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A Post-war Apprenticeship

World War 2 had come to an end and the country was slowly getting back normality. At that time my father was working at the South Durham Steel Works as a dilutee electrician. “Dilutees” were tradesmen's helpers who were up-graded to, machinists, fitters, electrician's etc. to help to make up for the loss of the countries skilled workers because of the thousands that were 'called-up' into the armed forces. As far as I can remember, if they served in these positions for a period of 5 or 6 years, they would be given skilled workers status.

I remember my father telling me that he would like to see me serving an apprenticeship. That is what I did, and Richardsons Westgarth was the company I applied to.

 Going for my first job interview was quite scary. The personnel officer greeted me and took me to his office and asked me a lot of questions, and then pointed to a mortise lock in bits and pieces on his desk and asked me to assemble it.

Now, when I think of that mortise lock and then look at all the engineering work I have done since then, I can't think why I was afraid of that humble little mortise lock. I was delighted when I received word back that my application was successful.

 On my first day at work I was told I would be working on Reception for a couple of weeks, alongside another apprentice called Billy Bishop; his father worked in the tool room in the turbine part of the factory. Billy became a good friend throughout my apprenticeship. Mr. Harding was in charge of Reception and every morning he would stand by the main entrance doors ready to pull them open and stand there when the director (Mr. Loverage) arrived. We used to take turns standing at the hatch window, which was quite boring.

 However, it was just for two or three weeks and then we were "released" into the factory. The Machine Shop was to be my first place of learning, at the marking off table, and it was here where I had my first accident. I was rolling a big flange along the floor and it toppled over and broke my big toe. I was helped to the ambulance room and then transported to the hospital for x-ray. I was provided with a pair of crutches and sent home.

 After recovery, I was told that my training would continue in the Erecting Shop, where the big four cylinder Doxford diesel engines were built. I was working on the entablature, the part of the engine supporting the cam shafts and fuel injectors. The charge hand was Mr. Hoffman; he was good to work for and I learned a lot from him. On another part of the erecting shop I worked for a while on turbo chargers, Mr. Fleetham was in charge here and he was another man I had a lot of respect for.

 During this time Richardsons had contract work at some of the power stations throughout the country. Battersea Power Station was one of them and "B" station was still having machinery installed. Apprentices could have part of their training there if they so wished. I applied along with another apprentice, Stan Newson. For the next 14 months, this would be a new venture for us. The company arranged lodgings for us, and I soon found that working away from home wasn't easy. The lodging was quite poor to the point where the landlady’s-ex came in one day with some very threatening language. We decided that it was time move, and we found better lodgings in Hammersmith.

 Working in London was quite exciting for a couple of young lads. Stan and I were keen cyclists at that time. We had our bicycles sent down and ventured into the countryside around London and visited all the inner London places of interest too. I had two aunties living in London and quite naturally they did not like the idea of me being in lodgings and one of them said I could stay with her. Stan was happy staying in Hammersmith.

 My aunty lived in Deptford and I was transferred to Deptford Power Station. I enjoyed the work in the power stations, the noise of the turbines, and the complex control rooms was all very fascinating. At the end of my training in the power stations I returned to Richardsons a little wiser with some more knowledge. I was working with Mr. Fleetham again on the turbo chargers right up to the end of my apprenticeship in 1950. I was encouraged to serve some time as an engineer officer in the Merchant Navy. This I did, and so started another period of time of my engineering career. 

 Looking back, I can honestly say that I could not have wished for a better apprenticeship, all that I learnt has served me well throughout my career in engineering. Since then I have worked as a production engineer, training officer, and development engineer. Would I do it all again? you bet I would!.

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