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Interview of John Jenkins, 20th September 2013

Interviewed by Peter Stoddart

Interviewer
Are you a Leicester person? We’ll start there.
John Jenkins
Yes, I am. I was born in Leicester, not that far from here.
Interviewer
When was that then?
John Jenkins
That was in April 1941.
Interviewer
So, you went to the local school here, did you?
John Jenkins
I went to the Evington Valley School there. I followed then to the Medway Street Junior School where I gained my 11 Plus, and went to Wyggeston Boys.
Interviewer
What sort of family background? What did your father do? He wasn’t in industry, was he, or was he?
John Jenkins
He was to a certain degree. He was responsible for waste woollen works, which he was one of the directors. That was based near the Newark.
Interviewer
Is that what they called Rellitt? Because there used to be a Tyler’s Rellitt works.
John Jenkins
No, this was purely wool and wool materials. He used to go round – he didn’t drive incidentally, which would never do today – but if he had to go somewhere he would have somebody drive him, or he would go on the train or the bus for that matter. But no engineering background whatsoever. He didn’t know one end of a screwdriver from another.
Interviewer
So, what led you into aviation from Wyggeston then?
John Jenkins
It perhaps started quite a bit earlier than that. Right from being very much a youngster I was always interested in things that seemed to be flying around, because don’t forget that was during the war so there was plenty of it. One day I observed this aeroplane coming down, and I could see there was something trailing from it, not on fire, but it was smoke of some sort trailing, and it just plunged out of view; continued down and plunged out of view. Nobody jumped out of it or anything like that. I was very much aware of that. I told my mum, “What was it? What was that?” “That was an aeroplane come down”. Anyway she took me out and we walked in that direction to near Highway Road where it joined the Gartery Road. There we saw that there was a fire engine and ambulance and goodness knows what else, and all this wreckage strewn over the road and water and goodness knows whatever else. And I remember most vividly seeing the undercarriage leg, huge to me it was. And then there was this engine that was there, and it was red, so I thought that was the engine out of the aeroplane. But in hindsight I think it was the water pump that they’d used. Anyway it transpired that this aeroplane was an American Thunderbolt that had come down. It had come down through the clouds, perhaps in too steep a dive, not realising how close the clouds were to the ground, opened up the throttle and it didn’t make it. I presume the fact that he had opened up the throttle was the extra stuff that was trailing out the bag. But it wasn’t shot down or anything like that.
Interviewer
So, that had come over this way going over towards Leicester, was it?
John Jenkins
It was going in a sort of north-westerly direction. Effectively you’d think that it was coming from somewhere west of the airport. That very much interested me. This was in September, I believe, 1943, so that put me about two and a half. I was still very interested in all things that were flying around.
Interviewer
Was there a lot of traffic in and out of Leicester itself, Stoughton?
John Jenkins
Air traffic?
Interviewer
Yeah.
John Jenkins
Not really at that time.
Interviewer
It hadn’t long been open really. It was an early wartime airfield, wasn’t it?
John Jenkins
It was, yes. I wasn’t aware of anything specific there because I don’t think I knew of the airfield particularly at that point. But there was a lot of traffic. I can certainly remember one particular instance – although this is one of a number – where the sky was full of aeroplanes for 20 minutes or more. They were all bombers: twin-engined, four-engined, loads of them flying at quite a low level. And I just put it down to the fact that they were going on a raid to Germany; and I presume that they were the 1,000 bomber raids. But this was a year or two a little bit later. So, all these things started to build in my mind about aviation. My hobby at the time was model railways, Hornby Dublo I think like a lot of children did. But I gradually got weaned off that and got involved in aeroplanes. The first aeroplane I made was a Keel Craft Kit of an Auster Arrow J2; which did fly of sorts but not very well. But I built others after that.
Interviewer
Did you do that with school friends who were also doing it?
John Jenkins
No, no.
Interviewer
Just on your own?
John Jenkins
I was purely on my own. I was very much a loner.
Interviewer
Not in a club or anything?
John Jenkins
No, not at this time. I progressed a little bit more from there. When I was at the Wyggeston boy’s school there were other people that were also interested in aeroplanes. We didn’t have a club but we sort of formed our own association building and flying model aeroplanes. I couldn’t afford at that time, because my father had died when I was at the age of nine, to go out and buy kits and things like that. So, I used to buy the wood and stuff and design my own aeroplanes. If I do say so myself I seemed to be quite successful at it. One of the guys, a senior guy out of our group, whenever I was building anything would sort of complain and say, “Well his aeroplanes always fly”. ((Laughs)) A sort of backhanded compliment I suppose.
Interviewer
And did the group of you fly in any one particular place or just the nearest park?
John Jenkins
Of course I knew about Leicester aerodrome at this point. We used to come up to the aerodrome, and opposite the aerodrome as it is today, which is now farmland, there were various concrete pans and a control tower there. And these pans were perfect for flying control line aeroplanes, so we used to fly control line from there. It was a nice smooth surface. We used to keep the stones clear and weeds generally clear and we flew from there. We used to take all sorts of models up there.
Interviewer
At that time it was still ministry airfield presumably?
John Jenkins
Yes, it would be.
Interviewer
Were the Co-op back on the land cutting the grass or farming the land?
John Jenkins
I’m not aware of that. They probably were. But Marconi had the building that was subsequently used by RNA Aviation, and that was very much taboo; you were not allowed down there under any circumstances. I think it was perhaps a little bit sensitive.
Interviewer
The Leicester Aerodrome must have started on there in the early 50s because they finished at Ratcliffe in the late 40s. I don’t know whether there was a gap or not. Everhard did offer them to buy but they couldn’t afford it – well they didn’t want to commit such a large amount of money, put it that way; otherwise they’d have stayed at Ratcliffe. I don’t know when Leicester went back to the Co-op’s ownership, because it’s all Co-op land now. At some stage it would have been care and maintenance after the war, but still ministry.
John Jenkins
During the time that we were flying up there nobody ever asked any questions. Nobody complained. We were well out of the way of anything. In fact in those days people didn’t complain about youngsters flying model aeroplanes.
Interviewer
Well, you weren’t near any houses up there.
John Jenkins
No, no houses. Anyway this sort of continued. I joined the Leicester Model Aero Club and they used to have aerobatic competitions and gliding competitions and things like that. Because I flew control line it was down to me aerobatic. With three different aeroplanes at the time on successive years I got the trophy, the ((Caton?)) Trophy, three times in a row.
Interviewer
That was a model club trophy in Leicester at the time?
John Jenkins
That’s right, yes.
Interviewer
Not a competition with other clubs?
John Jenkins
No. Only once did I ever fly in competition with another club and actually it was a Leicester area meeting and there was more than one club there, including the RAF. It was a very windy day, very windy, and they were struggling to fly. For reasons that I’m not entirely sure, but I have a good idea of the reason why, the team racer that I had – because I seemed to be quite good at making a fast team racer – it was quite tolerant to flying in the wind. Because the winds were washed out a little bit at the tips which improved the stalling capability. You could drag it around the circuit if it wasn’t particularly windy. But in this instance it was very windy. The RAF hadn’t got enough to put up a team of three, and I was asked would I be prepared to join the RAF for the purpose of the competition, and I said yes. So, I did and we won it. ((Laughs)) I was very fortunate that that was what happened.
Interviewer
When you were with the Leicester Model Club was that when they were still using Braunstone?
John Jenkins
No, we used Rearsby; used to fly from Rearsby.
Interviewer
Because John Chapman – you remember John Chapman – he used to go up to Braunstone before it was developed as a factory estate.
John Jenkins
Yes. No, this was at Rearsby aerodrome. We used to fly down at the bottom where the pond used to be. It’s a big pond now.
Interviewer
So, that was the Leicester club’s regular flying ground?
John Jenkins
It was; it was quite a good position.
Interviewer
How did you all get out there then?
John Jenkins
Push bike. Models on your back. But I’d built myself a little trailer so I used to be able to put models in a little trailer, bits of stuff around them to protect them and fly off from there. And that’s where I won most of my competitions. Then we started being invited to places; one of which was Beaver Castle. This would be a combat competition. And the object of that combat one was an aerobatic aeroplane and you had a length of string behind it and then a streamer which would be made from crepe, for Christmas directions and that sort of thing. The object of the exercise was to be able to chop as many chops as you could in your opponent’s string, your piece of crepe. So, I was entered in that as well as a number of others. And we did a competition and I won that competition. It was purely tactical. One or two people didn’t like it ((laughs)) but what we used to do, we only used to fly two in a circle then, before it got a bit ridiculous and there were up to five us in the same circle and that was more than exciting, but these were just two, and what I used to do, because the engine that I got was always an instant starter, I used to be standing in the middle the same as my competitor and your helper who’d got the aeroplane, and he could start it instantly. I’d always said to my helper, “Wait until he’s actually got his engine running, as soon as he starts get ours running. And at the moment he’s going to launch I want you just to drop the aeroplane; don’t launch it, just drop it”. And of course on full throttle, because they only had really in those days full throttle, and full up elevator that used to just flip it on its back and it used to come up straight underneath the other one the other side, meeting him halfway and clip his streamer. And the fact that I was inverted completed disorientated the other guy ((laughs)), and I used to fly most of the circuit inverted, you see. Anyway I won that competition, and the first prize was a flight in an aeroplane, an Auster. That Auster was GAGOH, and it was Cecil Thorne who was the pilot. Anyway I duly arranged with him to go on this flight. He turned up in his Morris Minor and he said that he’d traded his Jaguar in for the Morris Minor and the aeroplane, because he found the aeroplane was more use to him going out to farmers’ places and their fields, dropping some spares off and such like – from Marshall Conveyors in Bilsden. Anyway I went and met him on the appointed day and off we went flying; which of course was an eye-opener to me.
Interviewer
And that was from Stoughton?
