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Interview of Dave Gladdish, 5th August 2014

Interviewed by Peter Stoddart

Peter Stoddart
Were you born in Leicestershire?
Dave Gladdish
No, I was born in Kent in 1935. My parents were living in a suburb of Maidstone in Kent. I have no recollection of living in Kent because at the start of the war in 1939, when I was four, my parents decided to move away from Kent. My mother’s mother was living in Melton Mowbray and my parents decided – my father was out of work I think at the time; war was declared – and my parents decided to move to live in Melton Mowbray to be away from the south coast of England because of what they saw to be the threat of invasion or even just bombing and aggression from the Germans moving into France. My earliest recollections are living in rented rooms in Melton Mowbray in the early part of the war, and then growing up in Melton Mowbray through the war years. I just went to school in Melton Mowbray. My grandparents lived in one street and we lived in rented rooms in the next street on the northern edge of Melton right until the end of the war; when my father, who had been too old for the 39-45 war, he had served in the First World War, but he was in a reserved occupation – he was a driver for a fleet air armed supplies depot that happened to be located near to where we lived in Melton Mowbray. So, he was working at this supplies depot and my mother worked there too. As I say, up to the end of the war, when that closed down quite quickly after the war, and my mother and father were then looking for employment. My dad got a job as the warden of a displaced person’s hostel. He became the warden of this place, which was in a nice big country house in Rearsby: Rearsby House, which is up a driveway opposite the Horse and Groom pub. It’s visible from the main road. It had been taken over by the War Ministry during the war. And at the end of the war it remained as a billet. The house had some wooden buildings built in the grounds around the house, army type single-storey wooden built, not quite Nissen huts, but just army accommodation huts. The occupants were all single men who were from Eastern Europe. They were mainly Ukrainians; the next biggest faction were Poles; and then there was a smattering of other Eastern Europeans, two or three Latvians, a couple of Estonians, a guy from Belarus – and they were all waiting decisions as to whether they were to be returned to Eastern Europe at the end of the war or whether they were going to be allowed to stay on in Britain.
Peter Stoddart
They weren’t actually prisoners of war then?
Dave Gladdish
They weren’t actually prisoners of war; though they were not allowed to just work free in the community. The hostel was run by the Ministry of War. My dad was the warden. My mum was then employed alongside him as the catering manager for the hostel. It had its own kitchen, and the kitchen was staffed by German prisoners of war. It had about half a dozen German prisoners of war who were the kitchen staff. And then all of the Poles and the Ukrainians they were required by the government to work as land workers on the farms surrounding the Rearsby area; which were all denuded of the young men who had all been subscripted for the war of course. And these were only just being returned home, so there was a huge shortage of farm labourers, and these young Eastern European men were being used to work on the land. They were housed in the hostels. They were allowed significant freedoms: they could come and go; but they were not allowed to live and work in general work.
Peter Stoddart
So, you were living as a family in the accommodation?
Dave Gladdish
We had a flat in the house. The kitchens were downstairs in the house and then the accommodation for the men was all in these billets outside in the grounds. Whether everyone might or might not know, but the idea of billeting a large number, largish number – we had I think it was 130 people in the accommodation; the biggest faction were Ukrainians and the next biggest were the Poles, and the Ukrainians and Poles have hated each other with mutual enthusiasm for centuries, and although they rubbed along mostly well enough in the course of the week sometimes on a Saturday night it did get a bit exciting.
Peter Stoddart
Were they allowed to go down to the pubs in the village then?
Dave Gladdish
I can’t really remember whether they were.
Peter Stoddart
You’re about ten at this time or something, aren’t you?
Dave Gladdish
Yes, I was coming up to 12 when we moved to live there.
Peter Stoddart
The Germans would be brought in daily from wherever they were?
Dave Gladdish
No, the Germans lived in. They were allowed a certain amount of freedom to come and go. <.div>
Peter Stoddart
But they weren’t guarded in any extra way, even though they were prisoners?
Dave Gladdish
In no way whatsoever.
Peter Stoddart
Everybody was in the same circumstance, weren’t they, really?
Dave Gladdish
They were.
Peter Stoddart
So, enmities didn’t mean anything there.
Dave Gladdish
And the Germans didn’t want to go back to Germany any more than the Poles or Ukrainians wanted to go back to Eastern Europe. So, they were all really hanging on and being as well-behaved as they might, I think, considering that what they had was as good as anything that they could envisage. A lot of the Eastern European guys really felt that their days were numbered if they were to go back. And the Germans of course only had the bleakest wreckage of a country to go back to.
Peter Stoddart
Did quite a lot of them stay in the end?
Dave Gladdish
Yes.
Peter Stoddart
They had the option, did they?
Dave Gladdish
The Germans weren’t allowed. I don’t know of any of the Germans that were allowed to stay; but a considerable number of the Eastern European guys were allowed to stay, and just dissipated into the surrounding populous eventually. There’s a fair few remnants of it in Leicester I think. There is to this day a Ukrainian club, and there are a number of Polish associations.
Peter Stoddart
And these have swelled considerably recently I presume.
Dave Gladdish
I expect so, yes. Although one of the things we learned in recent years was that the language has moved on, and the Poles that stayed on after the war and took up living in Britain, when we started to get recent influx of Poles from Poland it turns out that the Poles who stayed here their language is outdated, and the Poles from Poland speak a newer form of Polish. That was when I was 12, 13 years old. I became 15 in 1950. I was going to school in Melton Mowbray. And at the age of 15 I was due to leave school. I was at Melton Mowbray Secondary Modern School for Boys, having failed the 11 plus.
Peter Stoddart
That would thereby mean you had some technical training, skills, hand skills training? Metalwork and things like that?
Dave Gladdish
We did metalwork at woodwork at school, and I liked woodwork. Yes, there was an expectation that we would do some sort of a craft job. I was very, very interested in auto engineering. I’d got a big Meccano set and I used to like making cars and gear trains.
Peter Stoddart
Did you have enough parts?
Dave Gladdish
Yeah.
Peter Stoddart
I never had enough parts!
Dave Gladdish
I scrounged and acquired all sorts of bits and bobs over the years. I’d got quite a big set.
Peter Stoddart
I always made the guts of a project and then the parts ran out.
Dave Gladdish
I turned 15 in 1950 and was due to leave school. But that was the year that they extended the school leaving age, and I was given the option to stay on a bit longer. Three of us from our school decided to stay on, and we stayed on till just after Christmas, in my case, into the start of 1951, when my parents said, “Look, you’re not doing anything much at school really. Don’t you feel like perhaps just leaving school and getting a job?” We lived in Rearsby and I had no real notion of what I wanted to do.
Peter Stoddart
The hostel was still going on at this point?
Dave Gladdish
It was still carrying on. My dad was still the warden there. We said, “Why don’t you just go up to the aerodrome and see?” Auster Aircraft was about a mile up the road.
Peter Stoddart
I wondered if you’d been affected by all the planes buzzing around at that time in your life.
Dave Gladdish
We did see them; I was friendly with the son of the farmer who lived just across the road from the airfield, the Coodell Farm, the farm owned by Mr Coodell. It’s the first one on the left as you head to Gadsby from Auster Aircraft. I used to go up there and play with their son, Nick, and see the aircraft operating off the grass airfield and aeroplanes tied up outside and that sort of thing. I was faintly interested. My parents sort of pushed me into deciding to perhaps go and see if there was a job I could have. My dad took me up one morning, said, “Come on, let’s go and see these people”. We went up to the factory and checked in at the gatepost to see if we could get to talk to someone about getting a job for me, my dad and me. And Mrs Church was the keeper of the gate at that time. She had probably already by then acquired great status as very much the bastion of resistance against the outside world. ((Laughter)) Mrs Church was a fairly formidable figure.
