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Interview of Ray Garrett, 27th November 2001

Interviewed by Peter Stoddart

Interviewer
Pictures?
Ray Garrett
They were priceless.
Interviewer
Yes. So that included negatives going right back to the earliest days, did it?
Ray Garrett
Yes, you name it, it went right back. I used to do a lot of reprints. There was one fellow especially in the drawing office. I don’t know his name. Obviously, I can’t remember and he went to Slingsby’s.
Interviewer
Norman Harrison.
Ray Garrett
That’s right, in Yorkshire, and I did a vast amount of prints for him.
Interviewer
He produced the history that was serialised in Beagle News. That is interesting because there were a lot of early photos in there. Those were developed from negatives by you then?
Ray Garrett
Yes. I had a load of them, which I gave away unfortunately. I have got about three left now.
Interviewer
Ian O’Neil came and saw you, didn’t he? Tall, slim chap. He was editor of the Auster Club magazine.
Ray Garrett
Yes.
Interviewer
He was at Ullesthorpe.
Ray Garrett
No, it was someone not far away in Nottingham. I parcelled everything up, gave them to Ron Neil and they were sent onto him. No one came to see me. You’re the first one.
Interviewer
There’s a chap called Mike Draper who was very interested in Auster research and when the modern Auster club was founded around 1974 he produced a magazine all about matters Auster. He’d been down at Shoreham when they were closing down and clearing out. All these negatives were coming out and being dumped, you see, so his boot was open and he said “Don’t throw those away. Put them in my car.” Along came Mr Maysfield who said “What are you doing with those? Those are mine. I want those for writing my book.”
Ray Garrett
((laughs))
Interviewer
Well, he’s never written his book but presumably he’s still got whatever there was left.
Ray Garrett
His son or Lord Maysfield himself?
Interviewer
Maysfield himself.
Ray Garrett
He’ll probably pass them onto his son then.
Interviewer
Peter Maysfield is still alive.
Ray Garrett
Just about, I should imagine.
Interviewer
He is president of the British Aviation Preservation Council, which was the network I used to find where we placed the aeroplane and he has appeared at meetings. He has got one or two medical problems but nothing life threatening and you do occasionally see him mentioned at aviation events but whether he will produce anything or not I don’t know.
Ray Garrett
I shouldn’t think so. He made a success of being a failure.
Interviewer
I know what you mean.
Ray Garrett
He went from one place to another, didn’t he, and ruined everything.
Interviewer
Yes. Was this the ethos of the Beagle Company from the start when you joined it then – you could see things going wrong?
Ray Garrett
I used to work for a firm called Reid and Sigrist.
Interviewer
They were the makers of the Desford.
Ray Garrett
That’s right – prone.
Interviewer
Yes. Well, they modified it.
Ray Garrett
Yes. We were producing a copy of a Leica camera and I was on that part. He used to come round and say “We won’t want that like that. We want it like this,” and everything had to be changed – all the jigs and everything – and he’d come back another time and probably turn it back again. That’s exactly what Maysfield used to do. Everything was a whim but he wanted it complying with, especially in the Airedale.
Interviewer
How long had you been Reid and Sigrist’s photographer?
Ray Garrett
I started in the assembly shop and then I went into the testing of cameras; new cameras and bought cameras that were sent by the repairer with a complaint. I used to check all the lenses – ((opticlick?)) and Taylor Hobson. It was quite a time. From there I went to Beagle Auster.
Interviewer
You were working on testing and working with the equipment rather than being the photographer at Reid and Sigrist. Where does photography come in?
Ray Garrett
Working in the darkroom with the testing and any photographic work wanted obviously I did it.
Interviewer
You built up the photography rather than coming in initially as that?
Ray Garrett
That’s right.
Interviewer
I know John Chapman who used to work on those cameras.
Ray Garrett
I don’t remember his name.
Interviewer
He is a bit younger and was there as an apprentice when he started work. He remembers Major Reed and always has a high opinion of him. He seems to have been an upright and straightforward chap.
Ray Garrett
Yes. ((laughs)) A bit of a rogue in a nice way. He made a fortune buying all these turn and bank indicators. It was war surplus. He took them out the box, checked them, put them back in and flogged them back to the government. That’s true and the terrier frames.
Interviewer
That’s right. Beagle lost out. Certainly Ambrose Hitchman says that they didn’t do what you said. They didn’t just do a quick refurbishment.
Ray Garrett
That’s right.
Interviewer
They insisted on taking them apart and rebuilding them so they were cost effective, whereas even if the fabric had been alright they might have been covered recently. They only needed to re-spray them. The original conversion was the tug master, which wasn’t really even demilitarised. When did you start at Beagle? 61?
Ray Garrett
((laughs)) I haven’t got a clue. I’ve worked at all sorts of places and I never kept any diaries or notes.
Interviewer
When you went to Rearsby it was already Beagle?
Ray Garrett
Yes. I would say it was about a year.
Interviewer
That would be 61. Did you go there as a photographer?
Ray Garrett
Yes. I applied for the job. Jeff Jackson was over the publication at that time. Have you ever heard of him?
Interviewer
I haven’t heard his name. Eddie Warrall is the one I associate with photography.
Ray Garrett
I was turned down and then a few days afterwards he asked me to get in touch with him, which I did, and he said “Do you still want the job?” I said “Yes.” He said “Can you start on Monday?” I said “Yes,” and I went on Monday morning. By ten o’clock I was in the air photographing. ((laughs)) Fortunately they turned out but, as you know, we were always strapped for cash.
