Thursday, April 26, 2007

Making the war effort work.

Last night looking through the local paper I saw another old working acquaintance had gone to the Boiler Makers heaven under the rule of Vulcan.Working in the flame noise and dust of a boiler shop I suppose we are more adapted to the other place than sitting on marble thrones playing harps.
We met as we started work in 1944-5 with the war still going on but knowing we were on the way to victory.Thinking of Jimmy last night it brought back some memories of those times and even to me they are beyond belief. The conditions we worked in would be considered satanic mills now, the health and safety officers would have a field day.For a couple of my memories see comments below.

8 Comments:

Blogger Frank mee said...

Having progressed from the wire works down to the Heavy Sheet Iron Shop, we worked with all sizes of plate from 3/8th thick down, we did use heavier plate for flanges, bases, brackets etc. Mainly though ¼ thick plate was the main one.
The factory fabricated every shape in metal you could imagine, masses of pipe work for dust extractors furnace blowers and chemical works, (glass lined). We also made ships lockers for the local ship yards and air conditioning ducts also for those new ships. It was a very busy shop.
In the middle of the shop the only clear area contained a massive plate shear and puncher, it was belt driven noisy and dangerous but the Shearer was king, standing there with his leather apron he knew his job. Once a plate went to the shear he was in charge, when the cut started it could not be stopped without ruining the plate and material was precious.
A cry would go up “shears” and six or more men would drop what they were doing and go to the man who wanted a lift. The plate usually nine feet by five feet would be picked up flat and carried to the shear were the Shearer would line it up with us still holding it then guide it into the nine inch blade that never stopped.
We all watched him as with hand movements “up, down, pull out, push in, press down, lift up” he split the chalk line down the middle. The subtle moves he called for kept the plate on line and I never once saw him get it wrong. The other side was a punch and again once it was in motion you could not stop it.
The shout would go up “punch” and we would go and lift the plate on the rollers. You still guided the plate but the rollers took the weight and the puncher ran it from pop to pop punching the holes for rivets in one continuous run. We all helped without thought because you would need a lift next, even the Foreman and the Boss sometimes gave a hand and the men sang as they worked.
Of course us lads were full of mischief and when you were committed to something and could not let go until the job was done it would be the ideal time for getting your own back.
Jimmy came up behind me with his marker paint and brush proceeding to paint me a moustache and white spots all over my face as I was pressing down one corner of the plate to keep it straight, it was more than my life was worth to let go and belt Jim, when the cut was over and the plate back on its bench the chase would begin.
The fact I had undone his belt and dropped his trousers whilst he was on the shears in full view of the girls working over the road could have been his reason for painting my face.
So we would end up in the Foreman’s office, covered with various colour paints being told we were a useless waste of space and if it was not that the shortage of labour or other idiots who would do what we did for the low wages we would be out of the door.
In various escapades I left Jimmy hanging from the crane dangling over the blacksmiths cooling vat, black oily and hot if Jim slipped. Jim removed the ladder whilst I was on the roof of the building three stories high repairing a roof light. I had to smash the light and drop to the floor about twelve feet good practice for the parachute roll in years to come. It was a wonder any work got done but it did and the men sang while doing it, that is what I remember most.

Thursday, 26 April, 2007  
Blogger Frank mee said...

THE NEW MACHINE
One day a truck rolled up and off the back came a huge box marked Cincinnati USA. A couple of days later came some men in white overalls with Cincinnati on the back who unpacked this mystery machine and installed it. I was told to work with them making their coffee and running errands. (They Brought their own coffee and when I brewed it almost the whole workshop would be around sniffing the aroma)
The machine was a Rotary shears which would cut up to 3/8th plate. Two wheels could be adjusted to the thickness of the cut and then it was a case of guiding the plate.
We could cut any shape with it and as we made dozens of segmented bends it was a boon.
The men who came showed some of the men how to use it but I had been in from the start and it turned out had an eye for cutting with the machine.
It came to a point where any one cutting out segments for bends shouted for Frank.
Once you started as with the old machine you had to complete the cut as it was almost impossible to get the plate back out the way it went in to the shear.
The waste you cut off would twist up into spirals with razor sharp edges and would attack those in front of the machine from all angles.
Cutting a straight line one day I heard a scream from the other side but you did not stop. I finished the cut then when the plate was taken away went to see what was happening.
Ginger was writhing on the ground yelling you have cut my F###### C### off. Mrs brown who had heard the scream and seen Ginger go down came rushing up with the first aid box.
Take his trouser off, that upset Ginger even more but the lads did it with glee and we all looked.
The point of the scrap end had cut across his old man barely scratching the skin but then dug into his thigh luckily missing the main vein but there was a lot of blood.
He was lifted into the works van and taken to Stockton and Thornaby Hospital were they patched him up and told him he would be OK for work next day. Life in civvy street could be dangerous too.

Thursday, 26 April, 2007  
Blogger Tomcann said...

Frank -
I know exactly what you mean by working in the Satanic Mills as I had a bellyful of that before call up, and working in Nuffields making the hulls of Crusader Tanks with drillers and welders showering sparks all over the place.
Then after the war visiting the English Steel mills in Sheffield and watching a "pour" of white hot liquid steel - and the men being supplied with about four pints of beer to replace the sweat they were losing !!!
You couldn't have paid me in diamonds to work there !

