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Interview of Stanley Waller, 23rd February 2001

Interviewed by Mike Preston

Although born in London, Stanley was brought to Leicester by his parents at the age of six months, his father’s work as a leather representative requiring the family to re-locate. His family lived on Narborough Road, and he attended Alderman Newton Boys School from 1937 to 1942. At the age of sixteen, he won a scholarship to attend the Leicester College of Art, based in The Newarkes, Leicester, where he studied architecture. Because of the war, the normally five year course was condensed into two years, requiring Stanley to work very long hours - beginning at 7.30am with breaks for lunch and tea, and finishing after night school at 9.30pm each weekday, with Saturday hours of 7.30am to 12.30/1.00pm. The remainder of the weekend was then his own, with homework and playing rugby for the College, together with cross-country running (along with `Chalky White` of football fame!). Also being a member of the ARP, he would often be out on his cycle, relaying messages during air-raids. After completing the first year of his course and passing his exams, the students` names were `put into a hat` - 50% to remain on the course, and the remainder to go into industry to help with the war effort. Stanley’s name was amongst those chosen to leave, and he was directed to the aircraft industry. Taylorcraft Aeroplanes was one of a choice of three companies and, being locally based, Stanley chose to work for them. Stanley had a little knowledge of aviation, having been a member of the ATC whilst at school and spending a fortnight on test flights for Lancaster Bombers which had been on raids the previous night, his Commanding Officer Stanley recalls as being a Guy Gibson who was posted to `special duties` - Stanley learning later that he had led the `617 Squadron` Dambusters raid.

Stanley recalls back in August 1943 cycling from his home in Narborough Road to `The Woodlands`, situated next door to Britannia Works in Thurmaston, to be interviewed by Mr F L Clarke, the chief draughtsman at the time (later known to Stanley as `Nobby`!). Stanley produced some drawings that he had done for his first year project at College, which were of an imaginary youth hostel building supposedly for construction at Woodhouse Eaves - but which had to be correct in every detail as if it were a real project. Mr Clarke was sufficiently impressed by his drawings to offer Stanley a job in the drawing office (sited within prefabricated buildings in the extensive back gardens of The Woodlands - a large once privately owned Victorian house which also housed the print room), to begin work the following Monday, which was the start of Stanley’s 42 years of drawing for a living. He believes there were between 40-60 people employed at that time.

As a very junior employee, Stanley began his career fetching and carrying drawing materials for the draughtsmen and supplying cobs, hot buttered toast, etc. from the nearby canteen at Britannia Works, which would take him past the cane furniture sheds of Elmores at the end of the yard. Stanley recalls the cooks and the canteen facilities as being excellent, apart from one occasion when he contracted food poisoning from eating a cob filled with tinned salmon, which laid him low for a week! They would occasionally have `music while you work` sessions during lunchtimes, when entertainers would visit. Stanley remembers one particular incident when a hypnotist practised his craft on one particular unfortunate female employee - the details of which he declines to reveal! There were offices at the rear of the drawing office which housed the stress officers such as Dickie Bird, Eddie Greenhalgh, and a Mr Carless who was the chief stress officer, along with the aero engine designer, the name of whom escapes Stanley, and a `Bozzie` Bostock who was an aircraft designer who had been a member of an aeronautical circus in America, undertaking wing flying etc.

When Stanley was promoted from general `runabout` to the drawing board, he was under the wing of either Arthur Dixie or Fred Shenton (an excellent darts player as Stanley recalls!). His first encounter with A LWykes came when he was instructed to do a detailed drawing and make up an assembly from it. He looked up from his board and `AL` asked him how he was getting on. The following day, `AL` returned, stood behind Stanley and began to `sniff`. Stanley thought this rather odd and, walking round the board to face Stanley, `AL` said "Be careful, your drawing is beginning to smell a little. You need to watch for green mould around the edges which will indicate that it has been on the board for too long!!" - a quip which Stanley occasionally used in later life to his young draughtsmen. Stanley remembers `AL` with affection and respect, as did all the staff, and on returning after the war was very sad to learn of his death as a result of a crash whilst flying in a display.