Interviewer
Was Frank Bates still financially responsible at that time?
Ray Garrett
No, he’d gone from the scene then, as far as I know. Harman was a nice fellow.
Interviewer
Alf Harman?
Ray Garrett
That’s right. He was in a difficult position all the time, trying to do things without having the means to do it. I got a special air to air camera by Brown. He designed it. Big lumpy thing it was, but really good. It had a scale of 35 millimetres. It took five by four plates, cut film or roll film back. I managed to get that out of them. That all went down there. When they decided to take the photography and publications away from Rearsby and all that kit went down there I got a lot of my own kit then; 35 millimetre and larger, 35 millimetre camera and various lenses. We were still producing ((line?)) negatives and plates for the small printing department which I inherited. I hadn’t touched a printing machine in my life but I was in charge of it ((laughs)) and it was a responsible job. All these pilots’ notes and manuals had to be signed by me to say they were a true and accurate copy. I hadn’t got a clue. We had all these massive plates of all the various Auster aircraft and derivatives. If a nut and bolt had changed on it, it was another derivative. A lot of these books went to Portugal. ((laughs))
Interviewer
When they did the derange in Portugal?
Ray Garrett
That’s right.
Interviewer
They were actually printed by a small print department?
Ray Garrett
That’s right.
Interviewer
You didn’t physically run the machines as well, did you?
Ray Garrett
Occasionally, yes. When they took the photographic away the fellow who was in charge, Ray Blaber, went. He was in charge of the printing. I was supposed to print it without any tuition. It took me weeks. You know what it’s like when you’re trying to do something you don’t know, you’re going further away from it. ((?))
Interviewer
They wouldn’t give an indefinite supply of paper either so that you could keep on trying?
Ray Garrett
((laughs)) That was it. The department as a whole had illustrators and all sorts there. Jeff Jackson was in charge.
Interviewer
Was that called the publicity department?
Ray Garrett
Yes.
Interviewer
Was it responsible for tech manuals?
Ray Garrett
Everything.
Interviewer
Brochures?
Ray Garrett
Yes. When we were at Farnborough we used to produce all the prints – hundreds of them – and it was strictly limited. They couldn’t even afford a glazer. What they did, about the year before I went, was bought a load of sheets of glass, squeegeed all of them onto this glass, took them out to where the canteen was because you’ve got the railings round and lent them all on there. It worked fine until a wind came ((laughs)) and they were all over the place. I used to have help then. Somebody out of the pubs used to come in and reproduced hundreds every day. By this time we’d got one large rotary glazer. We used to put as many as 30 prints into the ((?)) and shuffle them through all the time and into the fixture. Then we had a zinc bath. It went into there for washing purposes and then there was always a backlog to get them through the glazer. We turned out thousands. Have you ever heard of Bailey Watson?
Interviewer
No.
Ray Garrett
He was a friend of the managing director. I don’t know why I can’t remember his name.
Interviewer
Bates?
Ray Garrett
No, Beagle.
Interviewer
Sir Peter Maysfield.
Ray Garrett
Well, he wasn’t then. ((laughs)) He got this friend of his, Bailey Watson, who I thought was a bit on the queer side, and he’d got this publishing place in London and they all used to go down to him. All the printing was done and all he supplied was the folders with the beautiful Beagle logo on. We actually put them all into these and assembled them and then he charged the firm for the whole lot. He must have made a fortune out of Beagle. He used to walk about arm in arm with Maysfield. ((laughs))
Interviewer
That must have caused a buzz of conversation.
Ray Garrett
Maysfield had got a very nice lady in waiting. I had some photographs of her getting out of an aircraft. I never knew if he had a wife or not.
Interviewer
He had two sons, didn’t he?
Ray Garrett
He must have done.
Interviewer
One was Charles.
Ray Garrett
Charles is the one I know.
Interviewer
They used to do a bit of air racing in Beagle days.
Ray Garrett
That’s right.
Interviewer
He had a north American Mustang at one stage.
Ray Garrett
He flew over the Atlantic once, didn’t he?
Interviewer
Possibly, yes. I don’t know whether he actually brought that across himself. I saw it at one of the RAFA shows at Hucknall soon after I came to Leicester. I came to Leicester in 63 and it would be mid-sixties. It wasn’t Battle of Britain but it was the Royal Air Force Association on the Rolls Royce airfield and I remember the Mustang was painted red.
Ray Garrett
I must have seen it. He was very friendly with Lord somebody.
Interviewer
Jeff ((Garn?))
Ray Garrett
That’s right, and they were always up at Rearsby.
Interviewer
They did race the Airedale. I’ve seen pictures of Airedales with racing numbers on. Whether they ever won in an Airedale… I can’t imagine it getting up enough steam really.
Ray Garrett
((laughs)) Not a lot.
Interviewer
With your photography work were you asked to produce records of production as it went on and for new prototypes?
Ray Garrett
Yes. I’ve got a load of slides of a single engine low wing monoplane, which became…
Interviewer
The Pup eventually.
Ray Garrett
…the Pup. That was beautifully made by the carpentry shop and then I got slides of it. You really couldn’t tell any difference and they went up to Nottingham.
Interviewer
The people who made the mock-ups, the photographs I have seen of mock-ups during the Auster period, were these the people who were doing the airframe woodwork?
Ray Garrett
They were and any other ((?)) jobs.
Interviewer
There was another design that had a cylindrical fuselage with about six or eight seats. I have seen pictures of that where you’ve got hoops but they’ve obviously stretched fabric over rather than a rigid skin just to give the impression.