Friday, 27 April, 2007  
Blogger Frank mee said...

Tom,
I found it exciting and very interesting as no two days were alike.
With the wire works and the metal works together there were quite a few boys of my age who could find more ways of getting into trouble than you would believe.
When rain came pouring into the top floor of the building one day Dick Brown sent two of us up on to the roof to find out why.
On that building there was a sky light that opened on to a flat area. We found the gutters in the valley's between conjoining roofs had a hundred years of muck and dead birds in them but also found a play ground that could take us from roof to roof along the whole of Prince Regent Street to Dovecot Street. This was the heart of the town and we had to cross the Fire station roof to get there. They had a handy hose drying tower to climb down to street level.
We managed to get nearly a week up there supposedly cleaning gutters but mainly clambering over roofs and watching the girls below us.
We eventually got caught out when the girls in the council office across Dovecot Street discovered we were looking into their change room three floors up.
The roof I spoke of in the story, we climbed onto a flat roof two stories up then pulled up the ladder and from there put it at a precarious angle to reach the other roof. Jim removed it whilst I was up there expecting me to beg. He was as shocked as the lads below when the sky light was kicked in and a body came flying through to roll get up and walk away.
The Browns were none too pleased with us madcaps and we found ourselves red-leading pipe work for a week.
Working with top class Boilermakers many brought out of retirement was the best training we could have had. You cannot even mark a straight line on plate without using maths.
Developing the many shapes used in pipe and boiler work was one continuous maths lesson and did those old boys enjoy driving it into our thick skulls.
I had an amazing two years before joining the army and regret not a minute of it. You had to be a hard man in a hard industry, the lessons I learned proved to be a good foundation for the rest of my life.

Friday, 27 April, 2007  
Blogger Tomcann said...

Frank -
I must have had it too soft as when we came to realise that I would not be going on the St Andrews as the war had put an end to that - I started an apprenticeship as Cabinet maker, and so the first few months were apent extracting nails from old wood to be re cycled - this was dullsville and one day when the foreman went downstairs for something - I sat down on the case
covering the rip saw motor.
When I heard the foreman coming up stairs - I was on my feet - he came straight over and planted his size twelve on my behind - on asking why - he just pointed to the perfect imprint of my behind on the sawdust covered box.
To-day - he would be in the slammer for abuse !

Friday, 27 April, 2007  
Blogger Frank mee said...

A different time Tom, if we broke the rules and got caught we suffered the punishment in silence.
Our Foreman was six foot six and three stone wringing wet I do not think he considered belting us, by then well muscled lads.
Swinging fourteen pound hammers, and lifting 1/4in nine by fives around did things for your muscles.
His punishments were sorting out the stock yard, putting the angle irons in the correct rack. Lifting sheet iron plates off the floor where idle platers had dropped them looking for a certain gauge plate and re stacking them in order.
All heavy work, or he would set us to painting pipework, we managed to get more red lead on ourselves than the pipes.
I was often saved by Pa, my mentor tutor judge and jury, who would shout "get your big idle self over here and do some work, what are you playing silly buggers for" that was the only swear word I ever heard from him. He was the bosses father in law so the Foreman let me go.
One night in the dance hall all hell broke loose in the Cafe. We went to see the fun and found Jim the Foreman getting thrown around like a wet rag.
He was single and had a way with the women but always managed to find the married ones who's husbands were out drinking coming in at last waltz time to collect their women.
One had come back early and found Jim canoodling. We watched until the husbands mates decided to have a go at Jim, well you cannot have uneven odds so we all bounced them, there were quite a few of us.
The only thanks we got from Jim as we picked him up and dusted him down was "you bloody lot took your time coming to help me" thanks would have done.
The Brown brothers were all characters they knew how to control wayward lads like us, one shout from Dick and we all had weak bladders.
I am sure they turned a blind eye on many occasions because we could and did work very hard when required to.
I had fun, at times pain, but never boredom. The men sang as they worked, do they sing today I wonder.
We worked six days a week, two half shifts, (the men did three or more)the men worked most Sundays too.
I also did two nights at school and half day Friday (not many firms allowed that). I had home work for most nights and also had to make cardboard patterns of weird shapes in metal for Pa they had to be spot on or else.
Yet I do not remember thinking it too much, I managed to get my dancing in as well plus the odd night at the pictures. I think we must have been a tougher breed.

Friday, 27 April, 2007  
Blogger Tomcann said...

After five 12 hour nights a week for months on end all we could do was totter around a dance hall for a few hours and keeping strictly away from the fights - sleep was a big priority - but we did manage a an hour here and there when the raids were on - if we weren't home guarding or fire watching etc - as you say - they were different times

Friday, 27 April, 2007  
Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

Civilian work in heavy industry was all part of the war effort. And you sang while you worked! my mother always said everybody kept their spirits up by singing in wartime.

You never usually seem to hear people singing along together in that way these days. Apart from in a church the closest you might come to it is at a football match, but the crowd tend to sing separate songs depending on the team they support.

Saturday, 19 May, 2007  

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