John Jenkins
That was from Leicester East, from Stoughton, yes. We flew various places, close to Bruntingthorpe. I remember that because there were F86 Sabres doing circuits there at the time and we were fairly close to them. He let me have a go doing various turns and climbs and things like that, which I was more than a little bit interested in, to say the least. Anyway we came back and we did a landing and then took off again. He said, “Now I’ll show you how to do it properly”, and came round and he did a perfect three-point landing. I looked at the plaque on the inside and I looked at the air speed indicator, and it said on the plaque 28 miles an hour stalling speed, and he had 28 miles an hour on the clock. I was impressed with that. Anyway we got back to the hanger and put it back in again. He said, “What do you want to do when you leave school? Have you thought about that?” I said, “Yes, yes” I was thinking hard at that moment, “I wouldn’t mind going to where they make these”. And he said, “Well, you can do a lot worse than that. Go for it. Make contacts, go for it”. And I said, “Thank you very much for that”. Anyway that’s what happened. Bit by bit I managed to get hold of, and my mum did too, somebody who could get us an intro, if you like, to Auster’s, and I got an interview. They weren’t actually taking any apprentices on at the time, at least they thought they weren’t, and I went for this interview.
Interviewer
Was this 16 or 18? Did you do any sixth form?
John Jenkins
No, I didn’t do any sixth form. I can’t remember whether I was 15 or 16 now.
Interviewer
But this was the first job?
John Jenkins
Yeah, I think I was 16 – because I was just relating it to when I took exams etc. My mum took me and we were met by a whole what appeared like an army of the top echelons at Auster’s. There was MD, Frank Mace was there; Jerry Ringwood; Eric Kettle; Bill Neath was there, he was the under manager, works manager – all firing various questions at me and wanted to know if I was going to pass my exams, “Are you going to pass them?” And I said, “Yes, yes” I told them what I was going to pass: maths, science and art. I said, “I shall definitely get those”. And then I can’t remember who it was said, “What do you do in your spare time?” I said, “I design and build model aeroplanes”. And there was silence. They almost seemed to stand to attention and ah, and look at one another. And then one said, “When you come for your second interview can you bring one along with you?” Which I explained that it might be a bit difficult because the one that I would need to bring, the last one, the one that was getting me into a bit of trouble actually at school, was a 50 inch wingspan and weighed four and a half pounds, and I said, “I don’t think I can get it on the bus”. ((Laughs)) Anyway they said, “Have you got any pictures or photographs?” I said, “Well, yes, I’ve got some photographs”. “Bring them along with you then”. Which is what I did.
Interviewer
So, there was a second interview. When you went up were you on your own or where there other people being interviewed then?
John Jenkins
Nobody else being interviewed.
Interviewer
Right, but they didn’t want to make their mind up the first time?
John Jenkins
I don’t know. I learnt afterwards that they weren’t actually officially taking on new apprentices. But when I turned up, and it was after I said I was designing and building model aeroplanes, they wanted to know more. As soon as I went in, I think they’d already made up their mind anyway, but they looked at the photographs and everything and they said, “Subject to you passing the exams you can start work”.
Interviewer
When did you actually start?
John Jenkins
I actually started work on 2nd September 1957. One little interesting thing about that aeroplane when I was doing my exams or revising for exams – I find it very boring doing revision; I feel as though I know it or I don’t know it and revision isn’t going to help me, trying to cram it – so I relaxed doing this twin-engine bomber. Of course one or two of the lads at school knew about it.
Interviewer
A full-scale model?
John Jenkins
No, a semi-scale model. I’ve got some photographs; you can have a look at them later. In fact I’ll bring the real one down and you can have a look at that because that still exists. Anyway, I found out then that the form master had got to hear about it, and he called me into his office and gave me a right good telling off saying, “Look here young Jenkins, you’ll never get a job when you leave school messing around with model aeroplanes”. Oh, oh. Anyway I carried on, finished it and flew it. And it was that aeroplane that got me my job.
Interviewer
Did he know then that in fact you’d already got employment?
John Jenkins
No, this was beforehand, well beforehand, some months beforehand; before I’d actually taken my exams as well. So, no this was a couple of months beforehand. I didn’t know I’d got the job until – I’d actually got the job the moment I went there with my pass exams.
Interviewer
Well, you already had your toe on the airfield, didn’t you, from all the model flying.
John Jenkins
Exactly.
Interviewer
You’d been interested when you saw the aircraft flying presumably.
John Jenkins
Oh yes. Aircraft have been with me since I was two and a half.
Interviewer
I didn’t end up in aviation, but we lived under the circuit for Thornoby aerodrome, and there were aeroplanes coming to land over our house through the war. You couldn’t escape it, the interest. The apprentice scheme was that formalised?
John Jenkins
Yes, very much so.
Interviewer
So, how did that work when you started, your first day?
John Jenkins
Well, you have your indentures, which is all your paperwork, which is signed etc.
Interviewer
Was that five years or?
John Jenkins
It was five years or thereabouts, depending on your age. I think that you didn’t go past the age of 21. I think that, listening to other guys as the colleges that I went to, which was the Newark part of it, and Charles Kings College for the rest of it – which is now a university of course – I think I had as good an apprenticeship as anybody, because you did actually go round all the departments. The only department I didn’t do anything is the wages department ((laughs)); and accounts, didn’t have anything to do with accounts or wages. But those are non-aviation and they’re the same everywhere.
Interviewer
Well, I presume it was a technical apprenticeship?
John Jenkins
Very much so. It was certainly the technical side of it. I really enjoyed the work there.
Interviewer
What qualifications did you do at was it night school or day?
John Jenkins
It was both actually. ONC, that’s the Ordinary National Certificate, that’s the one that I completed. But I also then started doing the HNC. But the time was moving on now, and I think there’s a limit as to how far you would go in time, or appears to be, about seven years. When you’ve got to seven years I think you don’t want to do anymore; you want to get on with it. So, I took HNC so far. I got to the A1 standard; but not the full certificate for HNC.
Interviewer
Was that in a specific engineering? It wouldn’t be aviation.
John Jenkins
No, it wasn’t in aviation. I wanted to go to do aviation, aeronautical engineering, but that would mean six months on and six months off, and the company didn’t want to do that. They were quite happy for me to have a day release, which is what I did; but not to go on a half and half basis.
Interviewer
So, was it general engineering?
John Jenkins
So, it was general engineering, yes; which is actually better in many respects than aviation because if anything goes wrong then you’ve got a better in for going somewhere else. And that’s what I did.
Interviewer
What sorts of things do you cover in a course like that?
John Jenkins
Well, when I say everything, first of all it’s all detailing work and building smaller parts. They did a lot of subcontracting work at Auster’s, a tremendous amount. The first sort of main components that I got involved with, and the chap that I was seconded to, we used to build tail planes for Percival Pembroke’s; which I enjoyed doing. I know it was somewhat repetitive, but there’s a lot of work just to build one of those items. And they used to help other people that were building the other parts of the empennage, the fin, the rudder and things like that, when they wanted somebody to do the riveting. Because there are lots of jobs you can’t do on your own; it’s got to be a two-person job. And they used to do a lot of that. So, that was the early days. Then I progressed from a lot of that, working on my own then. The Mark 9 was in production and I used to make loads and loads of components for the Mark 9.
Interviewer
When you were doing the Pembroke bit would that be the sheet metal department?
John Jenkins
No, it was assembly.
Interviewer
Did Auster’s make the parts?
John Jenkins
Some of the parts they made, but not all. The skins for instance on the Pembroke, which were all fluting, they were already provided and we just had to trim them. Well, you trim them so far, put them on and then do your final trimming and filing and getting all a perfect shape, perfect fit. But then, as I say, I did a lot on the Mark 9. Not much on other aircraft then; but most of the Mark 9 stuff I used to do odds and sods of. And then latterly I did the wing spars. They actually started a bonus system for the apprentices: you were allowed a certain time and you had to achieve a certain time with it – I think it was 33 hours you had for a spar – and you were expected to do it really, if you’re on top-notch, in about half that time, if you were lucky. But I got it off to such a fine art, shortcutting this and finding faster ways of doing it, I’d done them in 10.5 hours. So, I actually gained quite a significant bonus with that, which was good. I was pleased with that. That was quite interesting but it was non-stop; there was no let up. Not to get it done in that time, there is a lot to do, because you’ve got to have inter-stage inspections as well. I worked with one of the planners, this was on some commercial work which was also quite interesting, made from light alloys and it was to do with some bins for Patons and Baldwin’s, the woollen people. That was quite different.
Interviewer
Were the dye trucks for them as well, or were they for other industries in Leicester?
John Jenkins
I don’t know. I didn’t get involved with those.
Interviewer
Did you get involved at all with steel tube structures then? It doesn’t sound as though you did.
John Jenkins
No, I didn’t. What we did have, we had a contract for what we used to term as bomb trucks. In actually fact they were for the – you remember the Javelin?
Interviewer
Hm.
John Jenkins
They used to have underbelly fuel tanks. And it was a trolley for carrying these huge underbelly fuel tanks. They bought a flame cutter, pantograph type flame cutter, brand new, and I was sort of led to this machine and said, “Well, these are the parts we’ve got to cut out, make some templates and have a go and see how you get on”. So, it was almost self-taught really: get on with it and do it. That was actually very interesting. It was aviation, but it was commercial really because it was all steel.
Interviewer
You never got the torch in your hand, did you?
John Jenkins
No, you don’t, because it’s on a head because it’s a pantograph.
Interviewer
No, I meant to weld it up.
John Jenkins
No, I never did any welding there, funnily enough.
Interviewer
That wasn’t part of the round of the apprentices then?
John Jenkins
No, none of them did any welding.
Interviewer
I’ve heard of Ray Mattock, I’ve met him. How many welders would there have been?
John Jenkins
Well, they were spread, you see. Across the road, which was the Number 5 works, which was the commercial side, there were quite a few welding people over there. But on the aircraft side there were very few. Ray Mattock was the main one really. There was another guy whose name escapes me. I would say there were probably only about three or maybe four welders on the aircraft side; there were very few.
Interviewer
Well, if you think of them working continuously there wasn’t exactly a massive flow line of airframes.
John Jenkins
No, there wasn’t.
Interviewer
I don’t know how long they would take to weld a complete frame after it had been tacked; but if there were three of them they could get through quite a bit of work, couldn’t they?
John Jenkins
They could do, yes. There might have been a few more than that, but I can think of three.