Stanley’s time in the drawing office was a happy one - a good working atmosphere with his colleagues. There was a sense of excitement (all the staff having signed the Official Secrets Act) and a feeling of being `in the thick of things`, with frequent visits from the Ministry, various Air Marshall’s and `VIPs`. The draughtsmen would occasionally be instructed to `stop everything` and undertake an urgent job and on one particular occasion `Nobby` Clarke approached Stanley at his drawing board, with chalk in hand, and told him to lie on the floor. Stanley did as instructed and `Nobby` proceeded to draw his outline around him. Stanley stood up and watched `Nobby` sketch various details within the outline, which resulted in the production of a canvass-covered steel tubed structure to be bolted onto each side of, Stanley thinks, a Mk III Auster, the purpose of which was to carry away wounded soldiers from battlefields where there were very short takeoff and landing facilities.

Stanley remembers `Nobby` as being somewhat of a workaholic - strict, but at the same time good company with a good sense of humour. He lodged just across the road from The Woodlands and would always be involved in whatever was going on. In his early days, Stanley remembers being sent on a `mission` to Rearsby aerodrome to obtain a `rubber hammer` and some `glass nails` and to look for a `long rest` - off he went, in a camouflaged vehicle driven by a female transport auxilliary - feeling very important. On reaching Rearsby, his first visit to the site, he reported to the main assembly stores and made his request. He was advised that, yes, the hammer and nails could be supplied but it would take a little while to get them together so perhaps he would like to have a look around the airfield for half an hour or so whilst they were obtained. Stanley duly took off and spent a very pleasant time watching flight and ground testing of the aircraft, and talking to various crew. On returning to collect his supplies, he was presented with a rubber hammer (used in panel beating) and a set of six "most beautiful" glass nails which had been specially made for him! It was then revealed that Stanley had been `set up` and that his mission was one of the oldest tricks in the book - and it was suggested that perhaps he would like to try it himself in later years! Before leaving, he was asked if he had found his long rest - and Stanley then of course realised that they were referring to his walk around the airfield! However, the laugh proved to be on his colleagues back at Thurmaston, as the Rearsby men had provided Stanley with the official paperwork to cover the hammer and nails and `long rest`, which he handed over on his return, and that was the first and last `wild goose chase` on which Stanley was sent!

By 1944 Stanley was producing his own drawings, initially under the supervision of his seniors but as he gained more experience their input became less and less. There was no time for `night school` - all training given by experienced seniors as they worked. , interruption in tape during `Black Forest` tale - Mike, can you recollect?] Stanley remembers the `official photographer` based in the drawing office. Charlie Grant worked in a closed room which served as his dark room, and his job was to photograph literally everything that was produced, which would have amounted to thousands of photographs, of course at that time all in black and white. After the war, Charlie set up a photographic shop in Leicester and when Stanley left Austers he would drive down to Charlie’s shop in the evenings after work, on his then acquired motorbike, helping with producing the photographs and delivering them to the post office on his way home.

Stanley recollects `No.7 works` based in St. Peters Street, Syston, where he would occasionally be instructed to visit, either by car or cycle, to obtain a particular part. Stanley always found such trips exciting - being given the opportunity to view the various fuselages being worked on there, checked and double-checked by the various inspectors who would stamp each section with their personal number before passing onto the next stage. One thing that he particularly remembers is the fact that, should a nut/bolt/washer be accidentally dropped on the floor, there were very strict instructions for it to be left there - to be swept up and discarded later. This was in case any dirt or grit got into the fittings which, when fixed to aircraft, would appear to be tight when perhaps they were not - which could result in the loss of aircraft and pilots. Such discarded fitments would be swept up at the end of each day and put into bins outside No.7 works for scrap - to which the men would occasionally be allowed to help themselves if they wanted to take some home for their own use - in fact Stanley still has some of those fittings, sixty years on!

