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Interview of Betty Woodcock, 5th April 2001

Interviewed by Dave Gladdish

Interviewer
It’s April the 5th, 2001. This is Dave Gladdish I’ve come today to see Betty: who we all knew for years at Auster Aircraft as Betty Smith. Betty was a significant figure in the life and times of Auster Aircraft for probably more years than she would like to admit to, but we have come to talk to her today to see what she remembers about times at Auster Aircraft and to tell us the things that she remembers most and looks back on either fondly or otherwise.
Betty
You’ve got to say you looked at it fondly. Everybody had their bad days but on the whole everybody enjoyed the life at Auster’s. I first started straight from school. I was interviewed by Alfred Harman at the top end of the prefabricated offices that were there. I went to work in the sales office with Margaret Collington and Jerry Garner – the secretary and flight controller – and in the sales office at the bottom of office were Jim Harrison and Ranold Portias. I went as the junior, which consisted of doing all the filing and making tea. ((laughs)) I can’t remember when it was as it was a long while ago. ((laughs)) I left school when I was 16 I think.
Interviewer
Were you living locally?
Betty
I lived at Barsby and there were quite a few girls from the village and from Gaddsby that also worked at Auster’s at the time. We all used to bike down and across the road together. In those days there were no cars ((laughs)). You used to ride all abreast. It was quite good fun. We used to have a good time. We always used to wait for each other to go home at night, especially in the winter. We all used to ride home together in the dark.
Interviewer
Would they be girls from Barsby?
Betty
And Gaddsby. There was Sylvia Monnigan – she worked in the wages department. There was Anne Baker – she worked in the costing department on the comptometers and the old adding machines. There was Reeny Marriot – she used to work clocking the men on and off of their jobs. Number six work, she was. I can’t remember who else there was. There used to be about five or six of us. On the opposite side of the passageway in the prefab office were Mr Clark and Mr Plimley who they used to call the bookends – one was the account and the other the bookkeeper ((laughs)) – and then the girls that used the office. The next office to us was the sales office for Colonel Baisley. He was the pilot that used to come down from the army to fly the military aircraft after Les Leatham or Mr Portias had flown them. He was the one that used to sign out the military ones and take them away. Then there was Mr Harman and his secretary Barbara Sherwood that were in that block. In the next blocks there was Eric Hall who was in charge of spares and service along with Les Wilson and Mr Hitchman. Opposite them were Albert Codlin, Joe Eames and Joyce Watton their secretary, and Mr Bromley. Lower down the office was Mr Fred Bates, Mr Sharpe and their secretaries and then they joined onto the hangers. It was quite good fun. I used to work pretty well full time with Margaret and Jerry and then they decided that I would have to not stop in the sales department all the while but go and learn something else, so I went across into what was like the drawing office on number six where they used to bring all the drawings and where the workers used to come and get them to do the jobs with Dusty Sugg.
Interviewer
The drawing stores?
Betty
Yes, under Ham’s office and then it later turned into the plastics department, didn’t it? Her husband Bob Sugdden used to be the RTO, didn’t he?
Interviewer
I don’t know.
Betty
Don’t you remember him? The front door that is now, and it’s still there, as you go up the road there was a front door and his little office was in there and the opposite side of the office was where Mrs Church used to be with the switchboard before it was moved to the gatehouse.
Interviewer
That must have been before 1951 then?
Betty
Yes, it was before they built the double tier brick offices as that’s where all the prefabricated offices were. They built the double storey there and it’s still there now. They had the drawing office on the top.
Interviewer
I started there in 1951 and Mrs Church was in her gate box.
Betty
I started before you then, didn’t I, because that’s where she used to be – across there. Dickie Roon, who used to have the progress and buying office, was at the side of Ham’s hanger. Before you went into the hanger you used to go into the progress and buying office and that was before they moved to behind Mrs Church in the drawing office, as it was.
Interviewer
The planning office was in there as well, wasn’t it, with Alan Greasley and the jet ((?))
Betty
That’s right and that’s where they used to come and ask for the drawings to go with the jobs when they came from the drawing office. They were all compact. It was quite nice actually.
Interviewer
You used to cycle to work from Barsby?
Betty
Yes.
Interviewer
As you said, life and times were different then as there wasn’t much traffic, was there?
Betty
No, there wasn’t the traffic. I don’t know quite what happened but we suddenly had an influx of work and we went subcontracting. We had a lot from Boulton Paul, Hunting Percival and various things so they did a recruitment campaign and they had a lot of people come from the other side – Oakham – so they started running the buses and that’s when we stopped on the bikes and we used to come on the buses then. It was quite a lot better because they used to come from right out the other side of Oakham. There wasn’t much in number four at the time then, that’s all there was. There were just a few bits from Hunting Percival and Boulton Paul and then that expanded so they moved. It was self-contained over there then. They had the planning, progress and inspection office all moved over there and they did just subcontract work. That’s when I moved over there with Wally Beale, Stan Weston and Bill Plupmit. We were upstairs and then the stores expanded so they made the offices downstairs and we all come down then but when we first went over to number four we were upstairs at the end of the stores.
