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The War Years at Burton, Birmingham and Derby-Part Two

by derbycsv

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Archive List > Working Through War

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People in story: 
T A Trigg
Location of story: 
Burton, Birmingham and Derby
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19 October 2005

University in Birmingham

Returning to the war years, I went up to Birmingham in October 1942 and lived for two years in Chancellor’s Hall, which was then the only men’s hall of residence at the University. Life was so different from home in Burton and, in some ways; I was probably not prepared for it. The Triggs and the Elsons were trades families and I don’t think anyone from either family had ever been to a University in their lives-it was alien to their natures. Although the war was on it seemed to have little effect on our day to day lives, at University, apart from imposing duties over and above the academic commitments.

One of the requirements for all able bodied male students was that we had to join the Senior Training Corps (STC) an army training unit, attached to the University, but also a Home Guard Unit of the Warwickshire Regiment. We had compulsory parades and training sessions twice a week on Wednesday afternoons and Saturday mornings (one was allowed to cut only about five periods a term). In addition there was an all-night guard duty which came round about once a term and the occasional weekend exercise with the regular army. In the summer vacation there was also a two week camp during which one took the military Certificate ‘A’, this was a nationally recognised qualification which ensured that, on being called into the Army, one would go straight to a War Office Selection Board (WOSB) prior to admittance to an Officer Cadet Training Unit (OCTU) without having to go into the ranks first.

My first camp, in 1943 was held near a village named Bishops Tachbrook in Warwickshire. The time was spent in miscellaneous exercises both by day and by night and I remember several route marches of many miles, it seemed, and one of them entailed sleeping under hedges. I think that was one where my friend Eric Orme, on removing his boots, removed most of the skin of his foot as well-it was one large blister. I think the Sergeant did allow him to be transported back in some vehicle.

Apart from the Army Camp it was also a requirement of our degree course that we spent several weeks in an engineering factory, on the shop floor. Luckily in Burton, not far from home was a firm called The Baguley Engineering, run by Bill and Fred Souster. Fred’s son Bill, was in my class at school and mother and father knew the directors. I spent about six weeks there and it was my first experience of any engineering workshop. I remember my very first job was to mark out four locomotive wheel connecting rods. They were about four feet long with a circular boss at one end, with a central hole to be drilled, and a rectangular block at the other end, with three offset holes required. I marked them out exactly to the drawing. After drilling, the inspector drew attention to the fact that two of them should have had three holes offset the other way. There was nothing on the drawing to indicate this and I was present when the draughtsman (I remember his name was Mr Silk) was given an unholy roasting. The connecting rods were not scrapped-unwanted holes were welded up and re-drilled!

Back to University in October and into the second year. The first thing one noticed were the absent faces. In our first year the class sizes were, I would estimate, well over sixty but in the second they had become less than forty. Because Mechanical Engineering was a reserved course, I think a lot of students took it even though they were probably more interested in something else-and it showed in the exam results. In those days engineering was a man’s world, I remember that in our first year we had one girl in the class- in fact she was an Electrical Engineer named Betty Freer. Unfortunately she was one who fell at the examination hurdle.

Apart from engineering being a man’s world, most of the Edgbaston Campus was male dominated as it was, in the main, only the Science faculty there. The Arts were still at Edmund Street, in the centre of Birmingham. Education appeared to be spread around several external colleges and Medicine was adjacent to Queen Elizabeth Hospital, up the road from the main campus. I think Law was also at Edgbaston but I never seemed to meet any lawyers. However also at Edgbaston was the fairly newly built Students’ Union. This was where all our social activities took place and it was a completely mixed environment, all the girls from Edmund Street used it as much as we did.

My second year at Birmingham passed, still at Chancellor’s Hall, and still in the STC. However a new unit of the STC was the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (REME) Section and most of the engineers joined that. There was less emphasis on arms and tactics but more on servicing motor vehicles, setting up field workshops and studying mechanical and electrical equipment. For our last summer camp we were sent to an Officers’ Training School at Rushton Hall, just outside Kettering-much more civilised than sleeping in huts, tents or worse.