Ray Garrett
Isn’t it marvellous what they used to do with plywood?
Interviewer
Yes.
Ray Garrett
They must have some steaming approach.
Interviewer
That’s right. You can get the shape and multiple curvatures.
Ray Garrett
I used to be fascinated by some of the photographs that were in the archives of that rotor on the jet.
Interviewer
They were going for a round jet helicopter.
Ray Garrett
It was fraught with danger. I used to retreat behind sandbags when they tested it.
Interviewer
There were other manufacturers tried as well – Fairey.
Ray Garrett
The government funded them.
Interviewer
The Fairey Ultra-Light had round jets and that flew okay. I don’t know whether it had any vices but the army didn’t take them up. These were very lightweight helicopters and they carried on and of course the company pushed the Auster Mark Nine through. The one you perhaps remember is the higher powered version, the Beagle 11.
Ray Garrett
That was my favourite machine. I did a tremendous amount of flying in that noisy brute. By the time you got down to Shoreham you were deaf for about two hours afterwards.
Interviewer
Did you do a lot of to-ing and fro-ing?
Ray Garrett
Yes.
Interviewer
I have heard from other former employees that quite a lot of money was burnt up in going up and down the country.
Ray Garrett
Yes. Especially with Shoreham being down there we were constantly going up and down. I used to go and stay down there for two or three days a week. Trevor Howard was my usual chauffeur. He was a marvellous pilot.
Interviewer
I have flown with Trevor a few times.
Ray Garrett
He was a grand person. He got on extremely well.
Interviewer
He was even in the pilot seat of the Varsity the one time I went in that. He crashed it in the end but he went twice as pilot for the museum’s flying Auster when we couldn’t find anybody else. We went once with him to Duxford and he said “You take it back. Just aim at that cloud.”
Ray Garrett
((laughs)) He was a lovely fellow. We were friendly with his wife and family. I was absolutely shattered the day he was killed. I worked in the polytechnic print room and finished my days off there. I did start on my own when I left Beagle and it came over on the radio. Unfortunately when he was buried I was away.
Interviewer
I went to the service. He was buried in the churchyard at Rearsby. They lived in Church Leys but Betty left and I don’t know where she is now.
Ray Garrett
I won’t he say it’s a good job he died but if he’d been alive when there was all that business with his daughter it would have cracked him up. I knew her well. She was a lovely girl and her sister. I photographed one of the weddings.
Interviewer
Were the daughters gingery-haired? There were two girls at the funeral.
Ray Garrett
They must have been. I remember once with Trevor we’d got to get down to Shoreham. The weather was dicey and we took off. The cloud base was right down and it must have been about 8,000 feet we cleared. We flew all the way down on directional instruments.
Interviewer
Over the top?
Ray Garrett
Yes. You can always tell when you’re crossing the coast as there’s a change in engine note. I thought we must be somewhere round the coast. He just turned round, let himself down and there was ((laughs)) Shoreham. We went straight in – marvellous!
Interviewer
What was that in?
Ray Garrett
An Airedale.
Interviewer
Did you ever get up and gas the de Havilland Dragon? Do you remember the biplane?
Ray Garrett
Yes. It packed in at ((Tame?)) Eight aircraft were stuck at Tame and we flew in that to take some spares down and back again. That was a wonderful old aircraft. It had got a brass plaque on the cockpit that separates the saloon from the cockpit saying it was vintage aircraft of such and such a year.
Interviewer
It was one of the early ones and it was used by Highland Airways in the Orkneys. Captain Fresam was in charge.
Ray Garrett
One time it belonged to ((Siliak?)) It was a lovely old thing. The magnetos were outside on the engine. ((laughs)) That was painted in Beagle in colours.
Interviewer
I did see it. When I came to Leicester I wasn’t deep into aviation but I remember going up to the airfield and it used to be kept some of the time in the hanger at Leicester. I don’t know why. That was where I saw it. It wouldn’t be there for maintenance because somebody at Rearsby would maintain it I imagine.
Ray Garrett
I had an idea that it went somewhere where they used it for parachute jumps. I don’t know whether that’s right or not.
Interviewer
It’s now in the Science Museum’s collection at Houghton.
Ray Garrett
Good. That was one of my favourites as well.
Interviewer
It is still in Beagle colours. Trevor told a story about coming back from Farnborough in that and everybody sitting eating fish and chips as they waddled along.
Ray Garrett
((laughs)) Another time – and this may have been in a 206 – as we approached Shoreham it clamped down and we got lower. You approach from Lancing, which is at the back of the aerodrome, in a sort of ravine where the river runs through. In this mist you could hardly see either side. You were lucky if you could see the wings. That worried me a little bit. Another time we came back in an aircraft with only one magneto, which didn’t please me. ((laughs)) I wasn’t involved with that one aircraft. I think Jim ((Perlea?)) was pilot of that one. That made a false landing in a field near Melton Mowbray. You’ve probably seen a photograph because it took off on the road. They had to build ramps to get it over the hedge.
Interviewer
Were those photos that you took?
Ray Garrett
Yes. There’s another time Peewee Judge radioed that he’d got undercar trouble and they asked him to fly. I don’t know whether it was East Midlands airport or not. They wanted somewhere with a good surface and facilities.
Interviewer
Was that the 206 where the nose wheel was the wrong way round?
Ray Garrett
That’s right.
Interviewer
I think it was Wymeswold.
