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Starting work in war time part five

by Frank Mee Researcher 241911

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Archive List > Working Through War

Contributed by 
Frank Mee Researcher 241911
People in story: 
Pa Forrester, Steve Small, Tommy Dixon, Frank Mee.
Location of story: 
Stockton on Tees
Background to story: 
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
28 May 2005

The Bloody war is not over yet.

Introduction to Sal volatile (Salvolatili)

Back to work a couple of days after VE Day and all standing talking about the great party we all had when Dick Brown walked in and in his dulcet bellow proclaimed "the bloody war is not over yet, lets be having some work done" with that rude awakening we all buckled down to routine.
It began a strange summer for me where I met some nice Ambulance room attendants and Doctor Sal volatile the cure all of the time.
A short time before VE Day Arthur Brown asked me to have an early tea and go fit some guards to a crane running gear with Steve Small who was one of the best craftsmen in the works. We were dropped off at Hills a woodworking factory on Norton Road. Steve had measured and made the guards so did not expect to be there long.
The crane was the highest one in the plant and some of the working parts were too close for comfort to the woman crane driver hence the guards. We checked and the crane was switched off with a tag saying men working so Steve went up the ladder and dropped a rope for me to tie the guards on and him to haul up. Once they were up I went up the ladder and putting one of the long guards on my shoulder started off along the gantry following Steve, He turned to see if I was OK and there was a blinding flash, the guard steve was carrying flew through the air and landed beside a man cutting veneer on a machine below. I learned later he promptly fainted which made the men down there think the guard had hit him. On the gantry Steve was flat on his back with his legs dangling off the gantry so I dived on him to hold him. He was shivering and moaning and I was hanging on to the very low guard rail and holding Steve at the same time. Eventually some men came racing up the gantry and they had to lower Steve to the ground on a stretcher. He came round in the small first aid room with burns on his hand and feet after copious wafting of the Sal voatile bottle under his nose. Rough and ready was the order of the day and he was bandaged by a man with hands like shovels but a gentle touch. I got wafted with the odious smelling salts too just in case.
The crane driver coming back from her tea had thought no one would be working up there so late took the notice off the switch and switched the power on. When Steve turned to see if I was ok the end of the guard touched the live wires. The crane driver too was in the crowded first aid room sniffing the famous bottle, we were sitting round like a gang of drug addicts all wondering what had hit us poor Steve knew, he was lucky to be alive. The guards got fitted at the weekend with all the fuses removed and in our tool bag.

Motor Bike Gipsy's.

