Newsletter 23
Spring 2009
Updated on 14Jan2008
Published by the Hawker Association
for the Members.
Contents Hawker Association

Aces, Erks, Backroom Boys
Book Reviews
Christmas Lunch
Demonstration Flying
Harrier News
Harrier Sales To China
Hunter News
Hurricane News
Kingston's Aircraft Industry
Members' e-mail Addresses
Restoring Hawker Biplanes
Royal Air Force Club Visit
Sea fury News
Sea Harrier News
Sir Keith Park Memorial
Windsor Camm Appeal
View From The Hover
    Harry Fraser-Mitchell recently came across a copy of 'Aces, Erks and Backroom Boys' by Edward Smithies (published by Cassell PLC in their Military Paperbacks series), now out of print, and noticed that it contained material of great interest to Association members. Harry has obtained permission for extracts to be quoted in the Newsletter. This a second instalment (see Newsletter 17)...
    Tom Clare joined Hawkers at Kingston as a metal-worker in 1928.
    "Conditions in the factory in those days were pretty rough. The tooling was very bad. All these young lads were doing their little jobs, bits and pieces, and there was no planning as we know it today, no paperwork. There was nobody to show you anything unless you had a word with the chap next to you; if he knew anything about it; if he would tell you! Nothing big about it at all. At one point they had a clear-out and there was only eight people left on the plane floor!
Aces, Erks And Backroom Boys

toptop toptop
    When I went there, the only aircraft was rag and string. That was the pattern of it. I remember Tommy Sopwith, with a blooming great cigar, come round smoking, overcoat and mac on, asking us why we were cold! Ooh yes, Tommy Sopwith! They had an old car. When Sir Frank Spriggs and HK Jones, who came in when Tommy Sopwith went into liquidation, wanted to go out up to town, fitters off the bench used to have to rush downstairs, put on their chauffeur's hat and drive them up. That was how poor it was.
    The machine shop was nothing but belt-driven machines; no automatics. If you was within range when a belt broke you caught it. Old Sawbone Nightingale was the bloke who came round with the adhesive to stick on the belts when they broke. I've never seen hands like it. He didn't clean 'em, he just put them on the grindstone. I've seen him go up to the forge, upstairs where the blacksmith was, and he'd got the old coke fire like a blacksmith would have, the old bellows. Sawbone'd come in there and pick a bit of red hot coke out and light a fag, his fingers smoking with all the grease; they were black with thick callouses.
    No craft distinction then; you did what you were bloody well told unless you wanted the sack, because plenty of people outside wanted your job. That was the big incentive, the sack! They didn't want to over-labour at all. In the early days it was nothing for them to come round on a Friday afternoon and give a couple of dozen people an hour's notice, or two hour's notice. I was looking at that one time. We were very shy of work and the charge hand hadn't got a job for me for a couple of days.
    In 1935 we started building the Hurricane. I made the first rib for it. They put it in the first test rig that was ever made; and that was a funny old thing. None of the paraphernalia that there is today of gauges and God-knows-what; it was just weights and stuff stretched on it; loads put on it. Very elementary.
    When I first went there was no smoking allowed in any shop; they used to go down in the toilet. You were booked in. Archie was a one-armed bloke in there and if you slipped him a fag through the window when you gave your number - he had to write it in a book - he'd let you smoke. There were stable doors, half doors. Later on when I became Assistant Foreman you were allowed to use three other toilets. They were locked, with full doors, and you had a key. That was class distinction!
     There  was always somebody up to a lark; always a bit of devilry among them. If you'd got caught you'd have got the sack. But today they lack, I dunno, the spirit that was there. Anybody would have helped the other one. If a bloke was in trouble somebody would help him out. There was always a lark going on, a joke, somebody playing a trick on somebody - putting spurs on the back of their heels or a notice on their back, or painting their heels. Some blokes would go up the road and find their heels were painted bright yellow. But there was always a good spirit among us! It was always friendly; nothing vicious about it.
    You weren't allowed any breaks in the mornings; you weren't even supposed to have a drink though we used to take flasks and they knew we did - we used to keep it out of sight - and perhaps a jam sandwich, or marmalade, or whatever you could afford, and you had that somewhere about tennish, on the quiet. Look round and make sure - put it in the drawer away somewhere, put the cup down there and hide something over it. And that'd be the way it went.Then they agreed you could have a tea break for ten minutes and they came round with barrows. Of course the milk cartons on there were handy things to roll up and throw.
    When I had a five-pound in my pay packet, it was out of this world. That was for working weekends and two night's overtime a week and Saturday and Sunday."