Ray Garrett
I took these photographs as he was landing. As soon as he got out he looked at ((?)) ((laughs)) He was another grand fellow as well. My wife and I went down to Shoreham with Betty, Trevor and Peewee for the King’s Cup Air Race. The starting and finishing line was the pier at Worthing. Peewee had just come back from trying to ferry some Second World War planes from North Africa. He was rather flush and took us all to a Chinese restaurant. ((laughs))
Interviewer
He was free to do other work like that, was he?
Ray Garrett
Must have been. He was a nice fellow.
Interviewer
He was killed in the Autogyro, wasn’t he?
Ray Garrett
Yes, in the Wallis. He used to take that up to about 10,000 feet. That was when it was a bare framework before it had the covering on the front. He used to complain how cold he was. ((laughs))
Interviewer
Was that one of Mayfield’s inspirations to take that on? It was a chap called Wallis who…
Ray Garrett
That’s right. I don’t know whether he approached them but he was having problems getting backing for it. I know it always appeared in RAF colours and markings but nothing ever came of it. It persisted after Auster packed it in. It was on the go for quite some time. I haven’t got any photographs. I did have but I’ve lost a lot of them. I don’t know whether they are in the loft. We used to go to Kidlington quite a lot because that was the time that Pressed Steel had something to do with it. I was backwards and forwards there. We did some photographs down there for brochures and tried to simulate the benefit of autogyros because they had the Brantly and I was trying to publicise that. We tried to show jammed road works from the air. I never did like helicopters. I suppose they’re alright now but they used to vibrate. They weren’t very good for photographic ((?)) I thought.
Interviewer
Sometimes when you see helicopter shots on the television you can see a vibration.
Ray Garrett
Occasionally at Shoreham I went up with the Air Sea Rescue. I thought my photographic work was quite good but they decided that they wanted a different angle so they hired Charles Brown. He was quite nice. He was a bit puzzled. ((laughs)) So we both went up at the same time photographing the same aircraft and there was no difference between the shots. They must have paid him quite a sum of money.
Interviewer
Yes, he’s a big name. That’s the same Charles Brown, of course, who designed your camera that you mentioned.
Ray Garrett
Yes. It was a lovely aircraft but when you’ve gear on you couldn’t lift it up. ((laughs)) I always used to take 35 millimetre with me at the same time.
Interviewer
When you were doing air to air which planes would you normally photograph out of?
Ray Garrett
Anything that was available. I used to like the Mark 11. It was a bit more spacious.
Interviewer
Would you do it from the back with the door off?
Ray Garrett
Yes. I couldn’t stand at the top of a high ladder or on a chair even but that didn’t bother me at all.
Interviewer
I presume you had a rope round you somewhere tied on?
Ray Garrett
When I first started I was mostly lap strapped with a knock off button. I was leaning out of the aircraft like this and I looked down and there was my elbow ((laughs)) hovering just about ((?)) I complained about it. “I want something better – a proper harness or something,” so they gave me a picketing rope.
Interviewer
To tie yourself in?
Ray Garrett
Yes.
Interviewer
We did do an air to air sortie with OH and one of the Mark Nine owners, and our photographer did just this because he got the back door out. We had a rope round him and tied it off but I think it was quite a long sortie and it was November. In fact, whilst we were orbiting over Leicester and Rutland there was a thunderhead dropping snow in Nottingham so it was very cold. When we got him back on the ground we had to lift him out…
Ray Garrett
They did that to me.
Interviewer
…because he couldn’t straighten his legs out.
Ray Garrett
They wouldn’t give me any protective clothing. I couldn’t find a flying suit and I bought myself a tank, which was like ordinary ((cloth?)) I used to have two or three sweaters on underneath, pyjama trousers and I’d be lifted out at Shoreham especially. We used to go up 12,000 plus sometimes and I found that after 20 minutes I’d had it – that was enough. You couldn’t concentrate with the cold, noise and rarity of the air. It was impossible. It was amazing how we got the photographs sometimes.
Interviewer
It surprised me how long we were going round as well because we wanted to get the background right. The other thing that is very important is that you get the light in the right direction so you don’t get shadows where you don’t want them on the fuselage. We did get some nice pictures and the Mark Nine owner had a photographer in the other plane shooting back. As we wanted the full look of OH we didn’t have any doors off that so he had to just shoot through the sliding window. This looks as though it could be Leicestershire underneath.
Ray Garrett
It more than likely is. I can’t say where. I’ve got another negative with a wide angle lens like that and it’s absolutely grotesque. I’d got a flying helmet on as well.
Interviewer
Of yourself?
Ray Garrett
Yes. ((laughs)) You’ve seen all these?
Interviewer
If they are company photographs, yes. As you say, you were producing them in vast quantities as well.
Ray Garrett
Yes. You’ve seen that one, haven’t you? That’s the D5.
Interviewer
Yes. Is this the aeroplane that Trevor was injured in?
Ray Garrett
That’s right. There’s a better one of it somewhere.
Interviewer
You’ve got Queniborough church in there nicely. Was that particularly arranged?
Ray Garrett
No. We didn’t bother so much about background. At Shoreham we used to go round Beachy Head and get that in. That was one of my favourite aircrafts as well. There’s a very nice specimen flying at Rearsby – the last D5. The fellow who bought that one got in touch with me and asked if I had any photographs. I sent them down including photographs of the engine with the cowling’s off.
Interviewer
Was that Bill Fisher?
Ray Garrett
I think it was.
Interviewer
He used to be editor of the club magazine.