Interviewer
I worked in there with Bill Weston.
Betty
That’s right. There was Bill and Stan Weston but they were not related. We had some good times. Jack Robinson and Mack, the inspectors, were all there. Harold Derby was foreman.
Interviewer
He famous for being a bit randy.
Betty
He did stray from time to time. ((laughs)) It was a bit rife in number four at one time. I few people did that ((laughs)) but it was good fun.
Interviewer
Who were the figures that stick in your mind from that time?
Betty
When I first started or all the while I was there?
Interviewer
Whichever one really.
Betty
Mr Harman was always fair. If you’d done something that he disagreed with he’d tell you in no uncertain terms but next time you met him he’d forgotten it and you weren’t out of his books any longer. He was ideal for the company secretary. He did his job extremely well. He’d got a hard task and had got to make it pay and then of course when Shoreham took over it wasn’t the same.
Interviewer
You’ve leapt on a bit there to where Shoreham came into the picture.
Betty
Yes.
Interviewer
One or two people that we’ve spoken to have some memories about the way the place worked internally. Did you eat in the canteen, for instance?
Betty
Yes – Effy Reed, ((laughs)) Jimmy Allgood who used to throw it and then Mrs Hart, and I can remember we used to have to go down to fetch anything you wanted for your break. That was before we had the labourers going down and fetching. You used to just go down and fetch it for the office and then apprentices used to go down and fetch it for the blokes before we had the labourers. I can remember going down there when Jimmy Allgood and Mrs Hart were having a hell of a row. It really was. You could hear it before you got there and she did no more than pick up a carving knife and slung it straight at him. He just danced ((laughs)) out the way and it went flying and Effy Reed and all of them were there and said “Come on, keep out of the way,” and he bounced off home. Mr Bates and Ken Sharpe and all of them had to go and sort them all out. It was fun. ((laughs)) The canteen on the whole wasn’t bad.
Interviewer
Effy Reed was a fairly formidable figure.
Betty
Yes, if she said that you’d got two potatoes and that was all everybody was going to have, that was all you got. ((laughs)) If you crossed Effy you used to get it slapped on your plate and that was it but if you were very kind to her she’d hand you the plate properly.
Interviewer
She used to bring tea round to the officers.
Betty
Yes. When we had our prefabs when I first went there was little kitchen at the top. We all had trays and I used to have to go and fetch ours as the sales people and I used to have to take it in with biscuits to Jim Harrison and Mr Portias, especially if they’d got visitors. Even though it wasn’t teatime I used to have to sometimes make them a tray of tea and that’s where you used to go. We all used to meet up there. It was quite fun, everybody going and fetching the tea but she was good. She used to come and collect the trays back and do the washing up in that little kitchen there. They tried bringing the trolley round but that didn’t take off as they didn’t approve of that. They liked to go down and have a look at what they’d got in the canteen themselves so that was scrapped.
Interviewer
I do remember them bringing the tea trolley round.
Betty
The labourers brought the tea trolley round later on.
Interviewer
I remember Effy coming.
Betty
She used to do the staff but there was a little chap called Harry Mane that used to do it in number four and then there was Bert Allitt. He was another little labourer that used to do it across number four as well. They used to come round and they built a little kitchen in the corner in number four and you used to have to take your order there and your money by half past nine and if you hadn’t got it in by half past nine and you were hungry – tough – you didn’t get one. They used to take it down and then you used to collect it at ten o’clock. It was on time and the buzzer used to go. ((laughs)) They don’t do that now, do they, anywhere? The buzzer used to also go to start them again. It used to be either Harold Derby or sometimes it was me or Winnie, who used to be the bonus girl and clock you on and off the jobs.
Interviewer
A lot of these names come back but I don’t always necessarily remember what they look like.
Betty
We had some good times in number four as we had a happy little family really. It was very nice.
Interviewer
Arthur Picket was in charge.
Betty
Yes, then there used to Ray Maddocks. He used to be in charge in number four for a while on the experimental side as he was a welder. Arthur Picket came up from the repair hanger with Wally Walpole.
Interviewer
Is that where he came from, the repair hanger, to being in charge of number four?
Betty
Yes.
Interviewer
That was quite a decent promotion for him.
Betty
It was subcontract and experimental work. When he was at the repair hanger they used to do bits and pieces like that. He used to go out with Wally Walpole and others to collect crashes from time to time but not often and then he went across to number four.