Peter Stoddart
You weren’t going to get in easily.
Dave Gladdish
Exactly, no, you weren’t just going to get past Mrs Church. But she appeared to take a shine to a small boy and his dad and said, “Oh yes, hang on a minute. Come into my shed”. It was a little wooden shed she had with a telephone board, switchboard. And she phoned through to speak to someone who I now know was Mr Hamlin. Mr Hamlin was the manager of Number 6 works, which was the basic aircraft assembly line. She got the word that Mr Hamlin should be pleased to see us and we should go straight across into Number 6 works, and that halfway down the building on the right-hand side we’d see a little office elevated above the floor with some stairs up to it, and that Mr Hamlin was up in there. We went and made our way up the stairs and were taken into Mr Hamlin’s office, and my dad said to him, “This is my son. He’s wondering if he could have a job at the factory here. Is there a job he could have for a boy leaving school?” Mr Hamlin chatted a bit and asked me a few questions about what I liked and the things I did and those sorts of things. I think he was simply trying to find out whether I was reasonably articulate or whether I might be capable of doing anything. I was a very small boy for my age and white blond and very angelic looking. I think he was a bit worried whether I was quite up to leaving school and working in a factory. He said he thought it would be perfectly all right; he could offer me a job as a boy employer, but there wouldn’t be very much money to it but he could offer me a guinea a week. And so I started the next Monday morning to work as a boy employee.
Peter Stoddart
This was ’51?
Dave Gladdish
Spring of 1951. Of course it was about a mile from where I lived and I could go to and from on a bike. I started there. There was a very curious incident not much later. I’m not quite sure of the actual date, but it was in that spring or early summer of 1951, and it was either a Saturday afternoon or a Sunday afternoon and I can’t quite remember which. It was a fine afternoon and I was in the house doing something, and my dad came in and called me to come out to the front lawn. He said, “Come and look at this. There’s one of your blokes, I don’t know what he’s doing”. It was an aircraft, an Auster, flying quite low over our house and it was turning continuous right-hand turns, and he was just flying in continuing circles around and around and around. And he said, “He’s been doing that all the time I’ve been watching him. I don’t know what he’s up to. Have you got any idea?” I said, “No, no idea”. And we watched it sort of drift away downwind, over the village towards Melton Mowbray, and never thought anymore about it. Until I got to work the following week and discovered it was the aeroplane that had been let go by a man called Woodcock. He’d booked it to have a fly in the afternoon. He’d taken it over from Dickie Bird; I think Dickie Bird had been for a flight. And Woodcock took it over from Dickie Bird, he taxied it out to take off – I suspect he fumbles the mag drops and actually switched both of them off by mistake and stopped the engine. He was on his own and out on the airfield, pointed into the wind, and he got out and slung the bloody thing, which started, and he hadn’t put the handbrake on and it lurched towards him as it started, and he dived for cover and by the time he’d got back on his feet it was halfway up the airfield and it took off.
Peter Stoddart
Just had a sufficient throttle setting to wind it up.
Dave Gladdish
Yes. And it flew for about an hour and a bit until it ran out of fuel. It ran out of fuel over Melton Mowbray. But as it happens, and Dickie Bird realised what had happened and he jumped back in his car and he followed cross country, and it actually – against all the realms of possibility – made a fairly gentle descent right where Melton Mowbray airfield was between Melton Mowbray and Dalby. It came right down low over the main runway. It didn’t quite touch down and it hit the hedge at the end of the runway and tipped over, and the aircraft was actually quite relatively undamaged; it was only superficial damage. No one was hurt. I only discovered about three months ago that the aircraft was actually GAIZT, which was the club aircraft. And about 12 months later I joined Auster flying club and I learnt to fly on that aeroplane.
Peter Stoddart
Really? I think that was used for quite a lot of tests as well, wasn’t it? Isn’t that the one that had the swivelling undercarriage?
Dave Gladdish
I don’t remember whether they put the swivelling undercarriage on ZT, I really don’t. But they did certainly use it a bit because it was owned by the club, owned by the company. The club was allowed to use it as their club aeroplane. But I’ve got 50 hours on that aeroplane.
Peter Stoddart
You must have joined the company flying club as soon as you were old enough.
Dave Gladdish
Yes.
Peter Stoddart
Was that 17?
Dave Gladdish
No, I joined when I was 16.
Peter Stoddart
You have to be 17 when you qualified, is that right?
Dave Gladdish
That’s right. And I had to wait a few weeks till I turned 17 before I could fly solo. And I flew solo as soon as my birthday passed.
Peter Stoddart
So, learning to fly figured early on in your employment.
Dave Gladdish
It did, yes.
Peter Stoddart
Was that something that you decided you wanted to do once you were in the company? You hadn’t decided that that was a way of learning to fly coming into that company?
Dave Gladdish
Not at all. I really was not greatly taken up with the idea of learning to fly until a guy that I was working with on the company, he was a keen club member, and he said, “You can learn to fly. It’s not that expensive. You don’t get a chance anywhere else; why don’t you give it a go?”
Peter Stoddart
It was subsidised presumably.
Dave Gladdish
Oh it was, yes.
Peter Stoddart
But it must have been one of the few things that Auster’s did subsidise, because they were conservative with their money, weren’t they?
Dave Gladdish
I think they were. But we could get I think it was 25 shillings an hour for flying lessons, which considering I’d started my career on a guinea a week. What I had done, even in my first 12 months as a 15, coming up to 16 year old boy, I had spent some of my new earned money – I had to pay a bit of it to my mum for rent, but I kept about 15 bob a week I think for myself – and I did spend a bit of that on having a couple of trips. You could go and buy a half-hour flight from the guys in the flying club. You’d just walk down the flying club and say, “Would somebody take me for a flip?” And either the current instructor or one of the qualified guys would just take you for a ride and take your 10 bob or whatever it was you paid for a flight. So, I enjoyed that. I was somewhat rather nudged into the idea of taking flying lessons. But once I got started I really did enjoy it then. Really that’s rushing ahead a little bit.
Peter Stoddart
What were the sorts of jobs they gave you as a boy entrant? You weren’t actually on a formal apprenticeship, were you?
Dave Gladdish
That’s right.
Peter Stoddart
Was it called a formal apprenticeship?