Ray Garrett
That was just prior to the day before he flew off. Apparently – you probably know as well – the point of the exercise was they were going to try landing on glaciers but the accident actually happened on an aerodrome.
Interviewer
Did it go over on its back?
Ray Garrett
It was just having a flypast with all the other interested people there including the Swiss agent. I can’t remember his name. He was a nice fellow. The aircraft just went into the ground. Actually, I was also told that Trevor was given up for dead. A priest came to give him the last rites and he said “I’m not dead,” so he was quite lucky apparently but the other one – the Swiss agent – he had metal plates in his legs and all sorts. I saw him a year afterwards and he was still walking with crutches so they were both extremely lucky.
Interviewer
It sounds as though he must have caught a gust or something?
Ray Garrett
Yes. One went into the ground but I don’t know who the pilot was of that. I think it was a tug pilot. ((?)) at the back of the motor parts department and I did about three of those. This particular one had gone straight in and they called me out to photograph it. You have probably heard of it. This happens a lot apparently. His shoes were still there, tied up and he’s had one of these and all those segments were all scattered all over the place – amazing. We had another one who was showing off to the girl at the farm across from the…and he was flying too low and he went in. There was another one somewhere.
Interviewer
Was this the time they were all flying tugs?
Ray Garrett
That’s right. I went up in the tug but I never unfortunately went up in a plane. They did have a winch but mostly it was by tug. I went up with Gus Morris. Do you know him?
Interviewer
I know the name. He was one of the founder people.
Ray Garrett
That’s right. We were coming into land and you could feel the tow rope wrapped round the fence, ((laughs)) which worried me. Poor old Gus lost his licence for a time because of his eyesight. I’d got to be flown down to Shoreham and he was picked. That was the first time ((laughs)) he’d flown since he got his licence back and that was the same with Trevor when he came back to work after all that business. He was preparing to fly and I said “Have you got anybody coming with you?” He said “No.” I said “I’ll come with you then,” just to give him a bit of confidence.
Interviewer
Encouragement. What did Gus Morris do in the firm latterly?
Ray Garrett
I don’t know. He was only a part timer but I can’t really remember what job he did.
Interviewer
He ended up working with Albert Codlin at Burton on the Wolds.
Ray Garrett
Yes, I think he was probably in the engine shop. He was an inspector.
Interviewer
I saw him last Friday. He comes over to Leicester from Peterborough where he lives. He comes over to look up old Auster people fairly regularly but he dropped in at Ron Neil’s up at the airfield.
Ray Garrett
I used to go up there, not a lot but about once per year. I haven’t got a car so I can’t get up there now. The last time I went up there was to deliver that stuff to go up to Nottingham. I always liked going up there because there was always something interesting.
Interviewer
We’ve had the AGM there for two years now based in Leicester. If there’s going to be an event for the AGM again at the end of June we’ll have to come and pick you up. I go and pick up Ambrose as well.
Ray Garrett
How old is he now?
Interviewer
He must be about 95. It was a few years ago that I took him down to the Auster event at Popham, which is in Hampshire and it was actually his birthday. “I’m coming round to 45 the second time” he said.
Ray Garrett
((laughs)) Amazing.
Interviewer
He’s about the same age as my Mother and she died two years ago at 94. He’s relying on two hearing aids now. I think he’s got a pacemaker as well but that’s because they detected an irregular heartbeat. He hasn’t shown any symptoms but someone listens to his chest.
Ray Garrett
I know the feeling. ((laughs))
Interviewer
So they decided he ought to be battery operated.
Ray Garrett
There was some talk about me having one and then they changed their mind. We were pretty isolated fortunately from the brass.
Interviewer
Whereabouts in the factory was photographic and publications? There was a block that had a drawing office in, didn’t it? A two storey one.
Ray Garrett
No. The main gate’s there. There was a single storey building there. You can still see the bricks up to about this high all around it and then there was the canteen back there. As it was like that we were in this corner here. There is a passageway there, which was where Dickie Roon the buyer was. There was some sort of general office there. I was working late one night when I hadn’t been there long and I heard this thumping and banging but didn’t take any notice of it. I went home, came back in the morning and somebody said “The police want to see you,” ((laughs)) and I said “Why? What’s’ the matter?” I went and they said “Were you working last night?” I said “Yes.” “Did you let anybody in?” “No, why?” They said ((laughs)) “Somebody’s stolen the safe out of ((laughs)) Dickie Roon’s office.” That must have been the noise and I was really suspected. They wanted to know all my past background.
Interviewer
That was the county police, not the security in the firm?
Ray Garrett
No, the police. Had I been in trouble before? ((laughs))
Interviewer
Quite an introduction to the firm.
Ray Garrett
Yes.
Interviewer
Did they find out who’d done it?
Ray Garrett
I can’t imagine. It was a big safe – one of these old-fashioned things. I enjoyed that job. I was thrilled to bits as I’d always been interested in aircraft. I was a founder member of the ATC number one squadron and I was a bit of a musician so I could join the band as well. I used to buy a lot of the aircraft magazines like Aeroplane in my youth. I didn’t have much youth as I went in the army when I was 17. I couldn’t get in the air force. I volunteered for WAPAG and the same day I volunteered and was waiting for my medical I took my Mum to the Savoy cinema to see one of these Wellingtons flying over Germany.
Interviewer
Target for Tonight or ‘F’ for Freddie?
Ray Garrett
It was probably Target for Tonight, which worried me somewhat. ((laughs)) Anyway, they turned me down and sent me to Birmingham. I was A one but my ears weren’t good for flying. It didn’t seem to trouble me years ago but it was a letter. Nobody else wanted me then. It was early in the war.