Interviewer
Arthur was a significant figure in the organisation, wasn’t he, as he finished up as overall general manager, didn’t he?
Betty
He did. He got over Harman and everybody just before it was finished. He worked his way right up.
Interviewer
He had somewhat taken on the fairly onerous task of trying to run the place under the Beagle regime and tried to build the 206 and the Pups.
Betty
He did that under Shoreham’s thumb because you never knew who was coming up from there. He’d been summoned down to Shoreham in the next aircraft and had to get Trevor to get him down there as something had gone wrong or they wanted a meeting. Can you remember Tony Benn coming up?
Interviewer
Yes.
Betty
That was ((laughs)) an era on its own. He got everybody in. “We are not closing you or moving you,” and three months later we all got our notices, didn’t we?
Interviewer
They ran out of money.
Betty
It went up to Scotland.
Interviewer
Yes, but they offloaded it as they’d absorbed millions by then.
Betty
They used to fly down to Shoreham and back quite a bit. It spoilt it when Shoreham came into it and it wasn’t the same. Before, if you looked at it Ham had been there more or less since it first started. Tom Simmonds had been there up in the flight hanger, Colin Whittaker, Don Simmonds the sprayer and Bill Eric who was in charge of the engines, had all been there since year dot. They’d watched their families grow up. When they used to have the open days they all used to bring the families and a year later they were a bit higher. They had the flying displays and ((ragazine?)) cup. They all used to come, have picnics and have fun. The canteens used to be open. Everybody in the families used to meet up in the canteens.
Interviewer
It was an unusual company in so much as it was a little island of isolation outside of the city. It was not like working in the city factory.
Betty
No.
Interviewer
It was a little enclave of people.
Betty
That’s right.
Interviewer
They’d all grown to know each other.
Betty
That’s right.
Interviewer
It was quite an incestuous little place, wasn’t it?
Betty
That’s right. If you could really delve back you could almost say your best man at the wedding was your mate that you’d worked with or if it was a girl who was getting married they were the girls that worked in the office with you. If you left to have a baby either the girl or boy who you worked with was godmother or godfather. It was a family. I can remember ever so well. When Arthur Picket’s son got married Trevor Howard’s daughter was bridesmaid. It was quite a family affair.
Interviewer
I never quite worked out how many employees there were. There were quite a number at periods.
Betty
There used to be two double-decker buses, two Nesbitt’s buses, the bus from Loughborough and cars.
Interviewer
It was a matter of some hundreds of employees, wasn’t it?
Betty
Yes.
Interviewer
It wasn’t just a small company.
Betty
Before number five started they used to do quite a bit of the aircraft work across at number five with Jerry Inwood and Bill Bradshaw, didn’t they? They gradually got into the motorcar side of it. They used to do all the pressings and sheet metal work over there for the aircraft at one time. Bert Reeden was over there and then came over. He was a lad on his own. ((laughs)) Don’t start me on Bert.
Interviewer
Tell us all about Bert. Bert Reeden was still working at Rearsby as recently as a couple of years ago, wasn’t he?
Betty
That’s right. He’s now reclining in the sunshine in Spain. He has packed up England altogether. He’s got somebody that’s got some money. I’ve seen him occasionally when he comes back to see his family but he lives across there.
Interviewer
Another other famous character.
Betty
He was good. Wally Walpole and Lionel Matthews were all down… Although number one – as they called it – worked down at the bottom hanger they all used to meet in the canteen and we all used to meet up. Garner used to work with Lionel Matthews, didn’t he?
Interviewer
Lionel was quite a severe man in some ways, wasn’t he?
Betty
He was very clever with woodwork.
Interviewer
Not a greatly humorous man as I remember.
Betty
What you got with Lionel is what you saw and that was it. ((laughs)) Arthur Hampson was a lad and a half. He used to love air displays as he was always in charge. No matter how many times he crashed the van he always used to manage to get the job of ((laughs)) being in charge of transport. How many times did they pull him out the hedge because they used to have the bars and he used to enjoy the bars? They used to say “We’ve just got out and fetch Piggy Hampson. Where is he?” in the dark. ((laughs)) No matter how many times he did it he always used to manage to be in charge of the transport with Ken Bristow. Ken Bristow used to say “Not again. I’m not having him again. Don’t ever put him with me again” but he always used to manage to be riding around in the vans. He used to love it. ((laughs))
Interviewer
I remember once going to the Farnborough air show on a work outing from Rearsby…
Betty
Yes, they did.
Interviewer
…with Piggy Hampson on board. We’d all had a very good day while we were there and everybody was well oiled but Piggy was speechless.
Betty
He used to do, didn’t he?
Interviewer
The bus had to run him right round to his house.
Betty
At the bottom of Rearsby?
Interviewer
Yes. Two of them helped him out of the bus and propped him up against the back door, knocked on the door and all left.
