13 - Woodall-Duckham
 
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13 - Woodall-Duckham
13a - "Owdum" 1944
 

 

 

LIFE WITH WOODALL-DUCKHAM

In the summer of 1943, following the publication of University exam. results, I was summoned to appear before a Government Committee which would decide my future. There were two possibilities, either I continued a military career, or I went into Industry. As my military history had been slightly more creditable than my academic one, I expected to go on to an O.C.T.U. with a view to being commissioned. However, the Committee thought otherwise and I was instructed to put my chemical engineering qualifications to good use. The Woodall-Duckham Vertical Retort and Oven Construction Company, then with its headquarters at Guildford, was one suggestion made, together with one or two Companies in the Midlands.

One of the latter was favoured by my Father and he offered to 'use his influence'. This would, of course have kept me in the Midlands and I would have been expected to continue living at home. As one of my principal desires by this time was to get away from home, I resisted this, particularly as I doubted whether his 'influence' would count for as much as he imagined it would.

It is incredible how much pressure and emotional blackmail my parents applied to keeping me at home. From this distance in time, I wish I could know the thinking which went on behind all this. They never seemed to realise that the harder they tried, the harder they made it for me to comply.

I MEET HORACE.

Eventually I was called by W-D for interview at Guildford, then their wartime H.Q., with 'our Mr. H. Kerr, Chief Operating Engineer'. After a journey from Stourbridge via Paddington and Waterloo, sampling the delights of the Southern Railway en route, I was ushered into the presence of one Horace Kerr (pron. Car), who was later to be referred to as 'Horace' - but not to his face. Henry Read, of ever-hallowed memory and of whom more anon, was wont to refer to him as 'Horace Horsecollar' after a Disney cartoon character, but the resemblance was slight.

Horace was a well Brylcreemed, dapper man with rimless pince-nez and an unbending manner. His favourite opening gambit was 'Quite candidly' especially when expressing disapproval. This was designed to suggest that he hated upsetting you by being quite candid, but had to do so out of a sense of duty. Occasionally he would make a studied effort to unbend which made him appear rather pathetic. As one Operator later said, "'When Maurice Wadsworth tells you a dirty story, you roll on the floor laughing; when Horace tells you the same story you want to go out and be sick!' That says much.

Horace, I understood, had once been on the 'Outside Staff'. This was difficult to imagine since his sartorial and brylcreemed elegance, his bowler hat and Crombie overcoat, and nose adorned with pince-nez did not seem to match up with coke dust and 'Operators' Sweat' which was rumoured to be worth a guinea a box.

It was told that one day Maurice Wadsworth, whose style and appearance differed from Horace in subtle ways, was being hauled over the coals by Horace for complaining about conditions. Horace was explaining that in his time on the outside staff, things were much worse. He had to be on the job at six in the morning, rarely finished before ten at night, had no time for lunch, got covered with dust and sweat every long hour of the day and got a week-end leave only every three months etc. etc.

Maurice waited for him to finish. "Did you like it, sir?' he asked.

Horace later became a director of the company, but as a junior director had an over-zealous urge to ensure that that his department should be an economic unit. He thought that the way to do this was to try and run his department on a shoe-string. Consequently the spending of every penny by his staff was subject to Horace's intense scrutiny. You were trusted with not blowing up or melting down the plant and with the safety of operatives, but a claim for one extra torch battery or postage stamp caused Horace 'surprise and disappointment.'

Because of this, outside operators were often deprived of facilities which other departments took for granted and were accordingly thought of as the 'poor relation' Dept., being treated as such by some Construction Dept staff.

On a later occasion when I had achieved a degree of seniority and had suffered some ridiculous reprimand ("I am surprised and disappointed ......") I had the temerity to tell him this. He didn't like it.

I did not, of course, know about all this at the time of my first interview to which we now return.

Having been advised by Mr. Harold R. Perks, who had preceded me in a similar interview by twelve months, that I must convince Horace that my one aim in life, apart perhaps, from entering heaven at a later stage, was to enter the service of the Woodall-Duckham Company, I was offered a job as a potential Junior Operator. I was then taken to see T.C. Finlayson the Technical Director and sent home to await developments. My starting salary was to be 250 per annum. I was bound by oath never, ever, to reveal this princely sum to anyone on pain of undisclosed but terrible punishment.

At the station on my way home I ran into Willie Gardiner who had just retired as Technical Director and by some means we got into conversation as far as the parting of our ways at Effingham Junction. I wished that I had known him earlier.

I START AT SALTLEY.

Soon there arrived a letter commanding me to report to 'our Mr. F. C. Wagg at Saltley Gasworks Birmingham on Monday September 3rd. 1943 at 9.a.m.,

This was a little disappointing as I had hoped and expected to be sent to some far flung outpost such as Penzance, Edinburgh or even Warrington as my first job.

However, I took the train to Snow Hill, followed by a Washwood Heath tram from Dale End and duly presented myself at the gatehouse of Saltley gasworks as instructed. There I met the gateman, a cheerful little character in a brown 'cow-gown' and a 'flat-at'. On enquiring for Mr. Wagg of Woodall Duckham, I was a little non-plussed when the gateman grinned broadly and said, "Yo' won't see 'im yet!" On my pressing to know when I would be likely to see him, the answer came. "Wednesday if yo 'm lucky."

As there was a war on and everyone was being exhorted by authority to work themselves to the limit, I, in my innocence, considered this to be rather odd. I was, however directed to a small village of shacks, one of which was the abode of the 'Carbonisers'. This title was apparently the former name for Operating Engineers, most of whom of the older generation had no engineering qualifications.

Operations, in Freddie Wagg's absence, were under the supervision of one Roland Law who came from Marple in Cheshire. Adjoining this shack was a larger and more luxurious set of shacks from which operated the Construction Engineer, one Johnnie Downs, son of J. H. Downs, the Company's Chief Construction Engineer. Obviously nepotism was permitted. Johnnie was capably served by his secretary Dot Read, whose husband Henry looms large in later narrative. There was also an assortment of foremen, including one Fred Atkin, an 'ironfighter', whose appearance suggested that he might have been knocked up quickly by Frankenstein as a rough prototype before hitting on the formula for a better-looking one. Someone else once described Fred's face as "having been roughly chiselled out of a lump of solidified porridge".

Fred's never appearing as a sartorial model in the 'Tailor and Cutter' was something on which limitless money could safely be placed. I believe it was Fred who, when asked in a pub in some part of the country whether he wanted a 'can' or a 'jar' of beer, this local usage for a half or a pint being unknown to him, replied with genteel diplomacy, "Yo' con gi'e it us in a bucket if yo'm a-minded - we'll get it out!" Fred Atkin was one of the industrial hazards for which a University training had left one a little ill-prepared.

After a day or two under the tutelage of Roland Law, a form arrived for me from Head Office, enquiring about some of my personal details. Law very kindly volunteered to help me fill it in. Putting aside a slight resentment at the presumption of my illiteracy, I suffered this assistance.

Towards the end was the question, "State any technical or academic qualifications". Law looked down his nose and said, "Of course you won't have any of those yet will you!" So it was with great glee that I was able to say, "Well, only an honours degree as yet." As he hadn't, it was a moment to be cherished.

On the following Wednesday morning Freddie Wagg turned up. Fred was an elegant man, somewhat below average stature, who has been a good friend over the years. He was in such sharp contrast to the abundance of Fred Atkin types at Saltley that it was difficult to imagine him 'sweating his guts out'. I later discovered that he usually avoided having to do that by getting someone else to do it while he stood by in his white coat. This he did with such aplomb and bonhomie that even if one felt exploited, no offence was taken. It was a valuable lesson and example of good management, emulated on suitable occasions in the years that followed.

ON NIGHTS.

It seemed to be the curious policy of the Company to put the most junior operator on the night shift. This seemed to me to be a little odd, since the extension of Murphy's Law dictates that if something is going to go wrong, it will happen at some ungodly hour in the middle of the night, and most likely a Saturday night.

To leave the least experienced man to deal with the problem at such an hour seemed to be a policy fraught with danger. One realised later that this policy was to enable the senior man to arrive next morning to a scene of chaos, and to restore order within the hour - thus collecting a great deal of kudos. Another valuable lesson!

Having been shown the three million (approx) inspection points, known as 'U', 'T' and 'V' boxes in descending order of size, at each of which I was expected to take temperatures every hour or so to give me something to do, I was put on night shift on the three benches of 'Lambent' retorts at Saltley.

One rapidly learnt of what Maurice Wadsworth, of hallowed memory, was later to call 'The Graphite Method' of temperature taking. This method provided a certain economy of effort and resulting sweat. It worked like this.

If the temperature of the third pass of the 'B' side of retort No. 21 was 1360C at 12 midnight, and 1340 at 4.a.m. it was reasonable to suppose that at 2.a.m. it would be something between the two. It was possible by extrapolation to apply this principle to both axes of the temperature sheet both spatially and temporally.

The term 'Lambent' was a curious one to find applied to gas retorts. The word derives from the Latin lambere which means 'to lick'.

The heating gases 'licked' their way along horizontal flues instead of belting their way up or down vertical flues. It seemed to be a reasonable idea, but a dearth of classicists in the Company made one query the provenance. I had a theory at the time that Freddie Wagg had invented the term when he was the owner of Lambourn gas works in the hope of financial advantages but it could not be proved.

One of the main fears on night shift was that a retort would become 'hung up', i.e. the flow of coal which, in 'continuous vertical retorts' should have been continuous, became gridlocked. On enquiring from Mr. Wagg what should be done if this happened, I was told, "Get the stoker to rod it." Since, by the time one became aware of the problem, said stoker had probably been rodding his guts out for at least the past hour, it was both wise and diplomatic not to take this advice too literally. There were those who, being insensitive to this diplomacy, had been threatened with having the "b****y rod wrapped round yer b****y neck".

One learnt that there were few emergencies which could not be left until next morning to be summarily dealt with by one's superior who would then be in a good mood, having taken the credit.

I do recall Freddie Wagg's being summoned away from perusal of the Financial Times to deal with a small problem 'up on the bench'. The stoker, a black man with the proportions of Mike Tyson, explained to Fred what the trouble was and what he had done about it. Fred, about foot and a half shorter, looked up at him with a grin and said, "You've been a silly bugger haven't you!" I expected murder to be done. Instead the stoker grinned sheepishly, revealing the biggest set of white teeth I had then encountered, and all was well. Fifty years later, a friend said to me, "My old headmaster used to say, "Never call a man a fool. You can call him a bloody fool, but that's different." How true!

Being the new boy, I was naturally a little anxious about my performance and prospects. There was, however on that 'job' another operator named Jack Baker. It was with some satisfaction that I soon realised that Jack did very little, and that I did more. The logic was that if the firm kept Jack on the strength, then I must be safe. This illusion was soon shattered however when Jack got the sack.

OFF WE GO!

After a month or two at Saltley, it was decided, quite erroneously, that I was fit to be let out on my own and I was sent to Melton Mowbray to 'put to work' a couple of 44" retorts which had been rebuilt The risk which the firm took in doing this is truly amazing. Melton Mowbray bore little similarity to Saltley and I had not yet seen any plant heated up, lit up or 'put to work'. So, armed with a 'black book' of instructions, an 'Operators Box' containing a few tools and overalls and little else, I was let loose upon the world. Freddie Wagg visited once a week, but otherwise I was left to put my own interpretations on the instruction book, thereby illustrating the axiom that it is not what you write that matters, but what the reader understands from what you have written. There is sometimes a wide gap. Looking back on that job, I can only say, "Had the Lord not been on my side ......"

DIGS.

At Melton I was spared the trauma associated with subsequent moves in that I did not have to 'look for digs'. The Gas Company Management had 'fixed me up ' with a family who lived in a terrace house in Charlotte Street. It was within walking distance of the works; I had a room of my own, three meals a day and my laundry done, all for 30/- a week. In the ' digs' also was an R.A.F. barber which meant free haircuts. One member of the family was the landlady's old uncle, called 'Unc' who sat by the fireplace and talked. He was in the habit of having a large firebrick put in the range oven after 'tea'. When it was bedtime, he would extract this, wrap it in a blanket and take it to bed with him. I was given to understand that this brick, a few days before my arrival, had been accidentally broken. The gasworks, being a potential source of firebricks!

I am still unsure whether this was a strange coincidence or whether I had been 'used'. Still, at 30 bob a week .... !

The works staff at Melton Mowbray consisted of a Manager whose name I forget, and a works foreman named Albert whose conversation usually began with the words, 'Ye caaan't do that!" If he meant "You shouldn't do it that way", he was probably right, but I knew no other.

The W-D construction staff at Melton comprised a Resident Engineer, Haydn Thomas, who in spite of his name came neither from Vienna nor Ton-y-Pandy, but from Ilkeston. There was also a Bricklayer Foreman named Norman, a labourer and Harry Tune. It seemed to be a rather 'top-heavy' arrangement.

Harry was a pipe fitter, but was distinguished by his up-market lifestyle, He had a clean white overall every day, always travelled first class, and when off duty in his wide-brimmed hat and silk handkerchief, looked like a prosperous bookie. (Is there any other sort?)

He had his own seat in the corner at the George Hotel and his little coterie of drinking friends who sat at his feet. Once I dropped in to the George for a swift pint after a night inspection at the works, and as I was looking somewhat scruffy, was acknowledged by Harry, but with a patronising air which was wondrous to behold. His pals were probably told that I was 'his' 'carboniser'.

Melton Mowbray boasted a cattle market. The legend had it that one of our staff, Reg. Nicklin I believe, had once been held up in an open car, of which he was a proud owner, at the gates of the market. Unfortunately a cattle truck had also been held up alongside him. One of the cattle sensed an urge for evacuation, and over the side of the truck, had deposited its load in our man's lap. He had not enjoyed the experience. It might have been more apt had this happened to 'Pat' Grealey!