Interviewer
Was that 40 or 41?
Ray Garrett
About 41. I didn’t really want to join the navy as I couldn’t swim. ((laughs)) Then I wanted to be an armourer but there were no vacancies there. I was then working at British Thomson-Houston – BTH – on Melton Road. That was a shadow factory. I went there when they first started employing people and I used to grind nine and four sided cams for the Wellington magnetos. They did this for months. There was a big crate there full, another big crate empty and I when I filled that one they used to give me another one. The only change I got was whether it would be nine sided. It was off a master cam. The bed used to rock.
Interviewer
You just pushed the work on and pressed go?
Ray Garrett
No, ((laughs)) it wasn’t as simple as that in those days. I got fed up and that was when I started volunteering. The RAF then wanted me, when they knew I did that, and wanted me to go as a grinder in one of the aircraft factories as an airman. I said “Not likely” so I ended up in the Leicestershire regiment as a boy soldier – a dime serving boy. That was the only way to get in.
Interviewer
Where did you end up in action?
Ray Garrett
I didn’t, I got smashed up on the motorway just before D-Day in this country.
Interviewer
Was that a genuine accident?
Ray Garrett
Yes.
Interviewer
Not strong headedness?
Ray Garrett
No. I had some very dicey dues on the motorcycle.
Interviewer
Would that have been dispatch riding?
Ray Garrett
There weren’t dispatch riders in the service corps, we were just called motorcyclists. We always called ourselves dispatch riders. We had gun holes with a bit of wood in to pack it out. I don’t know if you’ve seen that one?
Interviewer
Yes, this is the 218.
Ray Garrett
The prototype. That was at Shoreham.
Interviewer
This had a lot of glass fibre in, didn’t it?
Ray Garrett
That’s right.
Interviewer
Was the glass fibre structural or cowling?
Ray Garrett
I should imagine. The curved bits are all wingtips.
Interviewer
This was actually a Miles design, wasn’t it?
Ray Garrett
Yes.
Interviewer
They then built another one that was not nearly as shapely.
Ray Garrett
That’s right. I don’t know whether that’s the same one but the military saw the 206 Bassett before they took delivery of the aircraft and wanted a full-size photograph of it. ((laughs)) I took that. It was in the days when I hadn’t got any equipment – a 35 millimetre with a wide angle – so I said “I don’t know if I can do that. I’ll try.” I got a Reid and Sigrist enlarger – 35 millimetre. The darkroom hadn’t got a ceiling, it was rafters. To make this print to the size I lashed it to one of those. I had to get on steps to adjust the lens and somebody told me when it was sharp. I got the roll of paper – you got it on big rolls – and put that down there. Before that I did tests with small bits of paper. I got the right exposure after about 20 minutes. It was dodgy as over in the automobile parts they’d got a lot of big high-powered spot welding machines. The lights used to go down as the voltage used to drop when they came into operation. Another hazard was the door in the passage. People used to walk through that, give it a bang and shake the building. ((laughs)) I was lucky and then I thought “How am I going to develop it?” I got a sheet of ((?)) and bits of wood to make a frame. I put that it, filled it up with developer, then I got a mop and…
Interviewer
Swirled it about a bit?
Ray Garrett
Yes. I think I got ((?)) to put it through the ((?)) and it turned out really good. Considering it was from a 35 millimetre fortunately it was a fine grain fill.
Interviewer
Is that the actual picture?
Ray Garrett
I am sure it is looking at the instrument panel anyway. It is a comprehensive one. That’s the only time I ever did it fortunately.
Interviewer
The trouble is the more ingenious you are the less they provide you with equipment. “You did it last time.”
Ray Garrett
When they kept asking me after the equipment had gone down “Will you do this and that” I was using my own equipment. I went to Harman and I said “Either you buy me some more equipment or some things can’t be done.” He said “I’ll tell you what; we’ll give you something extra on your wages this year.” I got a couple of pounds. I was silly though. I was only too pleased to get back into photography and a bit later I hadn’t got a wide angle lens. I went to see him again and he said “You’re never satisfied, are you?” This was his approach if you went for a rise or any bits of equipment.
Interviewer
When they gave you this extra did they still expect it to be their equipment?
Ray Garrett
It was their equipment but when I left he gave it to me ((laughs)) much to my surprise. I think his conscience must have pricked him but that was a really low point.
Interviewer
When did it move down to Shoreham? How many years do you think you had it up in Rearsby?
Ray Garrett
Four or five.
Interviewer
So it was going to be about 66 if you started roughly in 61. Is that when you left the company?
Ray Garrett
No.
Interviewer
You carried on with printing then, didn’t you?
Ray Garrett
Yes but we were still doing photography then in full ((?)) purely with 35 millimetre. A letter came round from Bailey Watson saying he was disgusted about the state of the photographs that were coming from Rearsby. I got ((laughs)) really upset so I wrote a snotty letter and sent one to Harman, one to Bailey Watson and one to the big chief, Maysfield. From then on my name was mud. Peewee Judge was upset. He wrote me a very nice letter, which I kept for many years, saying “We need people like you. You’ve done good work,” but being a bit bigoted…
Interviewer
Am I right that these were photographs that weren’t coming from Rearsby any more?
Ray Garrett
Yes, they were but he didn’t know the state we were dealing with: undermanned and underpaid. The quality of the photographs was alright but we couldn’t do any quantities obviously. All I’d got was a small flatbed glazer. They’d got their own photographer down there but I always went down to help him out. I wouldn’t say I was in charge but it was thought I was senior and that’s why I used to go down there but then he ended up with all our equipment. It was all politics.
