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- Harold Lintott
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- 14 February 2004
I am just past my 90th birthday and my granddaughter says I am almost an antique! Hmmm … be that as it may, there is no doubt that my memory is, in many areas, moribund.
However, local publications like “Bygones” stimulate that area in my mind of 60 or even 90 years ago and, if I can paraphrase a certain beer advert, it seems to reach the parts that other articles do not. All of which prompts me to reminisce of my time during the ‘39-‘45 World War.
The efforts of Derby industries for WWII have been well documented with special recognition to Rolls-Royce, but there is one segment of that war history which I haven’t seen mentioned (perhaps I’ve missed it) and it was most important to our defence against attack from the air.
At the beginning of the war I worked as a Technician for Chorley’s a dentist in Normanton Road. Being of the age of conscription I volunteered to join the RAF Dental Corps. I attended a recruiting office at the old Assembly Rooms and was accepted but it being at the onset of war I was told I would be informed when and where I would be needed.
During the waiting period however, my calling up papers arrived telling me to report to registration etc. I told the officer I had volunteered for the RAF but was informed that I could not stay in my work at Chorley’s and in his wisdom he said that due to my manual dexterity he was placing me in munitions! So, I spent six weeks training as a precision grinder operator in a small workshop at Rowley’s Hosiery Works on Uttoxeter Road. At the end of the training period I was told to report to Vickers-Armstrong who had a works in Victory Road and I was there for almost four years. I never made the RAF and was ’trapped’ in a reserve occupation.
The Vickers-Armstrong factory was a single storey building if I remember correctly, almost the size of a football pitch. It had been the Co-Op Boot and Shoe factory and when I arrived it was just being converted to an engineering facility for the manufacture of anti-aircraft gun predictors.
These are, or were, complicated mechanical computers for the fuse setting and firing of anti-aircraft munitions using a computed range and height assessment of enemy planes. How efficient they were I don’t know but they required many man-hours to make and build and it seemed a long time before output was visible. This was understandable for when I started staff and machines were few in number.
As the weeks went by machine tools from America arrived, tools I had never heard of like rotary, centre-less and internal grinders, surface and snow ploughs. In other departments they had lathes, gear cutters, drills of all sizes and lots of milling machines. As manufacturing facilities increased so did the number of people employed, including female operators. To oversee production the hierarchy was seconded from Vickers factory in Crayford, Kent. I believe all the managing staff were Vickers personnel.
As a short aside to the management story, the ex Crayford foremen in-charge of the grinding section told me that he had been sent to Derby because and I quote, “they don’t understand engineering in the North of England”. I was highly amused and asked him three questions; 1) Where are all the big ship builders? (a. Scotland and the North of England) 2) Who built the Sydney Harbour bridge?
(a. Dorman-Long of Middlesbrough) 3) What is being built less than a mile from here? (a. the Rolls-Royce Merlin). He was somewhat non-plussed so I said, “Never mind, your education has been sadly neglected!” We worked amicably together though after that.
And so the factory built up to full production, 24 hours a day and 7 days a week. Eventually I could operate all the machines in the grinding section and as more and more females were being employed, my role as a machine operator changed to that of Setter. This meant setting the machines for the girls to allow mass parts production. It wasn’t easy for them on the machines but I remember one whose name was Kath Spelman, I think, she was brilliant.
In these days of the 35-38 hour week, we worked much harder and longer. We completed three years of night shifts, 8a.m. to 8p.m. each day regularly doing 72 or even 84 hours a week plus the fact I had to do the ‘odd hour’ fire watching or Home Guard duty. It was all incredibly tiring.
The long hours had their downside. I remember one night after the midnight break around one o’clock, a quiet and subdued time with just the gentle hum of machinery to be heard, a scream resounded through the factory. I didn’t see it happen but one of the female operators of a vertical drilling machine caught her hair in the revolving mechanism: she was partially scalped. Whether she had fallen asleep or perhaps her hair was not fully enclosed in the safety cap I don’t know but it must have been horrendous. I often wonder whether her hair grew again.
In this brief précis many incidents are left out. Time went by and the war slowly came to an end. Production of predictor mechanisms stopped. As I was on nights I never knew about the output levels or where they were sent but I’m sure they were put to good use in our self-defence firing batteries and in the field.
I was ‘released’ and the complex closed shortly after the cessation of hostilities. There must be many such places that contributed to the war effort but, as the years go by, the memory of them sinks into oblivion. Does anyone else remember Vickers in Derby? Is there anyone still around who actually worked there?
As one grows old, you become increasingly retrospective. I remember asking myself over 60 years ago, why a war? What is it in the human psyche that makes us want to dominate and dictate, destroy the environment and bankrupt the economies of nations and, most importantly, denigrate and crucify our fellow humans? I still ask the same question as we are still at war somewhere in the world — WHY? Have we lost from our dictionaries the words “tolerance” and “understanding”?
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