"HIGH HEID YINS"

(This is a Glaswegian term for those in authority)

One soon became aware that in the chain of command of the Woodall-Duckham Company there were shining ones somewhere between Horace's sublimity and us lesser mortals. These were known as Group Engineers. There were at the time three of them, Percy Molland, Bert Cottrell and Ron Colles. Three more contrasting personalities one could not hope to meet on the proverbial summer's day.

Their function seemed to be to travel round the country to 'see how things were going', but were always in the office on Monday to read your weekly report. Woe betide you if this was not posted in time.

WEEKLY REPORTS.

There was almost a standard 'form' for this report which usually started, 'I thank you for your letter of ..... (last week), and note your remarks. Temperatures and expansions during the week have been satisfactory, and details are attached.....

After this the object was to tell the truth, nothing but the truth, but not necessarily the whole truth, knowing that after perusal by the relevant Group Engineer, your report would find its way into Horace's office to be thoroughly nit-picked. From time to time a dreaded OP/HK letter would arrive which started with the inevitable, "I am surprised and disappointed....." and concluded with "Quite candidly....." This was usually because you'd charged for an extra 1d stamp on the petty cash.

One was issued with a duplicate book, alternate leaves having the Company's heading, and containing one sheet of poor quality carbon paper which lasted at least a quarter of the way through the book. In this one wrote the weekly report, sending off the top copy and retaining the carbon copy in case your report was misunderstood - a not infrequent occurrence. Eric Walton was known to complain that the 'silly b*****s in head office' should know that when he wrote 'up', he really meant 'down' and so on.

In time one scrounged, begged, borrowed or even bought second-hand, a typewriter. Such elaborate equipment was probably frowned-on initially by Horace since it cost money. Eventually the time saved at Head Office on Mondays by not having to decipher a variety of illegible handwriting became apparent and a blind eye was turned to this extravagance. Mind you, some of the typing was almost as illegible - but not quite.

One learnt, in time, to keep all OP/HK letters. I was gratified once to be able to reply to a 'surprised and disappointed' letter by pointing out that I had merely been acting in accordance with letter Ref: OP/HK of two years previously. It was one of those rare, sweet moments.

The first Group Engineer I encountered was Percy Molland (OP/PCM). He had visited at Saltley, but apart from a desultory, "Well, how are you getting on?'' followed by the formal reply, we had no conversation, Percy then having other things to do than consort with juniors.

Percy had oversight too of Melton and so came to see me. He was of London origin and had always lived there, and travel-wise was MetroCentric'. To get from London to anywhere was no problem, but to get from, say, Bradford to Liverpool needed some intense research and concentration. He once confessed that he could never understand Bradshaw's Railway Guide as the only one which was of use to him was the London A.B.C. Someone warned me that 'Percy will arrive on the job, shut his right eye, focus his left on a point on the horizon, and begin to talk. Fifteen minutes later.....!

Percy was a pleasant character, but sometimes a little distant. In later years he took as his holiday a coach tour of the Black Forest. On his return he expressed his satisfaction based on the fact that there was no need to understand German as the courier spoke English, and that there was no difficulty with the food as fish and chips were always available. With Percy I first encountered the Londoner's difficulty in distinguishing between 'Law' and 'Lore'.

Bert Cottrell was a stocky man slightly resembling Bob Monkhouse but with a small moustache and an engaging grin which was as sincere as that of Bob Monkhouse. He was christened 'The Gold-Brick Salesman' by one Frank Norrie, a Scot with a dour and jaundiced outlook.

Bert's solution to many a problem which you brought to him was, in effect, "You do what you think best, old boy, but if its something I might find difficult to explain, make sure I don't find out!" I have since met Bishops of the Church of England who have the same simplistic attitude. He had the happy knack of making you feel important and responsible, and it was only after beer and lunch that you realised that he had 'done it again'. 'The Buck' tended to shy off Bert.

Ron Colles I did not encounter until later in my W-D career as he tended to be concerned with works in the eastern counties and the east of Scotland, both then being 'Indian Country' to me - but things were to change.

BACK TO BRUM

After managing to get away with the commissioning of Melton Mowbray without explosion or dismissal - or both, I was given a short spell back in the Birmingham Area. A nodding acquaintance with Nechells and Windsor Steet was followed by some weeks at Swan Village where I made the acquaintance of a further delightful mixture of the characters who made up the W-D staff. Alex White was the Construction Engineer, with a slouch hat, an Austin Ten and a pipe. Alex's contribution to my eventual welfare was a tip he gave me to get a provisional driving licence. The war was still on, and only provisional licences were being issued. At the end of the war, if you had held a provisional for a certain period, you were exempted from taking a driving test. Alex's advice in 1944 ensured that when I did eventually come to drive, three lessons, a trip round a works in a mobile crane, and a session on the 'dodgems' at Cleethorpes ensured my getting a permanent licence. Unkind acquaintances have been known, on being told this, to remark that it explains a lot.

"SID"

Alex, the Construction Rep. was unusually but totally eclipsed in personality by the formidable Senior Operator, Sid Branson. Sid was almost a legend with the Company, having been taken on, I believe, by Sir Arthur Duckham in the early days of the firm when it had provided a viable alternative to the French Foreign Legion to those who had been disillusioned by civilised life.

Among these were, also legendary, Willie Bennett, Steve Burrows and Jack Fish. Willie and Steve I never met, but Jack turned up once at Croydon.

Sid was a stocky character with round red face and with black hair which provided him with a permanent 'five-o'clock shadow. His alter ego was Frank Norrie, a dour Scot, mentioned elsewhere, with whom he had a love-hate relationship. This, if stimulated, could produce some interesting results.

Much later, Don. Gold 'innocently' interrupting Frank's holding forth on his relationship with Sid, said, "Frank, is Mr. Branson a B.Sc.?" Without pause for thought came the answer, "Aye, he's a B***** Stupid C***!"

Sid was interested in the Scout movement, and had once been to a Jamboree in Holland where leaders were given noms de guerre.

The one allocated to Sid was 'The Black Bear'. This was so apt that it stuck, and was thoroughly exploited by Frank who could work an incredible amount of withering scorn into his pronunciation of 'The Bearrrrrr'.

Sid lived at Shirley, a suburb of Birmingham, and his telephone number in those days of dials with letters and numbers was 'SHI 20591. Somebody, probably Frank, discovered that on the telephone dial this was exactly the same as 'PIG BODY'. Due capital was made out of this piece of serendipity.

Although there were no official Area Engineers at that time, it was generally acknowledged that Sid was 'in charge' in the Birmingham Area. Another of his minions was Pat Grealey who originated in Kidderminster and this was betrayed by a weather-beaten countenance and vowels rather broader than those normally encountered in 'Brum.'

SCIENTIFIC INSTRUMENTS.

I think that it was Sid who introduced me to the fact that inspection box covers could best be removed by using a small pair of 'footprints' which became my Operator's vade mecum thereafter, together with chalk, notebook, torch, ruler and gloves. Horace even seemed to permit the (infrequent) renewal of these essentials on Petty Cash. Before going out 'on the job', Sid would ensure that the entrance of coke dust to his collar could be restricted by pinning round his neck a triangular bandage filched from a first aid box. This, too was a useful tip. Of course, our most used tool was the D.F.P. (Disappearing Filament Pyrometer). These tended to vary a little in the accuracy of the information they provided. Sid was expert in selecting the instrument which agreed with the estimate he had already arrived at, unaided by instruments, to prepare his weekly report.

Damper hooks were essential equipment. There seemed to be some deficiency on the part of our drawing office in that these were rarely, like army boots, the right size when supplied. Usually some modifications had to be carried out by the client's blacksmith. Neither were they calibrated, measurements being made by chalk marks checked with a ruler. In Mr. Branson's domain, where the unit of measurement was often 'a gnat's cock', the accuracy of chalk and ruler seemed inadequate.

Another essential tool was the 'Expansion Rod' We were expected to measure the vertical expansion of the brickwork daily when 'warming up a job'. This was done by measuring between the top of the brickwork and the coal bunker joists using two lengths of wood, on one of which was nailed a school ruler and on the other a datum mark. One would have thought that in so large an organisation as W-D, and with the implied importance of expansion readings, that such a simple measuring instrument would have been sent to, or provided on, the site without question, but no, one usually had to grovel either to the Construction Engineer or to the client's carpenter to get one made.

The 'Black Book' of instructions said that the Operator should, during his initial inspection. check that the 'buckstays' were vertical and unbowed, and that during the warming-up period these should be checked frequently. This involved putting up piano wire datum lines. Construction engineers regarded this as a gross insult to their competence and so added to tension between departments. As the acquisition of piano wire and the labour involved in setting it up came under their jurisdiction and added to their costs, we were on a loser from the beginning. Never in my own experience was this instruction carried out and except in one or two unusual circumstances did I ever hear of it being done. Certainly I never had a 'surprised and disappointed' letter for not having done it.

"ON CONSTRUCTION" - "'OWD'UM"

After some months in the Birmingham area, the wise ones decided that I should be given 'further experience', and this was to take the form of the dreaded penal servitude of 'going on construction'. This was to take place at Oldham. It was on a miserable frosty, foggy day that I took train from Birmingham to Manchester. Arriving at what was then London Road Station, I staggered with my luggage to Victoria Station, truly a Victorian building, blackened as was most of Manchester, with the smoke of countless 'dark satanic mills' which were then active, as well as the smoke of countless chimneys of satanic slum dwellings.

The train from Victoria was a non-corridor type typical of steam-hauled suburban trains of the time, and smelt of soot and dirty overalls - among other things.

At that time there were three railway stations at Oldham. 'Werneth', according to the map, was on the Manchester side. The next was 'Central', followed by the unlikely named 'Mumps'. The last name I had hitherto in my innocence, associated only with a ghastly disease of childhood.

Applying a certain native logic, I assumed that a 'Central' station would deposit me in the centre of the town. I had reckoned without Lancashire b***** mindedness.

Accordingly, one bitterly cold day - March 3rd. 1944 - I found myself humping a full pack up a steep hill paved with large limestone cobbles, towards the town. I had no idea of the whereabouts of the gasworks where I had been told to report to 'our Mr. Phillips'. In the town I managed to find the showrooms of the Oldham Corporation Gas Department, where I was told that the works was in 'Igginsha' (Higginshaw) lane, and which bus to take.

After a journey past several "Dark Satanic Mills" and, incidentally, past Mumps Station, I was deposited outside the gate of 'Igginsha' Gas Works. Very near to the works was Royton Junction station at which my train would have stopped. Nobody told you those things!

I was directed to Duckham's' cabin where I found 'our Mr. Phillips'. He came from Buckhurst Hill in Essex. I cannot remember his first name(s). Certainly he was never addressed by them. He was a tall, lean character with carotty hair and a long neck. The skin of his face and neck, as is the case with many who have his colouring, was blotchy. One was put in mind of a somewhat over-ripe giraffe.

I shall never know the hidden agenda which led to my being sent to Oldham 'on Construction'. I was given the impression that it was to learn something of the civil engineering and site administration side of the business. It seems that if this was the reason it had either been inadequately communicated to 'our Mr. Phillips', or that he chose to ignore it. On my arrival at the Oldham site office, Phillips was 'out on the job', and I was greeted by some minion with, "You must be the new timekeeper".

I gathered that my reason for being at Oldham was, in fact, to act as timekeeper and wages clerk for the contract. Having been with the firm only about seven months, I was in no position to query this, much less to complain. The fact that the men on the job referred to me as the 'timekeeper' shows that they had been warned of my coming in those terms. I found also to my consternation that I was expected to be on the job by 7.15.a.m. ready to 'check the men in' at 7.30.a.m.. This was done by being at the office hut door with a box and accepting a numbered brass token from each man as he arrived. If any were late, the matter was referred to the appropriate foreman who would knock a quarter or half hour off the latecomer's pay according to how late he was. The tokens were then placed on a hooked board and collected at 'knocking-off' time.

For most of the rest of the time I was engaged in compiling a wages sheet, a double foolscap record which had to be made out in triplicate with carbon paper. Since computerisation, the whole thing could probably be done in about ten minutes, but then it was done by 'long-hand', not even with an adding machine, and took most of the week.

As the rate of pay was different for different trades and grades, close attention and high accuracy were required. Concentration was not facilitated by there being a diesel compressor just outside the office window. My ability to add up long columns of figures in the presence of an intermittent racket was certainly improved, but I began to wonder whether being shot whilst in uniform might have been better.

I cannot remember Phillips ever offering me anything resembling tuition in the mysteries of 'construction'. The foremen on the job were Fred Baguley from Watchet who was the 'Navvy Ganger', Fred Garstang, the bricklayer foreman and Ernie Lammiman who, I believe, came from the North East. Ernie had worked for Dorman Long, had been involved in the construction of the Tyne Bridge at Newcastle and, I believe, the Sydney Harbour bridge. 'Lammiman' is a difficult name to write in cursive script - try it and see. What little I picked up about 'Construction' was thanks to chats with these and to watching what was done.

One incident which I remember was being sent out on my bike to pick up some riveting dollies from some firm in Ashton-under-Lyne. It made a change.

One employee at Oldham was the inevitable 'tea-boy' who, as on most jobs had passed his boyhood half a century before. Ours was a little man named Penrose who appeared every morning with a jug of water and a broom. He would take some water in his mouth and produce from it a fine spray which laid some of the dust on the floor. He would then sweep up. In spite of his precautions, some of the dust inevitably rose from the floor, to be deposited on the desks, but some sort of equilibrium was maintained.

After a while Phillips would say to me, "Do you think you could rustle up some Penrosian balm? This involved a trip to the mess-room and the location of Penrose, who soon after would appear with a jug of tea.

Having been brought up with certain ideas about hygiene it took a little effort on my part to get used to 'Penrosian Balm' and the conditions under which it was dispensed.

