Responding to the Editor's
request, Guy Harris looks back to the 1950s and 60s and gives us Part 1
of another perspective on 'life at Hawkers'...
My early years were spent at Abingdon where my father, during the war,
was working at the MG Car Company, responsible for building Churchill
tanks for the war effort. Our house backed on to fields which in turn
were not far from the RAF airfield, so that, at the tender age of four
or five, I used to watch Stirlings, Hampdens and other bombers
staggering back from operations, often with bits hanging off them. Thus
my interest in aircraft was well and truly established and I resolved
that when I grew up I would help to build these monsters.
In the meantime making model aircraft became a passion and by the early
1950s I had graduated to diesel powered models with a 0.5cc Dart and a
2.0cc ED Competition Special purchased with saved pocket money.
Christmas 1953 I was given the Aeromodeller Annual and an article in it
resulted in me buying plans for, and building, a rather smart delta
winged model, designed by a young, up and coming aeronautical
engineering student. Not until a few years later did his
name, John Fozard, mean anything to me!
By January 1957 I was heading for a summer of 'A' Levels to be
followed, I hoped, by a university engineering course, and I had
applied to both Vickers at Weybridge and Hawkers at Kingston for
possible enrolment as a student/graduate apprentice. An interview at
Vickers, which included all sorts of mechanical aptitude and
psycho-analytical test, and some rather personal interview questions,
was followed the next day by a much more informal interview by Len
Holton, the Apprentice Supervisor, at the Hawker Apprentice School. I
was immediately offered a five year Student Apprenticeship which
included three years at university.
Hawkers were, of course, building 'proper' aeroplanes (ie fighters)
being in the middle of the Hunter programme, and the Hurricane had been
one of my favourite balsa wood models, crashed and rebuilt several
times; as tough as the real aeroplane. So, although Vickers also
offered me a place, there was no contest as far as I was concerned and
I replied "yes" to Len's offer.
A Student Apprenticeship with Hawkers involved practical training in
the company's various departments during summer vacations and for two
years after graduation. Especially significant to me, as a prospective
impecunious student, was being 'sponsored' by the Company whilst at
university to the tune of £50 per year, doubling my county
grant at a stroke. Thus my financial viability for the next three years
seemed to be assured and I was eternally grateful to the Company for
In July 1957, having finally left school, I arrived at Richmond Road
for my first spell in the real world before going up to university. I
was sent to the 'Inspection Test Lab' where three months were spent
tensile and notch impact testing sample materials, and routine sample
testing weld test pieces, micro and macro etching and microscopic
examination of these same test pieces; all proving quite useful in the
strength of materials course at university where I could show my fellow
students a thing or two!
Whilst working in this section I was sent on an errand to collect some
samples from the 'Research and Development Department', then at the
rear of the main factory, and I managed to have a good look at the
wooden mock-up of the fearsome P.1121 supersonic strike fighter, at the
time under development as a private venture but, alas, soon to be
scrapped. It was in the 'Test Lab' that I had my first industrial
accident when I was hit in the eye by a piece of stainless steel wire
when cutting the tie holding the test pieces together; a lesson
painfully learned, fortunately without lasting damage.
I see from my Apprentice Agreement that I was paid the sum of
£4/13s/6d for a forty-four hour week. I distinctly remember
that my 'digs' that first summer were £4/10s/0d a week, and
canteen lunches I seem to recall were heavily subsidised and cost
something ridiculous like 4d for a two course meal; so I just about
broke even and managed to avoid starvation! One tends to forget how
much prices have inflated since those days but these figures help to
put into perspective John Glasscock's contract price for the Hawks as
related in the Summer 2003 Newsletter.
Training really commenced at the end of the first year at university
(salary now £5/12s/9p a week) when I was introduced to the
apprentice training workshop in the tin hangar next to the new
R&D Department. I forget the name of the Workshop Training
Supervisor, (Bill Woodley perhaps?), but I am grateful to him for
teaching me to manipulate metal and to make the usual set of apprentice
tools, such as G-clamps, a bevel gauge and others that I still have. We
'Student' Apprentices (as opposed to 'Trade' Apprentices) were a bit of
a bind to Bill, I think, and not real apprentices in his estimation.
However, I like to think that, as I had been using tools with my father
since the age of seven so could handle them reasonably well and enjoyed
the manual work, after three months Bill came to accept that maybe I
had been worth teaching after all - even though I did once break his
bandsaw blade, a heinous crime, eagerly anticipated and cheered by the
other apprentices in the shop. Occupying the bench in front of me was
Alan Boyd and my introduction to him was watching him trying to hacksaw
off a half detached pocket from his jeans!
Another item of importance learned during this first training period
was the Hawker hierarchy of canteens and toilets. There were canteens
for hourly paid employees, separate ones for weekly and monthly paid
staff, yet another for senior managers and, of course, special dining
rooms for the directors. Similar arrangements existed with toilets (and
car parks), hourly, weekly and monthly paid, senior managers and
presumably gold plated ones for directors; all rather amusing in this
supposedly enlightened age.
The summer of 1959 was extraordinarily hot with record temperatures and
I spent it down in the 'Machine Shop' at Canbury Park Road, the old
Sopwith building with a low tin roof where temperatures soared to well
over 100 deg F for several days, with a very humid atmosphere stinking
of cutting fluid. Union agreements meant that as a Student Apprentice I
was not allowed to touch the lathes and milling machines and was
supposed to stand and learn by watching, although different works
departments seemed to apply the rule arbitrarily.
That, with the high temperatures, nearly drove me insane and after
about two weeks of this two of us 'students' went to the shop foreman
and suggested that we would learn more by going and sunbathing down by
the river. A quiet discussion followed between the foreman and the shop
steward and we were given a horrible job milling hundreds of rough
alloy forgings into cleats for the Vulcan fuselage sections being built
at Kingston. Well, we couldn't very well complain and it kept us quiet,
but after the first hundred or so cleats I don't think we learned very
much The only thing that enlivened our time there was when magnesium
rings, for the Hunter 230 gallon drop tanks, being machined elsewhere
in the shop caught fire on a couple of occasions.
From the 'Machine Shop' we moved to the 'Fitters' and I seem
to recall lying inside Vulcan leading edge sections holding the dolly
whilst the fitters knocked up the rivets; no ear defenders in those
days and probably my partial deafness in later life stems from that
time, but it was certainly more fun than the machine shop. The social
parts of those days on the shop floor were the official tea-breaks when
the canteen girls came round with their trolleys of spicy sausage or
cheese rolls and vile tea in five gallon tea urns, quite disgusting
To be continued.