Guy Harris continues his memoir...
Next stop after completing my degree in
June 1960 was 'Progress'; I don't remember much about that so it can't
have been very interesting! It was then that I got to know more of my
contemporaries at Hawkers, those in my particular group of friends
being Alan Boyd, Paul Boon, Chris Farara and Basil Maddox.
We all used to meet up at lunchtime in the
canteen and talk about cars (eg the brilliant new E-Type Jaguar, or
Chris's involvement with Peter Westbury's championship winning
speed-hillclimb car), or aircraft, those in the Project Office keeping
us up to date with the exciting new P.1127.
As a post-graduate trainee my salary had been
boosted by this time to the grand sum of £8/3s/0d a week so,
with a bedsit in Teddington at £3 a week and cheap canteen
lunches, I was really in the money.
Graduate Apprentice - Part 2
With an old 1933 Morris Minor two-seater, purchased for £5,
and petrol at 4/- a gallon (the new Russan 'Jet' petrol at Hampton
Court) we were mobile as well - was it really only forty-five years ago
that costs were so low?
A surprise to me in the autumn of 1960
was the Apprentice Prizegiving when, for having successfully completed
my degree course, I was presented with a set of books and a toolbox,
and had my photograph taken with Sir Sydney Camm; all items which I
still treasure to this day.
After 'Progress' I went back to the
'Inspection Test House', then on to 'Subsidiary Process' (heat
treatment and coppersmiths, probably), the 'Press Shop', back to the
dreaded 'Machine Shop' then on to the 'Toolroom' which I think was in
the famous old roller skating rink in Canbury Park Road.
This was the most enjoyable
and best instruction that I received during my years with Hawkers. I
was put with one of the older toolroom fitters, Bill by name, building
Avro 748 aileron jigs destined for India, if my memory serves me
correctly. Union rules of not being allowed to touch tools did not seem
to apply in this department and Bill taught me how to carry out
precision fitting work and to be absolutely precise, a skill which I
like to think has served me admirably for the last forty-five years,
both in my managerial positions and in my hobbies and work at home.
Then on to 'Plastics' at
Richmond Road making fibreglass models of the P.1127 (for wind tunnel
testing or directors' desks?), which also involved weekly hand
inspections for dermatitis by the lovely nursing staff.
Then to 'Rear Fuselage
Installations' threading hydraulic pipes and other equipment through
the structures and learning to wire lock nuts and other fittings
correctly, usually working blind through small access panels.
Last was the Vulcan, before going down
to Dunsfold to 'Final Assembly' and 'Flight Shed' involving a daily
return journey from Kingston in the Company's brown coach.
This was probably the most exciting
training period for all apprentices, and it now being mid-1961, early
flight trials of the P.1127 were taking place, as well flight testing
of two-seat Hunters and Folland Gnats.
At this time Hawkers had, lined up
around the airfield perimeter, dozens of ex-RN Sea Furies, which the
company had repurchased from the Ministry at virtually scrap prices
with intention of refurbishing them and selling them to overseas
customers. One of the jobs we did with these aircraft was to inhibit
the 18 cylinder Centaurus radial engines by injecting rust inhibitor
into each cylinder; we became expert at knowing the timing sequence of
these monster engines by the end of the job.
Also lined up were numbers of early
Hunters, also bought back from the Ministry and from overseas
operators. These were stripped down, refurbished, brought up to the
latest standards and exported to many air forces.
The intended market for the Sea Furies
was Cuba but the plan fell foul of the US Government embargo on
military goods to Communist Cuba, for by this time Fidel Castro
controlled the island.
I later heard that most of these
beautiful machines fell to the oxy-acetylene cutters; what a tragedy. I
was told that the Furies were bought for £70 each (the
Hunters cost a little more at £100). If only we could have
looked ahead and stacked a few away for thirty or forty years!
From Dunsfold it was back to Richmond
Road and the 'Ratefixers' (pretty boring) and then a couple of months
with Wally Rayner in 'Works Management'. All the apprentices who had
worked for Wally warned me of the tongue-lashing that apprentices
regularly received in his office, but I found Wally a great chap to
work for and thoroughly enjoyed my few weeks with him, so I must have
done something correctly! He certainly did not stand fools gladly, but
if you did what he asked promptly and got answers back to him in a
timely manner he was always prepared to encourage you and share a joke,
even if his humour was a little dry at times. As one among the stream
of apprentices who went through his office over the years I am sure he
would have no recollection of me whatsoever, but I was pleased to see
mention of Wally in an early Newsletter and sad to read of his passing
After 'Works Management' there followed
a month in the 'Buying Office', located at the front of the smart new
office building in front of the factory, working on contracts and
sometimes discussing with the department head performance details of
his brand new Mini-Cooper.
It was then upstairs to the 'Production
Drawing Office' and the 'Experimental Drawing Office', working
alongside the girls in the 'Lofting Section'. It was in the 'Production
DO' that I was instructed to draw a design for the 'pen-knib' fairing
for the P.1127 hot nozzle exhaust. Sir Sydney, on one of his regular
tours of the DO, where he spoke to all the draughtsmen whilst checking
their work, took one look at my drawing, shuddered, made some quiet
comment to the section leader, and passed on. I'm sure my design never
made it into metal, and I was never offered a position in the DO.
Next stop was 'Design Installations', where I
worked with Rene LeClair, with a final month in 'R&D' recording
readings on the large fatigue test rig where Hunter wings were being
tested to destruction.
So the final two years of apprenticeship
came to an end and I subsequently decided to apply for a position in
'Design Installations', this being more in line with my Mechanical
That was where I was to spend the rest
of my years at Hawkers, working for Rene on P.1154 fuel, cockpit
heating and air conditioning calculations, struggling with a
clapped-out analogue computer, passed on to us by the 'Advanced
Projects Group', trying to make it work correctly. It suffered from
loose connections in all the components and this was obviously why APG
had finished with it. Salary, I seem to recall, was £1100 per
annum or about £20 per week.
The in 1964 Harold Wilson and the new
Labour Government decided to scrap the P.1154 and other aircraft
projects (TSR2 and the HS681) and this was when I decided to seek
pastures new, ultimately spending most of the rest of my working life
in the oil industry, my interest in aircraft maintained by learning to
Thus it was that in September 1964 I
sadly bade farewell to Hawkers and took one last look at the lovely
gravel drive in front of the Richmond Road offices; we had all been
itching to drive along this road with spinning wheels, but nobody had
had the courage to take up the bets! Now, alas, along with the rest of
the factory, it has gone for ever. They were great years with a great
company and I made many good friends; my only regret is that the years
passed all too quickly.