On Thursday mornings, Phillips would go to the bank with one of the foremen as escort to collect the wages. On his return we made up the pay packets ready for distribution later in the day. From this ritual I made some interesting discoveries. Men who in other respects appeared to be innumerate to the extent of not knowing whether 2+2 made 4 or 3, knew exactly how much they should receive for 56 hours at 2/1 d. They could also calculate instantly how much they should receive when a horse they had backed at 11-4 came in third. As I was lacking in these skills and made the odd mistake on the wages list, I came in for some 'flak' from time to time. I also discovered that the working man's idea of economics was that somewhere in London, presided over by 'Head Office', was a large vault full of money which rightly belonged to 'the workers'. Between them and their rights was a chain of protective measures culminating in Mr. Phillips and ultimately, myself. Since that experience, I'm afraid that my understanding of socialism and 'workers rights' has been, shall we say, a little 'coloured'. Much later, at Edinburgh, I was chatting to one of the 'men' who asked about the cost of the work we were doing. He expressed surprise when I told him that it would be something of the order of 70,000 - a lot of money in those days. "Who pays for it then, Mr. Green?' he asked. "You do - every time you put a shilling in the gas meter" I replied. His astonishment showed that until then he had had no idea of the connection.

OLDHAM DIGS.

My first couple of nights at Oldham were spent in some dingy hotel near Mumps Bridge. Oldham was not the sort of town to attract much in the way of a tourist trade, especially with a war on, so accommodation was limited and used mostly by commercial travellers. Horace's economic policy limited hotel living to an absolute minimum required to avoid sleeping rough. Furthermore, few hotels, even in Oldham, could be expected to cater with breakfast for those who had to be on the job at 7.15.a.m. so I could not start as 'timekeeper' until I had obtained some digs.

Fortunately, some remote connection had given me an introduction to Will and Claire Coller who lived at 331 Park Road. Park Road was, for Oldham, rather 'up-market'. It was still terraced housing, interspersed with 'ginnals' and each house had its miniscule back yard, but Park Road houses also had miniature front gardens, about six feet by four on which a few miserable plants sometimes were allowed to struggle for existence, and by which the house was separated from the pavement. The inevitable brush-grained front door was topped by a small window of stained glass.

It was the custom in Lancashire towns for the women to be inordinately proud of their front doorsteps, which if not cleaned and raddled, betrayed idleness and called for censure. In Oldham this tradition extended also to pavement corresponding with the house's frontage. It was said in other parts that the Oldham women would black-lead the tramlines, given a chance.

Will Coller was headmaster of a local school and was well known in the town. The Collers were childless and, I think, welcomed the opportunity of doing a bit of parenting with a young man who had got beyond the nappy changing stage. Next door lived an elderly Miss Sharples with whom lodged a Miss Berry who was 'Provision of Meals' Officer for the local education authority.

I think that these two spinster ladies also welcomed my advent. Almost inevitably when the Collers were out and I was in, there would come a knock at the door and there would be Miss Sharples with a problem involving some domestic appliance. "Would you come round and have a look at it ...?"

Later, having satisfied themselves of my credentials, the Collers took to inviting me to accompany them to various functions in the town. I once went with them to a Mayor's reception! I also got to know several of their personal friends, including the Harrisons, Marjorie being a 'character' who would have made a hit in Coronation Street, and her husband a wholesale jeweller who got me an engagement ring at trade price.

This association with the 'upper echelons' of the town was such a complete contrast to life on the works. I think it saved my sanity.

The main problem at Park Road was the wartime shortage of fuel, which meant that the kitchen range was the only source of heat, except on Sunday evenings when a fire was put in the front sitting room. Meals were consequently eaten in the kitchen. which was the only habitable room. Privacy was rather lacking. My bedroom was quite large and was above the normally unheated sitting room. Oldham is nearly 1000 ft. above sea level at 'Bottom o't Moor' (That was the actual name of the main road in the Mumps area!) and March 1944 was very cold. Whereas there was the rare luxury of a wash-basin in my room, removing enough clothing to facilitate a degree of cleanliness called for a tremendous effort of will, but essential when you had had a day at 'Igginsha'. A hot bath was only available once a week, and for the same reasons.

From Park Road to the works involved using a 'Circular' Bus, which I soon discovered was the same shape as the others, and changing at Mumps. I soon managed to get my bike to Oldham and thereafter used it for transport. As most of Lancashire then had cobbled streets, the bike took some hammering and the tramlines were a great hazard in wet weather, but I, and the bike, survived.

Characteristic of Oldham, and indeed of much of Lancs, but which I found strange, were some of the 'catering establishments' in the town. Tripe was a favourite local dish, together with chitterlings and 'cow-heel pie'. These delicacies could be obtained from tripe shops, some of which had been upgraded to restaurants under the name of 'U.C.P.' Consumption could be on or off the premises, and if the former, you sat on a bench at a marble slab table. If you wanted a 'take-away', you had it in the basin you had brought with you. Packaging was not over-done in war-time.

'U.C.P.' seemed fairly innocuous until you found out that 'U.C.P' meant 'United Cattle Products'. Somehow the thrills of the abattoir seemed uncomfortably close to the cuisine.

Other establishments were the 'temperance bars', places of minimal comfort in which could be purchased 'Dandelion and Burdock', 'Sarsparilla' and other exotic drinks of doubtful provenance, by the bottle or the glass. One suspected that 'Deadly Nightshade' was kept under the counter for stroppy customers.

Higher on the luxury scale were 'Yates' Wine Lodges' where a hot blackcurrant laced with rum could be appreciated when it was ten below outside, which it often seemed to be.

STOCKPORT.

After I had been at Oldham for a few months Arthur Newton, the Construction Rep. at Stockport went off sick. In view of the 'vast experience' which I had then obtained both in civil engineering and in site administration, I was despatched to Stockport to 'take over' - temporarily of course, under the supervision of one W. C. Higgs (Billy) who was a senior Rep. stationed at Bradford Road Manchester. His supervision seemed to be limited to a weekly visit to ensure that beer was consumed, chaos was not rampant, and that embezzlement was not carried out on too big a scale. My move was an early example of the opportunism which pervaded the contracting industry and of which one learnt to take fullest advantage.

I accordingly took train from Oldham, and arrived at Portwood Road Gasworks Stockport. This lay in the shadow of the cooling tower of the adjoining Power Station and the condensation from this tower helped to lay the gasworks dust and to keep the tramlines permanently wet.

At that time, each town of any size had its gasworks, and the proud borough councils of the north-west boasted their own transport, police and gas departments. The heads of these were very proud of themselves, usually being 'self-made' men. The head of the gasworks was the manager, Tommy Reynolds, whose office was the best and largest in the characteristically ornate Victorian office block. I was introduced to him, but obviously he considered me to be of 'minion' status so I was thereafter ignored.

The emergence of Tommy from this office was treated by all as a sort of 'G.O.C's inspection'. He would emerge wearing a de rigeur bowler hat and white dust coat. The distinctive uniforms at Stockport enabled one at least to know the 'rank' of the person you were dealing with. The Assistant Manager named Holland wore a brown dust coat and a trilby hat. Laboratory staff wore white dust coats, usually stained with gunge but with no hat, or else a cap. Foremen wore brown dust coats and caps. Stokers wore blue overalls, carpenters brown overalls - and so on. I must have caused endless confusion by wearing practically all of these outfits except the bowler hat - according to which job I was doing.

A "MONSTROUS REGIMENT OF WOMEN"? HARDLY!

I found that my ignorance of construction details was no problem since construction work was in the capable hands of one or two senior foremen. The bricklayer foreman was one Stan Horton, a small cheerful character who lived locally at Hazelgrove and who had a nubile daughter, Nadine. She was known universally as 'Duckie Horton' and worked as Billy Higgs' clerk at Bradford Road. I discovered also that I had inherited from Arthur Newton a female clerk whose name I forget. This was the first time with W-D that I had encountered female staff. In fact any female on a gasworks was usually strictly confined to office premises or the canteen.

CASH IN TRANSIT.

My principal function appeared to be to ensure that wages were paid to men on the Stockport contract and also those at Rochdale, Hyde and Whaley Bridge which was just over the border in Derbyshire.

This meant that each week there was a considerable 'pay roll'. After collecting the money, I would distribute it to the various works, and having no car, had to carry it in an attach case on buses or trams, or even in the saddle bag of my bike!

The tramway system which passed the works was used by the red and white Stockport Corporation trams, but also by some green ones which bore the legend 'S.H.M.D. Joint Board'. Enquiry revealed that these belonged to the 'Stalybridge, Hyde, Mossley and Dukinfield Joint Transport Board' The vehicles were not long enough to get all that on! None of the four municipalities mentioned could justify their own tram system so they pooled resources - one of the rare cases of municipal cooperation in that part of the world.

The vehicles were of the open fronted type, giving little or no protection to the driver. Communication between him and the conductor was by way of a cord which passed through various eye-bolts before triggering a bell above the driver's head. This cord had, inevitably, either frayed or had been gnawed through several times and mended with bits of string, old shoelaces, or whatever came to hand. Their only merit in my eyes was that they could take me to Hyde works when it was too wet for the bike - it often was.

At that time the thought of a possible 'mugging' did not occur. On one occasion I had reason to collect the money the 'day before' and took it back to my digs at Oldham, putting it under the bed overnight. Mrs. Coller later found out about this and made me promise never to do such a thing again. "I wouldn't have slept a wink all night etc."

HIGH FINANCE.

At Oldham, and more particularly at Stockport, I encountered the 'sub' system for the first time. Having received his wages on a Thursday, a man could end up 'broke' by the following Monday and therefore needed a 'sub' - a loan on his expectations. Wages were paid in arrear so he could have an amount up to what he had already earned. One poor soul did this every week. Having been brought up in rather different circles I had to adjust to the fact that there were those whose financial acumen was limited if not non-existent.

One success I had whilst on construction at Stockport concerned our squad of steel erectors - 'iron-fighters'. There were twelve of them, six of whom were Irish and therefore not constrained by the threat of military service. Their leader was Jeremiah O'Mahoney - a tough baby if ever there was one. I rather suspect that they had come over to try and cash in on the war effort without making much effort. Costs for steel erection were soaring, so in collusion with the foreman, I applied to the National Service Officer for their 'release'. This was granted. The next week the steel erection costs went down, since more was done by the remaining half of the gang who were constrained by the threat of military service.

"ERIC" - OR LITTLE BY LITTLE.

After some weeks at Stockport, Arthur must have returned to work as I was sent to Liverpool to relieve Eric Walton, the Operating Engineer at Garston, Liverpool, while he took a holiday. I was greeted on the platform of Lime Street station by Eric, wearing, as was his wont, an overcoat with a velvet collar and a velour hat. Eric's home was at Cleveleys and his seniority enabled him to be kept as much as possible in the West Lancashire area. He was one of the Sid Branson/ Maurice Wadsworth/ Willie Bennet/ vintage. My reception at the station gave me to suppose that I had 'arrived' as hitherto I had had to find my own way to the works. I was, however, disillusioned, since Eric had used my arrival to justify buying a lunch on petty cash. Eric was what is called in these days, 'laid back', with something of a maana complex, but the term had yet to be invented.

At Garston was a younger colleague named Peter Littlehales whom Eric called 'Shandy', No comment!

I don't know exactly how long I stayed at Liverpool, and do not remember much about the Garston works, except that the Chief Chemist's name was Gidlow and whom I was to meet again later in unexpected circumstances. I lodged with an elderly parental couple, Mr. & Mrs. Ince, who lived in Garston Old Road.

One day I spent with a Mr. & Mrs. Mace who lived at Blundellsands, and who had some connection with my father. Mr Mace offered me a run through the Mersey tunnel in his car. The tunnel was still something of a nine-day wonder. When we returned to his house, it was announced on the radio that the "D-Day" invasion had begun. I recall feeling terrible about it, for less than a year before I had expected to continue a military career and if that had happened I would almost certainly have been on that operation.

During the Garston spell I did manage to cycle through the Mersey tunnel on a push-bike - twice. I do not suppose that many can make the same claim.

The Construction Rep. at Garston was Arthur (Johnnie) Kent, a small man who was deaf in one ear and very deaf in the other. It was difficult to remember which - causing problems at times.

I soon returned to Stockport where I lodged with a Mrs. Lewis, an elderly widow who lived at Offerton on the south side of the town. This was useful as I had become thoroughly fed up with the depressing conurbation between Oldham, Manchester and Stockport. Offerton gave easy access to the Cheshire countryside which I explored on the bike at week-ends. I was then occupied with 'putting to work' the bench of retorts in which I had previously had a 'construction' interest and was now back on stream with the Operating Dept.

Whilst still there, I had an S.O.S. from Head Office to get to Bradford Road Manchester A.S.A.P. Apparently the labour force there had gone on strike for more pay. This was at the beginning of the Normandy invasion when everyone was supposed to be on a patriotic high and in solidarity with 'our boys'. I don't suppose this strike will be recorded in war-time records and I don't suppose many people know about it.

I found myself in command of a company of troops which had been drafted in to keep the gas supply going. My military training came in useful. After working almost continuously for three days, snatching sleep on the office floor, the strike finished and I went back to Stockport with a heightened cynicism about the 'rights of the working man'.

We heard that during the strike, a coal man was delivering in the Bradford Road area and was hailed by one of the strikers demanding coal. He was told to 'go back to work and make some gas, then we'll see about delivering you some coal'. At least that was the gist of his remarks! It was here that I encountered again Mr. Gidlow from Garston who had also been 'drafted'.

One character at Stockport who deserves mention is Billy Canavan, the 'tea boy' who, during the light up - and it was a big bench - kept me supplied with tea almost continuously, and a sandwich for lunch. This probably saved my life - Bless you Billy- wherever you are!