Interviewer
Were the Javelin cradles done over the road or in the aviation side?
John Jenkins
They were done on our side, as far as I can recall; but they weren’t in the works that I was in. I was in the Number 4 works most of the time, but it wasn’t done in there.
Interviewer
Because this surprised me.
John Jenkins
I made all the parts.
Interviewer
How many sets of these would you have made, do you think?
John Jenkins
I reckon we must have made probably 40 or 50 sets. I used to like that frame cutting. It all depended on you had to keep the machine clean; that was vital. And the tracks that it ran on you had to keep those all clean. I remember there was an incident when I’d been on holiday, and somebody was wanting to use it for doing something, and they said, “No, no, you can’t use it because John will play hell when he comes back if you haven’t looked after his machine”. And it was quite important that you did that. One of the things I did, in the experimental department, which was the other side of the Number 4 works, there was also the tool section there where they made all the tools, not only for aircraft but they made tools for the Number 7 works as well. And when they’d got big press tools the base part of it had to be cut out just slightly larger, but not by very much, than the actual bit that you’re punching out. One of the guys had said to me one day, “If I mark it out do you think you could cut round there with your flame cutter?” I said, “Well, I don’t see why not. If I get the right nozzle and everything I’m sure we can”. Anyway I did and we cut it out and he was over the moon with it. He said, “Do you know I didn’t have to do anything much to it. The cut was perfect and really ever so clean”. But a lot of it is to do with how you kept the machine: if you keep that spot on then it will do the job.
Interviewer
Is the head static and the material is moved or does the head move?
John Jenkins
It was the head that moved.
Interviewer
So, it had guides?
John Jenkins
I’m saying pantograph; it slides that way and slides that way. So, there are certain points where you’re going to get slightly more stiction ((sic?)) than others. I mean, you can do a complete circle but you’re going to operate two lots of slides at 90 degrees to one another.
Interviewer
So, despite being the apprentice you were the expert with this machine then?
John Jenkins
Yes. I got myself a name for that!
Interviewer
Quite good status there.
John Jenkins
Yes. I did a lot of routing as well, which was quite interesting. And then the guy who was the big router, the big ginormous machine, he used to make all the rudder controls and pedal controls for the jet Provost. They were all machined out of light alloy. I ended up in this machine. You’re in a separate little hut almost within the hangar, and you had this blooming great machine in there. That was a true pantograph; a very heavy machine.
Interviewer
That follows a pattern?
John Jenkins
You have a template. It follows a template, rather like the flame cutter did, but this would be a swinging arm as opposed to slide.
Interviewer
It’s literally grinding it, cutting it out.
John Jenkins
Cutting it out. A morning’s work, and you wouldn’t be able to get out of this little office that it was in because of the amount of shavings that were there, tremendous. There used to be silage of them all the time; a huge amount.
Interviewer
What sort of cycling time would there be for something like that, a pedal?
John Jenkins
Just to cut one? I can’t remember the times, but it would only take me, just to cut one, only half a minute. It was really fast stuff there.
Interviewer
It proved more economical to cut it out of solid then than to cast it or form it out of sheet?
John Jenkins
Yes. Well, forging would be out of the question because of the cost. But it would have been stronger and lighter if it had been forging. Many of things that they cut out of a solid piece, a solid billet.
Interviewer
So, so far most of the stuff you’ve done has been not Auster – although I don’t know what proportion was the Mark 9 work? Did you make every spar in every Mark 9?
John Jenkins
No, I didn’t make every one by any means. There was one of the other apprentices used to do it before I did it, and then I followed on. I don’t know how many I made; I really don’t know exactly. It was 40 or 50 probably, and that would be conservative probably. Then it got to the stage of me moving department. I was called into the office, and the works manager was there and the personnel manager. They’d been discussing me, what I was going to do next.
Interviewer
Who was personnel then?
John Jenkins
Eric Kettle. There was a chap called Underwood at one stage.
Interviewer
I think you said Eric Kettle had been at your interview as well.
John Jenkins
Anyway he was talking about me going into the drawing office. And the works manager said that, they’d obviously discussed it between them, “How do you feel about that?” And I said, “I’m not all that happy about it, to tell you the truth. I have to work to some of the drawings that the people in the drawing office present down here and some I’ve found are virtually impossible to make. I feel as though I want a little bit more experience hands-on before I go into the drawing office”. And the works manager burst out laughing. He said to the personnel manager, “I told you so!” ((Laughs)) Because they’d already got plan two because they knew I’d say I didn’t want to go. And they said, “What about experimental department?” I said, “Yes, that sounds good to me”. He says, “Right, you can have the run of the shop. You’ll be able to go on any of the machines, any of the equipment, anything in there”. Which is what I did.
Interviewer
Was Ronnie in there at that time?
John Jenkins
Ron was in there, yes.
Interviewer
That seems to have been in his case the way to knowing every aspect of an Auster.
John Jenkins
That’s right, yes.
Interviewer
Whereas if you carried on with your apprenticeship you would have ended up in one type of manufacture.
John Jenkins
Yes.
Interviewer
And you wouldn’t have been involved in the whole thing.
John Jenkins
That’s true.
Interviewer
And that sounds as though it applies with all the different machinery as well.
John Jenkins
Yes it does. They’d bought a high-speed miller, Wadkin’s machine. Never used it; brand new there. And they gave it to me to have a play with it literally. I learnt how to use it – you don’t have instructions books then; you’d just got to learn how to use it and that’s it.
Interviewer
You hadn’t done any machine training in your college work at all?
John Jenkins
Only some very basic things. Nothing of any consequence. That’s a lathe and that’s a milling machine, and very little else. This was something different this high-speed miller. But it was very much akin to the router because it was fast. Anyway I had various jobs to do and one of them was on the Airedale. It was the alloy strut fittings in the wing. Really they should have been forgings or some other method of manufacture; you couldn’t use casting because of the stress involved. And they were stepped. If you can imagine something that was about so long, and it started off at about half an inch or more thick, and then it stepped down for each hole a little bit to reduce the weight, and of course there’s less load on it. Now, they didn’t know how to get all these out. At that time it was a cut and file job, so the very first one would have been cut and file. I said, “A hell of a long way round that is”. Because somebody said, “Can you use this machine for it?” I said, “I don’t know but I can have a go”. And I asked if I could just spend a bit of time in the office upstairs and do some calculations. I did some calculations so that I could use this high-speed miller – because you’ve got various axes: you’ve got up and down and left and right and fore and after etc – and I wanted to just do it in one particular plane, so I could step down and generate this curve and generate that one and generate the last one. They said, “Yes, carry on”. So, I spent an hour or two doing these calculations, and went down and did this shape. And the guys who had been doing all this filing had come out to me and said, “Absolutely brilliant. We didn’t have to do very much at all; only a little bit of quick filing and a bit of emery cloth and the job was done”. So, that was a feather in my cap, if you like. I got involved in all sorts of things in experimental, as you do. Mark 11 was one of them; I did a bit on the Mark 11. Because that was only a Mark 9 all said and done, so I’d probably already worked on it before it became the 11. I remember doing the spats for it. They were made in the plastics department in fibreglass, but they still all had to be drilled and cut and filed and brackets put on and such like. I remember doing all that. And I remember on the Mark 11 putting the wing slats on; which aren’t on it anymore, they were taken off.
Interviewer
They would be surface mounted on the front of the wing then?
John Jenkins
They were, yes.
Interviewer
Because there’s no provision for an inset?
John Jenkins
No. They were as you say.
Interviewer
Was that an intentional thing or to cure a problem?
John Jenkins
I think to get a bit slower flying characteristic. It probably was a fraction faster than the Mark 9 for landing etc, because it would be heavier – I think that’s the only reason. But I think they wanted to get it even slower. They were trying to compete against helicopters, you see.
Interviewer
They’d lost the battle even then, hadn’t they?
John Jenkins
Oh the battle was already lost, yes.
Interviewer
I think they’d probably lost the battle when they made the Mark 9. It was a new design incorporating all the knowledge, but by then they were playing about with helicopters. And if the Skeeter hadn’t been such a defeat thing, if they’d gone to the Bell 47 straight-away.
John Jenkins
It’d have been a different matter.
Interviewer
Because the Mark 9 we’ve got in the museum did a little bit of service in Northern Ireland but that was it; and that’s one of the fairly late ones.
John Jenkins
Yes.
Interviewer
So, we’ve moved on quite a bit. We’re into the Beagle era then if you’re doing bits for Airedales. You didn’t get mixed up with anything to do with Agricola or Atlantic?
John Jenkins
No, I didn’t. The Atlantic was already, or in the early part of my apprenticeship, was in the experimental department. But most of the first part of the Atlantic, the mock-up that went to Farnborough, that was done down in the wood department at the bottom next to the repair hanger. So, that was done there. The actual Atlantic itself was purely in the experimental department, which was before I went in there.
Interviewer
And the Agricola?
John Jenkins
When I went for my interview, the second interview, went around the works and I was confronted by the Agricola. I couldn’t believe how deep the wing section was. It really is a substantial piece of kit. But I didn’t have anything to do with it myself.
Interviewer
When you were passing through this period were people in the company aware that things were getting a bit sticky in the later Auster days? Particularly when the Agricola failed.
John Jenkins
I think they always knew. One of the biggest problems that we had was Peter Masefield, particularly with regards to the Airedale. You’d think we were building an airliner really. The panel, the instrument panel used to get changed on a weekly basis. Well, you can’t keep doing that. His ideas and his concepts were changing all the time. There were one or two people that were frightened to death of him. Somebody from the hierarchy, Peter Masefield coming in, you’ve all got to be standing in a row, and aye-aye sir and all this sort of thing – which didn’t go down very well with some of us. Which prompted me to, one instance I was in the experimental department, because I was working on the Airedale right from the start – I’ll tell you that in a minute – anyway we knew Peter Masefield was coming, and the experimental works manager there he was a bit frightened of his own shadow I think. I’d found a little cartoon from somewhere: there was an aircraft that was coming down the runway, there was no undercarriage on it but there were some legs out of the bottom and they were running down this runway, we’ll get this aircraft in the air on time. And I’d stuck this on the propeller of an aircraft that was next to the gangway. Anyway this manager he saw this and he furiously ripped it off and screwed it up and threw it in the bin. To which I retrieved and put it on the prop just as Peter Masefield was coming through. And he saw this and he looked at it and he fell about laughing. ((Laughs)) So, he did have a sense of humour.
