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Part of Derby's War Effort: At the Vickers Armstrong Factory

by derbygroups

Contributed by 
People in story: 
Harold Lintott
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Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
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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These messages were added to this story by site members between June 2003 and January 2006. It is no longer possible to leave messages here. Find out more about the site contributors.

Message 1 - Derby' war effort

Posted on: 14 February 2004 by sinbad

HI the small bit about the girl who
caught her hair in a lathe is quite
true'and your query about if it ever grew again I can answer no it did'nt
the girl is now my wife,she spent
months in hospital and was very ill and she had'nt fallen asleep whilst
working'safety precautions were very
laxed in those days.


Message 2 - Derby' war effort

Posted on: 14 February 2004 by Peter - WW2 Site Helper

What a superb story; it is both interesting and very well written. If only I can be like you should I get to the grand age of 90. What a memory!

You made my day reading it!

Best wishes,



Message 3 - Derby' war effort

Posted on: 10 July 2005 by Tony Lintott

Dear "Sinbad". I have just seen your message about the article my Dad wrote so long ago. Many apologies for not replying but I had not realised there were any feedback notes.

My Dad is still with us, 92 this coming November, and I'm sure he would like to know who the unfortunate lady was who lost her hair in this awful way.

Would you consider corresponding with me via my email address:

Looking forward to your reply.

Tony Lintott - Son of Harold


Message 4 - Derby' war effort

Posted on: 10 July 2005 by Tony Lintott

Hi Peter, Thanks for the complimentary comments about Dad's article.

I've just seen your message and found one from a person who appears to be the partner of one of Dad's girls at work and, I've replied to it, albeit over a year later!

Perhaps I've missed something but is there a way to alert people to their messages effectively 'lying on file but not read' i.e. an inbox facility?

Tony L

p.s. Dad will be 92 this coming November and he's still as bright as a button.


Message 5 - Derby' war effort

Posted on: 10 July 2005 by Peter - WW2 Site Helper

Hi Tony

That is done automatically. Just check your Personal Page and look at Forum Messages. You will see a digit, (1), (2), (3), ... etc, depending on the number of replies you haven't seen.

Just click on the entry.



Message 6 - Derby' war effort

Posted on: 12 July 2005 by Tony Lintott

Hi Peter, Thanks for your note regarding my 'Inbox'.

You will have seen from the thread of messages against my Dad's article that there is one from "Sinbad" which is of great interest. I have written to this person, somewhat belatedly. Now I'm wonderdering, should I not get a reply in the near future, would it be possible to obtain this persons email address by other means?

Rgds, Tony L


Message 7 - Derby' war effort

Posted on: 12 July 2005 by Peter - WW2 Site Helper

Hi Tony

That is a matter for the WW2 Team. Go here U226169 and repeat your request to them. A member of the Team will then contact Sinbad and check if he agrees to your request.

Good luck,


Message 8 - Derby' war effort

Posted on: 12 July 2005 by Frank Mee Researcher 241911

Hello Tony,
Your Dad has a great memory, at 76 I sometimes worry about mine, the wife sends me for a loaf and I come back with a pint of milk sort of thing. Some events stay forever fresh in your mind and one is of a girl losing her hair in a vertical drill.
I had started work just before Christmas 1944 and at 16 every thing was new. In 1945 I was sent out with a tradesman who owned a motor bike to measure up for machine guards as there was a crackdown on unsafe machines.
We visited a lot of the big factories in the area including Head Wrightsons in Commercial Street Middlesbrough. Long lines of girls worked on machines which were all belt driven.
There had been some accidents as the drill cuttings wound up in long strings then broke off hitting the girls, they had swarfe sticks to knock the cuttings off and they sometimes sprung off hitting the girls. We were looking at ways of putting guards on the spindles. Suddenly there was a scream that made the blood curdle and then the girls started to fall down one after the other.
My mate realising what was wrong said run along and pull the belt handles to stop the machines which I did with another chap who had run in. Meanwhile the girl who had been scalped was grabbed by some one and rushed out to the first aid room. It seemed the other girls had fainted at the sight of it all.
It was a terrible sight to a young lad who up to then had thought work was exciting, it altered my attitude and made me extra vigilant about moving machines there after.
I did find it was not an uncommon accident during the war years, although Snoods were provided some of the girls managed to fluff their hair up round the edges instead of tucking it all in.
I never heard what happened after and did indeed wonder if the hair ever grew back. I now know it never could. Women did pay a price for working in war work and the new statue in Whitehall for those women of the war is well deserved.
Regards Frank.

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