The chief test pilot, Geoff Edwards, comes to mind. Stanley recalls a time when he was working on drawings for the strengthening of the rubber `bungee cords` which would give the `spring` to an undercarriage - holding it in position while allowing the wheels to bounce and return. This modification warranted a test flight, and Stanley was instructed to go to Rearsby to meet and fly with Geoff Edwards - a big, robust man as he recalls. This was standard practice, with the view that few mistakes would be made if the draughtsman involved in the modification flew on the test! This occasion was the very first time that Stanley had flown. He was rather nervous and, on takeoff, Geoff Edwards turned to him and said "You’ll soon get used to it, Stan - enjoy yourself-f-f ..." as he performed a `double loop`. On returning to normal flight, with Stanley trying to compose himself, Geoff asked if he had enjoyed the experience, to which Stanley replied "Mmm - quite a frightening experience!". Geoff advised him that he had seen nothing yet, and proceeded to fly over Peterborough. Stanley could see the Norfolk coast in the distance - a beautiful day. Suddenly they were heading straight for a water tower, and Stanley was convinced they were going to fly straight through it. However, Geoff skilfully guided the aircraft towards the top of the tower, scraping the wheels along and up the side before returning to the skies - a procedure which he obviously felt would surely test the modification on the undercarriage! They continued to fly to the coast, turned around and returned to Rearsby, with Stanley still shaken from the experience. They landed on a very short airstrip, and calmly walked away. Stanley assumed the test was successful but still wonders whether such manoeuvres were part of the official testing programme!

At this time, as well as Taylorcraft aeroplanes, Tiger Moths and Typhoons were being repaired at Rearsby, which Geoff Edwards would test-fly. When flying Typhoons, the pilot would normally sit on his parachute but, Geoff being a large man, was not able to fit into the cockpit whilst sitting on a parachute. Having squeezed himself into the cockpit, he still would not be able to close the door or pull over the canopy, so that is how he test-flew the Typhoons - upside down over the airfield, firmly wedged within the cockpit! As well as being an excellent pilot, Stanley remembers him as being a `big-hearted` man.

Stanley remembers the time when a German `spotter` aircraft was brought to Rearsby. He believes it was brought out of occupied France and its workings were studied carefully at Rearsby, specific interest focusing on its capacity to `hover`. The aircraft sported enormous prop flaps, the design of which was later used on, Stanley believes, the Mk IV. An American light aircraft was also studied at Rearsby, the seats of which Stanley helped to strip. These seats were made of wood, covered with `rexine`, and he remembers the words `California Oranges` being stamped on the wood, revealing that the seat began its life as a packing case!

Stanley and his parents later moved from Narborough Road to Knighton, from where he continued to cycle each day to work. They were on holiday in Norfolk, celebrating his 18th birthday, and on his return Stanley found he had been called up to join the Army. As he was in a `reserved occupation`, his employers did their best to keep him but to no avail. Stanley did active service in Burma and was discharged on medical grounds, which enabled him to return to the drawing office at The Woodlands, although by that time the firm had changed its name to Auster Aircraft. Many of his former colleagues were no longer with the company, but there were a few `old faces` and work was still being undertaken for the MAP and the Air Ministry. By that time, the company had acquired a works bus - a single decker `Midland Red` as Stanley recalls. It would leave Charles Street in Leicester, from outside the old Labour Exchange, and pick up employees along the way at the various works sites before reaching Rearsby.