Interviewer
The constant changes he was making do you think he’d have feedback from other people or were they just his ideas?
John Jenkins
I think a lot of them were his own ideas.
Interviewer
He was a pilot.
John Jenkins
He was a pilot. He had his own Chipmunk. He modified that by having a canopy on it. I think it was the only one that did. He wasn’t satisfied so he changed the canopy.
Interviewer
I think the ability to do this was backed up with an over-surfeit of money from Pressed Steel, wasn’t it?
John Jenkins
Yes, if there’s plenty of money you can do all these things. But we hadn’t got that money. You needed production. I can’t remember how many Airedales we had finally but I think it was 44.
Interviewer
It never reached break-even point, put it that way.
John Jenkins
There were changes to it and it was getting overweight. It was declared apparently at one meeting that if they’re carrying on at the rate this will be a two-seater aeroplane because you won’t be able to carry four people in it.
Interviewer
I think it had a quarter inch Perspex windscreen originally.
John Jenkins
Yes, to keep the sound down.
Interviewer
A lot of sound insulation in it as well.
John Jenkins
Yes, and a huge panel. Of course old fashioned instruments were heavy; the analogue stuff was very heavy.
Interviewer
What other bits of the Airedale were you involved with, apart from the strut pick-ups?
John Jenkins
Going back to very square one, Ron Neil and myself we were tasked with building the fuselage. And he and I cut and filed every single tube to go in that aeroplane.
Interviewer
Was that build in the Auster jig or did it have its own jig?
John Jenkins
No, it was built in the Auster jig.
Interviewer
It was slimmer than the Auster's at the back end, wasn’t it? It tapered.
John Jenkins
Yes. You also had the raked fin. I think the tail plane and the rudder were a bit Mark 9ish, if I remember rightly. But the basic fuselage itself was more or less the same, but it wasn’t exactly the same. And the fittings at the back were all different where the tail plane fitted etc. but all the tube work was in an Auster jig. I don’t know if there were some modifications done. I don’t think there were; not on the first one anyway. They might have been subsequently.
Interviewer
Maybe the jig was modified to the prototype frame.
John Jenkins
Yes, it might have been modified to the frame; that would be the way to do it. You wouldn’t make the jig and then build a fuselage, not when you’d already got one that was pretty well what you wanted.
Interviewer
Because I can’t remember who it was but they were speaking once about the alter car. Of course the tubes in the alter car were widened, so you may have had to cut away parts of the jig.
John Jenkins
Yes.
Interviewer
But I understood they were sort of fold-in parts.
John Jenkins
Bolt-on buddies.
Interviewer
Yes, that made it right for the slimmer version. Whether you did something like that I don’t know.
John Jenkins
Ron and myself we used to work quite late – gone past the half past five knocking off time; we’d still be there at eight o’clock.
Interviewer
You were still living in this area then?
John Jenkins
I lived at Evington Parks Road.
Interviewer
Did you use the company’s bus service or motorbike?
John Jenkins
No, I used to come in on a bike.
Interviewer
Because it’s a good ride.
John Jenkins
Almost exactly ten miles each way. I only used the bus when I first joined, when I first went there. When I got enough money to buy a bike I bought a bike and that was that. On this fuselage that Ron and myself did once we’d done the whole lot, everything complete, then we had to take the tubes out of the jig one at a time and make another one to fit in its place. We did this all the way down the fuselage so we now had two sets. The idea of that being the second set would be used to produce the tools for the shaping of the ends.
Interviewer
Were those an external sleeve of steel?
John Jenkins
Yes, that was the tool; the tool was external.
Interviewer
Would that have to be hardened? Because you were filing down to that shape, weren’t you?
John Jenkins
They used to use a puncher, like a nibbler. But the ends they were hardened steel. They were fitted onto these sleeves; they were just welded on. So, they were all hard. But they had to have something to make the sleeves to, so it was one of our tubes.
Interviewer
The second set of tubes by nature of taking them out and putting them back were an exact replica of the first set?
John Jenkins
Yes. One at a time, yes. That was Ron and myself’s job.
Interviewer
How long did it take you to prototype the fuselage?
John Jenkins
I don’t know. It seemed quite a while but I don’t think it was.
Interviewer
When you were doing that that was your exclusive work?
John Jenkins
Yes, that was it. A couple of weeks probably.
Interviewer
The fact that you worked late on it suggests there was a definite deadline.
John Jenkins
There was always a deadline. It kept slipping because people kept chopping and changing. I don’t think the original concept was a raked fin and rudder. I think it was just that Masefield decided he wanted it changing.
Interviewer
Weren’t there some shaped aluminium pieces in the supports for the covering as well for the fabric around the rear of the top of the cockpit, I seem to remember looking at drawings?
John Jenkins
There might have been, yes. I know there were some fancy hinges, streamlined hinges that they had. They were one of the items that were impossible to make because of the shape of it, because you couldn’t get in with a cutter to cut that shape that the drawing office had asked for. It was physically impossible. Subsequently they were castings, which of course you could put the shape in then.
Interviewer
Did you ever get up to the drawing office, or you carried on building up your experience?
John Jenkins
I never went in the drawing office per se. what I did do right at the end I went to a Number 7 works, by the way, which was the machine shop. What I did down there was not so much work the machinery, I ended up making a lot of prototype parts for people like Vauxhall and Ford and BMC. When they had a new vehicle they were doing it was all handmade. They didn’t just do one; they did several vehicles. And you had to make all these parts from a drawing by hand. There might be 15 in a batch, or ten in a batch or something like that, and you had to make all these parts. I did a lot of that, which I was glad of really because some of the other work was rather heavy work that I didn’t really want to do. But making all these samples that was okay. I used to try and find short-cut ways of doing it. Once you’ve made one you find some way of fiddling to make them more productionised.
Interviewer
The reason I asked about the drawing office is I’ve never passed through engineering, but it’s always amazed me that these guys are sitting at a drawing board and they’re actually designing bits of aeroplane, but they’ve not actually got the practical experience of materials, manipulating the materials.
John Jenkins
My sentiment entirely.
Interviewer
And sometimes presumably limited ideas of stress and so on; although want they designed presumably had to be sent to a stress analysis to prove.
John Jenkins
Yes.
Interviewer
So, that’s why the box says stress so and so.
John Jenkins
Yes. What you say is absolutely true. That applies everywhere, even today. You’ve got people doing all this design work – they haven’t a clue.
Interviewer
When it comes to it the ability to manufacture is critical. And if you waste time designing things you can’t manufacture you’re wasting time.
John Jenkins
Even more time, yes.
Interviewer
When you cut the Airedale frame that was it, was it? That went off to be welded.
John Jenkins
Yes, that was all welded up in ((?)).
Interviewer
Where did your wing spar fittings come in in that sequence then?
John Jenkins
That would be when the wings had been made. They were metal spar wings. And all the bits and pieces, and it was during the assembly you would put these fittings. At one time, those particular ones I’m referring to, they would be fitted into the wing. You would have somebody holding the wing up, you would put the pins in at the fuselage end and then you’d put the strut in.
Interviewer
Did you do any other components of that sort of type for the Airedale?
John Jenkins
There were various bits that I made, just small details. When it came to doing the final assembly it was getting a bit frantic then on a time basis, and you’d spend quite a bit of time actually in the aircraft physically putting things in, whether it’s putting a seat in here or putting a control cable in, all those sorts of things all had to be done. We were able even to say to the managers and people like that, “Can you get me a so and so? Would you go and get me this?” Which was quite interesting because it was a sort of role reversal until they got it done. Most of the people had stopped there, on the day it was going to fly, test flight, they were still there quite late on in the evening. And we literally tightened up the last bolt as it was being pushed out – as close as that.
Interviewer
Who did the first flight?
John Jenkins
I think it was Trevor.
Interviewer
I think it was Bayer Metal wasn’t it, or Primer?
John Jenkins
Yes, them and Primer. I don’t think we’d got the prototype numbers on it, to tell you the truth.
Interviewer
What followed on after the Airedale? Was that the car parts or were they earlier on?
John Jenkins
No, the car parts that I did were before that in my apprenticeship down at Number 7. The manager there had said to me, “What do you want to do next? What have you got in mind?” And I said, “I suppose really it’s the drawing office now. That’s the next move”. And he said, “Look, if you go into the drawing office now, you’ve done all this work, you’ve had a good broad span of operations, you’ve done all sorts of things, you’ve learnt an awful lot, so you go into drawing office it will be strictly aeroplanes. I would suggest you go into the tool drawing office; not the aeroplane drawing office”.
Interviewer
And that would deal with all aspects.
John Jenkins
He said, “If anything goes wrong with the company you can go out and get a job. People that are just aeroplanes they’re going to be struggling”. So, I took his advice; it was sound advice. And I did that and I went into the tool drawing office. To prove another point: I designed my first job in the tool drawing office, welding a little welding fixture. And it wasn’t long afterwards and a bloke came in and he said, “Right, I’ve welded all this part up; now tell me how I’m going to get it out?” ((Laughter)) That’s your first mistake. I’ve never forgotten that. You must have access to stuff.
Interviewer
But the guy knew he wasn’t going to get it out; he proved it to you.
John Jenkins
No, he knew he wasn’t going to get it out. He was laughing his socks off. But it’s all part of your learning. Proving the point that you go into an office, and unless you’ve got actual experience, you’ve not got a hope in hell. Over the subsequent years I’ve learnt an awful lot about access. In fact I’ve got a reputation for it in the mechanical handling trade.
Interviewer
What sort of tooling did you design in the period there?
John Jenkins
Almost everything you can think of. I used to work with Gus Morris.
Interviewer
He’s one of the starters, isn’t he?
