- Contributed by
- People in story:
- Ron Hyde
- Location of story:
- Weybridge, Surrey
- Background to story:
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 30 December 2003
This story is from the memory of my friend Ron Hyde:
Although I was only about 12 years old at the time of Dunkirk in May/June 1940, we were all very much aware of the threat that the German Army posed. One evening I had cycled home to hear the news about Dunkirk on the radio. I remember Sir Winston Churchill's inspiring speech, part of which included the famous lines, 'We will fight them on the beaches' etc. and 'We will never surrender.'
Later in about July 1940, one of my uncles and some of his workmates were killed when a bomb hit the 'Wing Shop' of Armstrong-Vickers in Weybridge, Surrey.
In 1942 at the age of 14 years, I started work at the main factory of Vickers-Armstrong in Brooklands, Surrey. In those days people either walked or cycled to and from work. Private cars and motorcycles were a luxury.
I was being initially trained as a Sheet Metal Worker and Fitter. I was actually on the section which fitted 'Wing Fillets' for the Wellington Bombers. We worked Two 8-hour shifts and Two (2) Wellington Bombers were completed every 24 hours. At about this time everyone was aware that the German Army was still intent on reaching our shores. We were all determined to resist.
One evening, having cycled home from work, I heard on the radio a re-play or a variation of Mr Churchill's 'Dunkirk Speech'. The next day I found that this had inspired my colleagues to call a meeting in the canteen. Everyone volunteered to work extra hours, without pay, to help the War effort.
I was astounded and proud, as the whole factory came to work and carried out their normal 8-hour shifts. After that they went to the wash rooms to freshen up and went to the canteen to eat. They then did further unpaid hours. Every one of those people would be back at 8am to start their next morning shift and to work the additional unpaid hours. We were now working three shifts and this resulted in Three (3) Wellington Bombers being produced every 24 hours. The spirit was unbelievable as we realised that 'Hitler' was just across the channel and had not given up wanting to invade England. We would 'do our bit to stop him'.
After a couple of weeks I was transferred to the hangar, Foxwarren 45, situated at Redhill Road, Byfleet, Surrey. (This hangar still exists as the Bus Museum.) At this time I formally commenced my Apprenticeship and became the fourth member of the 'Experimental Department' team. Our primary work was the construction of 'Prototype Aircraft', including an all 'Alloy' version of the Mosquito aeroplane.
I was later transferred to W46, the largest hangar, in Redhill Road, towards the A3. (This hangar has since been demolished.) I was posted to a team carrying out a 'Top Secret Project'. None of us had any idea what this project was; we were just given instructions to construct and modify various items. The head of this program was Dr Barnes Wallis.
Amongst my seniors, who were then aged about 30-40 years, and had 'Essential Skills', were Jack Manning, who was a Panel Beater and weighed about 16 stones. He couldn't run, but his hobby was taking part in 12-hour cycle races, at which he was formidable. Ernie Jones was a fitter who was a great social chap and organised our dances. Amongst us apprentices and mates, were Ernie Hill, Eddie Crocker, Johnny Shorter and Dennis Collier. Sadly, there may be one or two other characters whose names escape me at the moment.
This large hangar (W46) was about 150 yards long as I remember. It had been virtually cleared except that, at the far end hung a 'Steel Wire Submarine Net'. This completely covered the hangar doors at that end. At the opposite end of this hangar and fixed to the floor, was a massive 'Steel Framed Catapult' made of RSJ's and was about 6 feet cubed. It was operated by electricity. This device spun and fired Steel, 40-gallon drums, which were about 4' wide by about 4' in diameter and filled with Concrete. These drums were fired down the hangar, at the steel netting at great speed. The drums would strike the net and 'ride up it', due to this spin and then, still spinning, roll down and fly across the hangar in a random direction. This was so dangerous (and exciting) for us lads that they placed Railway sleepers embedded in concrete for us to 'dodge behind'. We felt like bullfighters.
At this time the Senior Foreman was Bill Potter and us lads were his constant nightmare. We took every opportunity to deliberately 'dodge the drums', on their indiscriminate return trips along the hangar floor. Bill would be extremely exasperated and shout at us, 'You young buggers will get killed!' and similar exclamations. 'It's me that will have to face the Coroner at Court'. Luckily, (for us) he never had to!
We had absolutely no idea as to what project we were working on. Then one Monday morning we arrived and found about 20 lorries unloading sand. This was being spread all over the floor of Hangar 46, to a depth of about 2-3 inches.
It took no time for us to work out that our 'Secret Project' was for 'Desert Warfare'! In fact one lad, I believe his name was Jack Grimes, drew a picture of a tank on plywood and placed it over the Submarine Net, as a makeshift target.
During all these tests and modifications Dr Barnes Wallis never seemed to leave the area or sleep. He wore his glasses at the end of his nose and was oblivious to those around him except when asked a question or he had a specific requirement. He was always on the move, making copious notes and working out calculations on his slide rule. He never seemed to stop and was continually adjusting his measurements, taking photographs and making further notes, before and after every firing of the catapult.
Secrecy had been total. It was only in 1943, after the 'Dambuster Raids' by 617 Squadron against the Moehne, Eder and Sorpe dams, that we realised we had been engaged in 'Prototype' tests of the 'Bouncing Bomb'.
I am very proud to have been part of the team which carried out the initial experiments for the 'Bouncing Bomb' Program.
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