Dave Gladdish
No, at that time Auster Aircraft didn’t have an apprenticeship scheme. I just worked in Number 6 works. They put me initially to work with an old boy called George Wellborn. He was a very funny old man – he was coming up for retirement – but he was the engine assembly fitter. He used to unpack the engine that was being fitted on the series of aeroplanes at that time was the Gypsy Majors, and he used to unpack these Gypsy Major engines from their crates, and he had a metal frame with the engine mounts on it – rather like the bulkhead on an aircraft on a frame with engine mounts. So, we had a little hand crane hoists, the engines were not heavy, and you could hoist out of the crate and just hang them on the engine mounts in the frame. Then George’s job was to attach all the ancillary components to the engine on its frame. He would attach the exhaust pipe, exhaust manifolds and exhaust pipes; you’d put a bolt on the engine – everything that was bolted on; fuel supply pipes; some oil supply pipes; the bolt-on, I think there was an oil cooler that was bolted onto the engine – sundry bits and bobs. So, I was there just to help him bolting these bits and bobs on. So, I was handing him stuff out of the box and spanners and screwdrivers and things. He did show me how to do it and put me on putting bits and bobs on the engine. And I was with him for two or three months, I suppose. Then I was transferred to work on the airframe primary assemblies. That was where the welded steel tube airframe, having been welded up and then treated and painted, it was brought across to the right-hand side of the workshop as you walked in through the end door. Just mounted up on trestles. The primary assembly stage was to get a kit of parts from the stores, which comprised all the wooden formers and wooden stringers and a number of mechanical components that could all be fitted to the airframe prior to it being moved on to the next stage of build. So, what you did was we reamed and assembled the control column bearings in their housings, and then line reamed those with a big long reamer that went from one side of the fuselage to the other. It was just a hand reamer; you just wound it through. It had a big capstan handle on one end of it; and even I could do it as a small boy. You could ream these things through and then fit the control column and its bits and pieces. You went around the fuselage fitting, the little control line pulley wheels. They had little mounting clips that were welded into the steel structure and you fitted those with clevis pins and split pins and washers. And you ran the control cables from the control column along the side of the fuselage through the pulley runs down to the tail end of the aircraft and up to where the wing roots were, above the cabin doors. And you reamed and fitted the bearings and fitted the flap shaft assembly into the roof of the cabin.
Peter Stoddart
That was reamed across as well in the same way?
Dave Gladdish
That was reamed across, yes. Then having done all that you would start to fit the wooden formers to the steel tube structure. These were simply cut half-inch thick wooden panels that were contoured to the required shape for the sides of the aircraft. And you’d clip those onto the steel tubes of the airframe in various places. And they had notches cut into them to which you fitted the stringers. And the stringers were long wooden strips that were mounted edge on to the airframe. They were a bit curved and shaped. You pulled them round into shape and fitted and pinned and glued those into the wooden formers onto the sides of the airframe and underneath and on the top, such that you then had formed this skeletal wooden frame all around the fuselage that gave it a bit more of a streamlined shape.
Peter Stoddart
That was the base that the fabric sat on.
Dave Gladdish
That’s right. And most of these formers were clipped onto the airframe with a metal clip that went round the tube and onto the wooden former, and you put a bolt through the end of the clip and the former and bolted them together. Then some of them were actually tied on with Egyptian cotton tape which you fed through a hole in the wooden former, tied it round the steel tube, and then you tied it off in a proper reef knot, clipped the ends and then painted the knot with clear dope.
Peter Stoddart
Sealed it off.
Dave Gladdish
So that it was sealed off and unable to free itself or chatter free or anything like that.
Peter Stoddart
That primary stage, was that just man and you the boy or whether there other people as well?
Dave Gladdish
No, just one man, and I helped him as a boy. The man I worked with for most of that time was, as it happens, a freed Pole who lived in Melton Mowbray. But it wasn’t one of the Poles that had lived in our hostel; he was a man from Melton Mowbray by the name of Dick ((Sadeskbi?)). He had come to England via the free Polish air force.
Peter Stoddart
So, he was the beginning of the war then, early on.
Dave Gladdish
He, like a lot of his compatriots, had actually been deported by the Russians to Siberia; he’d then been freed under the General Sikorski agreement; and they’d been released from Siberia and had come down through the Baltic countries into North Africa. These young men that had come out that way, the young Poles they were recruited into the allied forces; and he was recruited into the RAF. Then he did some RAF basic training as an aircraft fitter. Dick was very proud of this. He was a man that was very, very keen on the fact that he was a skilled craftsman. He prided himself on having the sharpest chisels and the sharpest knife and the best quality screwdrivers and spanners that he could afford. He had good equipment. He was a very, very diligent and particular man about the quality of his work. He was a really good man to work with. As a young boy I learnt a lot of things about using tools and equipment properly and being careful and looking after your kit.
Peter Stoddart
You had to personally provide your working kit?
Dave Gladdish
You have to provide your own tools; although they had a tool store and you could borrow some from the company. This tool store was run by another one of the well-known characters in the company, Charlie Green. Charlie Green ran the tool stores and everybody around the company knew about Charlie Green. It was also true that, although the majority of the employees and fitters that worked on the assembly line they had toolkits of their own, every now and again you would run up against some requirement for a very odd sized spanner or an odd reach for some complicated bit of difficult work and you would have to go up and see if Charlie Green had got for that. So, we all knew about going to the tool stores and seeing what Charlie Green had got. As a young boy they did fit me out with a little basic kit of some small sized spanners and a couple of screwdrivers and a little hammer and a pair of pliers from Charlie Green’s store. That was my own bit of toolkit. But that was just on loan from the company that was.
Peter Stoddart
Did you have to put that back in the stores every night?
Dave Gladdish
No, you were allowed to keep it out. I used to keep it with me in a little satchel thing and take it home on my bike.
Peter Stoddart
How long would it take you to do the primary?
Dave Gladdish
I can’t really remember. I suppose it must have taken 20 hours or something like that, 15 or 20 hours to do one. Looking back it was very simple work; there was no great technology to any of it.
Peter Stoddart
Well, all your woodwork was ready made. You were just fitting it on.
Dave Gladdish
That’s right. You did trim it and cut it a bit here and there to make it good and make the fit good and so on. When Dick Sadeskbi moved on I worked for a little while with another man from Melton Mowbray who had spent all his life as a carpenter, and he’d never been involved in the aircraft industry at all. He just came; but he could do the work just as well as anybody else because, as I say, we were only doing the simple. And of course the aeroplanes were very simple: the welded steel tube frame; there was nothing complex about it. It was very simply made. And then the stuff that you bolted onto it was done in very easy hand methods and required no depth of technology. For instance we never learnt to use any sophisticated terms. Never learnt to use a Vernier or a micrometre in that part of the work.
Peter Stoddart
You weren’t actually making any parts, were you?
Dave Gladdish
Didn’t make anything.
Peter Stoddart
Because you were on assembly at this point.
Dave Gladdish
That’s right.
Peter Stoddart
So, the making of it was in somebody else’s hands.
Dave Gladdish
Yes.
Peter Stoddart
I would have thought the most sophisticated part of an Auster was the steel tube frame and the welding of it and this business about drawing in on nodes and all the rest of it and allowing for that. That was already made; it was just a frame supplied to you.
Dave Gladdish
Yes. There was really very little sophistication to that aspect of it either. The airframe was designed such that the tubes were nicely positioned at their junctions for the forces to actually converge at nodes in the joints. But the tubes were all cut. The prototype of a steel tube airframe would be set up in a box jig and the locations for the steel tubes were saddles fixed to a box frame jig. And the steel tubes themselves, as the length and the end profile was derived by a man hand cutting and fitting them to a prototype frame, as he finished each one of those they were handed over to the tool making department who made cutting and nibbling shrouds for them.
Peter Stoddart
They slid over the tube to profile.
Dave Gladdish
They were made of hardened steel. They were a hardened steel heavy duty steel themselves; for which the piece of steel tube for the airframe was pushed inside. You then cut the ends of it to the profile of this shroud, this hardened shroud. You could nibble them on a tube nibbler, and then they were hand finished with a file. They were all made like that. But they were identified with part numbers and stored in the stores. When the welders were to make a new airframe they would go and get a kit of these tubes from the stores, and they’d assemble them together in the big box frame jig. And then they would weld up all the joints, just hand cast welded, oxy acetylene gas welded joints. The shrinkages really they were just allowed to get on with it. The accuracy of the steel frame was not a great concern. They were not greatly accurate; and really didn’t have to be very much.