Interviewer
The whole organisation of the firm, as far as I can gather from what people say, seems to have been completely top-heavy and with too much duplication.
Ray Garrett
It was always Miles that came out better. It was supposed to be an amalgamation of two aircrafts on an equal basis but it wasn’t so. I think they wanted the 206 production exclusively down there. I can see why it shouldn’t work with the two firms doing the same thing obviously.
Interviewer
There were two design offices, weren’t there?
Ray Garrett
That’s right.
Interviewer
The 206 was all done at Rearsby, more or less, wasn’t it?
Ray Garrett
Yes.
Interviewer
I understood that the Pups were going backwards and forwards between being made and then coming up to Leicester for detailed fitting and then flying back to Shoreham to be painted. Was that how it was?
Ray Garrett
Yes, it was chaotic. If it hadn’t have been for politics an American firm would have bought it but the government didn’t want that. They wanted the Scottish Aviation to have it. It was all cut and dried. We had Ben down for about six months prior to the break up and he assured us that there was no way that Rearsby was going to be closed. We had got jobs for life. Have you ever studied him? He’s a right so and so. Sincerity drips out of him with his pipe. ((laughs))
Interviewer
That wasn’t a hidden agenda?
Ray Garrett
No. Actually, I’d left by then and no sooner had I left they were onto me to come and take some photographs so I set my own business up. I was doing exactly the same flying and printing. We had a little offset printer, which was the same as we had used. We were in the middle of doing a tremendous amount of time cards – the ones you put in the machine – and a phone call came from Dickie Roon. “Stop everything.” I said, “Why, what’s the matter?” He said “We’re finished. We’re going into liquidation.” We’d got no end of work piled up for delivery or part-done and fortunately we got every penny for it. If we hadn’t it would have broken us. I had that photographic business for 16 years.
Interviewer
Did you do general commercial photography such as weddings?
Ray Garrett
I started with weddings but they weren’t my favourite pastime. I used to work for another firm on Saturdays to keep the money coming in but we did all sorts. You name it, I have photographed it. I got in with a Polish gentleman whose mother had died and he wanted a photograph of her in the coffin with no lid and candles all round. No sooner had I done that then I found I was ((laughs)) forever doing that. I then got in with some farmers and was photographing prize bulls and horses and that is how it went on. I also photographed a lot of fashion.
Interviewer
Not the same as aeroplanes?
Ray Garrett
No. My first love was aeroplanes. When I got that job I thought it was absolutely fantastic. It was my dream come true.
Interviewer
When you were at Reid’s were you never able to inveigle yourself onto the aviation side there?
Ray Garrett
I went as an instrument fitter.
Interviewer
That was in the old municipal hangers in Braunston?
Ray Garrett
That’s right.
Interviewer
Not at Desford?
Ray Garrett
No. When I went there the airfield was still open and we used to get RAF aircraft landing to pick things up. They then closed it and it was given up to rugby and football pitches. There was a really thick mist one night. We could hear this aircraft above circling, then it roared over the hanger and landed and he didn’t touch a thing. ((laughs)) I was absolutely shocked and he took off the next morning.
Interviewer
Did you ever get over to Desford on any pretext? The Leica camera was just at Braunston, wasn’t it?
Ray Garrett
That’s right. I went there two or three times for something to do with Major Reed. They’d got another little place on the main road to do with records. He had his finger in all sorts of pies.
Interviewer
You mentioned a photographic enlarger. Was that cribbed off the Germans as well?
Ray Garrett
Yes, it was dead ringer.
Interviewer
They were all war booty copies, weren’t they?
Ray Garrett
No. When the war started they found they hadn’t got a home-produced 35 millimetre camera of any note so they decided they wouldn’t be caught in this situation again. I think they had probably done something towards it before but immediately after the war had finished several knowledgeable people from Reid and Sigrist were given army officer’s uniforms and sent over to ((?)) with the idea being they were to bring back all the drawings and everything but they completely foxed them. They gave them drawings for all the old ((laughs)) cameras. The only thing they could do was strip them down and that’s not an easy thing to do as you don’t know the tolerance. Eventually they made one and it was a good camera in spite of Major Reed’s interference ((laughs)) and it was the Leica 3B. The Luftwaffe used them but the next one with a bit more sophistication. They were grey.
Interviewer
Was the enlarger a purely German design?
Ray Garrett
Yes, you couldn’t tell the difference. All of the camera and enlarger parts were interchangeable. That’s how they got it. The aircraft failed. We weren’t competitive and didn’t keep up with the times with cameras ((?)) I used to check all the lenses that came from Taylor Hobson and they were absolutely marvellous. Out of a batch of 30 if you found one that was slightly better or worse that would be about it.
Interviewer
Presumably they were given the lenses to copy?
Ray Garrett
No.
Interviewer
Did they work it out for themselves?
Ray Garrett
Yes. It was their own design but it was in a mount similar to the Leica.
Interviewer
Were there any innovations put in on the mechanical side of the camera by Reid’s?
Ray Garrett
The synchronisation was one. They were playing about with a reflex with a mirror in but nothing ever came of it, and a lever wire.
Interviewer
Were those British-inspired or had they come across from Germany as well?
Ray Garrett
No, it was part of a principle that was being carried out by all sorts of camera manufacturers. The synchronisation was around.
Interviewer
That is for flash, isn’t it?