GRIMSBY AHOY

Soon after that I received a letter from Head Office directing me to go to Grimsby. This enclosed a copy of a letter which had been sent to Colonel Kennington who was the Manager of the 'Great Grimsby Gas Company Ltd.' By this he was told of the firm's regret that he was having some technical problems and that in accordance with his request for assistance, they were sending Mr. W. J. Green, 'one of our senior and most experienced operating engineers' to try and sort things out.

Nobody had told me that I was now a Senior Operating Engineer, and my experience then was just about one year. Certainly I had not noticed the great increase in pay that one might expect to be concomitant with such preferment! Still, there WAS a war on.

After a week-end leave I found myself changing trains at Sheffield and then on a train chuffing past the multitude of small stations which then lay between Sheffield and Grimsby. I noted that Gainsborough was not characterised by the same aesthetic beauty as were the works of the artist of the same name, neither was Brigg very 'fair'. Finding my way from Grimsby station past Tickler's Jam Factory to the works was comparatively easy, the main railway line to London running through the works on a viaduct. You could see the W-D chimney from the station. I came to the works, enquired for the Manager, was ushered into the Colonel's presence, given into the hands of Fred, the Chief Chemist and conducted to Woodall-Duckham's site office. There I met Laurence Hislop, 'Our Rep.' who hailed from Dunfermline.

Later in my career I had the pleasure of meeting many Scots and with most I met I was able to establish some rapport, indeed some became my good friends. With Hislop however, I could hardly establish communication, never mind rapport. He was everything that the words 'dour' and 'po-faced' conveyed; a grey, humourless man with about as much charisma as 'Herr Flick of the Gestapo'. He even looked a bit like Herr Flick without the glasses.

My arrival on 'his' site was plainly not a cause for rejoicing and my introducing myself to him in his office hut was plainly an intrusion on his precious time and floor space.

He had had my 'Operator's Box' dumped in a corner of the client's laboratory, making it quite plain that the less he had to do with me the better. I was told later that Hislop, on one of his contracts, had labelled various huts 'Staff', 'Foremen', 'Charge Hands' and 'Carbonisers' in that order.

This attitude to the Operating Dept. which I frequently encountered, but not quite so brazenly may, I think, have had three causes. First, the previous generation of 'Carbonisers' had been rough and tough and the nature of their work caused them to get dirty and sweaty. This lay uneasily with the Construction Engineer's white collar status and appearance so that there was a built in class distinction. Secondly, on a fixed price contract, the commissioning charges were included in the price, and thus in the cost. Having for many months carefully monitored the costing, the Construction Rep. was faced in the closing weeks with this liability who might ruin his carefully fiddled figures. 'Carbonisers' even went to the extent of wanting desk space and washing facilities!

The third reason was the idea, at least sub-consciously held, that the building of a retort plant was the creation of something of aesthetic and architectural merit, which at its climax the Operating Engineer was going to ruin by putting a fire in it and heating it up!

Later I went back to Grimsby to commission the plant that Hislop had been engaged on during my first visit. He had thawed very slightly by then and showed me his finished edifice, pointing out that instead of the usual dull black graphite finish on the inspection boxes he had painted them with black bitumastic paint which was glossy and looked much better. I though that he would explode when at one point in the warming-up process the bitumastic paint started to melt and ran down his beautiful brickwork. What does one do?

Comment on such problems at various times to our own Group Engineers brought little satisfaction. "We get on very well with our own opposite numbers in Construction" was the reply of at least one of them, implying that the fault was on our side. Well, of course they did! Another factor was Horace's 'shoe string' policy which gave us no support.

Being by this lack of cooperation forced to use such table, changing and washing space as was available in Client's Lab. I wrote to Head Office pointing out that I was there to do an investigation and to 'tune up' the plant. This involved writing reports, preferably not under the eye of a works chemist who might be under criticism, and I had various drawings and instructions which were confidential. Furthermore I needed access to facilities at all times, not just when the Lab was open.

I do not know what was said and by whom, but I was soon offered the key to, and exclusive use of, a brick-built yard foreman's 'bothy' with desk, washbasin - with hot water - and gas ring whereon to boil water for tea. Another lesson learnt - don't be a doormat for idiots!

In fact, the Works Chemist was a cheerful soul - Fred somebody - whose scathing wit about his own company's management enlightened many a dull day. There too was his assistant, John Longdon, a lad with a sardonic outlook on life in general who later joined W-D when the industry was nationalised. John one day came into the lab in a foul mood informing Fred that "That b***** exhauster's on the blink again." Fred replied, "John, that exhauster is not a b***** exhauster, it's just an ordinary one." Until then I had assumed from hearsay that every exhauster on every works was a b***** one. It was nice to meet the exception.

MESSRS MANAGER AND CHAIRMAN.

The manager, Colonel Kennington, actually a Lt-Col. Retd., was rarely seen on the works, but I was asked to see him in his office from time to time. He did appear on the works when the Chairman of the Company made his inspection. The Chairman was Mr. Tom. Wintringham of the Wintringham family well known in Grimsby history, who had made their fortune from fish. Wintringham would arrive in his chauffeured car wearing a heavy Ulster, a scarf and tweed cap, and supported by a stick. He would be escorted to the Manager's office where the Colonel would be waiting for him in an unaccustomed dust coat and trilby. Throughout the visit they addressed each other as 'Mr. Manager' and 'Mr. Chairman' - no I'm not kidding! Arriving at the retort house they would take the lift to the rodding platform and then wend their way down the stairs. I don't think either of them knew much about the gas making process so that explanation of what I was doing had to be on a rather elementary level.

On my first encounter, I was introduced by 'Mr. Manager' to 'Mr. Chairman' as 'Mr. Green, who has come all the way from London to help us out over one or two technical problems.' Mr. Chairman then shook me warmly by the hand and thanked me very much. I don't think he knew I was there on 'cost-plus'! It was a nice contrast to Hislop's bonhomie!

At the end of the Chairman's inspection, the two of them would retire to the Colonel's office. A Doulton tea set was taken out of the cupboard where it had lain since the last time, and they would spend the rest of the afternoon partaking of Earl Grey and scones conjured up by a lady clerk. This routine was the object of vicious and withering scorn from Fred the Chemist whilst supping his own Co-op Tips out of a grubby mug.

CRIME WATCH.

The 'Heat Attendant' at Grimsby was Frank. I do not recall his surname. Frank was about 6ft.6ins tall, which made his temperature taking of some 'passes' easy, and some impossible. His size made him a useful ally and an insurance against having 'the b***** rod wrapped round your b***** neck' - an ever-present hazard on gasworks. Frank used the stoker's mess room and there hung his donkey jacket whilst he took temperatures. One day he found his packet of Woodbines had been pinched from the jacket pocket. It happened again.

Frank expressed his intention to 'fix the ******' and waited until a horse and cart came into the works for coke. He extracted a hair or two from the horse's tail and with a sewing needle, inserted a horsehair into each fag in a new packet, snipping it off neatly so that it would not show. He left the packet in his jacket as usual. He then waited for somebody to throw up! Somebody did. I don't know what happened after that and did not enquire.

My other memory of Frank was of him chasing and killing rats which were inclined to come into the works yard.

GRIMSBY 'DIGS'.

1 was fortunate in obtaining lodgings in Grimsby within walking distance of the works, and at the same time in a reasonable area of the town. In Welholme Road was a corner shop where confectionery was sold and which also housed a bake house. This was run by the 'Bee' family, consisting of an almost blind old lady, and her unmarried son and daughter, both in their forties. Albert ran the bakery and Faith the shop. There was also a cat named, unimaginatively, 'Tigger'.

I was welcomed to the household, in fact they were quite used to 'putting up' various characters, some from the Navy who happened to be temporarily stationed at the port. The immediate snag was that for my first few days I had to share a twin-bedded room with some young male relative who was, shall we say, 'rather backward' and also suffered from that condition which leaves one completely hairless. Not knowing anything about either of these deficiencies I feared that together they constituted a form of 'lunacy' and I slept uneasily. However this lad departed after a day or two and I had the room to myself.

There was one great advantage in living with the Bees. Being a catering establishment, we were able to supplement meagre war-time rations, and this, coupled with supplies of fish straight from the dock meant that we lived fairly well.

Having been brought up in the Birmingham area, about as far from the sea as one could get, fish had not appealed to me hitherto. Most of the fish which reached Stourbridge in days before adequate refrigeration one imagined had spent three days in transit from some port or other and a day or two hanging around New Street Station (like most of the rest of us in our time!) before arriving at the shop and on the table. Grimsby fish was another thing altogether. I even liked the skate.

This was all, of course in war time and we were surrounded by the Lincolnshire airfields from which night bombing raids were increasingly made. In the middle of one night we were awakened by a louder roar than usual of aero engines. Thinking that this was the lads returning from a '1000 Bomber" raid, we got up and cheered what we thought were landing lights. Next day we were told on the radio that sixty German 'doodle-bugs' had passed over Grimsby during the night. Those were what we had been cheering! We later learnt that most of them had exploded harmlessly over the Pennines, but that some had reached Lancashire. One had dropped at the end of Park Road Oldham, not far from where I had lodged.

The Bee family had many friends in the area and we were never short of company. One of these was Doris Thompson whose husband Norman was far away overseas in the R.A.F. and she was obviously missing him. Doris played the piano and used to come round on Sunday evenings when we would have a good old-fashioned sing-song round the piano. ('Fishermen of England' and that sort of thing.) Her departure she always delayed until dark by which time it was not advisable for her to walk home alone. As I was by then engaged to be married to Mavis, I am not sure whether my keeping Doris at arm's length - well, almost - when escorting her was caused entirely by loyalty to Mavis or by fear of her husband's coming home on leave before I left Grimsby.

Other regulars were two naval types, John, a 'bunce' (signalman) who came from Lanchester, and the other a Sub-Lieut who collected M.T.B's and M.G.B's in America and brought them across the Atlantic. He would turn up regularly with large quantities of contraband cigarettes and nylon articles of apparel. I benefited from some of the former.

A further adventure whilst at Grimsby was a summons to "go to Hessle and get them out of a bit of a mess". This involved getting a train to New Holland, taking a ferry across the Humber, and dashing up a slipway to the bus stop from which it was about a half-hour journey to Hessle, a small port further up the Humber.

Arriving at Hessle I did indeed find them in 'a bit of a mess'. They had an exhauster, the function of which was to pump gas from the retort house through the purification plant into the holder. Unfortunately this was driven by a gas engine. With insufficient gas in the holder to supply the gas engine, you were in a vicious circle. I found the Manager, assisted by the works foreman, trying to turn the exhauster by means of a large crank-handle. No, I wouldn't have believed it either!

The problem was exacerbated by the fact that unless I caught the 4.30.p.m. bus back to Hull, connecting with the last ferry of the day, I would be stranded. The next day, having made the trip again I looked in the window of a small shop where there were cards offering, amongst other things, accommodation. One said 'Young person wanted to sleep with soldier's wife - husband abroad.' I wouldn't have believed that either!

However, my advice had resulted in signs of improvement and I continued to travel every other day for a week or so when we were able to put gas back 'on the town'. On one of my visits I enjoyed witnessing the launch of a small ship from the slipway opposite the works. It wasn't the Q.E.2. but interesting.

Much later I was to read a report put in by Percy Molland on some small works he had visited. It read, "During the visit to this scrap-heap of a works, more gas was probably inhaled by the writer than went into the holder". He may have been referring to Hessle, but that was after my time.

BACK TO OWD'UM

The foregoing account of early days with the Woodall-Duckham Company covers the relatively short period from September 1943 until Christmas 1944. After that, memories become less precise, probably because the novelty of frequent moves began to wear off. I am reasonably sure that my leaving Grimsby was followed by a return to Oldham and to the Coller residence. Again I was there for some time and the Construction regime had changed. Phillips had gone and Bill Baker, a more jovial character from Cornwall had taken over. Bill had been an Operator at one time, and had an obsession with fishing, making his own lance-wood sea rods on site. Assisting him was a rotund lad named Don Browning who tried manfully to join in that ready wit which was a characteristic of some W-D staff, but in which he never quite made the grade.

Somewhere in the vicinity, on another contract, was Sammy Ellison who dropped in frequently, and there I eventually met Henry Read, significantly in the pub opposite the works. Henry, who lived at Ashton-under-Lyne was in fact on leave, and just visiting.

BELLE VUE.

Sammy had the advantage of having a car - a Riley - and so was persuaded to provide transport to such places as Belle Vue, Manchester, where on Friday evenings the 'gang' would go to watch the wrestling under the benign refereeing of 'Dick the Dormouse' who had been a naval P.T.I. at Plymouth. This excursion was usually accompanied by the consumption of a good deal of beer, and we were often joined by Stan Horton, his wife, and his daughter 'Duckie' (q.v.). These ladies were wont to get a little excited by the brawn and were inclined to exhort one or other of the combatants to 'tear his arm off!'. One contestant was Mario de Caprio of the U.S. Navy. Any connection I wonder?

GONE FISHIN'

One week-end Bill Baker roped me in to go on a fishing expedition to the Menai Strait. We set off in Sammy Ellison's car after the pubs shut on a Friday night and made our way overnight to Snowdonia. Neither Sammy nor I knew much about fishing, but Sam did the driving and as I could read a map, I became the navigator.

After having some trouble with Sammy's headlights, we arrived on the shore at Beaumaris at first light. The first necessity was to dig some lugworms for bait.

We halted near a bus stop which was being approached by an obvious 'local' hurrying to catch the first bus into Bangor. Bill wound own the car window and enquired about the best place to dig. He was expecting a knowledgeable reply with a Welsh accent, and so was dumbfounded to get the reply in a marked cockney accent, "Dunno mate - no' a lover of it meself!" So we took a chance and unearthed a full box of worms from the foreshore.