Peter Stoddart
I suppose the most critical thing is not getting a twist between the tail post and the frame for the engine.
Dave Gladdish
Yes. And the box jigs were pretty good at holding that.
Peter Stoddart
I understand, there’s this story that someone post war wanted to make a new jig, and they found a twist in the original jig and said, “Well there’s a twist in it; we shouldn’t have a twist”. But the twist was there to allow for the asymmetry of these tube structures.
Dave Gladdish
Is that right? Well it could have been, yes. They’d have found it by trial and error.
Peter Stoddart
The Taylor design goes back to the early 30s really.
Dave Gladdish
That’s right, yes.
Peter Stoddart
In those days it was empirical really. They made one and stuck sandbags on it to see if it bent or broke. I don’t think anybody was calculating much.
Dave Gladdish
No. And of course the calculations would be very sophisticated, and they had no real way of measuring the loads and forces in the various areas of the steel frame. They just hadn’t got the equipment or the sophistication. They were very simple things and made in a very simple and uncomplicated manner. And relatively cheap of course. I first worked on the engine assembly and then on the primary airframe assembly. I think from there then – oh about that time the company decided that it ought to actually run an apprenticeship scheme. And so those of us that were working as boy employees on the firm we were all invited to join the apprenticeship scheme. In fact we were invited in no uncertain terms to join the apprenticeship scheme.
Peter Stoddart
You will join the scheme.
Dave Gladdish
((Laughs)) I didn’t want it because it was mooted that if you joined the apprenticeship scheme you would start to do some night school classes, and that sounded to me like going back to school, which I thought I’d left behind me. However, the options were not really open as options.
Peter Stoddart
Do you think there was a financial benefit for the firm in having the apprenticeship?
Dave Gladdish
I think it probably allowed them to pay the boys rather less than they would have had to have done if they had just gone on.
Peter Stoddart
So, you actually suffered a fall in wages, did you?
Dave Gladdish
No, I didn’t suffer a fall; that’s certainly not the case. The wage rates as apprentices were then specified. You were not going to be getting paid anything more than those rates. But that’s by the way. Really and truly I wouldn’t carp about it because we were required to join the apprenticeship team and I did. And I did, much to my chagrin, have to start to do some night school classes. And of course the apprenticeship team was started on two grades: the boys like me that had been to secondary modern school, not passed the 11 plus, had not been to the grammar school, they were offered trade apprenticeship status; they would be apprenticed as tradesman. And the other boys from the grammar school who had had a better education than the secondary modern school boys were offered engineering apprenticeships where they would pursue a more academic approach to their apprenticeship career than us trade apprentices. The trade apprentices would be given one day a week day release to attend technical college, and would be required to do one evening a week night school. And we would study for a City and Guilds qualification in machine shop engineering.
Peter Stoddart
Did the academic line have to do more school?
Dave Gladdish
They did two days a week release and two evenings per week night school. They were pursuing a qualification in HNC, Higher National Certificate and/or Higher National Diploma.
Peter Stoddart
And what was the subject of that? Engineering in more general terms?
Dave Gladdish
Yes. They were expected to be more technical, pursue a more technical career. They were expected to be draughtsmen or stress men or something of that nature; rather than the rest of us which were expected to be fitters and turners and assemblers or what have you. So, I became an apprentice. Although I’d resisted the idea to begin with I’d really discovered that it was a very good thing indeed. I’d been a very insecure little boy. I’d been to private school before I went to the Melton Mowbray Secondary Modern School for Boys. Although we’d learnt to speak nicely and to play games and sing and do things like that, we were not equipped very well when it came to more academic things. Consequently I failed the 11 plus, and that is what it had amounted to. I had gone through all of my school career believing that arithmetic was beyond me, and that everybody understood that sort of stuff much better than I did. Going then as a 16 year old to start doing day release technical college studies for the City and Guilds we then came across teachers that I was able to deal with on much better terms. A particular man that I came to really like very much indeed, a man named Watson who was a teacher at Melton Mowbray technical college taught us as day release pupils, and the first thing he did was said that he knew very well that coming from our background we would know nothing about arithmetic at all. And he set about teaching us simple and basic arithmetic, and then simple fractions. All of a sudden I began to realise that it was not really quite as far beyond me as I thought it had been. He was an ex-Fairey aviation man himself. He worked in Fairey’s and did his apprenticeship in the aircraft industry with Fairey’s; prior to a spell in the RAF. So, he was very interested in the fact that we worked for a little aircraft company. He taught us basic arithmetic and then basic elementary physics as well as some engineering technology. He taught us about materials, metals and the behaviour of metals and taught us to understand the concept of hardness and ductility and malleability and brittleness in materials and so on. Looking back on it of course it was the most valuable time I think that we ever experienced. That wasn’t just my experience alone; I know that two or three young boys that I was friendly with at the time all felt the same about it as we went on. So, the business of becoming an apprentice really turned out to be a very good thing. The company then undertook to move us from department to department around the company in spells, about six months at a time. So, I was then moved on from doing this basic assembly work in Number 6 works, I think the next move I had was across the road to Number 5 works, which was a very different atmosphere. A large part of that factory building was occupied by the company’s commercial end. The company, alongside building Auster aeroplanes, was trying to diversify by taking some subcontract work for the motorcar industry. They had a large section of Number 5 works was devoted to manufacturing car parts. They manufactured things like clutch pedals and brake pedals.
Peter Stoddart
There was this famous gear shift as well, wasn’t there?
Dave Gladdish
Yes, and the steering column gear shift. I don’t know which car company that was for now.
Peter Stoddart
Was it for the Oxford or Sunbeam?
Dave Gladdish
Something like that, yes. But that was for a different style of engineering of course altogether. They had a press shop with power presses, which was very noisy and industrial and quite unlike the tranquil atmosphere that we’d worked in on the assembly.
Peter Stoddart
It would be much more mass manufacture as well.
Dave Gladdish
Indeed it was. But the aircraft side of the company retained part of that workshop for its bench fitting operations. I worked on that area for six months as an apprentice. In that area you worked at a bench all day long and you made small assemblies and subassemblies for the aircraft. For instance you may get to make a set of cockpit side window frame assemblies or a door assembly. You’d get a kit of parts from the stores; you’d have a door frame and some pre-cut Perspex panels and capping strips and rivets, and the job would be to trim the Perspex panels to fit the door frame, to attach the Perspex support frame into the tube, into the welded steel tube door frame assembly, and then fit the Perspex panels with the capping strips and rivet them all together. Or you’d make batches of cooling duct assemblies for some part of the aircraft installation. Or you’d make a series of cabin interior panels. You’d actually have perhaps aluminium sheet cut to shape for door lining panels or cabin interior lining panels, and you’d fit the necessary upholstery bits to them and glue them on. Small detail assembly work.
Peter Stoddart
So, it’s widening the sorts of skills you needed then considerably.
Dave Gladdish
Yes. And you’d be required sometimes to cut some bits of metal to shape and simply cut them out and file them up to shape and drill some holes, to a drawing.
Peter Stoddart
This was still down to the man you were assigned to to train you up, wasn’t it?
Dave Gladdish
Well, working in that area there was a foreman who oversaw a group of people working on benches like that. So, you would refer to him. He would be the one looking over your shoulder for that. But we were allowed quite a lot of freedom to just go and do it.
Peter Stoddart
Would that be the first time you were producing something yourself?
Dave Gladdish
Yes, it would be.
Peter Stoddart
Rather than working to an experienced person.
Dave Gladdish
Yes.
Peter Stoddart
And then the foreman was overseeing you from a distance.