Ray Garrett
That’s right. ((?)) which was just coming in. I had one of the first electronic flashes in the darkroom. It was a wooden box about that high with a big accumulator in. It was more powerful than one of these little compacts. I took my ((?)) on my shoulder. A Leica Standard had no rangefinder on or anything like that. There was another queer idea not from us but the government. They wanted us to take photographs in a submarine by putting it to the periscope. I can’t remember how this worked. We had a ring put in the back so you could unscrew it out and it had a round glass screen so you could view but I don’t know whether you had to load the film. You couldn’t load it up afterwards.
Interviewer
It didn’t view an optical image out of the eyepiece?
Ray Garrett
No, it was out of the eyepiece.
Interviewer
Yes, but it focused a picture on a round glass screen, which you then took a picture of?
Ray Garrett
That’s right. Another time at the Royal they were doing something with ears and they wanted a camera then to be able to photograph inside the ear. That little white piece of plastic used to replace where the actual bone was.
Interviewer
The stirrup.
Ray Garrett
That’s right. That’s all I can remember about it.
Interviewer
Did that involve very minute optics?
Ray Garrett
Yes.
Interviewer
There are a couple of those cameras in a collection at Abbey Pumping Station but I’ve never studied them in any detail.
Ray Garrett
Are there? I’ve never been there. I was almost going when they got the aircraft there. They used to have a load of my prints down there but I never got there. You know The Wheel at Rearsby, they’ve still got theirs up on the wall, much to my amazement. I think they called it the Auster room and they had a wooden prop and one or two other artefacts and all these prints I did for them.
Interviewer
As you are local and interested in aviation do you remember anything of Lindsay Everard’s activities before the war?
Ray Garrett
I went there immediately after the war and I saw one of the early jets flying from there. It was the first time I’d ever seen or heard one. I remember going to Braunston aerodrome prior to the war and that German fellow was there with his Kronfield.
Interviewer
It could have been the drone.
Ray Garrett
I remember there was a Flying Flea there as well. You’d never have got me up in one of those.
Interviewer
They were a bit lethal and banned of course.
Ray Garrett
Rightly so. They’ve still got wing walking, haven’t they?
Interviewer
No. They had a hinged wing pivoted on the spar. If you think about it the wing was changing incidence over the mass of the fuselage. That’s a bit like a hang glider but the problem with it was that they had an almost equal seized tail plane and you could actually get a complete banking of the tail plane if you pulled the wing down too far. The flying club that established Rearsby Airfield, which was the county flying club, started off making the Flea.
Ray Garrett
Everybody was.
Interviewer
The Leicestershire Aero Club that started at Desford and then moved to Braunston were the proper aeroplane maker. The Flying Flea was for those who couldn’t afford to do it properly. Lindsay Everard gave them a drone and established them in real aeroplanes. He negotiated the airfield at Rearsby. It wouldn’t be his land as it was too far away but whether he knew the farmer or not, I don’t know.
Ray Garrett
When I finished with Beagle I did apply for a job at the firm on the Isle of Wight.
Interviewer
Britten-Norman.
Ray Garrett
I had a very nice letter from the fellow there but I didn’t get the job.
Interviewer
Dickie Bird went there but he’d gone before the collapse of the company. He was involved in the Islander, which was a great success story.
Ray Garrett
We must have had two Dickie Birds then.
Interviewer
This is the design chap.
Ray Garrett
The Dickie Bird I know was in publication.
Interviewer
Dickie Bird the designer, his name wasn’t Richard. There’s an article in the latest Auster magazine. He’s been down to New Zealand to see the Agricola. That was his great thing.
Ray Garrett
It was a good aircraft. That was more or less floored by the Australians.
Interviewer
By New Zealanders. The subsidy scheme finished. The New Zealanders liked it and it was designed to meet the specification that they wanted whereas a lot of the Auster designs were adaptations of the same thing.
Ray Garrett
There was a Czech firm that made agricultural aircraft and it was the spitting image of the Agricola. I have queried this and somebody said “If you’re designing an agricultural aircraft that is how it would be, whoever made it, more or less.”
Interviewer
The American ones that came out afterwards, the Pawnee and the ((Ancat?)) were the same.
Ray Garrett
A nice fellow used to come from Yarmouth and he had two auto cars and one crashed. This was in Beagle Auster days. He had another one made. I went to see him several times at Yarmouth and had a free trip once.
Interviewer
I can’t think of his name. What were they like as an employer? They sound as though they kept their money in the bank rather than giving it to your pockets.
Ray Garrett
I wouldn’t say they kept their money in the bank. I don’t think they had any money to keep in the bank. The old Auster was on a shoestring all the time. If it hadn’t been for the automotive side and the war… The war made them because they wouldn’t have lasted long if it hadn’t been for the war. The automotive side was going great guns. I used to go across there when people were injured and had a finger chopped off. ((laughs))
Interviewer
Hopefully that wasn’t regularly.
Ray Garrett
I went several times, but not just purely for that. I photographed machine guards.
Interviewer
Did you do any publicity work on that side for parts?
Ray Garrett
Yes. I have got a load somewhere, such as handbrakes and pressings.
Interviewer
What were they making by Beagle days? Originally it was the Morris Oxford gear-shift.
Ray Garrett
In my day I was making them for several firms.
Interviewer
That was the connection with British Leyland and Pressed Steel. When the aircraft side folded it was British Leyland that carried on with the automotive and it was then bought out by Joe Eams. The person I knew was… ((tape stops suddenly))

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


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