Bill had packed his sea rods in the car, which restricted the accommodation a little, and we made our way to a likely looking site near the Menai Bridge. Bill, being accustomed to angling for sea bass off the Cornish rocks, had failed to realise that there were four tides a day on the Menai narrows, so that for most of the time there was a full tide race flowing. Furthermore, the most prolific fish were skate. It was no problem getting a skate on the hook, but the fish only had to spread its 'wings' in the tide race to take any tackle we offered. We had a notable lack of success and only a tin of worms to show for it. Late in the afternoon we retired to Bangor.

The war was drawing to its close, but food was still tightly rationed. However, we managed to find a butcher in Bangor who was willing to sell us sausages (appropriately!) and a large dollop of dripping to cook them in. We went on to buy a large loaf of bread, and a Woolworth's baking tin. A few miles out of Bangor we pulled the car off the road and took our gear behind a hedge where we found enough brushwood to make a fire. The sausages were then cooked in the dripping and served on thick slices of bread. We washed it down with the odd bottle of beer.

I have considered it strange ever since that some people's idea of a picnic involves table cloths, baskets of cutlery and china, and even champagne.

We went on to Caernarfon and spent the rest of the evening in a pub. We had nowhere arranged to spend the night, but were quite happy - well needs must - to sleep in the car which we parked in an alcove under the walls of Caernarfon Castle.

Having slept fitfully we roused early and I recall having some sort of wash using a cold water tap tap which protruded from the castle wall and supplied a drinking fountain. The next thought was breakfast, and having hitherto spent very little on sustenance, we decided to splash out, in the hope that a hearty breakfast would last us for the rest of the day. It was a Sunday morning and it was 7.a.m., not the best of days or times to get a meal in Caernarfon! We pushed on up to Llanberis where we found the Llanberis Hotel. This was a rather up-market establishment, and the staff were inclined to look down their noses at three unshaven characters in oilskins and gum boots at 8.o'clock on a Sunday morning demanding breakfast.

The explanation that we had been fishing seemd to mollify them, but the speed at which we were served suggested that our departure prior to the arrival in the dining room of the 'regulars' would be appreciated.

On we went and I recall our going over a gated road to Bala, and having to open and shut gates whilst Sammy drove through. On some remote high moorland he had trouble with his dynamo, but it proved to be non-terminal.

Sammy himself was a cockney and sometimes demonstrated that delightful ignorance of other-than-metropolitan things which caused amusement. As we approached Bala Lake he enquired whether it was where Balalaikas were made. In time we reached Manchester where at the Horton's residence where Bill Baker lodged, I managed to restore my appearance to that degree of respectability which my return to Collers at Oldham required.

As a fishing expedition it was of course an utter failure, our 'net catch' being a box of worms which went into the Horton's dustbin as they had started to decompose, but it was good fun.

CORK OOV'NS.

During my Operating days I was almost exclusively on Gasworks. At University we had had something to do with Coke Ovens in that our tutor had some connection with Simon Carves, a competitor of W-D in this field. I had also worked for a couple of weeks on the W-D variety at Workington in 1941.

The Coke Oven section of the Operating Dept., whilst nominally, I presume, under the command of Horace, seemed to function as a separate entity. There were coke-oven operators such as Jimmy Mein, H. Daley and R. Shields whom one rarely encountered on gasworks and only then when they had nothing else to do. On rare occasions of overlap one was made to realise the superiority of coke ovens and all who 'sailed in them'. The unlikely Chief Coke Oven Operator was Eric Turner, who, whilst living at Surbiton, still retained his 'Somewhere North of the Trent' accent. This, coupled with the fact that most of the coke oven men came from northern regions, resulted in my always thinking of their specialist line as 'Cork Oov'ns'.

THE BIG BANG.

During my second spell at Oldham I was asked on one occasion to go over to the Coke Oven plant at Irlam, where an explosion in a coal bunker had caused considerable damage and some injury. I was required to investigate and report. My arrival there was given a curious reception. The Plant Manager, knowing that I came from W-D, assumed that I knew everything there was to know about Coke Ovens. For inspection of the plant I was handed over to a junior to whom I confided that I was from the Gasworks division. He then assumed that I knew nothing about Coke Ovens and that I needed some instruction. "These holes are where the coal is put in....." I managed to flannel my way out of all this, and as I was concerned only with a coal bunker, it didn't matter much.

I found that some spontaneous combustion had occurred in the bunker when it was almost full. This had resulted in a arched crust being formed. They had continued to take coal out of the bottom of the bunker. This act of folly had left a void into which the the crust had dropped, causing the explosion.

Having left an authoritative instruction that they should fit a water system whereby the bunker could be flooded in such cases and that in no circumstances should coal be taken out before the crust was broken up. I left feeling rather proud of my excursion into unaccustomed country.

This success may have had something to do with the fact that never again was I invited to go on Cork Oov'ns! One learns that there are two sorts of people who don't get 'invited back', the idiot and the smart-arse!

TO LONDON.

It must have been at the very end of 1944 or the beginning of 1945 that someone decided that my term in the 'far' north must end. (Why is it that it is always the north which is 'far'? one never hears of the 'far' south-east.) I was summoned to London. Head office had moved back to its former offices in Ebury Street near Victoria station. This was convenient for Board and senior staff, many of whom lived somewhere on the Brighton line.

I was at Head Office for a week or two. Conrad Kuttner, a coke oven man, had been out in South Africa and had now returned. There was some idea of his re-starting a Research Dept. with me as 'an' if not 'the' assistant. One meets people from time to time for whom, and for no specific reason, one has an instinctive aversion. Kuttner was one of the few such that I have encountered. Where he originated I do not know, but he had brought or brought back with him from South Africa a 'big white baas' manner which I found, to say the least, irritating. He probably took a similar dislike to me, so the scheme did not work out and I soon found myself at Southall works getting experience on 'I.V.C's' with Walter Norris.

Walter was a sallow dark-haired man whose white teeth were a little distorted, so that when he smiled you found yourself fascinated by his teeth rather than by what he was smiling about. This caused Frank Norrie (q.v) to name him 'The Odol Smile' after a tooth paste advert of the time. Harold Perks and I were invited to his flat in Twickenham one evening and we played 'Monopoly', then in its infancy. During refreshment time I managed to drop a china plate which broke. I was acutely embarrassed and Walter's wife was obviously annoyed. It may have been her 'best Royal Doulton'. I was never asked back! Walter later became my 'visitor' for the West of Scotland. We got on pretty well, in spite of the plate, but Walter never had much empathy with the Scots.

'I.V.C's'.

'Intermittent Vertical Chambers' were so called because instead of the coal trickling through as in a C.V.R. the chamber was filled with coal which was left to carbonise for several hours. All the resulting coke was then emptied out and we were back at square one. They were, in fact small coke ovens, the coke being allowed to drop out at the bottom rather than being pushed out at the side. We had several installations of these in London, at Wandsworth, Croydon, Tottenham and Ponders' End among them. They were more suitable than were C.V.R's for carbonising Durham Coal which arrived in London by ship. Walter Norris was the acknowledged specialist with this type of retort.

London was then under fire from German rockets but there was nothing anyone could do about that, so we carried on working. One did drop on Woolworth's at New Cross whilst I was at Southall and it killed a lot of people.

My memories of that period are scant. I lived in Hitherbroom Lane, Hayes, with a Mr. & Mrs. Baillie. He was a dark-suit-umbrella-and-briefcase man who worked for E.M.I.

Soon I found myself working on plant at Wandsworth, Croydon and Tottenham. It seems odd to think that in those days it was possible to cycle from Southall to Wandsworth and back with no sense of danger or of being crowded by traffic.

One advantage of being in London was that my school friend and colleague, Harold Perks was also working somewhere in London and we were able to meet up from time to time. We were together in Croydon for a while when I lodged in the Purley Way. There we were joined for a time by Reg. Nicklin, a rather nave character, and by Jack Fish, one of the 'old brigade' who was approaching retirement.

Whilst at Croydon I was able to see and hear Vera Lynn at the Croydon Empire. The bill included the cockney comedian who called himself 'Leon Cortez' and who defined 'ballet' as 'a lo' a tarts prarncin' abaht.' I am never quite sure whether there is more to ballet than that.

Wandsworth works was blessed by having Young's Brewery within walking distance and its products were sold at a pub which was actually within the works. Youngs' Bitter is probably one of the best of ales. Wandsworth was also within reasonable distance of Streatham Common where lived my uncle and aunt whom I was able to visit occasionally and regain a modicum of civilisation.

After some months I moved to Tottenham about which works I can remember very little except for the 'Heat Attendant', Albert Hammond, who insisted on taking all the temperatures, thereby saving me a lot of sweat.

LONDON LODGINGS.

My first 'digs' at Tottenham were a failure. In the house was a small baby who bawled from 4.a.m. onward with unfailing regularity. In order to avoid hurt feelings I invented a sudden posting to distant parts and departed - for Edmonton - where I had found alternative accommodation in Silver Street next to the 'Bull'. It was a bit noisy on Saturday and Sunday nights, but very comfortable. My hostesses were two elderly spinster sisters, one of whom, Lilian, was the breadwinner and the other the housekeeper. Lilian worked as a secretary with 'British Abrasives' who made emery and sandpaper - odd!

Both of these ladies were vegetarians but their principles did not extend to denying me meat. I fared pretty well. They were, however, a little odd and had friends who were just a little more odd. They might have been an early manifestation of the 'hippy' culture but it had not then developed.

Silver Street was on bus routes; 259 ran to Muswell Hill where I had friends, and 144 to Turnpike lane where I could get the underground to Paddington when going on leave. One of these routes continued in the other direction, terminating at the Royal Forest Hotel at Chingford where, on a small lake, outrigger skiffs could be hired. An evening's rowing was a pleasant change from gasworks on a summer evening.

There was also a 'Lido' at Walthamstow, and Epping Forest was not far away, especially after I got my bike.

THE WAR ENDS.

Whilst I was on that spell in London there came the end of the war and I was able to be in Whitehall when Winston Churchill made his well publicised appearance on the Home Office balcony.

Later that day I found myself doing a 'knees-up' round Thornton Heath pond, but how I got there and what had happened in between I shall never know! Well, there was no longer 'a war on'.

DOWN TO DORSET.

It was a fine summer that year in spite of a few odd bombs at the beginning, so a transfer to Poole was welcome.

Poole was the site of the original Woodall-Duckham plant, invented by Sir Arthur Duckham and reputedly financed by Col. WoodalL At the name of 'Sir Arthur' all knees did bow amongst those who had known him. These included Maurice Wadsworth whom I met for the first time, Maurice being to Poole what Sid Branson was to Birmingham.

Maurice came from Penistone and was married to Alice who, for most of the time, travelled with him. We took to each other from the beginning. Alice was inclined to be tearful when she saw me as she said that I was the 'spitting image' of their son Doug. who had been killed whilst serving in the R.A.F. I put up for a night or two at the 'Antelope' in the main street and during my first night came news of Japan's surrender.

I was awakened at some ungodly hour by a terrific racket going on in the street. In my room was an oriel window overhanging the pavement. Down the street was coming a joyful procession headed by a man who had mounted a klaxon horn on an old pram, and making for the quay. There a large bonfire was lit. I got dressed and followed, getting back to the hotel for breakfast. Within a day or two Maurice had put out feelers and found me some digs with a Mrs. Graham at Parkstone - nice change from having to scour a strange neighbourhood on one's own.

I forget what we were doing at Poole, but I remember the Heat Attendant who always read the temperatures twenty degrees too low. One of Maurice's weekly problems was to correct these readings for the weekly report without him finding out and taking offence.

Maurice was a shortish, stocky man with greying hair. He had an alarming cast in one eye, so you never knew which one was looking at you. You never knew either which one he was using when he was driving his Rover, a car of which he was very proud and in which he delighted to show you the Dorset countryside. It was plain which one he used to scan the temperature sheet - it was the one six inches from which he held the paper and which was also six inches from his left - or was it right ? - ear. Each Saturday Maurice met Alice for lunch, together with any privileged colleague whom he had invited. Maurice would pick up the menu, scan it in fine detail for some time whilst you contained your hunger, and then announce triumphantly, "Ah'll 'ave steak an' chips'. I never knew him order anything else! Maurice was thought to be the inventor of the 'Graphite Method' of temperature assessment.

One of his tales was of the time when he and Alice moved into some digs. Alice was a dear soul but rather broad in the beam. In the middle of the night Alice had to use the 'pot', and sitting thereon, it collapsed under her weight. Maurice nearly choked laughing as he finished the story: "Ah were sittin' oop the rest o' t' night getting bits o' pot out of her backside wi'l tweezers". Well, it doesn't happen every day!

Maurice was well read and off the 'job' was the perfect gentleman. On the job he could 'cuss and blind' better than most. On a later occasion he was asked by an up-market junior in my presence about this apparent schizophrenia. He replied, "Well, lad, with all the racket going on in a retort house, and you see old Harry about to open a valve which will blow the place sky-high, it's no good going up to him quietly and saying, 'Harry, please don't do that'. Nay, lad, you 'ave to make tl bugger jump!" There was no more to be said!

NEXT MOVE.

Having been at Poole for a while, were visited by Bert Cottrell. I don't think that Bert had then taken Horace's place, but he was one of the Group Engineers. Bert had been aptly christened 'The Gold-Brick Salesman' by Frank Norrie. He could probably have persuaded King Kong that he was Queen of the Fairies but the opportunity never, so far as I am aware, arose.

Bert took me aside and told me that he wanted me to go to Edinburgh where production was not up to scratch and we had been asked to 'tune up' the plant. I had never at that stage been north of Carlisle so was pleased to be asked. He went through possibilities in some detail, telling me to get up there as soon as possible. "Right!", I said, "Edinburgh, here we come !" "Did I say Edinburgh?" said Bert. "Yes", I replied. "Oh, sorry", said Bert, "I meant Aberdeen". So began another long, long story.

ABERDEEN.