Dave Gladdish
Yes. So, I worked on that for a period; probably about the six months that was expected. And then in the same factory unit there was the welding section, and this is where they had a bunch of gas welders working at benches that were making small metal components for the aircraft. Like for instance the door step: there was a step like a steel stirrup that was attached to the lower edge of the door aperture on the airframe, where the lift struts attached at the bottom of the door assembly there was also this stirrup step. And that was made from aerofoil section tube. There were just two bits of tube and an end bracket, U bracket that attached it to the aircraft, and a little end cap that blanked off the open end of the steel tube. So, you had a little jig and you had these three or four bits of steel tube cut to shape, and a bracket and an end plate. I went to work on the gas welding section for a while as part of the apprentices’ circulation around the company. And I fancied that; I liked the idea of being able to gas weld. The first thing they had to do with you was to give you some odds and ends of scrap metal and teach you how to gas weld and how to control the bits of metal that you’re welding, because of their distortion, and how to weld into difficult corners and how to weld very thin sections that would be very elusive. And also how to do the other bits of that discipline that were the bronze welding, as well as the gas welding of steel with steel. For certain applications they wanted metal steel components bronze welded together rather than gas welded. It was a gas welded operation. And/or non-ferrous metals were commonly silver soldered. So, I learnt, we were taught to gas weld and bronze weld and to silver solder. Having done the practice I became quite good at it and I enjoyed doing it – which is the secret of getting good at it, of course: if you enjoy doing it you tend to get good. I got approved as a gas welder, AID approval and ARB approval for gas welding.
Peter Stoddart
So, that would allow you to do the full production of these parts?
Dave Gladdish
That’s right, yes. So, then I did actually work then for a while welding up batches of small parts for the aircraft.
Peter Stoddart
Were they keeping an eye on these trainees to see who might be taken on as a welder then at this stage?
Dave Gladdish
I don’t know really. I don’t think they were.
Peter Stoddart
Or was there a sufficient supply available?
Dave Gladdish
They didn’t seem to be. I don’t ever recall anybody talking about there being shortages. We saw different people coming to the company and being employed and leaving again and going. I think the location of the factory didn’t suit everyone. It was out in the country. If you lived in Leicester it was a bus ride out from Leicester, which was a bit of a pain. Mind you, during this time –
Peter Stoddart
They did have a company bus from Leicester, didn’t they?
Dave Gladdish
They did, yes. In fact they had quite a series of them. They had a couple of buses used to bring people in for the factory start at eight o’clock. And then they had a company bus that they owned themselves. I think Midland Red used to put on a service for them for the factory workers. But they had a double-decker bus that they owned of their own, which they used to run into Leicester for the office workers. And they used to pick them up to start work at nine. During the time that this was going on the hostel in Rearsby closed and my parents had to move on to go and do something else. They took a village pub out near Market Harborough. And I had to move back into Melton Mowbray. To carry on my apprenticeship I had to move back to live with my grandparents in Melton Mowbray. So, I started to travel on the works’ bus from Melton Mowbray as well. That was what everyone did and that was no great hardship really. I carried on through the company. I worked on the welding section and enjoyed that and go approved as a welder. Then the next move was into the experimental department over on Number 4 works out on the airfield itself. It was nice to be back over where the aeroplanes were. I think that was a real side for boys working in that sort of industry. The experimental department did just that: they did experimental mock-ups of things like further developments for aircraft; they did mock-up spray installations on aircraft; or they did mock-up crop dusting installations for the aircraft. There were also a couple of times when they were mocking up possibilities for new aircraft design.
Peter Stoddart
When you went across there what date would this be? Mid 50s?
Dave Gladdish
Yes, we’re getting on now.
Peter Stoddart
Agricola, Atlantic time, sort of thing?
Dave Gladdish
Not quite; just prior to that. Into 1955, 1956 I suppose, because working in the experimental department, as I say, that was very nice. The experimental department looked after two or three of the company aircraft. They had the Model S in there, which was a standard Auster 6 really but with a bloody great big engine in it; and a number of other aircraft they had that wanted routine work and routine repairs and modification. They were just employed doing that: helping the fitters doing that sort of work and helping them change the engines in these things and doing bits and bobs of bench work as might be required to try out, little mock-ups. Also at that time the company pilots were routinely coming to that department and taking the aircraft out to fly them for various reasons. They had the B4 in there, the ambulance freighter, and that used to be flown fairly regularly by Ranald Portius or Les Leetham. And of course if you spotted one of these things being wheeled out and you saw Ranald Portius coming out to the aircraft what you did was sprint out and say, “Mr Portius! Mr Portius! Can I come for a ride?” And on three or four occasions he’d say yes. And you’d just say to the guy in charge, “I’ve got a ride! I’ve got a ride!” He’d say, “Oh go on then”. So, you’d get a free ride in one of the aeroplanes with Ranald Portius, and that could be quite exciting because Ranald Portius was a very flamboyant pilot and used to like do things like flying very low over the airfield boundaries and coming in at wildly outrageous angles into the landing approach.
Peter Stoddart
He developed that for his Farnborough show.
Dave Gladdish
He did, didn’t he, yes. They were magical times really.
Peter Stoddart
Were you still doing the flying club flying at this time?
Dave Gladdish
I was in the flying club by then, yes. That was all very entertaining.
Peter Stoddart
In a way you drew together your accumulating skills because you might have to do anything when you’re in the experimental, might you?
Dave Gladdish
That’s right, yes.
Peter Stoddart
All aspects of the aircraft were being produced in little stations normally.
Dave Gladdish
Yes.
Peter Stoddart
You each did that bit and that was it.
Dave Gladdish
That was it.
Peter Stoddart
Because I always remember Ron Neil saying, when he went in experimental, you started dealing with whole aeroplanes, all aspects of them, finely put together.
Dave Gladdish
Yes. And looking back on it of course it was like a Boys Own adventure. It was the sort of experience that none of my school friends could have even dreamed of. Being in the flying club, I can remember on two or three occasions in the summer, after flying solo, booking the club aircraft for a quick half an hour flight at lunchtime in the lunch break. I used to get a friend of mine, another apprentice, we’d wait by the clock to clock out for lunch, clock out, run across to the end of the airfield where the aircraft was picketed, untie it, I’d jump in and he’d swing it, and I’d get half an hour and eat my sandwiches in the aeroplane and have a little fly around the local countryside, land it and taxi it back in, and he’d be out there giving me a push back onto the pitch and tie it up, and we’d clock back in to start again in the afternoon.
Peter Stoddart
What was the lunch break then, an hour?
Dave Gladdish
Half an hour.
Peter Stoddart
Oh, just for half an hour.
Dave Gladdish
Yes! ((Laughing))
Peter Stoddart
Kept you working then?
Dave Gladdish
Yes. Boys of my age weren’t doing that sort of thing. It was absolutely amazing when I look back on it.
Peter Stoddart
The other factory situations in the Leicestershire industries were totally different.
Dave Gladdish
Completely.
Peter Stoddart
You did say people were coming in and out all the time. Some people I’ve talked to think they were a bit mean on pay as a company.
Dave Gladdish
Yes, yes.
Peter Stoddart
But by the same token it was a more interesting job.
Dave Gladdish
That’s right.
Peter Stoddart
And if you could survive on the money you had the job interest as well. Is that fair?