John Jenkins
One of the founders, yes. I introduced a sketch system, because a lot of things a sketch will save a thousand words, if you like. You’ve got to make something, it might be a grommet for instance, a little plastic grommet, and they used to make it from plastic I think, a bit like silicon. And I used to do a little sketch of what the tool looked like. All the dimensions, this grommet for instance, would be on the drawing; it’s all there. But the actual design of the tool you’d give someone that size and this size, on the top, where the screw comes out, various fittings, the pines where it’s going to locate on. You’d just do that as an exploded pen and ink sketch. You’d give it a number; it would be all filed. Take a photocopy of it and that would go down to the works and they would make it. And they used to like them. They thought it was a lot better than trying to pore through drawings.
Interviewer
This would be an injection moulding tool?
John Jenkins
An injection moulding, which we used to do there. They did a lot of plastic work there; much of which was quite interesting.
Interviewer
How much of that was related to the aircraft then, or not much of it?
John Jenkins
A lot of it was. Wing tips for instance, fibreglass wing tips; they were all made in there.
Interviewer
Well, I came across this Durestos stuff. In fact it’s an asbestos mat that reinforces it. We had a display in the museum education service from the firm. But the mould that that was made in would have been made at Rearsby then, would it?
John Jenkins
Yes.
Interviewer
That’s a big tool, a wing tip.
John Jenkins
Yes. The tips to go on the tail plane as well.
Interviewer
So, the mat and resin would be squeezed. Was it cooked in the mould or not?
John Jenkins
I think it was because it was water soluble to start with before it was cooked. Then it was baked at whatever temperature – which I don’t know.
Interviewer
The nose bowl that was moulding as well.
John Jenkins
A lot of those were, yes, in the later days. In the early days the nose bowl was aluminium, and that was a sheet metal job. That’s hard work by very skilled people. But you see by having a moulding of it it becomes de-skilled and you can turn them out a lot quicker. But the Durestos before it’s all cured you could put it in a bowl of water and then squeeze it and then squeeze the water out of it. You could roll it up into a ball and squeeze the water out of it. No strength to it whatsoever. But of course until it’s baked it won’t have.
Interviewer
Were the wing tips and fin tips and so on on the Airedale all mouldings like that?
John Jenkins
They would be. There’s a lot of follow on from the Mark 9 to the Airedale. You can tell it’s come from the same source.
Interviewer
Well, I think the tail planes and elevators were actually the same, because they were a double-skin structure with Redux bonding.
John Jenkins
Yes, all the floating was Redux then.
Interviewer
After the Airedale what did you move onto?
John Jenkins
Well, as I say, it was jig and tool; that was my forte.
Interviewer
How long would you be there then?
John Jenkins
I was there a year or two in that. It must have been two or three years; perhaps more than that. I was at Auster’s a total of 11 years.
Interviewer
What sort of outside tooling might they have done?
John Jenkins
How do you mean by that?
Interviewer
Contracts from outside; or would they only make tools for Auster?
John Jenkins
We did a lot of our own tooling. If it was something that was outside our capability or availability of machines then we would have it done out. That would apply to jigs and things like that as well. Also various methods of punching parts out that changed quite a bit too. We did quite a few items of cheap tooling that were done by Press and Knife I think they were called, the company. They used knives on edge; but they were backed up by ((jab rock?)) or some other plastics. It was literally a press tool. They were quite interesting and they were relatively cheap. If you were only doing a small quantity they were ideal.
Interviewer
Were they where you have this continuous strip of steel blade?
John Jenkins
Yes, folded it round to the shape you want.
Interviewer
So, you physically made some of those?
John Jenkins
No, we wouldn’t have made them. They would have been subcontracted.
Interviewer
Could they chop the aluminium sheet with those?
John Jenkins
Oh yes.
Interviewer
Single layer?
John Jenkins
Yes.
Interviewer
They’re used in things like leather and so on, but they might cut several layers.
John Jenkins
And fabric and dresses and things like that, clothing. It’s all the same principle. But there’s one machine which we haven’t touched upon, which is almost exclusively aviation, and that’s a rubber press. What that is, as an example: if you wanted to make a streamline cover, an aerofoil cover, that would be difficult to make by hand because you wouldn’t be able to press it out. To make a press tool for it would be quite expensive. But if you made a male and a female mould, well perhaps only just the male mould, and you put a sheet of material in that had maybe been nailed, and then you have this pattern that comes down which is the bit that contains the rubber, and it would be probably five inches thick this rubber, as this comes down – I don’t know how many tonnes of pressure it is – that rubber will just form around this mould and produce the part. It would have flanges on where it’s drawn the material in. The process would be deep drawing in many respects; that’s used as a term for it. And all things such as ribs that have got the flanges on, you’ve got the shape of the rib, and the flanges that come down they would all be done on a rubber press.
Interviewer
I can’t say I’ve ever studied the Airedale wing and the Mark 9 wing; did they go from the Warren Girder built up ribs to pressed ribs?
John Jenkins
Yes.
Interviewer
So, they were all pressed from the Mark 9 onwards?
John Jenkins
Yes.
Interviewer
That was a feature of some of the Taylorcraft – I don’t know about during the war but certainly post-war. It couldn’t have been a feature of the ones before the war because they just followed the Warren Girder build up.
John Jenkins
That’s right. They had those little tiny rivets, and you had the crimping tools. It was a sort of T-section, if you remember. All the same material, probably pinched off some airship or something, the principle. You have the tooling that would crimp it so that it goes round the corners. I remember actually in the experimental department making a tool to straighten something out that had been formed using a sort of crimping method had been produced, but it ended up being warped. And I remember making this tool with rollers in it and things and it used to straighten it all out; it could adjust it. That could be something where I would be responsible for doing it: here’s a job we want; now you’ve got to straighten it; sort something out. Whether you did it on paper, practically, you’ve just got to scratch your head and come up with some ideas and make it.
Interviewer
The aluminium nose bowl cowlings did they have some hand work or were they totally pressed?
John Jenkins
They were a lot of hand work on it. I can remember seeing the guys in sheet metal with the English wheel.
Interviewer
The thing that puts double curvature in the sheet, isn’t it?
John Jenkins
Yes.
Interviewer
And they would use that even on a nose bowl?
John Jenkins
Yes, they would.
Interviewer
Would they get the whole shape by free operation or did they eventually put it into a mould?
John Jenkins
No, they did some initial work on it. They used to use a bag full of sand, which was a leather bag, and that would get to the approximate shape; and you’d be thumping it till you’d basically stretched it out.
Interviewer
Because you’re working the material so that you don’t end up with these crinkles round the edges.
John Jenkins
That’s right.
Interviewer
One of the people that worked with me at the museum was a trained silversmith, and one of the things they had to do was produce a teapot, coffee pot out of a flat piece of metal – so forming it all up, pushing it and putting it back together and all of that stuff. It’s not quite as enclosed as that for a nose bowl, but it’s still – and presumably continuously nailing it and so on as they’re working.
John Jenkins
Yes. I think one of the problems is with something as large as that and as deep as that if you apply a pressure from the top, you’ve got a shaped mould and you apply the pressure from the top it’s going to be pushing it down, pushing it down, and what will happen is the bit in the middle will split, because it needs to be hammered at that point. You could actually do it on a rubber press quite easily. But whether you would rip it or not; I’ve seen stuff that’s gone into a rubber press and it’s just ripped it. I did some experiments with the rubber press because I used to use it quite a lot at one time. I came across another company which was involved with tooling, it was ((Presculan)) the material, and it was done by Dunlop ((?)). We got talking and I took him round to see this rubber press, and I said, “What do you reckon about using some of this material in this rubber press?” Because the rubber didn’t used to last for very long; it used to all break up – not that long. I suppose it would be the same with cars on tyres if you’re scrubbing round corners.
Interviewer
Well, it’s doing quite a lot of work in this press, isn’t it, the rubber really?
John Jenkins
Yes, a lot of work. He said yes, he’d never come across it before. Anyway I persuaded the powers-that-be that we ought to try it. We did try it and of course I had to go down and use it, being able to use a rubber press effectively, and we could get much sharper components than we’d ever had; they were really sharp. But the depth of draw was perhaps slightly more limited.
Interviewer
What about the lasting of it?
John Jenkins
Oh considerably longer. But it was expensive. The first one I put in there was 1,200 quid. That was a lot of money then. It was expensive. It was a lot of material. One of the other ones which was interesting – because these are all things I got involved with – on the 206, on the exhaust they’ve got some tubes, which are only short ones, connector tubes, but they’d got a swage all the way round, and they didn’t know how to put the swage in. I think they were going to make two halves and weld them, so they welded the two halves together. I thought about it; I’d really got into this Presculan material, which is polyurethane, and said, “I think I know what I can do with this”. Because this material was brilliant. It was new; hot off the press, so to speak. I got the guy in from there and told him what I wanted to do, “What I want to do, I’ve got this stainless steel tube, it’s on an exhaust, and I’ve got these swages that are on the outside. So, I want to get some pressure on the inside that is going to press these swages out”. He said, “Yeah, right okay. The one that goes in, the piece of material needs to be a little bit smaller. I’ll get you some of that material and we can try it”. So, I had a tool made, which would have been the female if you like for where the swage was going to go into, and I put it in a machine device, and there was a 100 tonne press in the experimental. As I’d been using all the machines I could go and use this, so I set it up very carefully and gradually adding the tonnage to it, and down it would come. Undid the device and there was a perfectly swaged piece of material. I was really chuffed with this. Of course the planning department came, “Oh brilliant. That’s just what we wanted. Anyway it was handed over to production then. The first thing the bloke did was blow the device up because he’d set it too deep with too much tonnage and the vice went in all different directions. It was expensive.
Interviewer
Were there any reward schemes for these ideas people?
John Jenkins
No, they didn’t. It’s the privilege of working there! ((Laughs))
Interviewer
That sums up Austers as far as an outsider can see it. A lot was expected of you.
John Jenkins
Oh it was.
Interviewer
And some people thought they expected more than they were paying for.
John Jenkins
Very much so. I don’t think there’s any doubt about that.
Interviewer
I think that’s the Les Leetham factor.
John Jenkins
Yes. Overall it was a very enjoyable place to work.
Interviewer
Rosy glow.