Arthur asked me one day if I would ride on the pillion of a motor bike. He did not know I had a motor bike at home I had rebuilt with a little help from Uncle Bob so the answer was yes.
Tommy Dixon came from Sedgefield every day on a Arial motor bike, it was a big bike and he was a little chap but he could certainly handle the thing. He too was a brilliant tradesman and had the task of going out to measure up machine guards, pipework and other metal work. These items would be made in the shop then dilivered and we would go and fit them.
The government at the time were worried about the number of women sustaining industrial accidents so were cracking down on machine guards.
Monday morning Tommy and I took off to visit ICI Billingham then on to Head Wrightson Thornaby measuring pipes and guards. Tommy would draw them up when we got back and the men would make them up. I thought it was great fun being paid to go walk about on a motor bike if you know what I mean. I was away from Pa's beady eye and slave driving habits as he instilled the mathmatics of steelwork into me, a hard taskmaster but I blessed him for it later in life.
We went to the Chrome works to measure a pipe that wanted renewing and it had to be exact as it was to be glass lined so you could not alter it if it did not fit. Problem, the pipe went from one building to the next at roof level across an open space with around a fifty foot drop. How to get the tape across, easy, the bold frank would walk across the pipe taking the tape with me. The pipe was about four foot diameter so I had no worries about walking it, wrong, the pipe was rotten and just over half way I found myself going down. The top caved in and my legs slid inside the pipe, I had thrown my arms out when I started to go so the upper part of my body was still outside the pipe. Tommy was yelling at me they would get a ladder dont move!! dont move!!! was he kidding! the hot vapour inside the pipe was cooking my legs and I could smell the sweet smell of ham being broiled. There was only one person going to get me out, it was me and fast. To this day I have no idea how I did it but people watching said I came out like a cork from a bottle and my feet did not touch the pipe until I hit the roof. Some men who had come up whisked me down to the Ambulance room where a motherly lady stripped me down for an inspection and rubbed a green salve on the fairly deep cuts scratches and blisters plus of course the Sal volatile bottle. Tommy was playing war because I had dropped the tape end so he could not measure the pipe. The foreman of the plant was playing war because he had to shut the plant down to repair the pipe, I was not flavour of the month so I went out and kicked Tommy's motor bike, I probably hurt my foot doing it the way things were going around me. We did do the measuring and got back to base where Arthur said "are you alright son, best keep moving it is the best way, make some shelves for the lockers", so much for sympathy or medals.
A week or two later we were at the Nuffield Factory Eaglescliffe, they reduced old and crashed planes to aluminium ingots for re use. It was a massive place and we were measuring for machine guards in most of the buildings. It meant a lot of walking but I got to sit in the cockpits of planes I had only seen flying overhead. Some came straight out of crates and were scrapped as redundant, everything was there in the cockpit and all types of plane. They were stacked high waiting to be scrapped. I had great fun until Tommy would catch up with me again. We were always first in the place of a morning rather than get caught up with the rush and we also had time for a cup of tea.
This particular morning we walked into the workshop building and all we could see was motes of black dust floating around, I heard Tommy shout, he recognised it for what it was, danger. As I turned there was one hell of a bang and the blast bowled us both over. A wall alongside was shattered as something flew through it and the next minute we thought it was snowing. Again we ended up in a medical room with busy hands going over us to see if all was where it should be and the famous cure all bottle was out again.
When it all came together they worked out that an Acetyline bottle had been burning from a back flash all night and decided to blow when we opened the door. The motes were the soot from the burning,it burned like a sooty candle for hours before deciding to blow. They can blow three days after a fire. The hole in the wall was from the Oxygen bottle having its end blown off and taking off like a torpedo up the shop and out via the wall. It had sailed down the road though the people walking up and missed them all. The snow was the material from inside the Gas bottle, Tommy and I had been saved because we were behind a massive press as we walked in the door, a couple of steps further and I would not be writing this, we still gathered a few bruises as we were thrown off our feet though.
I was beginning to think this wandering life was highly dangerous, the safest bit was going to and from the jobs on the motor bike, I wondered if I should ask for danger money and can imagine Arthurs face if I had.
All was well until the end of July when we went back to ICI Billingham. We were putting some guards on machines among the women working in the place and that proved the most dangerous of all. It is no fun working among gangs of women as the can be feral in a pack.
I would carry the guard and tools into the plant watching all round to make sure they were on a break or doing something away from where we were working. I would climb under the machine and next minute my legs would be grabbed and I would be dragged out for what ever sport took their fancy. I was a big lad but they were in numbers and you cannot fight a pack. They suffered believe me but I usually ended up with my trousers off or worse. It got that I went everywhere on top of the plastic baking ovens, they were long ovens and in rows so I could jump from one to another, dad was forever putting the nails back in my boot soles they dropped out with the heat but at least I was safe.
On the days we were back in Browns factory Old Pa would run me ragged as we turned out weird shapes in metal. He may have been well past retirement age but could work as hard as any one. We made Cyclone dust extractors and they had double skins with baffles in between. We would set the baffle between the two drums and then Pa would hold a piece of wood and I would clout it with a hammer. As we worked the ring down the drum the hammer came closer to Pa and I once said laughing, "what happens if I hit you on the head" he looked at me and said "you will not remember", the look in has eye said it all.

August, we heard about the Atom bomb? Atom bomb what was that? then the second and the war was over. Did we feel pity for those people killed by those bombs? No, were we worried about the Atom bomb? No. we were just happy it was all over and the lads could come home some after five years away, some who had been prisoners since early in the war. Anything that ended the war quickly got our vote at that time.
We did not know that another six years of rationing were ahead. We did not know we would live 50 years under and Atomic threat we just rejoiced. Another big party, bonfires, kissing the girls and feeling that now we could start living.

That was the end of the war as seen through the eye's of a lad who soaked it up like a sponge and then never spoke of it for nearly sixty years.
These stories have been for for family who asked a little while ago what was it like Dad, I started to write and found it all pouring out, I think it was a relief.
The End.
Frank Mee.

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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 - Working in the war Pt 5

Posted on: 29 May 2005 by Trooper Tom Canning - WW2 Site Helper

Frank -
this is no where near the end - I'm sure there is lot more that you are hiding from your are bringing a lot of memories back to me as I was selling tools in that area to Head Wrightson - Cargo Fleet - Dorman Long and all the others crowded into that area. The head buyer at Dorman Longs in 1951 was a Mr Wilson who shocked me one day by asking if I could quote him for three - 3" x 24' oil fed Morse taper Drills - so I called Birmingham head office and we had three in stock at 24GBP each - I walked down that road about six feet off the ground with that order for 72GBP in my new briefcase - King of the hill ! Mr Wilson could do no wrong from then on as I sat each month in his waiting room with a picture of the Sydney Harbour Bridge on the wall,little did I think that 40 years on I would actually sail under that same bridge. Unforgettable ! Thank you Frank for the reminders ! Regards


Message 2 - Working in the war Pt 5

Posted on: 29 May 2005 by Frank Mee Researcher 241911

Thanks for that. There are some parts that cannot yet be told because people still live here who would be embarrassed by it all.
I have not mentioned the Cerebos salt works at Greatham as it is far too risgue for these pages. Head Wrightsons Middlesbrough quay where I saw a girl scalped and dashed along stopping the belts as girls fainted in droves. Some further runs to Nuffields added to my education in all ways and ICI Billingham where I was seriously attacked by a small group of women and handed out some serious injury's in my efforts to escape I thought it was the sack for me only they dare not report it after intervention by a lovely girl called Zena. Lets say it was part of the growing up fast process and leave it there until some date in the future, If I can remember by then of course.
Regards Frank.

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