Terry Howes remembers his start at Hawker.
In late 1952 I left Sir Walter St John’s Grammar School in Battersea with a mere four GCEs. The school is now named Thomas’s and is the primary school for our young prince and princess. Since I then had to earn a living I started going for job interviews, the first one of which was with an ornamental cement manufacturer called Cementone where I thought I could put my chemistry GCE to good use. The factory was located in Wandsworth which was quite close to my home in Clapham Junction, but after the interview I did not fancy devoting my life to cement, even the pretty coloured variety. Since it was only seven years after the end of the second world war (for everlasting peace), living in London I had a usual childhood interest in military aircraft, mainly fighters. The only aircraft I got close to during the war years in my part of London was, I believe, the fuselage of a crashed Heinkel 111 on the side of a road near my house on my walk to my first school. So when I saw an advert for apprentices at Hawker Aircraft at Kingston, I applied. I may well have been influenced by my elder cousin (Len Burgess) who was an engineering apprentice at Vickers at Weybridge. I was interviewed at Canbury Park Road by the head of apprentices training Dick Barton, but since I was not considered to have suitable technical qualifications for an engineering apprenticeship I was offered a trade apprenticeship as an aircraft fitter, which I happily accepted.
So on 2nd January 1953, just after my 17th
birthday, I went to the Richmond Road works to join Hawker Aircraft as
an Aircraft Fitter Apprentice, on the same day as Paul Wilson, on the
princely salary of £2/9s/9p a week (£2.49p). Although, as an
apprentice, if I made suitable progress I could earn another penny an
hour ability money increasing my pay 3s/4d (17p) a week).
All Hawker trade apprentices were given one day a week to study. In my case I went to Wandsworth Technical College to study for Ordinary, and later, Higher National Certificates in Mechanical Engineering. I started in the second year of the three year ONC course but had to go to night school to study and take the examination for the first year in Engineering Drawing as I had no technical drawing experience. Being at Wandsworth meant that on college days I could catch a local bus, or even walk, from my home in Clapham Junction, rather than get a train to Kingston, saving me 1s/5p (7p) a day. During the college midday break I often went to lunch with my mother who worked in Arding and Hobbs. The introduction for trade apprentices was to spend three months in the Drawing Office Training School, mainly learning about Hawker drawing processes and practices and drawing Hurricane fuselage tube attachment joints and bits. This was followed by three months in the Workshop Training School which was situated on the first floor above the main works. I found this particularly interesting because, as a grammar school boy, I had no practical experience at all of cutting and filing metal. Here we were required to make a couple of workshop tools before we were let loose in the factory.
My first posting into the works was to the Richmond Road Press Shop where I operated hand presses stamping out blanks prior to them being formed into cleats and brackets, and part numbering finished items. When given a job we got a job clock card and clocked on when started and off when finished. The time taken was recorded and the bonus rate determined and added to the salary. The bonus cash earned was added to the weekly salary. Not exactly skilled work but it increased my experience in working with, and respecting, skilled manual workers and the “works” processes. Not a lot more I can say about the press shop except it was a long way to walk to the works canteen for lunch as the Press Shop was positioned near the fence with the Sports and Social Club (now the YMCA) and the canteen was at the Richmond end of the site.
My next posting was to the Fitting Shop at Canbury Park Road in Kingston where I started riveting and assembling small parts for the Hunter. The fitting shop was above the machine shop and I can still remember the smell of the oil from the lathes and other machines which I passed on my way up to the first floor stairs. The work’s canteen was on the opposite side of Canbury Park Road to the main factory and overlooked the railway line into Kingston station. We had to take our own knife, fork and spoon to the canteen for lunch and lunchtimes were spent either walking around Kingston or Canbury Gardens.