Just before our final exams in June 1944 I went to the usual Saturday Hop in the Students’ Union and, as the interval came I saw a very attractive young lady who had returned to the Hall to retrieve her handbag as I was leaving on my own to descend to the bar, I asked her if she would like a drink and together we joined some of my other colleagues in the bar. As the final examination was the following Tuesday we had previously decided to go to the Alexandra Theatre to see a comedy ‘French Without Tears’. I think we had bought the tickets and whilst the rest of the gang had partners I had not, so I asked my young lady friend if she would like to come with us. She agreed, her name was Freda Evans.

That year, the summer vacation was curtailed so that we returned to University early and completed our last ‘year’ in about four months, taking our finals in December just before Christmas. During that term I have to admit spending far more time than I should have done (from the academic angle) with my new lady friend. That year also saw the major turning point in the war in Europe, the Allies had landed in Normandy on 5th June, the same day as our Theatre visit. Somehow I managed to get a degree but not a very good one and it was the end of one era and, or course, the beginning of another.

At the end of University we were all allocated to various pursuits, some going into one of the services and some of us into the industry. I was allocated to the Ministry of Aircraft Production (MAP) and had to attend an interview at their headquarters on the Embankment in London, sometime in January 1945. I prepared what I would answer to all their questions and brushed up on any aspects of aviation knowledge I had. Needless to say, I was a little nervous about the outcome-if I failed would I be sent to fight the enemy?

After a long train journey to London and finding MAP, during the war there were hardly any direction signs and strangers were given little information on request, I arrived in plenty of time and awaited my turn. The interview went something like this;

Interviewer: Good morning Mr Trigg, did you have a good journey?
Trigg: Yes, thank you, I found you eventually.
Int: We are a little difficult to find, but I see that you have been allocated to us. Would you be interested more in engines or air frames?
Trigg: Engines.
Int: Bristol, DeHavilland, Armstrong Siddely, Napier, Rolls-Royce?
Trigg: Rolls-Royce.
Int: Derby, Glasgow, Crew, Barnoldswick?
Trigg: Derby
Int: Thank you very much for coming up, you will be hearing directly from Rolls-Royce. Don’t forget to collect your expenses on the way out.

Of all the interviews that I have had since, never have I travelled so far to say so little. But it was my first ever contact with a Government Ministry and now as I look back, over fifty years later, it doesn’t seem so strange. I remember a meeting in London that took place in the 1970’s. One of our rocket motors had failed in Australia and an investigation had shown nothing wrong other than the appearance of a very high temperature burning charge which, in those days, was not unusual. A meeting was called in London at the Ministry of Defence and BAJ decided to send three representatives, Reg. Summers (Chief Inspector), Arthur Collins (Chief Designer) and me (Chief Plastics Engineer). We arrived in a room so large that it was difficult to hear from one end to the other and eventually had about forty to fifty people round the table many in service uniform with lots and lots of gold braid. The Chairman opened the meeting and thanked us all for coming- I think the meeting was scheduled for 10:30 am. I cannot even remember now what was said but I do know that out of the whole contingent not more than half a dozen or so people actually said anything-and that we from BAJ hardly said anything. At about 11:30 the Chairman again thanked us all and that was that. Arthur wanted to get back to Weston but Reg. and I went to Selfridges for lunch and spent the afternoon shopping. Our thoughts over lunch was how much that meeting had cost the British Taxpayer, all expenses and all the cost of the industrial attendees, with overheads, would have to be charged to the Ministry of Defence, or rather the tax payer. As we used to say on numerous occasions, the MOD does not have any money of its own, it only has ours.

This story has been submitted by Alison Tebbutt, Derby CSV Action Desk. The author has given his permission

part one can be found at

part three can be found at

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