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They Never Missed A Thing!

by Malcolm Mort

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Archive List > Working Through War

Contributed by 
Malcolm Mort
People in story: 
Ivy Hawker,her husband, parents and brother.
Location of story: 
Background to story: 
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
27 October 2005

The Royal Odnance Follies An amateur wartime entertainments group

This story is an account of the WW2 experiences of Ivy Hawker, her parents and brother. It is recorded by me as a BBC WW2 voluntary information gatherer and offered for publication with the written consent of Mrs Ivy Perryman. (Nee Hawker.)

As far as this story is concerned, the chain of events will be more easily understood by the reader, by knowing what placed the family where they were at the outbreak of WW2.

Ivy's mother (Mary Doolan) married Frederick Hawker in 1910 and in 1911 they went to live in Pantbach Road, Birchgrove, Cardiff.

When The First World War started, Frederick was called up for service in the Royal Engineers and became a cook. This was something entirely different from his civillian job, of working on the land and harvesting the vegetable produce grown in very large farming fields.

However, Frederick found himself taking part in the disasterous Salonica landings in the Aegean Sea, 50 miles from the Serbian Frontier in the Balkans, after they requested aid from Greece to defend themselves against a threatened, crushing, combined German and Austrian attack. Although the Greek Premier had agreed to mobilize the army, he asked for 150,000 British and French troops. The British withdrew a division from Gallipoli to follow the disembarking French, when King Constantine sacked Venezalos and declared Greece a neutral country. By not honouring their alliance with Serbia, it made it impossible for the British and French troops to influence the terrible outcome that resulted in Serbia losing about one sixth of its population.

After the war was over, Frederick returned to his work on the land and eventually set up his own small greengrocery business with a horse and cart. The business progressed successfully until the depression in 1926. Ivy told me that with what her father had endured during the first world war, he considered himself lucky to have survived it. He was a kind man who tried to help people who were worse off than himself. As the depression deepened, he was having problems getting people to pay him for the previous weeks food. The crux of the matter was, that people wanted the food to feed their children, but didn't have the money to pay for it. Her mother Mary said that he was too soft hearted to be in business. Like all small businesses where there is one bread winner, even today the pressures of the business influence the life at home. People get depressed with concern, when there is not enough money coming in to enable them to meet their bills. Unlike many small business people who lost everything during the depression, her father was giving his situation serious thought. Even though his wife was a skilled dress maker, he saw no point in her working to earn money, if his business was not profitable.

It so happened, that Ivy's grandfather Richard Doolan had moved from Ross Carberry, County Cork, Southern Ireland in the 1860's, because he had been unable to get any work in Ireland. Fortunately, he had been able to get work as a gate keeper for Cardiff City Council Cemeteries Department and knew that there was a job vacancy for a grave digger. Ivy's farther, promptly applied for and got the job. As much as the job was not all that well paid, it was at least a regular income and there was also a retirement pension, which in those days was a very important consideration. The job involved travelling around the Cardiff Cemetaries as needed. The work was heavier than her father first thought, especially when it involved opening up graves in which someone had recently been buried, in order to place in another coffin. The work of digging graves, calls for caution and careful shoring up of the sides, to prevent them caving in and burying the grave digger as the grave

was dug deeper. New graves were dug to nine feet in depth. In those days it was all pick and shovel work in all weather conditions, to ensure that the allocated burial times were met.

Frederick worked for Cardiff City Council Cemetaries Department throughout World War 2. In addition to his daily work, he was in the Civil Defence and Mortuary Service, involved with the recovery of bodies after the bombing attacks. So it is fair to say without doubt, that it revived the unpleasant memories of his First World War experiences even though he had always discouraged people from talking about the subject by saying that for peace of mind, such things were best forgotten.

When WW2 started in 1939, Ivy and her brother Alec were living with their parents. Alec got his call up papers for the army, passed his medical and went to serve with the Royal Engineers.

Ivy was working at a shop in Whitchurch selling newspapers, stationary and confectionary.

The houses in the area where they lived were about ten minutes walk from the Llanishen Royal Ordnance Factory. On a number of occasions, the explosive shock of bombing attacks had brought their room ceilings down, broken their windows and taken the tiles off the roof. A common humorous coment from the building repair teams in the area was, “After a few more attacks the houses'll be moving.”