Dave Gladdish
I think that must be right. But I was a young single man. I worked, as I’ve just described, I was deferred from national service because of being an apprentice, up until my apprenticeship ended till I was 21 in 1956. So, in 1956 I then had to go for national service. As it happens I wasn’t in there for very long. I did eight weeks square bashing at Bridgenorth; contracted rheumatic fever, spent five months in hospital in RAF Cosford and then was invalided out of the air force and returned to my job at Rearsby. As I came back into the job in Rearsby everybody was working on the B5, which was the AOP Mark 9, and the Agricola. I think they were really running parallel. So, I had finished my apprenticeship and I was offered a job in the production planning department. I went to work in the production planning department where we received the drawings from the drawing office for whatever was to be made, and we would go through the drawings and we would decide on a method of manufacture for each piece that was required: whether it would need tools or equipment; whether it would need jigs or fixtures; whether it would need templates or any other speciality stuff for making it. You decided on a method and you wrote up a described method for making the component: you would define the material that was required to make it; you would specify what that was and you would specify who would make that – the material stores would cut that metal to size or to a given dimension. And then it would go to the first department that would do something or other to it and they would need a template, so you would order the template to be made and you would give a sketch and an outline of what the template should be and what facilities it should contain, should it be a template with drill bushes in it for drilling a given number of holes and if so what diameter holes were they to be. You might not want them to be drilled full sized holes in the prepared part; you might want that drilled to full sized as it’s assembled to something else.
Peter Stoddart
Would this be the planning cards we have in the archive?
Dave Gladdish
That’s right, yes.
Peter Stoddart
They seem to list tools and drawings and the raw material.
Dave Gladdish
That’s it.
Peter Stoddart
Blanks and things.
Dave Gladdish
That’s what you did, yes.
Peter Stoddart
We also have some things called Vocabs; volumes and volumes of Vocabs. Where do they fit in?
Dave Gladdish
They are vocabularies of parts.
Peter Stoddart
But who would refer to those?
Dave Gladdish
The buying department. We in the planning department compiled those Vocabs. What you got from the drawing office was for instance a drawing of say a tail plane assembly, and what the planning engineer did he looked down all the list of parts that comprised the tail plane – it would have a top skin and bottom skin; it would have a little spar; it would have a nose skin; it would have a number of ribs, maybe all the same or maybe differing ones; it would have various cleats and brackets and connectors; it would have attachment hinges; it would have specialist bolts and fittings of various sorts – and you would write up all of these items in the vocabulary of parts. And the Vocabs went to the purchasing department and they would look through and they would purchase the necessary bolts, nuts, washers and so on, or they would make sure that the stores had sufficient stocks of this sort of stuff. That’s what the Vocabs were for. At the same time the planning engineer would compile a production schedule. This was a list of all those parts, but starting with any subassemblies that might be required. It might be that if the drawing package that you had were for an undercarriage then perhaps you would have a requirement for making the welded steel frame of the undercarriage leg; then there would be the undercarriage hub assembly with its various components; then there may be a faring, so you would have to have the faring. So, you would list all of these parts down on an assembly schedule, starting with the main part itself and which were the next bits that you needed to manufacture to put together. So, you’d start by listing these in staggered columns on a page. The finished item itself was in the very left-hand column right at the top of the page. The next subassembly that you wanted, like the hub with all its bits in it, would be one column in from the left and next at the top of the page; and then listed below that in staggering order were all the separate little pieces – and you would have to make this bit before you could make that bit.
Peter Stoddart
It gives you the sequence.
Dave Gladdish
Yes. So, you started from the right-hand edge of the page, you made all the bits that were in the right-hand column first so that you could make all the bits that were in the next column so that you could make all the bits that were the next column so that you could put the whole thing together as the top item.
Peter Stoddart
So, you got this sequence across.
Dave Gladdish
Yes. That was handed to the production control department so that they could put orders onto the factory floor for manufacturing the various bits, so that would give them the facility to order the bits in the correct sequence for enabling the production flow to go through. So, they could make all the simple essential bits first; the next assemblies next; and the next assemblies after that and so on.
Peter Stoddart
Now, would this lead to you only making parts for aircraft already ordered? Or would you hold a certain amount of spares, overs or whatever you want to call them?
Dave Gladdish
The company did a mix of those things.
Peter Stoddart
The company largely manufactured to order. The customers had a fairly wide choice on the sort of specification they had for the aeroplane. They could choose a choice of engines for the aeroplane largely if they wanted. They could certainly choose things like levels of quality of trim. You could have simple vinyl upholstery in the cabin, or you could have hide if you wished. The ones that were fitted out with hide upholstery were really quite luxurious. They were a very nice little aeroplane indeed. So, yes they were largely built to order. Although the company I’ve seen referencing in some of the stuff written about the company since that they did on occasions build a few aeroplanes on spec and then rely on being able to sell them. I don’t know that they were entirely successful. They were reluctant to do that because it tied up money that was always short.
Dave Gladdish
It wasn’t your section, but how good were they at market research?
Dave Gladdish
Again, as you say, it wasn’t our department and we had no impression really of how well they did. It was all a bit mystical about how anybody actually sold these things. And the company had a variety of different salesmen that came and went over the years. They were invariably rather flamboyant and gung-ho sort of chaps that didn’t really move in our circles; they were accustomed to wining and dining customers I think than dealing with people on the factory floor.
Peter Stoddart
I wasn’t close to it, but to me it seems that there was a need for light aeroplanes after the war, and in the end Auster’s were the only people – Miles disappeared and so on – and they anticipated people would continue wanting to buy variations of their aeroplane.
Dave Gladdish
Yes.
Peter Stoddart
Rather than push to sell something new. The ventures that they did take up of course used a lot of the company money and weren’t successful.
Dave Gladdish
That’s right.
Peter Stoddart
In particular the Agricola. Of course the Atlantic had potential; but because the Agricola failed that was the end of the Atlantic.
Dave Gladdish
Pretty much, yes. It was a great shame. The Agricola I think probably was a very good tool for the task. I think it was a very good aeroplane for its purpose. I think they just couldn’t build it for a price that would make it attractive in the market. It was a rare and ugly looking beast and of course it was somewhat looked down upon by the employees that were making it. They thought it was such a brutal looking thing and quite unlike anything like an Auster and were surprised that anybody thought it would be a good idea. Looking back at it I think it was quite a good idea. But again, I think the company was really fairly poor at – Auster Aircraft built very simple airplanes and they built them very simply by very simple methods. When they didn’t get the orders for the B5, for the AOP Mark 9 that they’d hoped for, and the Agricola didn’t sell and the Atlantic didn’t sell – and I think by then Frank Bates, the managing director had by then had enough.
Peter Stoddart
His son had been killed; that knocked him back.