John Jenkins
You were working there for the love of it. It was: if you work here you will enjoy it.
Interviewer
So, we’ve gone into the tool department. What did you go onto then? Did you go back into aviation? You were involved with the 206.
John Jenkins
Yes, back to tooling then. Bits of tooling I was involved with from time to time.
Interviewer
Did you end up in tooling then, the final?
John Jenkins
No. the very final call was when I, in the last few weeks, was then seconded to the tooling office and that’s when I was put to work designing tools. I did one for, it was to do with – was it Airedale or 206, I can’t remember – I think it was the 206, and it was the back end where the tail plane fitted and rudder fitted and the trim fitted, and I had to make a jig to fit all this lot together. It was rather a complex thing because you’re trying to do so many things. Anyway I designed this thing and then they looked at it and the boss said, “Well, there’s a couple of weeks or so left to the end of your apprenticeship. Get your overalls on and go out and make it”. ((Laughs)) That was a baptism of fire: what idiot designed this! Good learning curve.
Interviewer
So, it was back to someone on the drawing board again inventing the impossible.
John Jenkins
Yes, but you’ve got to learn that it’s not as easy as you think.
Interviewer
How did they solve it in the end?
John Jenkins
I did that; I did the job. It needed a few little tweaks here or there to get it set up right. But we got it; it did work in the end.
Interviewer
And the prop was going through as well at the end. Were you doing anything for the prop or was that all done at Shoreham?
John Jenkins
That was all done at Shoreham. I didn’t do anything at all on the prop.
Interviewer
When the prop line was set up at Rearsby, I know there was this toing and froing with Shoreham, but when the prop line was set up was that gradually displacing the 206? Because the 206 wasn’t a success with the RAF, and it seems to be rather sporadic in its sales to civilian users.
John Jenkins
It was, yes, you’re right. It did displace it. I can’t remember. I can remember it being full of 206 stuff, and I’ve seen a photograph of it full of Pups.
Interviewer
Seem to be very few photos with the Pups there. I was quite surprised. I don’t know where the photograph came up from, through the heritage group presumably, but I’d previously only seen lines of 206s diagonally up and down the original big hanger. Then it went through.
John Jenkins
The Number 4 works was a central one.
Interviewer
When I was talking to Ron that confused me: he started talking about all these numbered works, which I’m thinking of all over the Ogin; but in fact the functions had numbers, if you like, and when they came back to Rearsby they were divisions of the buildings at Rearsby.
John Jenkins
That’s right, they would be.
Interviewer
The final days and the famous Wedgwood Benn visit and all that, you presumably were drawn in the factory with everybody else, were you?
John Jenkins
No, I don’t remember that. And I don’t know why I don’t remember it.
Interviewer
Originally you were saved.
John Jenkins
And then we weren’t. That’s right.
Interviewer
How did that affect people, the morale and so on?
John Jenkins
Oh, it was devastating.
Interviewer
Once Beagle had been set up did people feel much more secure?
John Jenkins
Yes.
Interviewer
Because if Beagle hadn’t taken over it would have faded away, wouldn’t it?
John Jenkins
It would have finished, yes. The apprentices they were immune from all this by regulation. There was a time part way through my apprenticeship when things went wrong – this was before Pressed Steel took an interest in it – and people were being laid off. The place was virtually run by the apprentices. We were all still there.
Interviewer
Most of the production staff had gone by then, had they?
John Jenkins
Yes, by that time. I can remember that. There were just odd pockets of people. People that had got specific jobs to be doing they carried on; but those that hadn’t, because there was nothing fresh coming through. We were immune from all that lot because we were apprentices, and we got the run of the place. It was like a morgue actually.
Interviewer
Ambrose always said that the motorcar parts were the stable income because that was continuing. The aircraft were really up and down; but they’d been propped up by the military aircraft. Once the Mark 9 had gone through there wasn’t really anything, was there?
John Jenkins
No.
Interviewer
The subcontract to other aircraft manufacturers that must have been pretty important then.
John Jenkins
It was vital.
Interviewer
And that was a continuous thing, although they were all different things you were doing presumably?
John Jenkins
Yes. The subcontract work I can remember being seconded to the chief inspector. We had a lot of Comet stuff in, after the Comet disaster.
Interviewer
Redesigned was this, new things?
John Jenkins
No, this is the aftermath and part of the inspection of what had gone on. Various components we had there we had to split down. I’d heard of a clover leaf rivet but I’d never seen what that was all about. One of the things that I did a lot of was drilling out rivets where they’d not been put in correctly; not necessarily by me but any that had been done. So, I was quite good at drilling rivets out. And I can remember seeing some of them and what had happened is they drill a hole in, and you expect that there’s a rivet going in, but they’re mating components you see. So, you’ve got holes in one component and in the other as well and they didn’t quite meet. You end up with a hole which is like a clover leaf, and with one rivet down the middle of it; which eventually would just pull out. There were numerous of those around from this Comet production.
Interviewer
Would that be bad enough so you could actually see past the rivet through?
John Jenkins
Almost.
Interviewer
I don’t know how big a rivet head is in relation to the shank of it.
John Jenkins
It’s probably about twice.
Interviewer
So, there’s a quarter each time of the stem.
John Jenkins
Yes. Under certain circumstances you would be able to just see a speck past it.
Interviewer
So, that could have been a factor in the propagation of the crack.
John Jenkins
Well, the chief inspector, Mr Bromley was his name – I can’t remember his first name – because he was responsible for doing all this checking, and he said, “This is significant”.
Interviewer
He was brought in from the investigation team?
John Jenkins
No, he was Austers. He was our chief inspector.
Interviewer
So, where was Albert in those days? Had he retired by then?
John Jenkins
I think he’d retired; I have a feeling he had.
Interviewer
That’s new information then. So, you were part of the labour used in the investigation of Comet?
John Jenkins
Yes. As I say, lots of Comet’s components had to be stripped completely. You had to drill the rivets out carefully, drill the rivet and not any more holes – slip and drill any more in – so that they could be inspected. I did; I assisted with the inspection. That was it; that was my job – which was interesting to say the least.
Interviewer
So, that would be vital income again for the firm.
John Jenkins
Oh yes. But we really were scraping at the crumbs here. They’re only little jobs; important but -
Interviewer
So, when you were just apprentices and a few others Auster’s were obviously in trouble, what was the first intimation that there was going to be some form of takeover then?
John Jenkins
I think this business with Pressed Steel had been there for a little while – subject to negotiation of course. You would see people coming round, obviously they were Pressed Steel people, and you would think who the hell are this lot.
Interviewer
These were formal delegations walking round?
John Jenkins
Delegations from the company, yes. The next thing is that suddenly people have got smiles on their faces and it looks as though we’re moving on. Various people seemed to appear back again as if by magic, and we did carry on. It was just like a blip.
Interviewer
Were you involved at all in preparing the material sets for Portugal for the D range?
John Jenkins
Not personally, no. I was in the tool drawing office then. Ambrose had quite a bit to do with that.
Interviewer
Well, it was Ambrose’s job, wasn’t it; he negotiated that.
John Jenkins
Yes.
Interviewer
Getting near to the end there must have been a stage where you realised it was touch and go whether it would carry on; and then it was confirmed it was ending. Did you look to move out before it ended or did you stick it out?
John Jenkins
I did. We talked about it, Irene and myself, and it seemed not a very good idea both of us working at the same company. But prior to that there was another job in the offing in the company, a bit more like time and motion in some respects. It was something that I was interested in and did effectively myself and felt that I could do that, and thought it would make a change. And I applied, but somehow or other the job never materialised. It went on for some period. Then the next thing I hear they were going to employ somebody to do that job; even though they’d told me that I was going to have it. I was a bit miffed about that. I thought oh hell with it; I think I’ll look for another job. The chap that worked in front of me was a subcontract guy and he said, “Come and work for Ben” that’s the industrial projects boss. He said, “I’ll have a word with him and get you an interview”. I went down to his office and he said, “Let’s go into the interview room” which was the pub round the corner. And he told me about the job and it was going to be 14 shillings an hour, or something like that, which was more than I was getting at the time. It would actually be freelancing working for yourself. So, I said, “Right, we’ll do that” and I joined him. I used to do work for Rolls Royce, for instance, people like that.
Interviewer
So, this is an outside company?
John Jenkins
This is now an outside company. So, I’d finished. But I was then sent back to Austers because there was a contact there, and actually doing my old job. So, ((laughing)) I was doing my old job on more money.
Interviewer
What, back in the tool design?
John Jenkins
Tool design work, yes.
Interviewer
That was doing something for Beagle then?
John Jenkins
I was working then for Beagle.
Interviewer
What were you working then when you went back as a contractor?
John Jenkins
They were just odds and sods, all stuff that wanted doing, either subcontract or otherwise. But I don’t recall anything specific, other than the fact they got the order for Sweden, I think, or in the process of getting it, for the Bulldog, and I would be working on that. But I was only there for a short time because in the next breath the receiver was appointed. The first people out of the door were people like me, subcontractor.
Interviewer
That would have been late ’69?
John Jenkins
’68. Ron was one of the last people there.
Interviewer
Were they trying to find a buyer right through to ’70?
John Jenkins
They did, yes, I think.
Interviewer
Did Rearsby have anything to do with the Bulldog really?
John Jenkins
No, I don’t think it did.
Interviewer
Because there were two prototypes, weren’t there, I think?
John Jenkins
They had a retractable one.
Interviewer
That was the Bullfinch. I’m not sure whether that wasn’t all developed up in Scotland. I don’t know.
John Jenkins
I don’t.
Interviewer
So, the Jenkins’ story continues then. There was life after Beagle. What happened next? You were working with this subcontractor.
John Jenkins
Well, I had to go back to the office then. I used to do subcontract work in the office or on site. I ended up at places like International Combustion in Derby doing some work there on nuclear power stations. I was bored out of my skull working there. I couldn’t believe; it was a real eye-opener. There’s a drawing office full of people with drawing boards – because that’s what we had in those days, drawing boards. The contract stuff that I had I worked at a number of companies. One was International Combustion on power stations; not that I knew anything about it.
Interviewer
They had this colossal drawing office.
