You are in: Display

After breakfast of tea or camp coffee, by James Harper

After breakfast of tea or camp coffee, usually with no sugar and some toast made from the wartime unbleached grey bread flour, if you were lucky some scrambled egg made from imported dried egg.

Off to work, usually walking the 1.5 miles often in the dark and with no street lights, past the sandbagged air raid wardens posts and the largely empty shops whose windows were plastered with paper strips to prevent the glass shattering into pieces in the event of a bomb blast.

Turn up at the factory in time for the 8 o'clock start, line up with the other workers and collect your time card and hope to get to the clock in time to clock in, walk past all the posters urging you to help with the war effort, or warn you "That walls have ears" so don't give any information away to the enemy etc. Get to your section by the time that the foreman would start up the main electric motor which was mounted on a platform high above the shop floor, this motor would go through its tree phases of start up before reaching full power, then the foreman would engage the line shafts, setting them turning throughout the factory. A real sound of power it was! The machine operator engaging a clutch would then connect each machine via its own belt drive to the main line shaft and the day's production would begin.

At the start of the day, music would be piped over the speaker system, usually it would be the BBC's "Music While You Work"; this always contained the popular music of the day and was always of a fast tempo, presumably to keep the speed of work up. Around the start of day, one enterprising worker would find time to go around the factory with a clipboard, on which were recorded the day divided into five minute intervals. For one penny you could pick a time, and should the air raid sirens sound nearest to your time, you won the pot (less 10% for the organiser) this was a very popular activity.

In the event of an air raid, the factory klaxon would sound, and then everyone (except for those appointed as fire watchers) would make a hasty departure to the air raid shelters, which were situated some distance from the factory. There you would play cards, sing songs, crack jokes or discuss the activities of the strip cartoon characters in the 'Daily Mirror', such as 'Jane' or 'Garth'. After usually about half an hour the 'All Clear' would sound and it was back to the factory, usually at a leisurely pace. These daylight raids were normally the result of a single enemy place reconnoitring the area and staying high up out of range of the anti aircraft guns.

Later in 1940, things were better organised and although the local air raid sirens would be sounded, the factories treated this as a warning only. When this happened, appointed workers would don helmets and climb on to a platform on the roof and watch out for any enemy plane that came to close for comfort, in this event the factory klaxon would sound and accompanied with fast music, everyone would down tools and move as fast as possible to the shelters, and remain there until the 'watchers' thought it was safe to return, all this would mean that there would be less production lost. On one occasion, the watchers left it a bit late, for while about 300 enemy aircraft were attacking a nearby aircraft factory, one of the planes broke off and approached the factory, the 'watchers' sounded the alarm and while everyone was running to the shelters, the plane dived and machine gunned the area.

During the midmorning a tea trolley would come round, from which you could obtain a hot drink, but no food due to the rationing. At 12:30, the factory stopped for a midday break and you could go to the canteen and sit down and eat whatever you had brought in with you. During this period you would often have lectures on subjects such as: 'How to spot anti personnel bombs and responding to them' etc. Occasionally we would have a visit from ENSA, which was a group that gave short plays or sang songs with a small band. On rare occasions especially when it was cold, the canteen laid on hot food such as soup or stew, which was always welcome as meat was severely rationed (each adult in a family could get one shilling and ten pence of meat a week), at one time the stew was made from 'whale meat' and once tasted never forgotten, even with rationing it was never very popular.

Back to work until about 5:30, then it was home by what ever means possible, some buses were running, powered by gigantic gasbags on the roof of the bus, or being powered from coke burning trailers. Petrol for non-essential personnel was about nil, essential workers could get a ration of 'Pool' petrol (which was dyed pink) and God help other motorists caught with pink petrol in their tank. This lead to ingenious other ways of powering your vehicle e.g. scrounge some used paint thinners from the paint shop, mix it with some paraffin and off you could go, albeit with a flaming exhaust and a noise like a jet engine.

The most important thing was to get home in time to have a meal, listen to the radio and keep up to date with the war news, then to bed in the hope that there would be no air raid, in that case you took yourself and family to the shelter for the night unless you had been enlisted as a ARP warden or a local fire watcher, in which case you had to take up your position and carry out your duties. Next morning, it was to do the best you can to get to work again.