Dave Gladdish
He had, yes. I think Frank had come to the conclusion that he’d really had enough and he was going to bail out. And it was that point that the company really looked like closing. But the Wilson government of course then stepped in in the guise of Tony Benn and decided to try to save it. They decided to try to save it with the remnants of Miles Aircraft at Shoreham, forming them together to be a new light aircraft group called Beagle. The man that appeared in the role of Chief Executive was this man Sir Peter Masefield. I don’t think he was Sir Peter at the time; I think he was Peter Masefield. He’d been a bit of a high-ranking figure at Bristol Aviation. He had been involved with the development there of a design for a small twin executive aircraft, and he brought that design with him to the new group that was set up to be called Beagle Aircraft. So, they centred that that rather on Shoreham on the south coast, and really treated Shoreham as the new development end of the company. They got started in building this twin. Also then there was a proposal for building a new low wing light aircraft as a privately owned civil aeroplane, and also with a view to trying to get it introduced as a basic trainer for the RAF called the Beagle Pup. All of a sudden the company was taken over by this new Beagle group, and all of a sudden we were to be building these new Beagle aeroplanes. And off we went to be doing that. The assembly line in Number 6 works was swept clear of its Auster aeroplanes and they moved in with the assembly line to build the Beagle twin in there. And also then to build the Beagle Pups. Our department was switched over then straightaway to introducing this new aeroplane into manufacture. What we discovered of course was that the aeroplane was very underdeveloped in its design. They had built prototypes; but what tends to happen in building prototypes is the prototype engineers and technicians they produce a set of drawings for the aeroplane, they get started on building their prototypes and they discover anomalies in the drawings, errors and mistakes and inconsistencies, and they find ways around making the aeroplane and finding solutions to those problems. But invariably there is so much pressure on getting the aeroplane into the air and seeing if it’s going to be a successful aeroplane that the necessary feedback to correct the drawings and correct the design features that are problematic don’t get fed properly back. And of course the work necessary in order to feed all that stuff back is enormous, and it doesn’t get done. And the consequence is, and the consequence was in the case of this Beagle 206 and of course the Pup, that when the drawings were released to us at Rearsby for us to start manufacturing it we were thwarted in all sorts of directions by the simple fact that the drawings weren’t really right and that they required endless modification and correction. Miles Aircraft had never had a history of building very many aeroplanes at a time. They had in the earlier part of their career; but latterly in the post-war years in their little operation in Shoreham they hadn’t been building aeroplanes in quantity and had been building aeroplanes very much in a bespoke manner. Consequently the designs for the Beagle twin and the Beagle Pups were very problematic indeed. And where we were tooling up for manufacturing in batch quantities the drawings that we were tooling up to had lots and lots of problems. It became quite a battle constantly to try to get drawings amended to solve the problems that had been solved once but never fed back into the system.
Peter Stoddart
Would you say the initial solution, the priority was to get the plane ready for Farnborough and not how it would be produced?
Dave Gladdish
That certainly was the impression that we all had, whether it was prepared for Farnborough or not, but whatever it was that it was just the matter of getting the aircraft built and flying so that it could be demonstrated, so that it could be marketed and so that it could be assessed for its flying capabilities and all that sort of stuff. That did appear to have taken priority over all of this grinding work of actually getting all of the details right onto the drawings. The outcome was that the aeroplane took an awful long time, all those aeroplanes, to get them into production. The RAF did take some Beagle twins, some Beagle 206s. Then the company did get a contract from the Ministry to build a further development of the Pup called the Bulldog. But by the time they got the orders for Bulldog from the government the company was really finally washed right up. It had absorbed several millions of pounds in government support but hadn’t got a proper place in the market and was not selling aeroplanes at a profit. And the whole thing finally hit the buffers. The remnants of it, as is known, the Beagle Bulldog the design for that was moved over to Scottish Aviation, who then finally did manufacture that aeroplane and it did go into service for the RAF. But all the rest of it really just collapsed in whenever it was, 1969 was it?
Peter Stoddart
I think it closed February 1970. But Ambrose and the high wing Austers left in 1948 I think to Hampton Sussex. The thing about Masefield’s design that he brought with him, if you compare that to the American competition, it was the Rolls Royce of aeroplanes.
Dave Gladdish
Oh certainly.
Peter Stoddart
It had tapered wings for a start. It was highly engineered.
Dave Gladdish
It was.
Peter Stoddart
I think even if you had the quantities of production it obviously wouldn’t be at a very competitive price.
Dave Gladdish
No. Both the 206, the twin, and the Pups were very sophisticated aeroplanes. They were not designed as aeroplanes easy to manufacture. They were designed to fit the fashion of the market. And they were highly desirable aeroplanes in their own right. But they were too complicated to manufacture at any sort of sensible price. The Beagle 206 was far too heavy. And even with the twin like ((?)) that it had, which were good American well-developed engines, the aeroplane just didn’t have enough power to be a very satisfactory aeroplane. It was a nice shape and design, a smart looking aeroplane, and it was very comfortable and very attractive; but as you say, it was far too intricately engineered and far too heavy. And also vastly unsorted from the point of view of manufacture. It was plagued endlessly by modifications and reworks and corrections and updates.
Peter Stoddart
Well, the RAF aircraft had to come back for that sort of thing.
Dave Gladdish
Oh yes.
Peter Stoddart
When the Auster faded into Beagle and you went to all metal manufacture that’s more complicated than the old simple Auster and it’s a whole different way of making aeroplanes, was there a shake out of staff? Or did people retrain or what?
Dave Gladdish
No. The transition was probably not quite as traumatic as you might imagine.
Peter Stoddart
The Airedale was new, wasn’t it?
Dave Gladdish
Well, the Airedale was; but that wasn’t really the essence of it. The Number 4 works, apart from the experimental department, they also had a large aircraft fitting section, bench workers section, where there was a lot of subcontract work done for other parts of the aircraft industry. That section of the company got a lot of work on the Blackburn Buccaneer, and made assemblies and subassemblies for Blackburn Aircraft that were all engineered in that more modern manufacturing techniques. There were a lot of press works components, very sophisticated components and assemblies built on that department. Also things like they built tail plane assemblies for De Havilland and other bits and bobs. Yes, there were a lot of quite modern manufacturing techniques deployed in the company through their subcontract work rather than in their own internal Auster Aircraft manufacturing. And the B5 itself, the AOP Mark 9 used a bit more modern methods. The wing was a more sophisticated manufacturing assembly than traditional Auster wings had been. So, the company wasn’t quite as ill-equipped to do it as you might have imagined. They switched over to doing that work with very little hiccup.
Peter Stoddart
Did you cross the divide still in the production planning then?
Dave Gladdish
Yes, indeed, yes.
Peter Stoddart
Did the ethos of the company change when it went to Beagle, the sort of happy family firm?
Dave Gladdish
No, I don’t think it did really; we were still a fairly happy family. Although I don’t think anyone would pretend that there wasn’t a little bit of friction between Rearsby and Shoreham. The development of having part of the company in Shoreham did give us an outlet for having some fairly jolly experiences. The company used the Beagle 206, the twin as a fairly regularly shuttle between Rearsby and Shoreham; flown by Trevor Howard, the company pilot. I’ve done a number of trips on that one, and that was really very nice indeed because you just took off from Rearsby on a sunny morning in a nice comfortable eight-seater twin, and being a member of the flying club and Trevor Howard having taught me when he was the flying club instructor at some period and I learnt some of the stuff that I learnt from him, so he would just invite me to take the second pilot’s chair and I used to share the flight with him down to Shoreham and back. You’d be off in the morning and back for teatime in the evening.
Peter Stoddart
And fresh enough to do some work when you were there?
Dave Gladdish
Yes indeed.
Peter Stoddart
Did you ever have any jollies in the Dragon, the biplane that they had? I don’t quite see where that fits in because Masefield was after this modern image, and yet he goes and takes on as a company aeroplane a De Havilland Dragon from pre-war years.
Dave Gladdish
Yes. I don’t recall seeing that at Rearsby on very many occasions.
Peter Stoddart
It was based down in Shoreham I think.
Dave Gladdish
I think it was based at Shoreham. And although it was flown in once or twice like you I don’t know really what they were doing with that. I think that was probably Masefield playing with toys. His son at one stage was flying around in a bloody Mustang. I don’t know where he got that from.
Peter Stoddart
I don’t know what his job in life was.
Dave Gladdish
I don’t.
Peter Stoddart
I’ve no idea. So, when did you actually leave the company? Did you stay to the bitter end?
