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Interview of Nancy Wale, 8th August 2001

Interviewed by Beryl Preston

Nancy worked at Luke Turners in Queen Street in 1939, when she was aged 21. She was living in Leicester at the time. She was found a job in the factory by her aunt. Nancy worked there as a machinist for about six years. Nancy could work a normal lockstitch machine and a twin-needle machine.

Taylorcraft had opened in Thurmaston in 1939 and got in touch with Mr White to find a machinist. When she got there, the machine was not like the one Nancy had worked on before. She mastered it through hard work. Nancy was the only woman working in the factory. Nancy worked at Thurmaston and Syston, Broad Street. At the beginning of the war quite a few ladies were sent to Taylorcraft. Nancy was the wing coverer at the company, together with the other ladies that joined the company. Some of the ladies worked on the component side and the undercarriage. Nancy worked on the Tempest and the Tiger Moth wings. The working conditions were very good, the men respected the ladies and there was no swearing in front of them. The work was very hard. As the wings were covered, they got heavier and they had to get men to turn them over for them. There was no canteen in No 2 factory. Jack Humphries was the odd job man and had a cooker, so the ladies' dinners could be heated up, until the day he burnt the dinners! Reg Barradale had a motor bicycle and a sidecar and took Nancy home to his grandfathers for her dinner at 1 s 6d per week. The buildings were heated and were not cold to work in. Nancy worked around 48 weeks before the war, and after the war she worked 12 hours a day and often weekends. She cycled to Thurmaston and started work at 8 am. Nancy was paid 1s 6Y 2d per hour when she started, and then the wages crept up. If the work was done well, you got 1 s Od an hour bonus. She came out on a Friday with £2.50 per week, which was quite a good wage in those days. During the day a quarter of an hour break was taken, an hour for dinner, and another break at around 3 o'clock. Mr White was a very good employer. If he knew Nancy was working late he would send out for fish and chips. He also used to knock on a neighbour's door and ask them to send a pot of tea to the workers.

Nancy worked on a Model C aircraft at Taylorcraft, and she worked on the very first aircraft, seeing the fuselage and wings. She was very proud of the day when it flew as it took only some 5 weeks to make the aircraft. It was great to see your work go out the door and fly. Before the war there were 23 aircraft completed in 4 months. If the fabric was not right it used to sag in the middle. She lost her bonus once because she could not get the wing tight enough as the string kept sagging, and it all had to be done again. Nancy said that if she had to cover a wing again, she could do it again today, sellotape all the ribs, and she would know where to put the cover on. Two people were needed to do the stringing. The doping was done on the wing line when Nancy worked in the factory, it did not have a separate shop. The smell of the red dope was terrible, the white dope wasn't so bad.

Nancy married her husband, Bill, in August 1940. Bill went in the Air Force in April 1940. Nancy did not see much of her husband during the War. Bill was discharged from the Air Force in 1941 as he had been in the Battle of Britain.

There were a few young men working at Austers during the War as it was a deferred occupation. The company grew quite quickly from the 39 Club. Nancy was with the company from 1939 - 1947. She left the Company as she wanted a part-time occupation, either mornings or afternoons. Nancy missed the Company after she left. She said that the people were very sociable, they all went to the Unicorn in Thurmaston. The only people that Nancy did not get on with were Lily Jones, as Lily said that Nancy did not pull her weight, but as she always got a bonus and earned a good way, that was not disputed. Nancy said that it was like a happy family.

Nancy was not happy as she was not allowed a week's holiday when her husband was on leave from the Air Force. There were no unions in the Company, and Nancy said that you fought your own battles!

Bill came back to the Company and was fired two or three times! He didn't stand any nonsense. Bill walked out as someone told him he wasn't doing the job right when he was spraying an aircraft, and then he went to Bitteswell spraying Lancaster Bombers working nights. He went back to Taylorcraft as he was not fit to work nights. Bill was suspended for walking out on a Saturday after working for three days and three nights without sleep. He took it to a tribunal and lost, as nobody stood up for him.

The 39 Club had a Dinner and Dance at the Fox and Hounds in Syston several times. Nancy used to dance with Percy White who was very tall, whilst Nancy was little and it was very awkward! The Dinners were free and came out of the funds.

At the end of the War the hours were reduced. There were a lot of women working for the company at the end of the War. There was Tommy Warren who worked at No 6 on the Tiger Moths, he belonged to the Royal Flying Corps, and there was Lily Dyer who lived at the Fish & Chip Shop in Syston. There were about 20 girls who returned to the company. Nancy said that the Company changed after War, and there were that many bosses you did not know whom you were working for. There were a few Londoners, Bill Tollhurst who was Nancy's foreman, and there was Ted Portwood, he was also Nancy's foreman at one time.

Nancy moved from Thurmaston to Syston in 1941/42 and nobody wanted to go. When Nancy moved from the big part of No 2 to a little factory where there was only room for working on 2 wings and, because it was so small, the people were like one big happy family. The company moved to Syston as there was no space to do the job. Nancy liked working at No 7.

Nancy wore white overalls that the Company did not supply. Bill had the chance to fly as Jeff Edwards took him up. Bill did a lot of jobs on the planes before Jeff Edwards flew them. Once there was a leaking fuel pipe on a plane, even though it had been inspected, and Bill would not let Jeff take the plane up in the air and he saved the life of the pilot as if he had flew the plane, there would have been a crash. Bill was a qualified sprayer, and then Tommy Warren took him over and he became an engineer on the Tiger Moths. He then went out on to the aerodrome, swinging the propellers for the pilots. Bill did not stay in the aircraft industry after the war, he went back to spraying coach painting etc. Bill painted the Hush Puppy vans by hand. He was brought up in children's homes, and when Nancy and he married that was the first home he ever had.

Nancy does not see anyone from the Company now as there are not a lot of people left of her age.

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


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