Betty
Ran away, yes, and then of course Ronnie Neil used to ((laughs)) get the blame for that because Ronnie used to be about as bad. I remember Ron going home one night from a Farnborough trip. I think his Mum was out. I always remember him telling us that he’d found the kitchen window open and had just managed to get through and he took the net curtain with him. When he woke up the next morning he ((laughs)) was in the sink with the net curtain around him. ((laughs)) That is Ron.
Interviewer
The company had some fairly ferocious Christmas parties as well as I remember.
Betty
Yes, we all used to do our own thing. You used to have one in the flight shed. You used to finish at one or two o’clock and everything was cleared out. They used to really enjoy themselves up there, didn’t they? The Bell dances were good. Every year you used to have the dance at The Bell. That was the event and they used to run buses all round to pick you up. You used to have transport to take you in. It used to be good as that was the time you used to think you were it if you danced with either Mr Bates, Mr Sharpe or Mr Harmon ((laughs)) and if you’d danced with either of them, even if it was only just round the floor once, that was your night, you were in, that was it, ((laughs)) and Mrs Church used to love them. She used to spend all day getting ready to come to them. She was a character.
Interviewer
She was a fairly formidable woman herself.
Betty
Yes. She stood no nonsense and if she didn’t like you, you didn’t get a phone call and that was the answer. You didn’t have to fall out with her. Working with Jerry when she in the flight and sales offices – because Ranold Portias used to do the test flights as well – we used to meet quite a lot of people. When they did the Antarctic exhibition and they did the planes to go out there the RAF pilots were down here all the while they were being built. They were supposed to know how to put the aircraft together and that’s what they’d come down for but they always used to find time to come into the office for their teas. When the break went you used to have to give them all their teas. I met all those. It was quite interesting.
Interviewer
They built the floodplains.
Betty
Yes, and skis and floats as well.
Interviewer
One of the big projects I was involved in was the Mark Nine. It was the last military aeroplane to be developed as an Auster aircraft.
Betty
That’s right. That’s when Colonel Baisley was up as well. He was there at time and used to bring one or two of the military colonels and chiefs next door. Margaret Collington used to have to do their typing. She used to be their secretary as well. Margaret Collington married Cyril Unwin. You can remember Cyril, can’t you? He used to work on the fuselages just at the bottom of Ham’s stairs. He used to be in charge of the line. He was the union rep as well.
Interviewer
I remember Cyril. Talking to the old Auster people a lot of these same names come up as people are remembered like Effy Reed, Burt Reeden, Harold Derby and Jack Callington.
Betty
He was really good. Ina Stone still sees him.
Interviewer
Alan Walker?
Betty
No, he used to work in the stores. Ron Westbury.
Interviewer
That’s him.
Betty
She still goes over and sees him. I still see little Ronnie Compton that used to be in the cost department. Do you remember him?
Interviewer
Yes.
Betty
He’s still around. He comes through Rearsby sometimes. I’ve also bumped into Roger Jarvis who used to be the buyer with Dickie Roon. He lives around the General Hospital and Evington Way.
Interviewer
There was Dickie Roon.
Betty
Dickie and Sylvia. There was Alan Wallace the planner with Bert Thompson who lived at Birstall
Interviewer
Alan Wallace was famous for falling asleep in the afternoon.
Betty
That’s right. He used to sit there and have his afternoon nap and up in Hambling’s office there used to be Roy Brown and Dougie Gamble who used to be in charge of the plastics.
Interviewer
Another famous character. Another one that comes up quite regularly was Gus Morris.
Betty
Poor old Gus.
Interviewer
Exactly. He’s died of course. Gus never quite got it on the rails.
Betty
No but he used fly to quite a bit. I know they used to fetch him out of planning to go and fly. At the last open day they had at Rearsby there was Dickie Bird and all of them up there. Did you see them?
Interviewer
Yes.
Betty
It was good to see them, wasn’t it? Quite a lot of old ones.
Interviewer
The last big aircraft project as Auster was the Mark Nine but also there was the B8 Agricola.
Betty
The crop sprayer?
Interviewer
Do you remember that one?
Betty
I can remember the crop sprayer ((laughs)) because they used to practise over the farm, didn’t they? ((laughs)) They used to have to get permission from Palmers and Haltons to ask if they could test it. I can remember that. When it got around that this is what they were doing farmers were ringing up from everywhere. “Would you like to come and test it over us?” ((laughs))
Interviewer
They were top dressing, weren’t they?