Early in 1941, Ivy had become friendly with some girls working at the ROF who were interested in learning how to play the trumpet and forming a band. On one occasion when they were practicing with their tutor in the upstairs music room of a house in Northcote Street Roath, the house was hit by an incendiary bomb and was set on fire. They all quickly got out of the house leaving the instruments behind. To their amazement their tutor suddenly ran back up the stairs, probably to get the instruments, but it was the last they saw of him. One of their friends was distressed and hysterical. On the spur of the moment they started to run towards Richmond Road, when one of them wondered if the Germans were trying to bomb the railway line and bridge towards which they were heading. Being very scared, they headed back towards City Road, where there was an air raid shelter near to an undertakers and the Gaiety Cinema. The most prominent thing about the undertakers was that it had an illuminated sign on the end of the building. A distressed religious woman suggested that they should pray to God and sing a hymn.

As soon as they heard the 'all clear' they made their way to Crwys Road, avoiding the firemen with their hoses, who were putting out the fires.

When she arrived home, she told her parents what had happened, expressing her concern about their music tutor going back into his burning house to get the musical instruments. Although her parents told her that she had done the right thing and that she would have been very foolish to have gone back into the house, she still regarded her own behaviour as cowardly for not waiting to see if he got safely back out of the house again.

A short time later Ivy received a letter telling her that she was to attend an engineering course at the Cardiff Technical College in King Edward VII Ave, to start her training as a milling machine operator, before being sent to work at the Llanishen ROF. Ivy still remembers the sigh of relief that she breathed, when she read that the factory she would be sent to would be Llanishen ROF, because she could have been sent to Curran's factory on the edge of Grangetown and Cardiff Docks, which was subjected to frequent bombing attacks.

The month at the college was spent learning the basics of machine shop practices, which introduced them to the mathematics of decimals, fractions and trigonometry. The use of micrometers, vernier gauges and calipers, clock gauges and slip gauges, together with vernier protractors and vernier depth gauges. In addition they were taught to read and understand engineering drawings. At the same time they received a basic training in the use of plane, horizontal and vertical milling machines, together with the use of rotary tables and dividing heads.

The College machine shop layout was the same as at the factory, to teach them to accurately machine the very close tolerance parts for anti-tank guns.

After successfully completeing her training, she started at the ROF, working eleven hour shifts on a fortnightly rota. The day shift commenced at 8 am. until 7 pm. The night shift commenced at 9 pm until 8 am the following morning. They worked hard to achieve their bonus on piecework. They had no time to stand around talking, because the times for the maching operations had been set by the time and motion people, timing all of the aspects of the work required to finish the components using a skilled machinist. These timings were accurate to the nearest second for each movement required. For example, the operator would be timed to pick up the component and clamp it in the milling machine vise, which would have a time of so many seconds. The next stage would be to operate the clutch to rotate the milling cutter and wind the table to meet the cutter. This time was then recorded. The next timing is the cutter machining the work, which was another timed stage. The next stage is to pass the table back under the cutter, stop the cutter and remove the machined component from the vise and place in a box. Since machining produced burrs, it was also the operators responsibility to remove them with a hand deburring tool, whilst maching the next component. The time allowed for this was known as the basic time. Time was also added to this to compensate for fatigue and other contingences and also took into consideration the weight and activity in handling the components during their machining operations.

Needless to say that the time and motion people were not very popular people. The machine operators were also under the watchful eyes of the chargehands and foremen, who missed very little. In addition the components were subject to inspection by the Quality Assurance Inspection Department, who checked that all of the dimensions and standards of finish were as required by the engineering drawings.

Ivy has not forgotten having to go to the office of the Quality Superintendent and explain how she managed to scrap four components out of the four hundred she had machined as part of four batches of gun parts. He asked how she managed to successfully machine three hundred components in three boxes and scrap four out of the last hundred? When she told him that each one of the four components were the first of each batch and had been scrapped during the initial setting up of the machine. He asked, “Why each of them was not put in with the batch from which it originally came?” When told that it was done for the sake of convenience in clearing the production paperwork. He told her that the paperwork had to truthfully show what had taken place. He was prepared to accept that four out of the 400 had been scrapped. But not accept that four out of 100 in one box had been scrapped because it indicated that the milling machine operator had not been paying proper attention to her work. In which case it would be a disciplinary matter. He told me that this would mean, out through the gate!

