Interviewed by Roy Holloway
Roy was an apprentice at Auster Aircraft and a 5-year engineering apprenticeship. He joined Austers from school in 1954 and started first off on the production line that built wings and tail planes for an aeroplane something about the size of an Anson he thinks. Quite an interesting time learning all about rivets and pants and things like that, introduced to the college and started an ONC course and there were quite a few apprentices about that time, some of them he does occasionally see, one in particular Wes Rayner. Roy cannot remember any characters as such from that particular shop, but he said that they did have some fun once when somebody managed to set the rubber tubes alight that went to the Oxyacetylene bottles, and finding fire extinguishers and everything was very hectic for about ten minutes but fortunately there was nothing serious happened. His next move was to Number 5 shop in the Small Parts production, this was where they had some metal formers and Roy had to drill holes through these things, and then bolt or clip the bits together and file them so they were nice and fitted to the form. The formers were then de-burred and cleaned with wire wool. The parts were then sent off to be bent and eventually sprayed and used as the components of the aeroplane. Roy thought that was quite an interesting part of the apprenticeship, in that particular section they used to also build the Missel pieces for the engines and these were all beaten out by hand and sections were gas welded in. Roy found gas welding with aluminium hilarious as when he first started to learn, no sooner put the flame on it, that were was a "damned great hole".
It was at this shop that Roy first became interested in some of the girls who worked in the section on the drillings and things on the commercial side that quite a bit of work had to be done for the automotive industry, and at Christmas time he remembered one year there was a big party held in one of the hangers, and it was all draped in coloured silks, there was a band and there were tables laden with food and drink. The party started at lunchtime, and as people got worse for wear they were all sent off to go and sit on the buses to wait for the bus ready to go home. It was quite amusing because some of the people that he worked with, who you thought were very staid and not much fun really, got legless very quickly but the management were very generous in those days and it was quite good.
From Number 5 shop Roy went down to the tool room and he was an apprentice down there, helped with making up the tools. When a press tool Is made, it has to start with the finished component and work backwards and there was a lot of hand making of metal parts to actually produce the final punches and things. Roy worked with a man and they did the Vauxhall boot hinge and that was very interesting, the development of it was incredible. He did not get on awfully well with the Charge-hand down there, he couldn't remember his name, but the foreman was called Frank and Roy did get on well with Frank. Whilst he was there, Roy was also still at College. He couldn't really remember much about the place, and from there Roy was moved up to the maintenance shop in No 5 with a man called Mac McElvey, everyone knew him as Mac. This was based at the back of the stores and another older man worked there, but Roy couldn't remember his name. Three men worked in there, and they looked after all the automatic drills, the multi drill spindles, the compressors, the presses, just general maintenance and repairing them when things broke down. The men used to repair all sorts of things, the manager's car used to occasionally appear round the back, and get a new exhaust put on it which had actually been made in the shop, well a new silencer at least and the odd bit of bodywork was welded back on or floor panels that had fell out, and of course other bits got done as well. Roy was used to seeing quite a lot of mice in the shop, they came in from the fields. One day he saw a little mouse on the tool rack about 15-20 feet away, he took out a small hammer which he used to carry around in the pocket of his overalls, and threw it at it, killing the mouse and losing the hammer. Roy didn't know where the hammer went, he never did find it.
There were one or two characters in the shop then, Big Mal who, Roy thought his name was Mallalue, and he was actually the foreman on the Press Section. He quite often used to come in when they had problems, and had broken a punch. A favourite trick of the men was to make him the punch and get the diameters and everything just right, and then they heated it up and hardened it, polished it and kneeled it. Then what you did was to heat it up and get the right colour and just going on to blues or straw colours, and then dip it in some oil, and take it out. Because the men had hard hands, they could carry the punch just on the edge of this hard skin on their hands and it didn't burn, and Roy or one of his co-workers used to walk down the shop and give it to Mac. He would hold his hand out and get hold of it, and then Roy would scarper very quickly because invariably there was a scream and he would threaten you from a distance.
One or two nasty things happened where people managed to get their fingers in presses and had them chopped off and things like that, because they fiddled with the guards, and one man managed to bust up a tool and jam the press. What he had actually been doing at the time was making a very simple farm tool and you normally put one metal blank in at a time but he had worked it out that he could actually put two in, and then he put three in and then he put four in, but when he put four in he broke the tool and it jammed because the pressure was too great. What he did then was to take the tool apart, take the offending item out, close the press again and brought it down again as though it was still there. Roy happened to be coming back from the compressor room and he saw him come out from the back of the shop and throw this into a field. So he climbed over the fence to see what he had done, found it and gave it to Mac and said that he thought there was a problem with the press. Mac took this along the shop and the manager was actually coming up; he said `we have a problem with press, the press is jammed, do you know what you can do with it? Mac said "I am not sure if we can do anything with the press, but if this came out of the middle of it, I don't think the tool is going to be any good". He gave it to the manager and told him what had happened, the manager turned round and walked down, said to the guy on the press, 'Did you do this?' The man went white, admitted it and got his cards straight away.
