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Banburyshire Family History

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go back to the last page you were on School days eventually came to an end
Memories of the 50s


School days eventually came to an end, and were followed by an five-year engineering apprenticeship. The Coventry area hummed with companies involved in machine tool manufacture. The hum came from the heavy mineral oil used for cooling machining operation. Whilst at school an entrance examination had been taken, and one week after leaving school I was in control of my first machine, a centre lathe.

There was a surprising absence of bureaucracy. On my first morning I was given a pair of overalls, introduced to the foreman, taken to my machine, and told that the man in front would explain what to do. For some time I did very little. His lecture on the wisdom of wearing safety glasses was unforgettably illustrated by removal of his glass eye.

My industrial career started at the peak of post-war engineering; British products had an enviable International reputation. No numerical or program control systems; each component was produced individually, the machine being controlled entirely through the skill of the operator, and possibly a setter. This involved calculation of gear trains and allowances for backlash. My career ended with manufacturing having almost completely disappeared from the Coventry area. I don't think I was entirely responsible.

Training consisted of spending a three-month period in different areas of the factory; with one day of attendance each week at the technical college. One could not choose the allocated area, and some were better than others. Worst perhaps was the time spent in Heat Treatment, removing white hot metal items from furnaces and plunging them into oil baths. Spectacular, but at that temperature the novelty soon wore off. I didn't enjoy packing the cyanide furnaces (... and wash your hands before eating any sandwiches). I preferred my time spent in the Drawing Office. (... I'm not daydreaming -- I'm designing.)

The standard of training depended entirely on the attitude of adjacent workers, anything produced that passed quality inspection being credited to the section. No module testing, no feedback other than a weekly tick by the section foreman (... is that lad still with us?). At the end of three months, musical chairs again. I wonder anyone survived.

I finished my time as a design draughtsman. By that time the Company had opened a training school, attended by all first-year apprentices.

Contributed by Smokey