John Jenkins
Ginormous drawing office. People didn’t seem to do much in the way of work. Bearing in mind that I’d just come from a contract office where time and speed was of the essence. And I can recall one guy who sat in front of me on the desk that was facing me, he’d got this huge drawing on his drawing board full of all sorts on it, he says, “Big job this is. I’ve been working on this since September”. I was thinking to myself that’s a long time really for one drawing. “Not this September; the last September”. ((Laughter)) Oh my god. They had no concept of getting something done – and that was on power stations. In the end I got so bored when I was working there I used to take work from the contract office and do it at my desk effectively, because nobody bothered me at all as long as I was a bum on a seat so to speak that was as far as they wanted. So, there I was doing this job and then a little bit of power station stuff, and then getting on with this job, calculations and odds and sods that I had to do. Of course the result was effectively I was being paid twice. I was doing two jobs, one overlapping the other I suppose. In the end I just couldn’t do it.
Interviewer
Where was this firm?
John Jenkins
This was at Derby.
Interviewer
Were you still living in Leicester then?
John Jenkins
Still living in Leicester ((?)) then.
Interviewer
How did you transport then?
John Jenkins
I’d got a car then. I also went to work at Rolls Royce Mount Sorrel. I was there for quite a while. There were several of us there, and from another contract office as well who worked there. That was on the RB211.
Interviewer
Still from the contract firm then?
John Jenkins
Yes. They were providing me the job – they were running the job effectively – and I was just part of the labour.
Interviewer
What exactly was done at Mount Sorrel with Rolls Royce?
John Jenkins
A tremendous amount of components. They didn’t do the final assemblies; it was all components.
Interviewer
So, it was manufacture of components.
John Jenkins
Fan blades, for instance, or brackets or bits of casing and all that sort of thing. They did all that sort of work at Mount Sorrel. You had to do tooling for it so we did the design of tooling. Interestingly there was a machine there, a press break there that I went down to have a look at, and it was smaller than ones I was used to at ((?)). That was another job I did; they had this hydraulic press break which I was given to play with.
Interviewer
You need to define a press break for me.
John Jenkins
Well, a press break, in its simplest form, if you’ve got a piece of metal and you want to put a kink in it, a big bend in it so that it’s actually like a V. now, to do that you need a tool that’s a V tool, but you need a blade to come down in between it to press it to make it into this V shape. And that would be a press break. Now, most of the press breaks have a big flywheel on, and you engage the flywheel and the blade comes down, thwack, to a pre-set position, and back up again – all done by the motion of the flywheel, it then uses that energy. But the one that I had at Auster’s was a hydraulic one. Instead of a big blade come rushing down the lower part went up, but it went up fairly slowly; which was quite good because it was a foot control and it could balance it. You could bring it up so far, hold it at a point, and then carry on and just push it a bit more and a bit more. And you could get exactly the angle that you wanted. It was a brilliant piece of equipment. It was intrinsically safe inasmuch as it was a rising bed. If the chap fell over while he was doing it it would just fall away. Whereas on the proper press break you’ve got this thing coming down like a power press and there’s nothing to stop it once it’s engaged; there’s no means of stopping, that’s it. So, that’s what the press break is. At Rolls Royce I went to have a look at this machine and I said, “You won’t be able to use this. You’ve got all the guards round it”. He says, “No, we’ve never used it. Because of all the guards around it we can’t use it”. Waste of space then. So, there it was, I don’t know how many thousands of pounds of machinery it was, doing nothing. But that was not unusual. So, yes that was all jig and tool stuff there at Rolls Royce.
Interviewer
How long do you think you were there then?
John Jenkins
A year.
Interviewer
And then that was the end of the contract placing you there presumably?
John Jenkins
No. After that, when Rolls Royce went defunct in 1971 we were told when things were changing over and they were going to be a new company effectively – because it became Rolls Royce 1971 Ltd – we were advised as contractors, because we’d done so well – and we did work; we weren’t larking around, we did actually get on with things and that was recognised – they said, “There are some notices down on the noticeboard about recruitment etc. these notices are for your benefit. Go and read them”. So, they had to put notices up or it would be classed as poaching otherwise. I went and read it and I said, “No, I’m not going to join the company. I’ve seen the way this lot operate here; they’re on a hiding to nothing”. Anyway they went through. People used to go in on a Saturday morning really just to read the newspaper, and get paid I don’t know how many time and four-fifths – to go on a Saturday morning and do nothing. It was disgusting really.
Interviewer
This was before the crash?
John Jenkins
This was just before the crash, yes.
Interviewer
Could have been the reason.
John Jenkins
I’m sure it was, yes. Anyway, I went and got a contract at Marshall Handling Equipment in Nottingham. I mentioned to you earlier that the guy who took me flying in GOH was Marshall Conveyors. Well, they were sister companies effectively. So, it’s rather ironic that I should go over there on contract. After I’d been there 12 months I was told, “We can’t carry on employing subcontract labour”. I thought here we come; they’re going to be getting rid of me. “We would actually like you to join the company”. I said, “Will you be able to afford me?” I said, “Make me an offer then”. They did and I thought that sounds reasonable so I took up the job and worked there. I ended up in various guises over the years of different names, for 26, 27 years.
Interviewer
That was what took you to living in the Nottingham area presumably?
John Jenkins
Yes. When I had a company car eventually they said that the requirements were the fact that I would move to within 12 miles of the company. So, that’s how we came to live at ((Aslonton?)). So, 27 years was in mechanical handling, which I quite enjoyed actually; it was something I got into. But initially I found it very difficult.
Interviewer
Was this diverse types of mechanical handling or was it all roller conveyors?
John Jenkins
It was all conveying equipment. The time came when they needed to design something that they could actually have a boon that moved out into a vehicle, not a very big machine, but that’s what they needed. There was one that had been designed – not ours, I think it was designed in Canada originally – but the specification they required was something significantly larger than this, and I mean significantly larger. I’d been given the job to do it. I said, “Let’s have a go” so we did. And it was okay; it worked fine. I progressed then, because that one was reasonably successful, we progressed. There was another company that made these in the UK, these extending boon conveyors, and they’d only got two boons in. My managing director went to an exhibition in the NEC and when he came back he said, “I want you to go over to this exhibition. I’m going again tomorrow so come with me; I want you to see some equipment”. He was always a bit of a dry sort of guy to talk to. We got to the exhibition and he said, “I want one of those. Go round, look at everything on there; I want one of those”. I said, “No, you don’t want one of those”. He said, “I want one of those, just like that”. I said, “No, that’s all old hat. You want something better than that”. “You know what I mean. That’s what I want”. I said, “Right, but it’s going to have to be better than that”. And I did; I designed one and it was better than that. And it was a very successful machine. Somehow I was beginning to develop a bit of a name for these. I devised a formula for the manufacture of them so that you could get the right amount of bend in the boons as they went out without overstressing them; which was a godsend because I could put a specification together in short notice. Because we all did it in computer now. So, I got a bit of a name for it. After a number of years I was effectively head-hunted by an American company who wanted to get into it, and they were going to pay me a reasonable amount of money, a lot more than I was getting where I was. The guy who would be the managing director was a chap I knew from years before and I’d worked with him before. He said that you would be working for the development company on your own with one other guy. He would be the managing director but he wouldn’t be working there; he would be separate. So, it was a separate R&D unit at Old Alby, but working effectively for this American company. So, I worked for them.
Interviewer
How long was that then?
John Jenkins
That was going to be a contract. They said it would be a two-year rolling contract; this is the one that my MD set up for me, a two-year rolling contract. Anyway I did quite well with this and the design of the equipment. I was very pleased with it.
Interviewer
Was that really an extension of what you’d just been doing?
John Jenkins
Exactly, and even better. This one knocked the spots off everything.
Interviewer
How did Marshall Mechanical Handling feel about this?
John Jenkins
They didn’t know about it.
Interviewer
They didn’t put any restriction? You developed the other thing in their employ.
John Jenkins
Yes. Well, I didn’t tell them what I was going to be doing there. There was a bloke who came there as a works director and we’d never hit it off at all so he was glad to see the back of me. I was glad to get away from him because there was no way I could work for this guy. When I spoke to the drawing office I had all the lads and I said, “I’m handing my notice in”. I told them where I was going and I told them why I was going, I said, “I can’t work with this bloke. He’s going to come to a sticky end that guy”. And he did. I think he ended up in prison, so he went anyway. That’s another story. This American company they were over the moon with the work that we were doing for them. I remember going over there to a presentation for a piece of equipment which they’d asked for, a specification which my MD said was impossible, he could not do it. I said, “It does look on the face of it you can’t do that. But you know what they say: miracles just take that little bit longer”. And I found a way of getting round it and I could do it. I had this presentation to do, and as is my wont I didn’t do any preparation for this presentation, I said, “All I want is the drawing that I’ve done, and I’d like you to just get it printed off so I can put it on the wall” which they did, “And I’ll talk you through it”. And they were gobsmacked. They couldn’t believe; they’d never even thought of that. It was a completely alien way of doing this task. They wanted this extension that was so great that you couldn’t have it on a single machine; it was just not possible. And I found a way of doing it.
Interviewer
Do you mean by that a single power source?
John Jenkins
No, not single power. Physically you have boons that move out altogether proportionally.
Interviewer
Like a telescope.
John Jenkins
Like a telescope, yes. But the back end has got to be sufficiently large to be stable. But the amount they wanted to move out from the size of the bit at the back it wasn’t possible to do it with three boons. You might be able to do it with lots of little boons but it would cost you a fortune to build a machine; it would be totally impractical. We wanted to do it on three moving boons you see in total. I found a way of getting that base and advancing that base out with it so it gave me the extra distance. It sounds simple – it was simple actually; the best ideas usually are simple. The president of the company, big company in the USA, he said, “Got work for you here for 15 years”. Famous last words. I’d said, “I’d like to telephone back to my colleague and tell him the good news that we can press ahead with it”, which I did. Then he said, “Get the timetable and get all that sorted out” which I did. And then apparently when the accountants had looked at things there were orders that they hadn’t got, particularly from Wal-Mart; and the Americans are very good panicking. So, they panicked: oh we won’t be able to afford it; we’ll have to close that little company in England; there’s only two blokes work there; we’ll close that and save some money there. So, we were given notice.