Betty
Yes. They used to fly and let it all go. If you ever went up and had a flit with Ranold Portias it was an experience that you would never forget. You would be flying along and then next minute you would be upside-down and he would say “Look, no hands!” ((laughs)) It used to be awful really. He used to say “I’m going up for a flight. Would you like to come? With balancing it I think you’ll do today.” I used to just go with him and it was awful really. ((laughs)) He used to frighten the life out of me. He said “Shall we see who’s working?” and he used to zoom straight along the offices. You were always airsick when you were flying with him.
Interviewer
Another larger than life character, wasn’t he?
Betty
He was. He was one on his own. His wife was little bear and he was big bear and when it was time to go he used to say to Mrs Church “Can you get me this number. I’m going home.” He used to say “Hello little bear. Big bear is ready to come home.” ((laughs)) She used to ride up in an Allard.
Interviewer
A V8 sports car.
Betty
This was brand new and he had a personalised number plate, didn’t he? RLP – Ranold Logan Portias one.
Interviewer
Ranold Logan. I didn’t know that. He was certainly a larger than life character. I remember that I was greatly impressed as an apprentice when he turned up one summer afternoon on number six assembly line in his shirtsleeves with Dan Dare braces on.
Betty
And his straw hat. ((laughs)) He used to share the office with the sales manager and they used to split the agencies. There was Kingsford Smith in Australia and that used to be Jim Harrison’s and then the one in South Africa used to be Portias’. He used to split the agencies and have a representative in. Sometimes both reps used to arrive on the same day and then when they’d fall out who was going to have the ((laughs)) use of the office and where was everybody else going to go? Poor Mr Harman was going round tearing his hair out as to where to accommodate everybody. It used to be quite good fun. It was hard work at times because Margaret was a stickler that you filed all the letters before you went home for that day’s work or the next morning before she started typing any more letters. You used to have to get the files out for the letters for replies that had come and if a letter they were replying to had gone missing you were in trouble.
Interviewer
Was this in the sales and flight office?
Betty
Yes. In those days they used to have what was called a second copy. That was a bottom carbon copy and those day’s letters were filed together in alphabetical order. You used to have a folder for a week and that was the week’s letters that had gone out. You used to keep them because if the letter out of the main file had gone missing you’d always got the second copy to fall back on to see if they’d still got it. It was a good system.
Interviewer
There were all sorts of complex systems throughout the factory, weren’t there?
Betty
That’s right.
Interviewer
I remember in the planning office there was a whole system of compiling vocabularies of parts.
Betty
That’s right.
Interviewer
The drawings were drawn in a structured manner. There was a main general arrangement of drawing for the whole aeroplane so you could track from that every sub-assembly and then the sub-sub-assemblies all the way down to individual parts.
Betty
When I worked in the drawing stores each component used to come wrapped up in the big sheet with the individual drawings and you used to have to file them in alphabetical and number order. If you’d got one missing you used to have to check them against the big drawing to see that you’d got all the drawings, fold them inside out, write on them and put in them in the drawer in the right order. It was surprising really because the men knew where they were. They knew if that drawing had been out on another job because some parts were equal to two or three components and they used to know if that drawing was out and could they have another copy. You used to have to go down to the drawing office and get them another copy. You used to have to make sure it was the same issue because in-between you ((laughs)) getting it and it going onto the shop the issue had probably gone up and they weren’t supposed to make it to the new issue; you wanted an old issue copy.
Interviewer
It was an industrial environment that’s not nearly so common I think today. The whole thing was manufactured on the premises from scratch.
Betty
That’s right.
Interviewer
From the raw materials to a finished aeroplane with little of it sourced from outside.
Betty
Everybody had something to do with that aircraft, didn’t they? Right down from the girls on stock control. They all had something to do with the building of the aircraft. They all knew what it was going to look like when they’d issued the parts.
Interviewer
Stock control was another thing.
Betty
That was under Dickie Roon.
Interviewer
It was a large card index filing system, wasn’t it?
Betty
Yes, pink cards.
Interviewer
They recorded all of the components that were available in the stores, how many there were and where they were.
Betty
What rack they were in and when they were last used you used to take it off the blue card and write how many were left in stock on these pink cards. It used to have on the top ‘minimum of ten’ so when you got down to the last ten you used to have to leave the pink card out and put it on the on the buyers and the progress people’s…to get some more made. It’s quite good system and it used to work.
Interviewer
As you say, all the employees would be aware of the whole system, wouldn’t they?
Betty
Yes, that’s right.
Interviewer
You could go between departments and find out things about the state of the current manufacturing.
Betty
That’s right. If there was ((?)) especially at Hunting’s if they were waiting for an elevator or an Aileron – or whatever they made for Hunting’s – which they did make, and they wanted two and you couldn’t find one, you could trace it back to where it had got to and probably it had been snagged by the inspectors. You could soon trace it back to where it had gone wrong. It used to be Jack Robinson and Mack. I’m sure they used to do it on purpose. ((laughs))
Interviewer
Who was the tall man that was in charge of inspection over there?