Although Ivy and her friends worked hard to earn their bonus in addition to their wages, they also found sufficient time and interest to set up a dancing and entertainments group called The Royal Ordnance Follies. They entertained workers at the Newport ROF, Llanishen ROF, The British Council in Charles Street and The Garrison Theatre in Fitzalan
Place entertaining the troops. The photograph is of the group in their costumes performing Brahms Hungarian Dance No5.

After serving two years in the Army her brother Alec was medically discharged with a sight problem which restricted his vision in poor light. He was told that he was in the army under false pretences. He told the Medical Officer that he'd clearly seen all of the letters on the sight card
when he'd been medically examined in a well lit room. So he couldn't imagine the Medical Officer who originally examined him, taking much notice of him if he told him that he had difficulty seeing in the dark. Inspite of his sight handicap he became a building inspector and was eventually promoted to Chief Building Inspector with Cardiff City Council.

One night during a bombing attack the army air defence gunners at the Heath, Cardiff. (The grounds of Heath House as it was known in those days, which is now the grounds of the University of Wales Hospital, Heath Park.) were firing shells at the attacking aircraft, which resulted in a falling unexploded shell crashing through the roof of one of the ROF workshops and killing six people when it exploded. It so happened that Ivy was working at the ROF that night. Her father had gone to the Cemetary after the raid was over as part of his Civil Defence and Mortuary Service duty to see if there were any bodies to be collected and taken to the Mortuary. Although the ROF had its own Mortuary Service people, her father went to see if his daughter was one of the victims. The shell had hit one of the other workshops. With the shock, her father had difficulty in cycling the short distance from the ROF to his home and also had difficulty in finding his way. However the following morning he was found to have pneumonia and was off from work for a considerable time.

In due course he was promoted and became in charge of the grave diggers. One of his duties was to meet the funerals and conduct them to the graves. Because of his extensive knowledge of all of the Cardiff Cemetaries, a number of the undertakers considered that he would be of use to them and offered him work after his retirement from the council.

Towards the end of the war, Ivy met and started courting Ronald Perryman, who was working in an office at the steel works. He had been living in Working Street near Cardiff Castle with his widowed mother. Unfortunately, their home had been burnt down during a bombing attack. In particular, Ron had always been concerned about the exposure of the light from the East Moors steel furnaces in the night sky.

Ivy has not forgotten the escape of the German war prisoners from Bridgend. It was about that time when she was walking along Caerphilly Road with her friend on their way to work, when two soldiers in uniform pushed guns in their backs and marched them up the road. As they approached the Industrial Area, they met up with some other soldiers who were taking part in a Home Guard training exercise. At this point they let us go.

Ivy also remembers the incident where her brother Alec was inspecting a house in Northcote Street, when he saw a photograph of her and some friends. When he asked the resident about it, he was told that they were a group of girls who he was teaching to play the trumpet until the house was set on fire by an incendiary bomb, resulting in the girls running out of the house and leaving him. Never to return to see him again.

Although there were originally a couple of thousand femail employees at the ROF, after the war only a few remained and Ivy was fortunate enough to keep her job. In 1950 Ivy left the ROF and married Ronald, then in 1952 they took out a mortgage to buy their own house. To assist with the mortgage repayments, Ivy took what was intended to be a temporary job with Her Majestys Stationary Office. However she remained in their employment until her retirement at the age of sixty.

The interesting thing about Alec and his sister Ivy, is that in later life it was discovered that they were found to be suffering from Retinitis Pigmentosa (a group of hereditary disorders whose common feature is a gradual deterioration of the light sensitive cells of the Retina). Alec died in 1965. Her husband Ronald died in 2000.

Ivy is now registered as blind and has a Labrador guide dog to help her get about. Despite her disability, Ivy is still keenly interested in music and occasionally attends concerts

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