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15 October 2014
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Making parts in Cambridge

by cambsaction

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Derek Camps
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21 December 2005

I started work when I was 14 at Unicam at Arbury Road in Cambridge. I was on apprenticeship for instrument making — this was about 1938. I was there when war broke out and - we could not see much when it started but then we started getting a lot of equipment from the First World War, to bring up to date.

We started doing up to date stuff — range finders for 25lb guns, coastal command guns, large telescopes for number 10 directives. There were all manner of things. I remember loads of screwdrivers — we had to put an iron on for hanging on guns. Control pullies made of magnesium for mosquito bombers. We had lots of turnings coming off the pulleys so we had dustbins to collect the turnings. A spark flew off the grinding machines and set it all off- the blaze cracked the asbestos roof. I was there when they dropped the incendiaries through the roof and I helped put out the fire. All the lights were off and there was panic because no one knew where to run.

We spent lots of time down the shelters — ever ytime the siren went off. We wasted so many man hours they decided to build a shelter in the factory — like a pill box with a steel door. But we didn’t use it and it had a lot of rubbish put in i.t I was on shift from 6 till 6, then I had time off. There were two raids intended for Unicam. A high pressure bomber flew over and aimed for Unicam and I saw the vapour trail — I didn’t know what to do but it fell in open ground

I remember the first Stirlings. One of them circled the village — Rampton - for some time to empty fuel tanks as the undercarriage wouldn’t come down. They used to fly so low the ceilings in the bungalow were all cracked. They had two tail wheels and they had to be wound up by hand.
We went to look at the crashes if we were on day shift. I remember seeing a mosquito and I wanted the wood for model aircraft. But it was all burnt out and the crew didn’t stand a chance.

On one shift, all of a sudden, I heard a German airplane and my whole bedroom was lit up with searchlights from Oakington. The tracers seemed like they were coming into the bungalow. When we went to look, it was like new, all the guns and that. They told me some bombs were dropped on Oakington. There was a trainee pilot from Marshalls circling in a tiger moth round and round and he landed in a field. He asked 2 farm labourers to switch on the ignition while he swung the propeller. As soon as he swung, the tiger moth started to taxi, he ran round and got hold of the main wing strut. The labourers had made off, so I hung on but it was taxiing faster and faster and we couldn’t keep up so we let it go. It went into a ditch, the main spar on the wing broke. I asked him what he was doing and he said he was lost. I said if you had followed the railway line you would have got back to Marshalls He borrowed money off me to ring Marshall to come and get him.

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