Moving the presses was a lot of fun. They used to slide them onto steel sheets using something like a 15 cwt block and tackle to move a press which must have weighed 20 odd tons, and everything was done by hand. There were no automatic tools and Hilti guns etc for drilling holes in concrete, it was all done with star chisels and slowly. Roy became quite an expert in the end in that shop in all the different things that he could actually maintain and get and do, replace bearings and Roy was pretty sure that is where he learned most of the ordinary hands-on engineering whilst he was there. Roy did in fact make some tools, he made a scribing block and a square and some slip gauges that were finish ground by the tool room, and unfortunately he do not know whether it was an error or a deliberate error, but every one of them was a 1 thou under size, which was OK as Roy knew it was under size and could allow for it when he was using them. Occasionally they used to do a little bit of milling although we had not got a milling machine, we used to do it with a pillar drill and they had a small travelling vice which could be lifted up and bolted on to the table. It was very much a case of getting it set right before anything could do done, nothing could be adjusted when work was started and it was all done by eye and a micrometer.
There were characters in the place then, there was a storeman, a little man who was quite rotund, very keen on football, and he was always tapping things around, cardboard boxes etc. and one day Roy and his co-workers decided they would play a bit of a trick on him. They filled a cardboard box and just left it in the middle of the gangway. It was quite a small box, about twice the size of a cigarette box, it was one of the boxes you used to get some alien screws in, and he came along, saw it, and kicked it. He didn't say anything but his face went purple and he knew who had done it, and Roy waited for weeks afterwards for the retribution but it never came. Roy thinks he realised that he shouldn't have been kicking it.
Roy really enjoyed the time at Austers. He did spend a short time in the flight shed and he was there when there was a tragic accident. The Inspector and another pilot managed to fly into some trees, and it was quite a sad day when Roy went into work on Monday morning and found out that it had happened at the weekend. All the lads went up to the funeral because they had known this Inspector for quite sometime. There were quite a camaraderie amongst the people there, each individual shop used to socialise together, especially if there was any work to do, they would all be found together there.
One of the last things that Roy can remember before he was drafted into the Forces was when the Company bought a big rubber forming press. It was a big press with a bed of rubber in it, and you put in metal formers and put aluminium sheets on them and it actually pressed them down over it. The press was bought from Pontefract and Mac when Roy up to Pontefract to supervise the dismantling of it, one of the big haulage firms dismantled it, and brought it down. They started to put it together and the first day Mac did something, pulled his back and had to be taken to hospital. The guys were on contract and they were being paid so the manager asked if Roy would supervise the putting together of this press. It was a bit like a jigsaw puzzle but everything would only go in one place and it was pretty logical apart from a couple of hydraulic pipes which they could not work out how they went in. The pipes were eventually fitted in and once the electricians had been around and wired it up, it worked perfectly and the workers were very pleased with the way that worked.
When Roy was 21, he had an ONC with some qualifications added to it and was actually going to start the HNC course but after the term started in September the Personnel Manager said that there was no point in starting as he would have to go into the Forces. Roy found out afterwards that if he had started the course, he would not have been called up. However, Roy did his 2 years National Service and when he came out again, went back to the Personnel Department, but the company had been bought twice, by Press Steel Fisher and then by BMC. When Roy left the company he was well-known, having been an apprentice and knowing the way the company worked, but when Roy came back he was nobody. Roy was asked to go down to the Tool Room while they sorted something out. Unfortunately the guy who was the Charge-hand who Roy didn't get on with when I was there, was the Foreman then and so he wasn't very happy. Roy was now married and it was a lot of travelling so he needed to be nearer home as he had no transport, therefore within six weeks Roy left Austers.
Roy said that he always looks back at Austers as the start of his engineering career and he really enjoyed it. Roy did actually join the Flying Club when he started there but unfortunately his eyesight was not good enough to enable him to become a pilot. Roy had to wear glasses all the while so possibly it wasn't a good idea therefore he gave that up and bought a motorbike instead! "It would have been better if I had carried on flying" he said.
This is a short resume of Roy Holloway's time working at Austers.