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15 October 2014
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Contributed by 
BBC Southern Counties Radio
People in story: 
Norman A Harding
Location of story: 
Background to story: 
Royal Navy
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
02 August 2005

Sworn to Secrecy

“This story was submitted to the People’s War site by Sue Lacey from Dorking Library and has been added to the website on behalf of Mr. Harding with his permission and they fully understand the site’s terms and conditions.

In 1941 my family and I were living in Croydon, when we were bombed. My father was eager for us to leave the area, so after being made homeless the whole family moved to join him. He was at this time serving in the Navy and stationed down in Hamble, Hampshire. The navy had commandeered a yacht from the Coleman mustard family and my father was its Chief Petty Officer and on patrol in the Solent

Come 1942 and 16 years old I had to get a job so eventually started work for Armstrong Sidley, who were building the future aircraft of Britain. At the time they were working on the Ensign which was the aircraft that was finally used to bring back the injured from Dunkirk. My job was to help repair damaged aircraft. My work comprised of hammering rivets onto the panels of damaged Spitfire wings. I was commonly known as a “tin bashers” mate. It was a monotonous and boring job.

I was keen to get into the electrics side of the business and I kept pestering the foreman until he asked me to join the electricians, which made me very happy. After I’d joined them I was called into the B hanger where they were working on prototypes to improve the performance of aircraft. I had to sign a secrecy agreement which at 16 years old made me feel very important. At the time, Navy Development was looking at modifying the Spitfire to enable it to land on an aircraft carrier. To modify the Spitfire a special switch needed to be fitted which was, called a ‘micro switch’. This had to be fitted to the deck arrester of the aircraft indicating to the pilot on his control panel whether the hook, that caught the wire from the deck of the aircraft carrier, was up or down. It was my job to fit this switch, a crucial part of equipment. To get into the plane I had to move a heavy armoured plated seat and crawl into the slim fuselage. It was a good job I was slim then! This was a new idea and the whole procedure was very secret, it would have been disastrous if the enemy had found out. It was proved to be successful and adopted and put into service.

I was called up in January 1944 and enlisted into the Fleet Air Arm because of my knowledge of aircraft maintenance. We were told we were not for the European War but the Japanese war. More Aircraft carriers were being built for this war and they needed experienced service mechanics to maintain the aircraft on these carriers.

It was at this time that I found out that the aircraft I had helped to develop was proving to be a real asset to the war effort and had been named The Seafire.
I was very proud and excited to have been involved in such an important and new development. It went on to be extensively used and was invaluable, especially when they helped to liberate Malta.

The reason I am here today recalling this story is because President Truman decided to use the atomic bomb thus ending the war in Japan allowing me to be demobbed.

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