Betty
Not Wardell. Joe Wardell was in instruments. There used to be Frank Berry who played in the ((Tryerham?)) band. There was Mack and Jack Robinson. I can’t remember what his name was. He was in overall charge, wasn’t he?
Interviewer
Yes, a pleasant man.
Betty
Yes. All the others wore white overalls and coats but he always used to wear a brown one.
Interviewer
That’s right.
Betty
You could never get him in a white one. You never knew he was in an inspector because all the inspectors had white coats under Albert Codlin. ((laughs))
Interviewer
There was the Polish man. Tom, was it?
Betty
There was Tom Mazza. We had one or two Polish lads.
Interviewer
He was a pleasant man too and he had a number tattooed on the inside of his arm.
Betty
Yes, he did.
Interviewer
I know it was a concentration camp number but I never got round to asking which camp it was.
Betty
No, he never said. He just used to say “That’s so I don’t get lost” but not very often, even in the summer, did you see him in short sleeves. He used to just wear his shirt but they were always long-sleeved shirts. Of course the environment used to be nice there. In the summer the hanger doors top and bottom used to be…and it was like working in the sunshine really, wasn’t it?
Interviewer
Take your sandwiches out on the grass.
Betty
I know, it was fun, wasn’t it? The canteen suffered in the summer because you used to take them and sit and eat on the grass, didn’t you? We used to go down there, get a couple of sandwiches and eat them on the grass. You used to watch Palmers mow. You always knew it was mowing time. They used to do the runways first. They used to ring up and say “It’s time to do the runways” and they used to come and silage the runways, didn’t they, and then bit by bit they used to do the rest of it?
Interviewer
Mushrooms.
Betty
We used to go mushrooming.
Interviewer
Not like a city factory, was it?
Betty
Nothing at all. Going back to the two bookends – Mr Plimley and Mr Nobby Clark the accountant – as regular as clockwork at five minutes to one their door used to open and they’d got their coats on in the winter and their hats and scarves and they used to walk up the road past Halton’s Farm and then turn round and come back again. They used to have their sandwiches at half past 12 and about five to one they were out and they did that no matter what the weather every day. That’s why they called them the bookends because they were both the same size. Sometimes Mr Grey, the cost accountant, would go out with them but it had got to be a nice day before he went, and Arthur Hut, the other cost accountant, used to go out with him as well. They used to have a little walk.
Interviewer
Who did you spend your spare minutes talking to? Who did you gossip with?
Betty
((laughs)) You used to gossip with anybody. ((laughs)) If there was anything going on that you used to want to get to know you used to go and talk to… ((laughs)) There was myself and Reeny and Betty Harvey. We used to all have our lunches together and then we used to just walk up and if anybody was sitting outside or anything we used to just stop and talk to them and join in. Can you remember Lesley that used to be Trevor Howard’s secretary?
Interviewer
I remember the name.
Betty
They worked in the next office, which was personnel. We used to pal out quite a bit together. We used to walk around and whoever was sitting there we used to sit and talk to. We sometimes used to go up and talk to the engine boys, sometimes Don Simpson the sprayers. They all used to sit outside, especially in the summer. You just didn’t used to talk to anybody in particular, you used to see what was going on and what the gossip was. ((laughs))
Interviewer
There was always a bit, wasn’t there?
Betty
Yes. There was some good gossip going on, especially if the likes of Tom Simmonds had balled anybody out or anything. There was a lot of other gossip going on as well.
Interviewer
I don’t know what you mean.
Betty
((laughs)) I know. It was good fun.
Interviewer
What were the great scandals you remember?
Betty
There was no end and of course the biggest scandal of all – and we played it to the hilt, we used to kill ourselves laughing – was Arthur Pickett and myself. Everybody got us down for having the maddest love affair and Arthur Pickett overheard it one day so he said “We’ll have a bit of fun here.” He used to say “Shall we go home tonight?” He used to take me all the way round, you see. ((laughs)) He used to drop me outside our house. I was hardly having an affair when my Mum and Dad were in the garden, were we? ((laughs)) That was fun and it went round Auster’s like nobody’s business. Wherever you went – “Wow!” You’d be in the toilet and then the girls would come in. “They went home again last night.” ((laughs)) You’d sit there killing yourself with laughing because you knew that it was all put on.
Interviewer
We are disappointed Betty.
Betty
I know you were. We used to milk it for all it was worth. We had the biggest laugh because we overheard it, you see. We just played to the audience. ((laughs)) We used to kill ourselves laughing. Everybody was watching. “Who was going home? What time was she going home?” “I’ll lock the office” and then you’d see somebody pretending to pump their bike up. ((laughs)) It was ever so funny, it really was.
Interviewer
It gave people endless entertainment.