Interviewer
Where was it in the States?
John Jenkins
((Chelmsbury?)) in Arkansas. My buddy, I worked with him very well, he was good, and he was very upset he’d got immediate notice. And I had a go at the president. I said, “’Look, we’re so advanced with this machine now, we’re nearly finished with it. Another few months, probably three months and we’re finished. It seems silly to just get rid of everything when you’ve got so close to it”. He obviously thought about it and gave us this extra three months. I was okay; I’d got a rolling contract so they couldn’t get rid of me easily. But he would have just had his notice and been gone. I said, “Three months would give him better notice to be able to get another job” which he did. But it took him most of his three months to get it. I’d got this rolling contract, but the lease on the building was going to be up.
Interviewer
Was this an airfield building?
John Jenkins
No, it wasn’t on the airfield, it was on a farm; there were several units on a farm. The suggestion was, “Can you work at home?” And I said, “No!” ((Laughs)) I didn’t want to work at home anyway. “In that case can you sort an office out? We’ll rent an office for you for the duration”. They didn’t want me to go and I needed to be on call.
Interviewer
Were they expecting you to work on other things then?
John Jenkins
Well, if there was something there.
Interviewer
They weren’t going ahead with this extension?
John Jenkins
No, they weren’t going ahead with that but they wanted the machine over there. I arranged to get it all shipped out over there.
Interviewer
Who made the prototype machine then?
John Jenkins
The prototype machine I and mainly Arthur the other guy.
Interviewer
Oh, you actually physically made it?
John Jenkins
We physically made it, yes, and it worked. So, we were chuffed with that. It was so effective that when it was time to get it loaded up onto the vehicle I was able to drive it out under its own power; which I’d never even thought about. I’d got the rails and I could move it round on these rails till we’d got it into the doorway and we could lift it on the crane onto the vehicle. So, I was quite pleased. I was on my own you see; Arthur had gone. Anyway that became the end of that lot.
Interviewer
How much longer did your rolling contract carry you on?
John Jenkins
I’d got over a year left. They said, “You can get yourself an office and be on call”. Anyway I was up at Peter Bolton’s hanger at Widmerpool and he said, “You can come and work here”. I said, “Well, thank you for the offer. But I don’t want it for nothing; they’ll have to pay for it”. So, we arranged then that they would pay him so much a month for me to be there and they’d pay the telephone and such like, and a contribution towards electric, and that was that. They were happy with that. That would be cheaper than anything else they could find. Not only that; I was able to finish building up that mezzanine, we put some insulation in it – we bought all that lot, the insulation to do that – and I was able to work on the aeroplane, and the mower and things like that; I did some welding on that.
Interviewer
When you made the convey thing you hadn’t touched welding before, was it your colleague who did welding on that?
John Jenkins
Yes, he could welding; he was a welder.
Interviewer
So, Peter was aerodrome manager then?
John Jenkins
Yes.
Interviewer
Did anything come up that the American firm wanted or not?
John Jenkins
No, there was nothing I could do over in America, but I did one or two jobs for them in the UK, the company there. Anyway, when all that lot was finished – I can’t remember the exact order of things now – I knew I was going to be looking for a job, and I met Ron and Linda in the Co-op superstore in Thurmaston and I was telling him about it, and Ron said, “Come and work for me. I’ve got work for you to do, no problem at all”. I said, “Right, I’ll come in and see you; are you there Saturday?” He said, “Yeah, I’ll be there”. I said, “Right, I’ll pop in and see you”. And he was there and set me there on the spot.
Interviewer
Well, all his blokes were self-employed.
John Jenkins
Yes, which I was as well. The pay was pretty lousy; nothing compared with what I had been paid, no comparison. But it was a job. I hadn’t got that many years to go before I’d retire anyway so I thought I’ll take it; it’ll be something.
Interviewer
What did you work on? Did you work on the Mark 3?
John Jenkins
Mark 3 mostly. Not all the time; I was doing lots of other jobs.
Interviewer
You must have been working on the Club aeroplanes as well, were you?
John Jenkins
Yeah, not so much the Cessna’s but I worked on John Thoroughgood D5, Husky. I did CLAs on that. And Peek as well, John Partook’s aeroplane, I worked on that. And various Pups that were there. Oh, they’re sods to work on, the Pups.
Interviewer
Good job you didn’t get nearer to those then when you worked in the firm.
John Jenkins
Yes, quite. Paul Whitehead’s, I did quite a lot of work on Paul’s plane.
Interviewer
What’s the problem with the Pup then? It’s not designed for maintenance?
John Jenkins
No. I’m a real believer in maintenance. It’s in our reputation was the fact that the machines that I did you could maintain; you could get at stuff. That was my prerequisite.
Interviewer
The requirements of maintenance were part of the original design.
John Jenkins
Yes.
Interviewer
Like when you opened your bonnet in a modern motorcar – that was pointed out to me when I was having my ancient thing done, and the guy opened the bonnet and said, “Oh a car where you can see where the engine is”. He was working on a BMW there and he’d had to take no end of stuff off just to adjust something.
John Jenkins
That’s crap design, isn’t it? ((Laughs)) It’s frightening. No, that last telescopic boon that I made the maintenance would have been a maintenance man’s dream. The sort of machinery, it’s all enclosed and everything like that, but you could get at everything. Every single thing you could get at; nothing was going to be difficult for you.
Interviewer
Retirement age, 65, was that it?
John Jenkins
Well, before that I’d had this heart attack and cardiac arrest and that tended to slow me down a bit. Anyway I got over that.
Interviewer
Didn’t that happen at Peter Bolton’s place?
John Jenkins
Yes.
Interviewer
Out in the sticks.
John Jenkins
Yes, out in the sticks. I’d just finished marking out the windscreen and putting a new screen in the ((Kit Fox?)) and I felt a bit odd. I was down on my hands and knees literally because it was all on the floor, and I felt a bit odd, a bit indigestion-y. I thought oh, I haven’t got any indigestion tablets with me. I thought well, I wouldn’t have had anyway because I don’t normally get indigestion. But I had had it a couple of days before and I took some anti-indigestion tablets and fine, no problem. So, I naturally assumed it was that. I got outside and sitting in the car for a minute or two, sit on the back seat and think about what I’m doing and how I’m going to set this up, because I’d not changed a windscreen before, and I wasn’t really feeling any better. It was one of those cold, bright winter days, beautiful day. And Richard, the part-owner of the aeroplane, he arrived and he said, “Morning John, are you all right?” I said, “I’ve just had a bit of a funny turn”. He came in and looked at me and said, “Shall I call an ambulance?” I said, “No, no I’ll be all right; nothing like that”. And I sat there and thought it’s not really getting any better; I wonder what it is. I was beginning to think is there something wrong or not. I’m going to look an idiot if I carry on as I am. Anyway he came in again and he says, “Are you sure you don’t want me to call an ambulance? I think I should call the ambulance”. I thought okay. “Go on then. If you think that is the answer at least that will sort things out”. I was in sort of a bit of a very lightheaded sort of not quite with it mode. The paramedics arrived and the guy said, “Have you had any aspirin?” and I said, “No”. He’s on the phone then trying to get the air ambulance. “Ambulance! What the hell’s going on?” And what was going through my mind was I’ve never been in a helicopter; I won’t be able to put it in my log book. That was all I was concerned about, my log book! But I’d like to go in the ambulance; if they’re daft enough to send me an ambulance I’ll go. Anyway they couldn’t get the air ambulance so they had to phone for the ordinary ambulance, and that took about 20 minutes. They’d plugged me into this machine in the ambulance, some analyser of some sort, monitor, and the next thing they’re doing they’re getting some blooming great shears, ginormous shears, got hold of my sleeve, cutting through my overalls and my new jersey that I’d got on. Crikey. “You’re having a heart attack”. That shut me up. They’d taken all this lot off and the next thing they’re doing they had some carbon gauze of some sort, about five inches by four inches, on my bare chest now, they plonked one of those on my bare chest, and I heard them muttering about something to do with kilo bolts. It was 225 kilo bolts. I thought what the hell are they on about. Next thing I’ve seen this thing coming down at me. I don’t remember anything after that, until the engine started in the ambulance and I heard one say to the other, “It’s blues and twos then” and off we went. I knew when we were on the wrong side of the road; I could feel the camber. We ended up at the Queen’s Medical and went in there. And I don’t remember anything much after that. Whether they gave me something or not I don’t know. The next thing I did remember is in the what appears to be a foyer of some sort, and Irene’s there and Richard, the guy who part-owned the aeroplane, and they were going to give me some injection and Irene said, “He doesn’t like injections. He’s a bit funny with injections”. “Oh, he’ll be all right, he’ll be all right”. They did some injection, fiddled with something here, “Hold your finger on that”, part of a DIY kit. Anyway, then I don’t remember anything for a bit, until such time as I’m being wheeled out again and they’re going to a lift and they’re going to take me to another hospital because whatever they did didn’t work. So, they then rushed me off to the City Hospital in Nottingham. When we arrived there I could see that it was like the Jaguar Formula One team, they were all dressed in green, they were all waiting for me. And in I went. I don’t remember anything much after that either.
Interviewer
The upshot of this is you were fitted with a pacemaker of some sort?
John Jenkins
No, the upshot of that was they put a stent in, knowing that there’s a lot of damage been done. The pacemaker was after, well after. That didn’t occur until nearly a couple of years after that. I’d been for a check-up at City Hospital here and I had an echocardiogram thing. He said, “I need to check up on some things. Go and sit in reception and I’ll see you later”. When he came back he said, “There’s a bed waiting for you over at Glenfield. You’re going there and you’re stopping overnight. What have you done with your car? Have you come in a car?” I said, “Yes, it’s on Coleman Road”. “Oh right. Because in here we’ll tell the security people and they’ll attend to that”. Anyway I had to wait. It was only about ten o’clock, half past ten, and he said, “You won’t be able to go over to Glenfield until about six o’clock”. Anyway a neighbour came and took us all over there to bring my car back. So, that was the end of that.

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