After about three months I was posted back to the Richmond Road works onto the Hunter Wing Drilling section. The works foreman at the time was the other Bill Bedford who, I think, recommended me for the Tool Room after a couple of months. (Was he trying to get rid of me?) So my apprenticeship was changed from Aircraft Fitter to Toolmaker Apprentice. I suppose that was a form of promotion although I didn’t get a salary increase and wasn’t on any bonus system. My lunchtimes at Richmond Road were spent by walking on Ham Common or by the river, sometimes with a pork pie for lunch and sometimes with Steve Bott. I noticed that when walking with anyone to Kingston station after work, we tended to shout to each other, presumably because we were somewhat deafened by the exposure to constant riveting noise in the Hunter wing manufacture jigs area. When being tested for hearing during my later executive yearly medicals I was asked about how many gun shots I was exposed to in the RAF. I think I said about 10 which was minimal when compared to a couple of months on the factory floor at Kingston.
In the Tool Room I was set to work on the Hunter undercarriage jig frame where I helped to manufactured undercarriage door profile jigs with a skilled toolmaker named Bill Lancaster. Bill was a well respected guy who, I remember, would take no back chat from anyone including the Tool Room foreman. Also in the Tool Room at the time was Barry Grimsey who was a well respected toolmaker apprentice and made precision press tools. Whilst in the Tool Room, I was transferred, with some other toolmakers, to the newly formed Plastics Department which was considered to be part of the Tool Room. It was thought that drill jigs could, in future, be more economically made from fibreglass with steel inserts. The work there was so experimental that many of the large items we made suffered by the fluid plastic mixture solidifying as it was poured into moulds, and one of the jobs for us apprentices was to smash up these failures in the storage and dump area by the river at the back of the works.
During my spell in the Tool Room, my HNC results were received and I was given the option of being sent to the Tool Drawing Office or going back to the Drawing Office Training School for 6 months further training before being transferred to either the Production or Experimental Drawing Office at Kingston. I opted for the latter and my apprenticeship changed once more from Toolmaker Apprentice to Trainee Draughtsman.
The DO training school was in the same building where I started my apprenticeship. It was later to became part of the monthly staff dining room and later on the site became the new Project Management Building and the monthly staff canteen. In the early 80s it was one of the first buildings at the Richmond Road site to be demolished prior to the site being closed and all the remaining Engineering design staff moved to Farnborough. I spent six months in this training school before being let loose in the Experimental Drawing Office (EDO) back in Kingston for the remainder of my apprenticeship. It was here I was given the really useful Draughtsman’s Handbook without which any draughtsman would be lost. It gave lists of all the metals we could use and their tensile strengths, and sizes and sheer strengths of the rivets and bolts. The Chief Draughtsman at the time was Frank Cross with Harold Tuffen as his deputy. Sir Sydney Camm however, as Chief Engineer, always had an interest in the designs leaving the EDO and he made his presence felt by occasionally ripping up the pencil-on-paper drawings he was not happy with. It was his custom on the last working day before the Christmas break to shake hands with everyone in the office at Kingston. I will always consider it an honour to be a very, very junior part of Sir Sydney’s design team.
Every year, around Christmas time, there was an apprentice prize-giving where food and small bottles of beer were made available. I managed to get a book on the design of gas turbine engines and a drawing compass set for achieving my HNC; I think they were presented to me by Sir Frank Spriggs.
When my four years as a trade apprentice ended in January 1957 I was promoted to weekly staff and changed my works 5 figure clock number to a 4 figure staff number. However I missed out of the 1956 Christmas bonus that ‘staff’ had and us ‘works’ guys didn't, a grudge I was to bear for some time. My first task in the EDO was to draw the assembly of the main undercarriage bay of the P1121. I proved to be not very good at drawing structural design so I was quickly moved to the fuel system design section under Bill Allen; my first Systems Engineering experience. After the P1121 was cancelled we had a short period of not having much in the way of work, but then, from the Project Office, along came the P1127. I did some design schemes for the negative ‘g’ trap in the main fuel tank before I finally got my call up for national service in the RAF where I trained as a wireless fitter at initially 14 shillings a week, (would have been 21 shillings but I sent 7 shillings home), and I even had to salute for it, but that is an entirely different story.