Betty
It did. We really enjoyed it. It was so funny.
Interviewer
There were a number of little episodes and incidents that went on over the years.
Betty
It’s such a long while ago. You can’t rake all them up, can you? ((laughs)) Come off it, David.
Interviewer
All part of the spice of these things.
Betty
There was a lot going off because I can remember Mr Alfred Harman came across one day. We were talking. “You shouldn’t get involved with married men.” “No Mr Harman,” with a grin from ear to ear because we knew what he’d heard, you see. He never said anything to Mr Pickett apparently. After he’d gone I was killing myself laughing as we knew very well he’d heard about it.
Interviewer
You don’t think he ever mentioned it to Arthur then?
Betty
I don’t know. I don’t think so. He never said.
Interviewer
He would probably have been told to mind his own business.
Betty
I think he would have done. I know he told Jerry off about Les because ((laughs)) she turned round and said to him “Why? Are you jealous?” There were one or two going off at various times. When Georgie and Cyril started they were hauled over the coals and were more or less told. “Is it affecting our work?” “No.” “Well, just mind your own business.” That’s all you could do.
Interviewer
Absolutely. Do you know I’ve been to see Georgie and Cyril?
Betty
Yes. They’re ever so happy, aren’t they?
Interviewer
Yes. That moved onto a full-time relationship.
Betty
Yes. There was Joyce Ward from Somerby. She and Wally were quite friendly and she had the warning from Ham. She was a big girl because she used to the doping. Can you remember? She was with Ina. I think he nearly got doped and stretched. ((laughs))
Interviewer
Georgie said the same – that Ham had a word with her about doing the decent thing.
Betty
That’s right. Sylvia and Dickie was another one. He went in front of Mr Bates and said “Have you got any complaints about my work?” “Well, no but we don’t like this sort of thing going on.” “You can’t prove anything is going on.” So they had to let that go.
Interviewer
Yet we think that they did carry on with a friendship.
Betty
I don’t know because Dickie’s lad came to work with them. I know that he did think a lot of her and when we used to go to the dances he was always with her but I don’t really know what it ended up as. Wasn’t Dickie Roon’s wife an invalid?
Interviewer
I think so.
Betty
I think he just did the decent thing with her. I’m not sure.
Interviewer
Somebody said recently that, as they understood it, after Rearsby was all over and things had gone away Dick looked after Sylvia and got a place for her.
Betty
I don’t know whether Mrs Roon died while he was still at Auster’s or just after.
Interviewer
I think it must have been just after.
Betty
I can remember seeing John – that was the lad’s name – and him saying but I can’t remember what the outcome was. When you’d finished up there you really didn’t take much notice at the time, did you? I’ve had my fun up there. I’ve really enjoyed it.
Interviewer
Personalities and relationships.
Betty
I know. We milked it for all we could. He used to come out of number four hanger and park the car across the road. We used to look and behind the door was Ken Proud. Quite a few of them used to have bikes and they used to park them behind the toilets. Can you remember the toilets as you went into number four? There they all were pretending to pump their tyres. ((laughs)) If they’d have followed us home they’d have seen he was home before they’d even left Rearsby.
Interviewer
I can’t think that anybody would have chanced speaking to Arthur about it.
Betty
I don’t think they would really.
Interviewer
He was a fairly volatile little man, wasn’t he?
Betty
Yes.
Interviewer
I think we’ve all had serious run ins with him.
Betty
Yes. When he was cross he was cross. He used to get cross with me. I didn’t used to come off scot-free. I had the end of his wrath many times especially if I’d lost a card or anything like that.
Interviewer
Arthur was capable of going absolutely ballistic, wasn’t he?
Betty
He used to, yes. I can remember him being quite forthright, if you’d like say, to Mr Maysfield ((laughs)) when he came up. He told him what he thought and the next thing we knew he’d sent him to America. ((laughs)) He went to see a firm beginning with ‘S’. What aircraft was it they made out there? He was over there for about a fortnight to see if they could get any subcontract work. He went over twice and that was for telling Mr Maysfield ((laughs)) what he thought about him.
Interviewer
I’m sure that was no bad thing.
Betty
Yes.
Interviewer
When Arthur did go ballistic he used to get absolutely apoplectic and red in the face and be violently angry. One of the most amusing episodes I ever saw was when Arthur came into the planning office and went off at full rant at Harold Derby.
Betty
Yes.
Interviewer
Harold stepped up to Arthur and put his arms around Arthur’s shoulder and said “Arthur, you’re not going to be nasty to me, are you?”
Betty
He used to take it all in good part. It used to be awful really.
Interviewer
Even Arthur couldn’t quite retain his anger.
Betty
That’s right. Ambrose Hitchman used to get as cross as anybody. When we moved into the double storey brick offices ours was next door to Ambrose and he used to get ever so cross. He wasn’t as placid as he made out.
