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15 October 2014
WW2 - People's War

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by BBC Southern Counties Radio

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Contributed by 
BBC Southern Counties Radio
People in story: 
Mr Jack Smale
Location of story: 
Brighton, East Sussex
Background to story: 
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
29 November 2005

Scale model of German V-1 rocket made by Jack Smale 1945

This story has been contributed by Georgie Scozzi on behalf of Jack Smale deceased, with permission granted by her uncle, John Smale.

I was 25 when war broke out and was married, living in Portslade and working in a factory in Brighton called CVA, as it was known then, (later to become Kerney & Trecker). I trained as what is now known as a Machine Tool Maker, and we were men who using machines, could cut, bore, mill and shape metal to an accuracy of one thousandths of an inch. Quite a few of the men could handle the machines but only a select few could work to that level and degree of accuracy. It was because I was one of these few that when I volunteered for military service, I was refused on the grounds that my skills were "vital to the war effort" so that was that.
CVA was tasked with two main things during the war. The first was to make parts for tanks, aircraft and other military vehicles, but more importantly, we had to build parts for the machines that made military equipment. In fact, this was harder as to make parts for a production machine needs more precision than making the bits it produces (if that makes sense!). We were given drawings from which we produced the required parts and this was the real skill of the job, in being able to transfer the information on paper to very accurate settings on the machine. The metal that was to be worked on had to be lowered by crane and it may need to be cut and bored many times before the final part was produced. After each cut or bore, the metal had to be lifted and repositioned for the next action and the job could take days. We worked as a two man team, handing the job over to eachother every 12 hours. If either of us made a mistake or the accuracy exceeded one thousandths of an inch, then the job was rejected and had to be started all over again.
As the war progressed, our workload became huge and by 1941-2 the machines were kept going 24 hours a day with two 12 hour shifts. I used to work 8am to 8pm six days a week and sometimes seven, and I have never forgotten the size of those machines, or the noise of them. It was so terrible that we couldn't hear eachother and had to use sign-language! Also with the blackout all the windows were boarded up so there was no natural light or air - horrible. Added to this was the fact that in those days the safety standards were low and the work was very dangerous. I remember that over the years at least a couple of men got killed and it wasn't unusual for men to lose fingers. It was a strain sometimes, the pressure of working to that accuracy for days on end in those conditions, but I remember that our morale was very high and everybody just helped eachother and got on with it. Because of security, we often didn't know what the parts we made were for, but we all knew that what we were doing was important. I don't know how, but someone managed to get drawings of the German V-1 rocket and I made a scale model of it in stainless steel and it turned out quite beautiful for such a deadly thing.
Life at home wasn't easy for civilians either, what with rationed food, air raid warnings (luckily most of the bombers passed us on their way to London, but we did get hits occaisionally when they jettisoned their bombs on their return), and I also had to report for Home Guard duty! I'll never forget one night on Brighton beach, in the dark days before we won the Battle of Britain, standing in the 'sentry box'which I can only describe as a big bit of plywood. There I was at the ready, defending England against the expected invasion when suddenly, something hit the box! It crashed down on the pebbles, with me in it, and I thought; this is it - the Germans have landed and I'm stuck in a ruddy box!By the time I emerged, I realised it was a false alarm; the wind had just walloped the box and blown it over - imagine my relief!!!!

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