In 1946, staff at The Woodlands were relocated to a drawing office which had been set up in a building previously used for parachute packing at the old ATA (Air Transport Auxiliary) aerodrome in Ratcliffe on the Wreake, personnel using the control buildings. Alf Tilley, a former colleague at The Woodlands, was appointed Chief Draughtsman, and Stanley recalls asking his permission to continue to call him `Alf`` in his elevated capacity! (to which Mr Tilley replied "Yes, of course!"). Very few aircraft were by then landing there, just the occasional Auster from time to time. Stanley and some of his colleagues had built model aeroplanes to fly at lunchtime, having a more or less redundant runway to themselves! One of the `lads` was a Howard Boyce [?] who at that time was the editor of `Aero Modeller`. Stanley remembers him as being a very talented man, building a miniature 35ml camera, which he used to take excellent photographs of the model aeroplanes.

The works bus was then still in use and the harsh winter of 1947 comes to mind. Stanley and his colleagues were working in the drawing office on one particular day and, their building not having any low windows, were unaware until late afternoon that the snow had drifted across the airfield and they were completely `snowed in` - the road across the aerodrome to the main road being inaccessible. Although the works bus had got as far as the Six Hills Road, with the aid of a snow plough, it could go no further, and the men had to bed down for the night at the aerodrome, making use of some old beds which had been left there by the ATA. The next morning, the men attempted to dig their way out, but the snow was too deep. Hot drinks and food were dropped by parachute from an Auster, the surrounding countryside being completely obliterated. They were stuck there for two, maybe three days before managing to get out, the personnel staff occupying what was a private house adjoining the control tower.

After that, the drawing office was moved over to a prefabricated building at Rearsby. One morning towards the end of that winter, after another particularly heavy snowfall, the works bus was travelling to Rearsby but could not get up the Gaddesby Lane. The men got out and walked. The blizzard had been so bad that they did not realise they were in fact walking along the level of the hedge tops - with cars below. In spite of such conditions, the snow was sufficiently cleared by the end of the day for the men to walk safely back down. Another example of extreme weather conditions was when the hurricane struck. When the men arrived for work, they were met by devastation everywhere. It had ripped aircraft from their moorings, some landing on top of buildings. The nose of an Auster had gone through the roof of the drawing office, with aviation fuel spilt everywhere. Stanley had in fact previously been working on mooring and lifting of aircraft but fortunately the mooring cables had held - the concrete blocks to which they were attached having been pulled out of the ground! Stanley was relieved to find that only the design of the concrete blocks had to be re-thought!

By this time, Stanley was involved in post-war modification work on the military aircraft, such as the Auster III`s and IV`s. He remembers a Bob Taylor whose job it was to fit aerial cameras through the floors of the Austers, which were used for mapping - either for the military or possibly for ordnance survey purposes. Stanley also recalls the Antarctic project which involved the fitting of skis on the Auster to enable them to land. His designs were used by Airfix on their Auster model, which incorporated the skis and wheels and even the floats which had been used previously on the `real thing`.

The various units, with the exception of No.7 works, were gradually brought together at Rearsby. No.5 works was the metalwork’s section built on the opposite side of the aerodrome on Gaddesby Lane. It was there that Stanley saw his `rubber hammers` being used in the panel beating when the [in line] engine was changed to the [Lycoming 0290] on the Mk IV, subsequently the Mk V.

Stanley felt at that time that the `camaraderie` had diminished somewhat from the old days at The Woodlands, the employees by then being mostly civilian. He was almost 21 years old - a disabled ex-serviceman - when personnel advised him of a firm called Crowther Limited (a sister company of Austers) which operated from the old No.1 and No.2 works at Britannia Works in Thurmaston, manufacturing cable insulating machinery, etc. Stanley was asked if he would consider being seconded to them to help start up a drawing office. He felt that it would be a good move and, still working for Austers, set up in what was the old air raid shelter at the rear of No.2 works, later moving into what was the canteen. More draughtsmen were taken on and Stanley moved on to design cable insulating machinery for the company.

In 1949, he severed his connections with Austers altogether; leaving Crowthers to work as a senior design engineer for [Ashwell...?] but has very happy memories of his time with the company, which gave him a good basis for his drawing career spanning 42 years.

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


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