Dave Gladdish
I stayed right to the bitter end.
Peter Stoddart
So, this would be February or thereabouts in 1970?
Dave Gladdish
Yes, or 1969. I can’t really remember. I say I stayed; no, I stayed right up until the point where we were on notice that we would be made redundant, and we had all negotiated our redundancy packages and so on. We were being advised to try and get jobs if we could. And if we could we’d get our redundancy package and go. And that is actually what I did. One of the blokes in the production planning department where I worked, Keith Turner, he came in one day saying that he’d been to have an interview with a little company in ((Blaby?)) that was very interesting but he really didn’t think it was for him. I said, “What was it about then, Keith?” He said, “You know about this new machining technology, NC machines, numerically controlled milling machines, punch tape milling machines” and we’d been seeing magazine articles about cutting shapes on these punch tape controlled machines, and I thought to myself that that looked quite an interesting thing really. And Keith said there was this company he’d been to in Blaby that were doing this. What they wanted was programmers, a couple of programmers for programming these machines. He said it was not a bad looking job and they were offering reasonable money, but he didn’t really think it was for him. So, I got the name of the company off him and I went to see them and I got the job. They were an offshoot; it was a little company that was operated as an offshoot from Marwin Machine Tools at Anstey. Marwin Machine Tools were making numerically controlled machines – that’s not computer controlled – numerically controlled controlled by punch paper tape for the aircraft industry. What they wanted was to train a couple of machine tool programmers to programme these machines to do aircraft work. So, they wanted somebody who had experience of aircraft techniques and aircraft manufacturing procedures and aircraft drawings. Because of my background I got the job. So, I started to work then. What was very intriguing to me about this was these people were learning to programme these machine tools by learning to write a computer language. They were learning to write a language that would describe the cutter paths that you wanted the machine to take in order to machine a component. You would write these instructions in a computer language that was then processed by a computer in London, which then spilled out the punch paper tape to control the machine tool. And I thought that sounded like a very fascinating idea, and I got the job at Castilian Engineering in Blaby, which was an offshoot of Marwin Machine Tools. That’s what I did thereon.
Peter Stoddart
Was that on the Wharf Way estate there?
Dave Gladdish
No, it was down in the village.
Peter Stoddart
And you were still travelling from Melton then, were you?
Dave Gladdish
No, I’d moved to live in Market Harborough by then, because my parents – the pub had gone bankrupt – they finished up living in a little council flat in Market Harborough and they had become infirm and unwell, and they needed somewhere where I could live at home. I bought this house and moved them into it, and I carried on working at Blaby.
Peter Stoddart
How did you move on from there then?
Dave Gladdish
I learnt this computer language called APT.
Peter Stoddart
You were in the forefront of doing this really.
Dave Gladdish
This was very new. There were only a handful of us doing this in the country. The only computer bureau that ran that language on its mainframe was the SIA bureau just round the corner from Victoria railway station in London. We used to have to write our programmes on coding sheets and get them punched up onto paper punch cards, and then take our boxes of cards with us down to London on the train and run them on the computer in SIA in London and get the listings, and then eventually get the punch paper tapes to go to the machine tools.
Peter Stoddart
And your understanding of how these parts were made on presumably manually controlled machines was vital to knowing how to programme the automatic machines?
Dave Gladdish
Yes indeed. And also to spot the necessary subtleties of aircraft procedures rather than general manufacturing procedures. Very simple things that if you machine a piece of metal for an aeroplane, if you cut an angle bracket for an aeroplane it does not have a sharp corner in the bottom corner of the angle; it has a rounded filet in the corner. You don’t use square corner cutters to cut an aircraft part.
Peter Stoddart
You don’t want cracks starting anywhere.
Dave Gladdish
No. These things are invariably covered on the drawings, but they just want people with that inherent understanding that those are the sorts of things you don’t do. When the machinist is putting the cutters in the machine for use you would spot it; you would spot a sharp corner cutter; you would spot the fact that you mustn’t let the materials being cut get too hot; you mustn’t allow the machining procedures to physically affect the crystallised structure of the materials and that sort of thing.
Peter Stoddart
That’s all going back to your knowledge from ((?)) then.
Dave Gladdish
Yes indeed.
Peter Stoddart
That was vital. When did MBB come in and the German? Shortly after this?
Dave Gladdish
Having learnt to write that language the Marwin Machine Tools had another couple of offshoot companies that were doing much the same sort of thing. They were getting some orders for machine tools from Germany. Also then the Germans were doing the same sort of work; they were developing their own programming departments for programming their machine tools, but they couldn’t get enough people who understood the computer language. So, where they had an overload they then applied to the Marwin company and the offshoots of Marwin, had they got any spare programmers that could go and work on a contract basis? So, that’s how it came to be that we got the first chances to work occasionally in Germany, and went and did that for a bit. I got made redundant from the company in Blaby. Then one of Marwin’s other offshoots had a factory in South Wales that had been set up on one of these Regional Development Grants. They were doing CMC programming and they were short of programmers and so they offered me some short-term jobs to do for them in Wales; which I did. So, I started to get offered short-term contracts. The outcome was I finished up being a freelance CMC programmer.
Peter Stoddart
Always working from the Market Harborough base?
Dave Gladdish
Yes.
Peter Stoddart
So, what would you do, weekly commuting then?
Dave Gladdish
Yes, quite often; I did that over the years.
Peter Stoddart
You finally went to full retirement age doing that then?
Dave Gladdish
Yes. I worked until I was 69 doing that.
Peter Stoddart
Of all your working life how does Auster’s rate?
Dave Gladdish
As a rather magical period really. Quite a Boys Own experience I think: to have that much freedom to play about with a light aeroplane through the flying club, and to get little jolly flights with the company pilot who was an aerobatic genius. Part of the AOP Mark 9 development programme was that when they were building their first Mark 9s for the army the army required a whole programme of flight trials to be carried out. The company had to do it. The company had to undertake to do so many 100 hours of flying hours on AOP Mark 9s in simulated army conditions: they were to fly them; they were to be used for low-level reconnaissance; and for duration; and for flights in and out of rough terrain and so on. The company set up a programme of doing all these flight trial hours, hundreds of hours they had to do. They had a series of pilots. Frank Bates’ son was one of the pilots; Trevor Howard was one of the pilots; Les Leetham was one of the pilots; there was the man who was at that time the flying club instructor who was an employee on the factory floor, he was one of the pilots. And these pilots all flew in rota, flying so many hours at a time on the Mark 9. And every one of them had to have an observer making particular notes as required. And of course us members of the flying club got offered the job as observers. So, in between your working day you’d get called out to go and do two-hour flight as a flight observer on one of these flight trials.
Peter Stoddart
Did your own private flying finish when you left the company?
Dave Gladdish
Yes, it did, and in rather sad circumstances. Just as I was due to be called up for national service two blokes from the flying club, Charlie O’Connor and his mate, whose name now escapes me, Charlie O’Connor was an ebullient little Irish man. He worked on the company somewhere; I don’t know what he did on the company. He was a gung-ho little man, little bit older than me, but he and I were quite good friends in the club. He lived in Leicester, I lived in Melton, so we didn’t mix socially very much except at the club. And him and his mate took off one afternoon, left it too late, got into very bad light conditions before they got back to the airfield, made a bad approach from Gadsby end and hit a tree and wrote the airplane off and they were both killed. And the aeroplane was written off. Before there were any alternative arrangements made for the flying club I was called up for national service. And never really went back to it after that.
Peter Stoddart
Thank you very much.

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


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