Being the sort of person who had a reputation for always wanting to see what was over the next hill, I looked forward to going to Scotland for the first time, even more so that I was being sent to a remote part of the 'Land of the Mountain and the Flood'. Geography having been a favourite interest of mine from an early age, I don't remember ever thinking, as many English people still do, that Scotland was a little bit perched on the top of England and that once you had reached Gretna Green there wasn't a lot between you and the North Pole.

The war had just ended, leaving things still a little bit chaotic, and there was no possibility of getting a 'sleeper' on the over-night 'Aberdonian' unless you ranked as Colonel or above. So I set off from King's Cross ready to sit up all night in an ordinary third class compartment. The train left at about 7.p.m. and was due in Aberdeen at 9.a.m. the next morning - fourteen hours!

The main problem was that there were no refreshment facilities on board, and whereas I had brought a sandwich and a bun with me, I had nothing to drink. The train made its first stop at York, by which time I would have given a good deal for a cup of tea. The refreshment room was open and the train waited for enough time to get a 'cuppa', but they had run out of cups. I didn't like that very much! However, I found a used cup which someone had left behind a pillar on the platform and a convenient tap under which it could be washed. I was quite prepared to murder any railway official who tried to stop me. The cup was triumphantly presented at the buffet and my life was saved!

We rattled on through the night. I was probably asleep as we crossed the border and so missed that thrill, but awoke at Edinburgh where there was a lengthy halt to load assorted luggage and milk churns and to change crew. There the station buffet was more productive than that at York. It was still dark, so my first passage over the Forth Bridge was marked more by a louder rattle than by the view, which was limited to the lights of Rosyth. At first light we drew into Dundee Tay Bridge Station. The view from the carriage window of the soot-blackened walls of this magnificent piece of the renowned Scottish scenery was my first view of Scotland. After being on the train since 7.p.m. the previous evening I wondered, not for the first time with Duckhams, whether a swift death from a German bullet would have been better.

Earlier in the century there had been much competition between rival railways, the Caledonian and the North British, as to which could reach Aberdeen more quickly. The story is well known, and in my time these railways had become part of the L.M.S and L.N.E.R. systems respectively. The two lines met at Laurencekirk, whence there was a jointly owned line extending to Aberdeen. On account of this, the imposing railway station at Aberdeen was still referred to as the 'Joint Station'. The term was even used as a destination label on buses which terminated there.

A little before journey's end we had stopped at a smaller town where a porter was calling 'St'nheev'n, which I interpreted as 'Stonehaven' - my first realisation that most things in Scotland were 'different'. Miraculously we had arrived at Aberdeen on time, but such miracles were taken for granted in those days, unlike the present railway situation. My state of sleep-deprived depression was, however, turned into joy when I presented myself at the station restaurant. There, in spite of the war, the standards had been maintained. Tables were set out with linen cloths and plated cutlery, and I was greeted by a waitress in black dress, cap and white apron with, "Good morning sir! I expect you're not feeling too good after that long journey, so what about a good breakfast?"

I accordingly made my first acquaintance with a Scottish breakfast which, in spite of war-time rationing, was considerably better than I had expected. I began to like Aberdeen.

Someone had booked me in to the Gloucester Hotel on Union Street for a couple of nights so I emerged on to that grand thoroughfare and checked in at the hotel. I had also been informed in writing that the works was at 'Foot-Dee' and so fell into the trap into which every Englishman falls in similar circumstances by enquiring the way to that locality. "Och! ye mean 'Fiddy"' was the standard and gleeful reply to such an enquiry. Having learnt this, one proceeded to take advantage of this esotericism when encountering other Englishmen.

After I had been in Aberdeen for a couple of weeks or so, my initial promising euphoria had given way to bouts of mild depression. For the first time that I can remember, I began to feel slightly homesick. Aberdeen felt very 'foreign'.

One of the problems was the language. The speech, in what I came to know as the Buchan country was not just a 'Scottish accent'. There is, in fact, no such thing, any more than there is an 'English accent'. In Aberdeen it was the 'Doric' which was spoken and they were rightly very proud of it. (Doric - so called in comparison to the Attic, or standard English.)

My initial difficulty was that every vowel, to my untrained ear, seemed to be an indeterminate 'u', so that milk became 'mulk'. I encountered also the Scottish use of 'wee' as an adjective, the primary use of which is to signify little', but which can be applied to mean almost anything. Often used to imply endearment, it was commonly applied to the youngest member of a family, even though he might be a 7ft. 20 stone wrestler! Such references as, 'Thon muckle greet wee elephant' would not have raised an eyebrow in some circles.

An Aberdeen characteristic was the appending of a diminutive to many nouns. 'Ma mither's in the gravy' did not mean that Ma had been converted to sauce, but that she was in her grave.

On one occasion at the works I had to do a quick mental translation when questioned by the assistant manager regarding the purpose of some air ports. "Whit fur are they wee holies, Mr. Green?" was the question. Hitherto, to me, 'Holies' had had ritual connotation - 'Holy of Holies' - and 'wee' was a nursery term for urination. The connection with a gasmaking plant was obscure.

There was also the difference between a 'Loonie' (boy) and a 'Quinie' (girl) to be learnt. My landlady, Mrs. Wood, once greeted her seven-year-old grandson, born in, and newly arrived from Surrey with, "Ach, ma wee loonie!" She was not to know that an acceptable if unusual use of the same words in Southern England could have described a mentally disturbed person relieving him/her-self.

My first 'digs' in Aberdeen were with a Mrs. Tough. After the initial embarrassment of calling her Mrs 'Tuff', and being told that it was 'Tooch' - as in 'Loch' - she showed me to my room and said that I probably wouldn't sleep very well at first, it being a 'strange bed'. As during the previous ten days I had slept in at least six 'strange beds' and fitfully on a train, I did not think that this would be a major problem.

For reasons I cannot recall, my stay at this lodging was very short, probably because someone had introduced me to the Wood family of 106 Cornhill Drive, just behind the Royal Infirmary. This was on the Rosehill bus route, there being a stop just outside the house - very convenient!

The ample Mrs. Wood was the widow of the former butler at Keith Hall, Inverurie. I think that she may have been the housekeeper. Mrs. Wood therefore kept as good a table as was possible in view of war-time rationing which in any case had not bitten very deeply in Aberdeen.

There were three daughters, all living at home in their large semi-bungalow. The 'girls' were all of the 30-40 vintage. Lily worked as a seamstress at one of the city's fashion houses ("alterations made on the premises") so I got my sewing done. Hilda was secretary/ receptionist with a firm of agricultural engineers. Farmers bringing in machinery for attention were known to speed up the process by leaving eggs, cream, chickens etc. in Hilda's office so our rations were nicely supplemented.

Jean, the youngest had made an early marriage which had not 'worked out' and she was divorced, but with a son, Hendry, aged about 14 who was at Robert Gordon's College. Jean was a conductress on the buses, often on the route that passed the house, so that a convenient 'tea break' could be made whilst passengers waited. Should I find myself on Jean's bus, I was excused the obligation of paying my fare. (If the inspector gets on, tell him I haven't collected it yet!) Altogether there were advantages in living at No. 106.

Mrs. Wood also had three sons, George who was married and lived elsewhere in Aberdeen, Jim who was in the army and out in Palestine, and Charles who was a pharmacist in Great Bookham in Surrey, and married with a small son, Stewart. It was a curious assortment of names, two Jacobite and one Hanoverian. As her sons were all away from home I provided a useful substitute so that they had a man about the house.

DOON AT FIDDY.

To get to the works involved taking a bus into town, and, if it was wet, a tram to the Town House. There another bus would take me to St. Clement's Church near the works. In good weather a walk from Rosemount Terrace where one alighted from the first bus, was not too long, but as the bus-tram-bus journey could be undertaken for a total of 2d. by purchasing a 'double transfer ticket' there was no reason for parsimony.

At the works I met the Engineer and Manager, Harold Milne. Milne's father had held a similar position before the war when the City Gas Manager was held in respect, fear and esteem only second to the Lord Provost. It was said that Harold had obtained his elevation more by nepotism than qualification and that Jimmy Cordiner, then his Assistant, had been hard done by not to get the job.

Harold was not the easiest man to get on with. He was rather short in stature and he was by nature Manager and Engineer in that order. My work at the beginning was to improve production and 'tune up' a large plant divided into several sections. I spent the following six months or more at Aberdeen, any suggestion of my earlier departure being quashed by Milne. He would give the impression that I could 'do still better', but I suspected that he wanted me to remain as a check on his own staff 's abilities. Later, when I had become Area Engineer for Scotland, I got on very well with Harold as he preferred to deal with the local man rather than with a London Office. He once agreed with me to sign a large contract without first consulting London. I don't think they liked it very much, but as it was then in the bag there was no point in their getting worked up. (Lesson: It is easier to say 'Yes' to a fait accompli when saying 'No' will cause a lot of hassle. This lesson can be applied on many occasions.)

The works staff included of Jimmy Cordiner, Harold's Assistant. Jimmy was a lean, spare man with a cadaverous face, who made no concessions to my linguistic inabilities, forcing me to pick up 'the Doric' A.S.A.P. Also on the staff were Alexander Watt Stephen, a humorous character who had been in the R.A.F. and had caused much confusion by having 'Watt' as his second name. (What's your second name? Yes, sir! and so on.)

Sandy Stephen had an old grandmother who lived in Shetland and who came to Aberdeen each month to do her shopping. She flew down on the D.H. Rapide eight-seater bi-planes which were then used on that route, but Granny had never even seen a railway train. This I found amazing.

The Chief Chemist was one Guyan who later transferred to Hamilton. He was was a pretty useless type. He may have known a lot of chemistry, but his engineering was a bit short. He tried to counter his uselessness by being awkward on every available occasion. Then there was Derek Ferguson, a Technical Assistant who later joined W.D and who hailed from Crosby near Liverpool. How and why he was in Aberdeen I never discovered.

The works foremen were a pleasant lot. There was Jack Binnie the Yard Foreman, 'Jock' the Foreman Mason, and MacDonald the Foreman Fitter. A Tannoy system in the yard would frequently hail these worthies. It could be heard over most of Aberdeen's dockland. When I eventually came to leave Aberdeen, 'Mac' (Donald) came to me, interested that I was going to Portsmouth because he had a cousin in Brighton. This shows that misconceptions of distance apply in both directions. Mac had a fine head of hair for his age and attributed this to his using a metal dog-comb. I bought one on his recommendation and have used one ever since. Well, something seems to have worked!

In the yard, built into the office block was a small toilet with wash basin which was normally reserved for foremen only, but which W-D staff were allowed to use. The paper in this room was usually an old copy of Bradshaw's Railway Guide, the pages of which were the right size. Someone emerging from the privy would be asked, "Where have we got to today" answered by "Heckmondwyke, Todmorden and all stations to Preston", or something equally exotic.

W-D had a site office in the works as one section of the retorts was under reconstruction. The site rep. was Bobby Taylor who came from Broxburn near Edinburgh. The bricklayer foreman was David Jack and the Steel erector Johnnie McGregor. The latter had a pronounced stammer which was prominent when he became 'upset'. Some men on the job made sure that he was upset from time to time so that they could hear him trying to enunciate one of his favourite expletives.

My relationship with Bobby was better than it had been with other Construction Reps. He was a pleasant character with a finely polished dome of a head which caused him to pour scorn on hairdressers who, after they had trimmed his fringe, sometimes asked automatically whether he wanted anything on it. His request to 'just polish it with a dry duster' brought them back to reality. We lunched together almost daily at Mitchell & Muil's small restaurant almost next door to the Atheneum. The Atheneum was the scene of the occasional half-pint at lunchtime and the more frequent several pints in the evenings.

It was at Mitchell & Muil's that we met Stella Simpson and Caroline Cockburn who are mentioned elsewhere.

I have previously mentioned that in my very early days at Aberdeen I became a little depressed. It was too far from home for me to take the occasional weekend leave, and I became a bit maudlin about my native heath. Moving to the Wood's at '106' and meeting Stella made all the difference. Soon I became involved in a social whirl which made it difficult to find a free night in the week.

Aberdeen was even then a metropolis in itself, providing a centre for a large hinterland which stretched to Braemar and the Grampians and all of the Buchan peninsular. Consequently entertainment was available in plenty. At His Majesty's Theatre we had many of the pre West-End productions. I recall. seeing 'Faust' and 'Tales of Hoffman' there in Stella's company and am reminded of the latter each time I hear the Barcarolle, perhaps because Hoffman's first 'enamorata' was Stella.

The Scottish National Orchestra gave a monthly performance at the Music Hall. I have fond memories of Reggie Whitehouse as leader and of a variety of famous conductors and soloists including Malcolm Sargent, Solomon and Moiseivitch.

The Wood family were members of Beechgrove Church where I was included in the family. One of the elders was a Mr. Arthur whose daughter Jean was a contemporary and friend of Stella's. Stella was in the choir at St. Andrew's West, and I recall going to a performance of Messiah in which she sang. By way of contrast we heard and saw Harry Lauder at H.M.

Another regular at Mitchell & Muil's was a Mrs. Bell, a teller at the bank where Bobby Taylor collected the wages and who was a contemporary of his so that we had the occasional foursome.

Jean Wood, when off duty, was always game for a night out as were some of the works staff. I recall going to what today would be called a disco at Bucksburn which was beyond Kittybrewster. How many we managed to get into somebody's Austin Seven I do not recall but in those days road restrictions were easy and it was good fun. We had a relatively high old time and spent more money than we could afford, but then, the war was at last over!

At times I had to be on the works until late at night. I recall one frosty, still night when having checked the works, I went for a walk along the beach in the moonlight to the Brig of Don. Having hitherto associated beaches with hot summer days, this was a new experience, as was my visiting a rural Nigg Bay in a howling gale with crashing waves. The oil industry had not erupted then.