Interviewer
I’ve only had an encounter with Ambrose since Auster’s was closed in fairly recent years. I always used to get on with Ambrose. Arthur used to have a go at me on fairly regular occasions and I’m sure that he thought that I was actually working against him in some way.
Betty
Yes.
Interviewer
Ambrose only ever had a go at me years after Rearsby was closed when we met him on some occasion and he suddenly decided that I had the magazine air trophy but I actually haven’t got it, I assure you.
Betty
We used to have some fun with that, didn’t we? That was a shame when the trophies went because they were kept in that little place under the stairs as you went upstairs to the drawing office in the brick buildings. They were in there in that little cupboard for a long while and then they suddenly went. It was sad when they went because Ken Sharpe had them in his office for a bit and then I don’t know what happened but they decided to move them out and that’s where they put them, in that little place under the stairs with a glass front. Can you remember when they were having a meeting in Ken Sharpe’s office and there was such a clatter outside and a car had run into Reg Cochayne’s bike? It was full of nuts and screws and bolts ((laughs)) and everything and there was Ken Sharpe, Arthur Pickett, Ham and Tom Simmonds, wasn’t there? They all stood looking out the window at him trying to collect all these things up and I think it was Ham that went out and asked him what he was doing. “Nothing. We are just picking these things up.” He didn’t know where they’d come from. ((laughs)) They’d watched them come out of the back of his bike bag. ((laughs)) He was suspended for a bit, I can remember that.
Interviewer
Who was that?
Betty
Reg Cochayne. He used to be in number four experimental, didn’t he, with Ken Brookes?
Interviewer
Yes.
Betty
The car had just clipped him and sent him flying. He wobbled because the back of his bike was so full, wasn’t it? It was so heavy. ((laughs))
Interviewer
Ken Brookes was in charge of toolmakers, wasn’t he?
Betty
Yes. He still lived in Rearsby.
Interviewer
So I understand.
Betty
I saw him last night. Of course, going right back to the very beginning there used to be Dave Eastwood at the flying club and he lived across the road and then there used to be Ian Aslet who went away and got married one dinnertime and came back to work in the drawing office.
Interviewer
I always thought Ian Aslet was like a small-scale version of Terry Thomas.
Betty
That’s right. He had an extra half hour and she had to go and ask Dickie Bird for an extra half an hour, I can remember that.
Interviewer
He married somebody on the firm?
Betty
Yes. I think it was a case of you had to. Then there used to be Ken Baker. He was a draughtsman down there. They all used to meet at the flying club. That used to make the flying club and bar sing. They were the bar – the three stooges. When Cliff Hayward and all of them got killed up the road that night…
Interviewer
Charlie O’Connor.
Betty
…when they went to look at the sunset and hit the tree.
Interviewer
I was a member of the flying club at that time. I knew Charlie O’Connor quite well.
Betty
They just went up to look at the sunset, didn’t they?
Interviewer
I remember when Nicky Von Baaf came. Do you remember him?
Betty
Yes. That’s a name, isn’t it? Van was in the stress office, wasn’t he? He was a very tall man and he always used to wear a pinstripe suit. He used to be in the next office to Dickie Bird’s in the old drawing office. He used to be the stress manager. Paul Parmenter used to be with him as well as he actually worked in the office outside his door. He wasn’t old, he was only young.
Interviewer
I remember being in the flying club when Nicky Von Baaf could fly. He’d been a pilot in the Luftwaffe and he went on a couple of flights with Arthur Barnard, who was the flying instructor at the time. Arthur said “He seemed to know his way all the way from here to Coventry and back.”
Betty
((laughs)) They used to have the gliders and one crashed over here one night, didn’t it? That fetched all of Rearsby out.
Interviewer
I also saw the one that got away. I lived in Rearsby at the time when a man named Woodcock, who was a flying club member, stalled the engine on the airfield from the flying club one Sunday afternoon.
Betty
That’s right and he got out.
Interviewer
Got out?
Betty
Off it went. No relation I might add. ((laughs))
Interviewer
I think it was Pete Woodcock.
Betty
I can’t remember, something like that.
Interviewer
We lived in the Rearsby house and it just kept turning. My Dad called me and said “It’s one of your blokes out here. I don’t know what he’s doing. He’s going round and round.” We watched it for a long time.
Betty
I don’t where it finished off, do you?
Interviewer
I know he didn’t land on anything critical.
Betty
It just came down.
Interviewer
It flopped in a field somewhere and was substantially damaged.
Betty
I can remember that. It was going for ages.
Interviewer
I’d better stop that recording there as we’ve got about a disk’s worth on there.
Betty
I bet you have.

All of these transcripts are available in a single file in several formats.


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