter’s research included face-to-face interviews with people who were involved in RDX production. He said he learned many new and interesting things during his research, though one thing stands out.

“(There was) tremendous collaboration and cooperation between Britain, Canada and the United States,” Baxter said. “(Developing RDX) was a team effort, and it couldn’t have been done by one alone; it took their combined efforts. That was the most important thing I learned.”

Released earlier this month, the book was published by the University Press of Kentucky and is available for purchase on Amazon.

What’s next for you?

Baxter said he doesn’t plan to commit to any new writing projects in the near future. In the meantime, he hopes to get the word out about his new book by giving talks at local libraries and other groups.

“This isn’t the last word,” Baxter said. “No history book is, no history account is, but I think it will stir up more interest.”

Holly Viers is a general assignment reporter for the Kingsport Times News.

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