At Brig of Don was the tram terminus whence trams ran through the city to Brig of Dee. Some Aberdeen trams were quite luxurious with enclosed central staircases and a communication system over which the driver announced the various stops. So at the end of the beach walk I was able to get back to town and to the bus to Cornhill Drive. I was not aware at that time that my Uncle Fred had served with the Gordon Highlanders and had been stationed at Brig of Don Barracks.

At Easter in 1946 I took the opportunity to go to Shetland, flying up in one of the D.H. Rapides. This was my first experience of flying. The plane had about eight canvas seats and a 'driver'. We set off from Dyce, landing at Wick and Kirkwall before going on to Sumburgh. There a large Packard station wagon was waiting to carry us on to Lerwick.

I did not spend much time in Shetland as time and money did not allow. I had booked a passage on the night boat which left Lerwick somewhere about 5.p.m. on the Saturday and should have arrived in Aberdeen about 7.a.m. next morning. I did have time to wander round the town.

I embarked and sat down in the saloon for a high tea as we set sail.

Unfortunately a gale arose and on leaving the lee of the island, it met us full force. The 'Roost' was at its worst.

There was only one thing to do and that was to retire to one's bunk and pray. Next morning dawned bright and clear, but the delay meant that at 10.a.m. we were off Peterhead, finally docking at Aberdeen about twelve noon. It was an interesting trip which I never regretted. The fact that Lerwick is somewhat nearer to Bergen in Norway than it is to Aberdeen is not generally appreciated by the Sassenach.

For my last month or two I had to leave the Woods' establishment as they heard that their son, Jim, was coming home on leave and my room was needed. I moved to some rooms at Duthie Park near the Brig of Dee and was very comfortable there. I continued to visit the Woods, and when Jim came home, I became involved in an evening with him celebrating his home coming. On that event I prefer not to elaborate. Suffice it to say that a surfeit of ale followed by a lurching tram is not a good idea.

It was at the Douglas Hotel in Market Street prior to having dinner with Stella that my education was enlarged when I was served with a tot of Glen Grant whisky. This was not one of the older versions with their amber colour, but the five-year-old which is almost colourless. Glen Grant is one of the better single malts. Later on, when I settled in Scotland I was glad of this knowledge, and further research into other malts enabled me to get conversation with my 'dram' on many occasions. Knowledge of the malts became something of an occupational necessity in such places as Elgin and Inverness which came under my surveillance in years following. Very much later, in the 1970's whilst on holiday I found myself outside a 'Licenced Grocers" in Grantown-on-Spey pointing out the characteristics of such delights as Smiths' Glenlivet and Laphroaig to some Canadian Tourists. Little did they know.

Not then having a car, other movements outside the city were hardly possible. I did, however, one spring day, take the bus to Braemar via Banchory and Balmoral. The trip was about sixty miles each way.

From Braemar I walked a mile or two out of the village and realised that I had walked beyond any sign of civilisation. Since then I have always wanted to walk the Larig Ghru to Aviemore, but circumstances made it impossible and now it is too late. The highlands remain always in my heart.

By the beginning of May 1946 I had spent over seven months in Aberdeen, almost a record for an Operator, and the firm decided that enough was enough. It was a standing joke about staff movements that 'if you are in Inverness, your next move will be to Penzance!' Apparently an extra week on a contract waiting for the adjoining one to be ready cost more than did a long haul. I never made it to Penzance but was asked to report to Portsmouth.

I well remember the Saturday morning when I left. It was the day that the 'Dons' beat Rangers and won the Scottish Cup. I had followed the Dons regularly in the company of George Wood. When they were playing at home we would take a tram to Pittodrie and cheer them on. I had booked a berth on the sleeper from Glasgow to Birmingham and had to kill time in Glasgow during the afternoon. I could have obtained a ticket for the match had I known of my move earlier. Heigh Ho!

On the Friday night before, I had had a final dinner with Stella at the Northern Hotel and had escorted her home to the apartment she shared with her widowed mother. Saying good-bye was not easy, but it was inevitable. Had things been different ..........

Much later I read Betjeman's 'On Pershore Station'. It so mirrored my feelings as I left Aberdeen that elsewhere in my papers will be found my own version of that poem.

"UP POMPEY!"

So I left Aberdeen and after a weekend at home, made my way to Portsmouth, to the Hilsea Gasworks at the North End of the Island. I had been to Portsmouth before when we had two holidays at Southsea in the 30's. but Hilsea was far removed from Southsea sea front. Someone had found me lodgings in Laburnum Grove, North End. I had had better but not many worse. I can remember hardly any details of the works. I think the plant was I.V.C.'S, but what, if anything, I did with them I do not know. Neither can I recall much about the works or W-D Staff except that the Works Superintendent was Fernie Smart who had originated in Dunfermline - as had Hislop.

Fernie had worked for W-D as an Operator and was one of the previous generation which had been noted for its high breeding, delicacy and finesse. I was to meet him again later when he had become Works Manager at East Cowes on the Isle of Wight.

Having a former W-D Operator as Client's Representative made a degree of diplomacy necessary. One was conscious of being under an eagle eye which was comparing one's doings with 'what we did in my time'. One also wondered why one's presence was necessary with such superior skill already available. On the whole Fernie wasn't so bad, and I was in his good books having spent so long already in his native country. An added advantage was that I was about the only man in Portsmouth, apart from the odd sailor, who could understand him!

CHELTENHAM.

This was in September 1946 and my stay in Pompey was not prolonged. A month or so later I found myself on the way to Cheltenham which was a nice change, being within easy 'week-end' distance of home. I made a point of going to Cheltenham on the 'Cheltenham Flyer' which was then running under steam from Paddington. Its days were drawing to a close.

Cheltenham, according to the posters on the stations, was an up-market town renowned for its tree-lined avenues and Regency architecture, its pump room and its parks.

'AA' PAAST FOIVE!

The Tewkesbury Road end of Cheltenham was nothing like that. Most of that end was slum property in mean streets, rather like parts of Stambermill in the old days. I lodged in one of these streets, principally because it was within a few hundred yards of the works. The toilet arrangements were a bit primitive, the only washing facility being a sink in the back premises with no hot water except what a kettle on a gas ring could provide. Fortunately the works was better equipped. The landlady's old uncle lived with the family and at 5.30.p.m. we all sat down to a high tea. One evening I recall someone asking the old man what time it was. He produced a large turnip watch, studied it myopically and announced with a flourish that it was 'laa' paast foive'. This was an early introduction to Gloucestershire dialect with which I was to become very familiar.

FOREST OF DEAN COAL.

I had been sent to Cheltenham to investigate and rectify a marked falling off of gas production, the cause of which the local staff could not diagnose. Frank Metcalfe, the Retort House Supt. had, for a time I believe, worked for W-D, or possibly on one of the works where we had contracts.

There was the usual lack of diligence when it came to flue cleaning, but I noticed that the producers seemed to be giving the stokers a little trouble. That isn't how they put it to me, but that was the gist of their remarks!

I discovered that some months previously the Manager had decided that instead of importing the excellent coking coals for which the plant had been designed, coal from the Prince of Wales Colliery in the Forest of Dean was much cheaper. I immediately requested a coal analysis, to find that this stuff had a 25% ash content. Heaven knows what the ash content of the coke was!

There are times when one is a little unsure of one's diagnosis. This was not one of them. I declared confidently that until the coal was changed, I could do no more. It was. Nevertheless the consequent re-tuning lasted until Christmas.

I was able to get home most week-ends, even when a plant inspection had to be done on Saturday mornings. A Midland Red bus stopped near the works about mid-day, bound for Birmingham, and by changing at Bromsgrove I was able to be home for tea. How public transport has changed! Getting back on a Monday morning was also no problem.

The job conveniently finished in time for me to get a break at Christmas.

GLOUCESTER.

Probably due to my success at Cheltenham, which was then under the Severn Valley Gas Corporation, I was next sent to Gloucester, also under their flag. I was told that Charles Ingham, their Chief Engineer had given us more or less carte blanche to improve production which had suffered from war-time problems not properly rectified.

So, on January 3rd. 1947 1 collected my bike from the guard's van and emerged from Gloucester station. As I did so, the first flakes of snow began to fall.

Beginning on that day, that winter was quite appalling. I stayed in Gloucester until the beginning of March when I left to get married, and for all that time there was snow on the ground and the temperature hardly ever rose above freezing. It continued like that until a week or two after we were married. We even had some problems on the works with the overflow water from the coke quenching chambers. Icicles tended to form overnight. One morning on my way to work I saw the girl from the office being carried into a house to await an ambulance. She had fainted with the cold. On arrival at the works I found that a temperature of 0F had been recorded that morning. (minus 18C.)

War-time restrictions had eased but not too much, and domestic fuel was short. Every morning saw a queue of people with carts, prams, pushchairs and bicycles collecting sacks of coke from the works. I had the usual couple of nights in the Bell Hotel in Gloucester, causing Horace the usual anxiety, before someone advised me to go and see Mrs. Wixey who lived at Quedgeley. The Wixey family, I discovered later, was fairly extensive in Quedgely, and 'my' Mrs. Wixey's husband worked at the local R.A.F. Maintenance Unit as a civilian carpenter.

It was a pleasant billet, but the weather imposed a routine. At lunch-time I would cycle into Gloucester, have some lunch at Boots Cafe in Northgate, change my library book at Boots Library and return to the works. I Would cycle back to Quedgeley in the evening where a meal awaited and a large fire had been lit in the dining/sitting room which for most of the time I had on my own. I would eat, read, listen to the radio news and go to bed. Unfortunately, as at Oldham in 1944, my bedroom was at the front, over the unheated front room. Sleep was only possible by putting on as many layers as were available including my thick overcoat on the bed.

The Works Manager was a Mr. Parnell whom I saw infrequently. His Assistant's name I cannot recall, but I seem to remember a man who was perpetually muffled to the eyes against the weather and who wore thick concave glasses. This all meant that you couldn't see much of him. He lived in the house next to the works, curiously named 'Loch Ryan'. It had at one time been the Manager's residence. What if any connection it had with the Larne ferry I never discovered. I was invited to supper with him one evening. In my latter days in Gloucestershire it was sad to see 'Loch Ryan' becoming overgrown and falling into ruin.

On the works at that time was another W-D man, Steve, who was the son of one of our 'old brigade' Operators, Steve Burrows. 'Young Steve' was a retort welder, and reputedly was capable of two things, one of which was retort welding. He, like the other welders, came under the supervision of Sid Branson who turned up from time to time and was usually good for a 'pie and a pint'.

Having been given a free hand by the Chief Engineer I felt more at liberty than usual to say and do what I really thought necessary and was not so inhibited by 'client good-will'. It became apparent that anything I did or suggested was resented by a certain retort house foreman and two of his cronies who had constituted themselves as a mini-mafia. I went to the Manager and suggested that this opposition was cramping my style and that I could do little whilst the opposition held sway. To my great astonishment they were sacked, after which we made progress.

During my second career during which I spent twenty five years in Gloucestershire, I never shook off the possibility of being tapped on the shoulder one dark night!

At this time, preparations were being made for Mavis and I to get married. The provenance of our wedding cake is another story, but Mavis enquired about two square boards on which the cake would be mounted. My connection with R.A.F Quedgeley came in useful as Mr. Wixey the carpenter managed to make two boards out of mahogany instrument panels with no questions asked. The larger one remained as our bread board for many years thereafter.

I also bought our wedding ring in Gloucester, at a jewellers on the Cross, next to the Midland Bank. I still have the receipt which also includes a watch, on which I obtained a discount, having bought the ring!

WEDDING.

I left Gloucester about the beginning of March in 1947, the firm having graciously moved me to the Birmingham area to facilitate my making arrangements for our wedding. Mavis and I had decided to get married in spite of the unpromising life for a married couple when one was working for Woodall-Duckham. We had been encouraged by the example of Maurice and Alice Wadsworth who travelled around together. I have learnt since, and many years later, that senior members of the staff did not expect our marriage to last very long!

It had been my intention when joining the Company, to obtain eventually a less 'mobile' job, perhaps within the Gas Industry proper, but the more I saw of that industry after the war - and I saw a lot of it - the less attractive it became. There seemed to be no alternative to sticking with Duckhams and waiting for something to turn up.

I cannot recall anything about the week or two I spent in Birmingham prior to our wedding; I was probably running round doing a few chores for Sid Branson. I have a vague idea that I was at Cradley and Swan Village, 'keeping an eye on things'.

THE WEDDING CAKE.

During that time, our wedding cake had to be 'arranged'. Rationing was still fairly rigid, and ingredients had been saved up for some months. The Bee family with whom I had lodged in Grimsby had promised that if they were provided with a certain minimum of goodies, then they would supplement these from their catering supplies and make us a two-tier cake. The time came when the cake had to be fetched from Grimsby.

I set off from Stourbridge and arrived at Grimsby with no trouble other than that which could be expected from a tortuous train journey involving changes at Birmingham and Sheffield. An overnight stay was necessary, and over that night we had one of the heaviest snow falls of what had already been a long and freezing winter.

Next day I boarded a train bound for Sheffield at 12 noon. which was supposed to get me to Birmingham at about 5.p.m. However, owing to snowdrifts we had reached Walsall at 12.midnight. Walsall was well off the route, but the direct one was blocked. Somewhere about 1.a.m. we crawled into Birmingham New Street station. I grabbed my cake, which was in two cardboard boxes, and struggled through the snow to, appropriately, Snow Hill station, expecting to spend the rest of the night in a waiting room as the last train to Stourbridge was officially 10.p.m.

I enquired of the ticket collector what hope there was. "Well, sir", he said, "There's a train with steam up in No.3 platform. I don't know when or if it'll be going, but I should get in it and hope for the best." Fortunately it was heated and I settled down to sleep. By some miracle it did set off after about ten minutes, and I arrived in Stourbridge at 2.a.m.

Fourteen hours from Grimsby ! That was exactly the time it had taken me to go from London to Aberdeen in 1945!

