Ted Henbery remembers life in the late 1940s and early ’50s……

In September 1947 I was about to leave Wandsworth Grammar School and had little idea of my future path and means of earning a living. There was minimum career guidance in those days and chatting to classmates gave little help. Some older friends had interests in motorcycles and this did spark my interest in engineering - and provided some excitement and danger!

A close friend, Viv Wagerfield, with whom I had been evacuated during the war, mentioned that he was applying for an apprenticeship at Hawker Aircraft Ltd in Kingston. This was on a direct rail line from Earlsfield so my father promptly followed suit on my behalf. WW2 had been an exciting time in the air and the scene was set for what turned out to be a very satisfying period ahead for me. Viv and I travelled to Kingston for our interviews in the Canbury Park Road board room and later were offered five year engineering apprenticeships.

A Hawker Apprenticeship

< Toptop

Starting in October 1947 we experienced the main production departments such as fitters, machine shop, structures, inspection and processes, prior to journeying to Langley for final erection and flight testing; at that time the Sea Fury was in production. This completed the first four years of the apprenticeship. We were paid 22/6 (22 shillings, or 1 pound two shillings, and sixpence) a week rising to 54/6 (2 pounds 14 shillings and sixpence), quite a fair amount for those days.

The final year was spent in the detail planning department situated, close to the main works, in Cowleaze Road. It was here that the manufacture of the aircraft detail parts and tooling was decided and where the previous four years experience came in to play. During the five years we had one day a week leave to attend a Technical College, Wandsworth in our case, to gain ONC and HNC (Mech) qualifications.

It was whilst we were working at Cowleaze Road that on September 7th 1953 Neville Duke flew the Mk 3 Hunter along the south coast at an average speed of 727.6 mph to claim the world absolute speed record. Having completed the runs Duke flew at very low level and very high speed over the Kingston factory causing headlines and complaints in the local Surrey Comet newspaper the following week.

What a privilege it was to have such an exciting start to working life. Both Viv and I were deferred from National Service until late 1954 when we joined the RAF and did our ‘square bashing’ at Hednesford. Having completed our terms we returned to Hawker at Cowleaze Road. Eventually Viv became a flight engineer with BOAC and I remained in engineering working in ball bearing manufacture, lithography equipment, train and bus air conditioning and, finally to plan a Phillips-MEL mobile aircraft landing aid (MADGE - mobile airborne digital guidance equipment) for helicopters and Hawker vertical take-off aircraft; a full circle back to aviation. Sadly, Viv passed away in August 2014.