Interviewed by Dave Gladdish
In 1942, at the age of twenty, Cyril worked for the Air Ministry as a rigger. To help with the `war effort`, he was despatched to Desford where [Supermarine Spitfires] were being assembled, and was later transferred to Taylorcraft, based at Britannia Works in Thurmaston. He recalls being directed to the offices located at the rear, known as The Woodlands, and being interviewed by an Albert Codling, who was the chief inspector there. Cyril was given a job on flight inspection at Taylorcraft in Rearsby, where they were at that time involved in repair work on Hurricanes, and he stayed there until about 1945 when that particular work was no longer required. He then joined the RAF for three years until he was demobbed. He did not return to Taylorcraft immediately, as would have been his entitlement for six months after being demobbed, because he had heard that redundancies were being made at that time. He therefore went elsewhere for twelve months before returning to Taylorcraft in 1950, working on the bench in the experimental department, originally based in No.6 hanger and later being moved to No.4 hanger. Around that time, Cyril was involved in work on Typhoons and he remembers Ranald Porteous, the test pilot, taking the aircraft up for a test flight. One of his `party pieces` was to fly full throttle across the airfield and, with his wing tip, snatch a handkerchief from the outstretched hand of a female colleague (`Beryl`- as Cyril recalls!) - a dangerous but clever manoeuvre which never ceased to amaze Cyril as Ranald had to bank steeply in order to get near enough to the ground without hitting the propeller disc and tilting the aircraft. A much needed `stiff` drink was required afterwards, not least by Beryl, the hapless volunteer! Whether anyone in authority was aware of Ranald`s antics was another matter! Cyril remained with the Company, later changing its name to Auster Aircraft, until 1970. (Incidentally, Cyril recalls that the new name of `Auster` was derived from the French term for `gentle wind`).
Whilst working in No.6 hanger, Cyril was involved in the production of the floats used for the Falklands expedition, and he and a colleague were responsible for making the two sets of floats. He also made the jigs for the first engine mount for the `Bombardier`, which replaced the [cirrus] engine. The engine mount was used as a flying test bed for various aircraft. From there, Cyril went on to work in the experimental plastics unit, with a view to making wing tips for the Mk 9 and using a material called [Durestos?] which was manufactured in sheet form and impregnated with a resin which, when dampened, became very pliable and could be moulded to form a rigid, virtually indestructible, material - ideal for such parts as wing tips. He then moved on to work in the plastics department itself, being involved in the production and quality control of such parts as wing tips, wheel spats and nose cones. Cyril thinks they were probably the first to use Durestos for such purposes, as opposed to d.i.y. repair material for use by the general public. Durestos later became known as asbestos, the use of which of course would now be illegal. The plastics department employed about twelve staff and, as workload became heavier, Cyril requested the assistance of a foreman. A Jack Wigston was appointed and the unit was transferred to an internal prefabricated unit within the flight hanger at No.6 works, beneath the offices of Douglas [Hamlyn], the then manager (who Cyril recalls had previously worked in the motor industry - he thinks with Castles). Cyril later worked as an engineer in the development department, a Bert Thompson managing the military side and an Alan Greasley in charge of the civilian aspect of the department, with a Fred Gamble acting as foreman. During that time, the department sub-contracted to a firm called Percivals, producing such things as navigation lights for nose cones in red and green Perspex. Various company representatives would frequently visit Austers, very interested in the many new ways in which materials such as plastics, Durestos and fibreglass were being used. Around 1965/66, Auster were taken over by Beagle Aircraft, when Cyril and his colleagues became involved in the production of components on larger aircraft and the department became even busier.
Cyril’s wife, Georgina, was made redundant from her job in 1957 at the age of 20. Her brother-in-law worked in No.4 works and suggested she apply for a job at Austers. She, along with her friend Dorothy, was interviewed by Cyril for jobs in the plastics department and they were both taken on. Georgina worked on the mixing of resins in the small unit within the flight hanger, later being transferred to Douglas Hamlyn`s office where she worked in a small `laboratory` producing new mixes of resin. Visitors would remark on the terrible smell but would frequently produce a little jar and ask for a small amount of resin and some fibreglass to repair their cars! Her job involved not only the production of aircraft components, but also the making of tooling and equipment, jigs and fixtures, which made her job so much more interesting, having been involved in the whole process.
Both Cyril and Georgina speak of the wide range of skills involved in the making of the aircraft, such as highly accomplished machinists who would undertake the making of the covers for the wing tips - quite a complex task, along with upholsterers who made the seats, electricians, carpenters, etc. Having worked on `inspection` for so many years, Cyril remembers how very precise everything had to be - he of course having the experience of previously working as a `rigger` (airframe fitter) which is how he came to become a `final` inspector. However, one of his colleagues, an assistant inspector, Cyril remembers with amusement being given his job after an interview with Albert Codling. His colleague told Mr Codling that he had previously worked with Tizers (the soft drink company then based in Syston). Mr Codling misheard him, thinking he had said `Tigers` - as in `Tiger Moths`, hence Cyril’s colleague being given the job!
Georgina recalls a visit to Austers by the newly founded `Radio Leicester`. She was interviewed and asked how many times, having worked for the company for eleven years, she had flown. Her reply that she had never flown was later heard on radio by her boss, a Mr [Hitchman] and on next arriving to work he announced that she was to fly that day! Georgina refused to fly without her best friend and colleague, Connie, who was in fact enjoying a day off. Connie had to be collected from home and the pilot, a Trevor Howard, took them both for a twenty minute flight which they both thoroughly enjoyed.
Georgina remembers participating in the annual Lord Mayor’s show during the time that Beagle Aircraft had taken over Austers. She, along with five other girls, was perched on a Beagle fuselage (206), cut in half - very cleverly done as she recalls, and rode aboard a float which was on parade for about five hours, by which time her face ached with the effort of constantly smiling for the crowds!
Cyril used to enjoy the annual trips to the Farnborough Air Show, being one of a crew using two covered trucks and towing a fuselage. One of the highlights of the Show, Cyril recalls, was the demonstration by Ranald Porteous in an Auster, carrying out two particular manoeuvres, one being called an `avalanche` and the other a `falling leaf` - spectators` stomachs would turn over just watching his antics!