My home was at Wollaston and the snow was deep. I had no intention of humping a bag and two parcels of cake all that way, but Mavis was, of course, the daughter of the Police Superintendent. At 2.15.am. I tottered into the police station and asked the duty officer to take charge of the cake. When I told him who I was he accepted it without question. The I.R.A. was not active at that time! So I managed to get through the snow to Wollaston where I was probably told off for being late

THE GREAT DAY.

Soon after that, on March 15th. 1947 we were married at Stourbridge Congregational Church by Revd. Dafydd Arafflah Thomas. Yes it was in Lent, a season in which marriages were discouraged by the Church of England, but this was a Non-Conformist Church which had probably never heard of Lent. The more pertinent reason for our choosing this time was that if you got married before the end of the tax year, you could claim married allowance for the best part of the previous year. Thoughts of the reception at a caf in Stourbridge High Street make me cringe to this day. Some details may be found elsewhere if I haven't destroyed them!

We set off on our honeymoon in freezing temperature. My father-in-law's car with police driver had been called into service and in it we were driven to the station.

The previous year Mavis and I had had a holiday in Ilfracombe, staying with a Mrs. Merriott. How we managed that in those times without causing a major scandal I shall never know. Mrs. Merriott, learning that we were to be married the following March had suggested that we returned to Ilfracombe for our honeymoon. And it was so. We spent our first night in comparative luxury at a hotel in the close of Exeter Cathedral and went on to Ilfracombe the following day. The weather remained cold until time came for our return to reality.

TO ELLESMERE PORT.

My first job after marriage was at Ellesmere Port. Having made acquaintance with the Ince's at Garston, we arranged to stay with them as I felt that they would 'look after' Mavis on her first trip away from home.

The Inces, like many others in the North, were great 'Co-Operators'. Everything was bought at the Co-op and the 'divi' conscientiously claimed. 'From the cradle to the grave' the Co-Op co-operated.

Living at Garston meant that I had to commute to Ellesmere Port daily, not an easy journey, as it involved a tram to the Landing Stage, a ferry across the Mersey and a bus to Ellesmere. At the Ince's Mavis made her first cake in an old gas stove with no thermostat. As 'carbonisation' was my business I immediately felt at home! Her baking improved thereafter!

Ellesmere Port, even then, was the home of a Shell oil refinery. One process involved the use of Fuller's Earth, the spent product containing much heavy oil and bitumen. The works manager found that he could obtain this material very cheaply and had tried to 'carbonise' it and make gas from it in his vertical retorts with somewhat disastrous consequences. I had been sent in 'Investigate and Report'. The outcome is forgotten, perhaps best so.

I had had my 'Operator's Box' sent in advance by rail. On going to the station to claim this I was attended by a porter in B.R. uniform. He expressed interest on discovering that I was working at the gas works and then went on to tell me that he was, in fact, Chairman of the Corporation Gas Committee and implied that I should liaise with him if I had any trouble with the Manager! As a political office tends to be evanescent and a managerial one less so, prudence dictated that I ignore this kind offer!

LINCOLN.

About this time the firm decided to do an investigation at Lincoln. Its purpose I forget, but it was to be carried out principally by Harold Perks and/or myself under the eagle eye of Ron Colles. Some other Operators came and went. Do I recall Dennis Whiteley and Peter Littlehales? Ron I had met previously but not often. There seemed to be a suggestion that whoever got to Lincoln first would be nominally in charge. I beat Harold to it by a few hours, but we managed a comfortable agreement.

Lincoln was something of a show-piece gasworks, the aim of the management seeming to be to demonstrate to the world that coal could be handled and carbonised and gas produced therefrom without dirt. Dust extraction plant had been installed together with vacuum cleaning plant for landings and platforms and everything possible had been painted with aluminium paint. It was most impressive. Visitors were warned by Tom Enwright, the Retort House Superintendent not to leave dirty finger marks on the coal boxes. In addition, in the works curtilage was an area set aside as a rose garden in which locals were welcome to stroll on a summer evening. After the delights of places like Saltley and 'Igginsha', this was almost unbelievable.

The plan then was that I went first myself to a new 'job' and when I had found lodgings, either sent for Mavis or went home for a week-end and collected her. On my arrival therefore, I put up at the White Hart, near the Stonebow. We obtained lodgings on the St. Giles estate with a very pleasant lady who was a nurse at Bracebridge Mental Hospital. Perhaps she regarded us as suitable material to practice on!

Lincoln was a pleasant place and the long winter soon changed into a glorious summer when boating on the river was possible. At one stage we found it advisable to work a two shift system, Harold and I taking alternate shifts. This offered a certain amount of time off during the day.

Another small advantage was that almost next to the works was a factory making Smith's Crisps. From a side entrance one could buy bags of small crisps, 'screenings', which had been rejected for regular sale. For one penny a bag it was possible to supplement one's lunch very adequately.

Interspersed by visits of varying length by Ron Colles the summer at Lincoln wore on. I think we may have been been kept there more by lack of work elsewhere than by the urgency of our investigation.

Whilst we were there the Royal Show was held at Lincoln and King George VI arrived by train with Queen Elizabeth to open the show. We were at the station when they arrived and received a regal wave.

FIRST CAR.

It became plain at Lincoln that Mavis and I could not go on for ever travelling everywhere by train in spite of Horace's "autophobia".

Harold Perks had recently acquired an Ex-Army motor bike, but for a married couple with luggage, such would not have been of much use. I bought therefore a second-hand 1932 Austin 7 car for 120 which was a lot of money in those days. It was already 15 years old and was not in very good shape. Yes, I was 'done', but first-time buyers with urgent need often are. Someone once asked me how fast it would go and I told him that if the needle reached 30.m.p.h. then we were airborne!

Traffic then was negligible compared with today's, and regulations about road-worthiness did not amount to much. The starter motor was non-effective so it had to be started by 'winding the handle'. Nor was there a choke, so that starting had to be preceded by the insertion of a bored laboratory cork into the carburettor air inlet. A selection of bores enabled one to cater for changes in air temperature. I soon discovered that one tyre needed renewal, but in the days following the war they were difficult to obtain. Fortunately the Austin took the same diameter tyre as many motor-bikes, and I was able to get one of these. The circumstances were noteworthy.

I went to a tyre depot and asked the manager about a tyre, telling him that I was engaged on important work at the gasworks. Possibly inferring that his facilities for tea-making were under threat, he turned to his foreman and said, "Let Mr. Green have that one we're keeping for the police. If they ask about it tell them the fire brigade have had it." That was the only time that I have been given priority over Police and Fire Brigade and so it is worth cherishing. Of course I strongly resisted this lack of business ethics - and if you believe that...!

The car was undoubtedly an old (very old) banger and should have been written off, but new cars were neither available nor affordable at that time.

Being limited to 30.mp.h. was a disadvantage compared with Harold's motorbike, but on the day we both came to leave Lincoln it poured with rain. At least we had a roof of sorts over our heads.

Having acquired a car it was desirable to learn how to drive it! I had already acquired a licence, having taken out a provisional in 1944. At the end of the war, if you had held a war-time provisional licence for three years you were automatically given a full licence, so I had no test to take.

I had already 'had a go' with such things as mobile cranes on some works, and this, combined with some experience on the 'dodgems' at Cleethorpes, left only the final polish to be applied. Unkind critics of my driving were sometimes rude enough to suggest that the polish was never applied, but in fact this I did by taking a short course of lessons with a driving instructor in his large Vauxhall. During the second lesson he put me through the Stonebow with inches to spare, and during the third, told me not to go so fast. He did give me a few tips.

  1. Brake into a bend and accelerate out of it.
  2. Never run over a crumpled newspaper in the road - it might have brick inside it.
  3. Give a cyclist as much space as you would a large lorry - the cyclist might be drunk.
  4. Never swerve to avoid an animal, you might hit a child.

My father-in-law was later to add, "Always drive on the assumptionion that every other driver is a lunatic bent on murder, suicide or both." This was probably the most useful tip of all.

Unfortunately the Vauxhall had synchromesh gears and my Austin had not, so the skill of double de-clutching had to be learnt the hard way.

By the time we had to leave Lincoln I was able to drive the car with wife and luggage from Lincoln to Stourbridge. The nature of my job ensured that I got a larger petrol allowance than most.

The Austin (WJ 3758) lasted us for two or three years during which we constantly diced with breakdown and death although we were not aware of this at the time. I think I learnt more about motor engineering from that car than ever before or since. It was sheer necessity! Any journey was accompanied not by fear of breakdown, but by wondering what would break down and whether road-side repairs would be possible.

The same year we had a camping holiday at Portholland in Cornwall and the Austin coped manfully. The brakes left something to be desired, and I recall coming to a thankful halt about six inches from the water's edge at Fowey slipway.

"OFF WE GO TO LONDON".

After Lincoln the firm decided that they wanted me in Head Office, which had then moved back to London. Whether for consultation, commendation or castigation I do not recall. I do remember driving the Austin round the North Circular Road from Uxbridge to Wanstead where through some connection, we had rooms at the house of a Miss Edwina Dyer and in a rather pleasant road. From Wanstead I commuted to town daily by bus from the 'Green Man' then by underground from Leytonstone.

BACK TO GRIMSBY.

London did not keep us for very long and later that year I was sent back to Grimsby to commission a repair, but before we went, we bought a rather swish tandem to give us some local mobility without using the meagre petrol ration. The tandem must have been sent to Grimsby by rail as by no means would it have fitted in the Austin! It was nice to hear comments such as "What a smashin' bike!" instead of "What a tatty old banger!"

The Bee family could not accommodate us, but found us rooms with a Mr. & Mrs Shardlow who lived further down Welholme Road.

YARMOUTH.

After Grimsby I was told to go to Gorleston. I think it was a small job of repair, so after a week-end at Stourbridge, I set off on the long trek to Yarmouth. After a night or two at a Gorleston Hotel, I managed to find some rooms right on the sea front at Yarmouth. These were in a council house just opposite the fun fair. It was not the best place in Yarmouth, but the fun fair had closed for the season. Mrs. Bonney our landlady told me when I first went to see her, that in about a week's time she was going to stay with her daughter in Lowestoft, the daughter being in the last week or so of her pregnancy and 'would we mind being left to our own devices ?' I tried to show a tinge of regret that we would not have the pleasure of her company. It was to be our first experience of having a house to ourselves.

Mavis then took a train from Birmingham to Yarmouth, the journey taking nearly all day, and the train stopping at every village en route. I remember meeting her at Yarmouth Beach station, not in a state of euphoria about the Midland and Great Northern Joint Railway, and wondering if the next station was Vladivostok.

Mrs. Bonney's house was on that peninsular which divides the south end of Yarmouth beach from the harbour. To the works by road involved a bus ride into Yarmouth town, and then another bus from the town to Gorleston works, a total distance of three to four miles. There was, however, a ferry across the river, the Gorleston side of which was within a few yards of the works. This ferry was a rowing boat manned by an old sea-dog named Jumbo, and his relief whose name never emerged. The fare was 2d each way. That is the only time that I have commuted regularly to work by rowing boat.

The weather sometimes caused problems. One very stormy Sunday morning I went down to the ferry. The boat was over the other side, but the ferryman saw me and came over with difficulty. He had to make three attempts to tie up. By this time I was known. "How long are you going to be?" he asked. I told him that half an hour should be enough. "Right", he said, "I'll hang on until you come back, but after that I'm packing it in." The crossing was very rough but of insufficient duration to make mal-de-mer a real problem.

Access to the ferry on the Yarmouth side was across a large quayside where herring barrels were allowed to 'weather' until required. In time one became used to the pervading smell of fish.

When Mavis arrived we had a night at the Gorleston Hotel before taking over our 'rooms with a view'. Petrol was at that time very strictly allocated and one was liable to trouble if found using it for purposes other than that for which it was issued. The car was therefore laid up at Gorleston works until we came to move elsewhere. We had the problem of moving our luggage from the Hotel to Yarmouth. This was done after dark by ferry boat. How we managed to get it all to the ferry I do not remember. The Gorleston slipway was lit by solitary gas lamp on an iron arch and I recall humping our trunk down this slipway. The landing place on the Yarmouth side was a set of stone steps. This made landing more difficult than embarkation. Somehow we managed. The scenario might have made an interesting setting for the start of a horror film.

After a few days Mrs. Bonnie left, returning about a week later to tell us that she was staying away longer than she had originally thought, and would we mind paying the rent to the council offices, taking the money from the amount we had agreed to pay her. The arrangement suited us very well. It was the only time that I have had charge of a council rent book.

We had the tandem at Yarmouth and got about on it considerably until the winter set in. Yarmouth sea front is not a good place to be in winter being nearer to Siberia than many places in England. Both sand and snow used to blow in under the front door.

The Gorleston job was to be completed in two sections, leaving a gap of two or three weeks between the two. I was told to go to Burton-on-Trent for the interim period, but was, unusually, given a guarantee that I would return to Gorleston. We accordingly went back to Stourbridge and stayed with Mavis's people for that period. I commuted from Stourbridge to Burton-on-Trent, not without difficulty.

We had arranged with Mrs. Bonney that we would keep our rooms on at Yarmouth and would continue to pay the rent whilst we were away. I recall going to the council offices and offering to pay three weeks' rent in advance. They eventually accepted this, but it seemed to be the first time that anyone had ever paid a council house rent in advance. It seemed to  throw the system a little!

'GONE FOR A BURTON'

The time at Burton was insufficient for many memorable 'incidents' to happen. There was one involving a a 'tea boy' who, for once, was a rather callow youth. There were no facilities for making tea when I arrived, but I had a small electric immersion heater designed to be put into a jug of water.

I offered to lend this to the commissariat pro tem. On my return to the contractor's hut which was our office, I found that the 'boy' had obtained two bricks on which a kettle had been placed with the immersion heater underneath it It wasn't much use after that. Some mothers do 'ave 'em!

BACK TO YARMOUTH.

 

 

 

The Estate of William John Green, 2004