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The firm was reorganised for war work and when the Fiat car company factory, by Ernest Coates

Mr Grandfather, Ernest Coates, was born in County Durham in 1904, but moved to London in the late 1920s to find work. Shortly before the Second World War, he started a new job as a bench fitter at Swift and Swallow Ltd, a small company making, weighing and processing food machines in Twyford, North West London.

"The firm was reorganised for war work and when the Fiat car company factory in Water Road opposite our works was closed down because the Italian management were all interned, Swift and Swallow took it over. It was amazing the amount of people who flocked to these works to get into safe jobs. A number of the top union men managed to get into Swift and Swallow and soon everyone had to join the A.E.U. A canteen was built on some ground bought from the monks at Twyford Abbey. I remember going around to the Abbey with Leon Bagrit, our Managing Director, to give them a mincer in return for their letting him have the land for the canteen. They had loads of bottled beer in the kitchens and they gave us some to drink. The firm employed a number of works managers whilst they were building up the war work, and there was one who took a particular dislike to me because I was still going out now and then to service mincers.

It was some time before Hitler started to bomb London, but I was appointed as one of the "Look-Outs" who went out on the flat factory roof each time the sirens went. The two of us were given waterproof clothing, a tin hat and a pair of binoculars. If we heard gunfire or thought it was dangerous, we set off the siren warning the workers to go down to the shelter. One very foggy day, while the warning was on gunfire, we suddenly heard a plane followed by a loud bang. A lone Gerry had got through and dropped a small bomb in Iveagh Avenue, demolishing an empty house. There was a bit of trouble over this because we had not sounded the siren, but we got away with it. One day during the Battle of Britain I was up on the roof while the workers were in the shelter. It was a lovely clear day and we watched the Gerry planes coming towards London through our binoculars. The gunfire became intense and we saw the Gerries turn back. When I was transferred to the Water Road factory I lost the look-out job.

My wife and I still went dancing in spite of the war. One night we were dancing at Park Royal when the sirens went. The raid was very bad that night and the buses stopped running. We had to walk home, me in my dancing pumps and my wife in her dance shoes. The three-mile walk was a nightmare. The sky was lit up with searchlights, guns were blazing away and shrapnel was falling all around us. My wife and I had become firewatchers in our street. We were provided with tin hats, gas masks and stirrup pumps, and our duties were to go outside during raids and put out any small fires that might occur. A small incendiary bomb fell in the field at the back of us, but by the time we got over there with our pumps, the bomb had fizzled out. The Council built some small shelters in the street for the use of wardens and firewatchers. Each shelter had four sleeping bunks and was also used for storing our fire fighting equipment. About this time my wife and I had become interested in old time dancing.

The Social Club in the Lyons Company (where my wife worked) had taken over the ballroom of the Trocadero in Shaftesbury Avenue, which had closed for the duration of the war. There was a dancing teacher there and we became quite expert. We enjoyed these nights out, although during the air raid we had to pack up and flee because the West End was a danger spot when the Gerries came over. The Lyons Club held their big dances at the Sudbury Club House and we had some good times there dancing the Quadrilles, the Lancers, etc.

By now I was doing war work making small gearboxes for opening the bomb doors on planes. There were eight or nine of us on this job, but when the Inspection Department discovered a small fault in one of the gearboxes, the works manager who did not like me, blamed me immediately. I later discovered the real culprit, but in the meantime the manager would not give me any work to do. It was a peculiar situation where I would clock on in the morning, stand about all day doing nothing and still get paid for it. After the fourth week of this, I went in and clocked on in the morning, went home for the rest of the day, returning to clock out at night... I went to see the union branch secretary and he advised me to leave and get another job. On his suggestion I went to Hibberds in Coronation Road, Park Royal and got a job there. I warned me old foreman at Swift and Swallow about the trouble I'd had with the works manager and that I was leaving. He agreed that it was best for me to go, but promised me my old job back after the war. I started at Hibberds building bridge-laying equipment on Wellington tanks. It was heavy work, but it was essential war work and very interesting. Incidentally, I had signed up for the R.A.F, but they never called me up. The bridge-laying equipment was a clever piece of apparatus. The tanks came to the firm and we built up the lifting machinery and fixed it to the tank. When finished, the tank could pick up a Bailey bridge without outside help, carry the bridge on top, lay it across any ditch or canal, detach itself and then drive over the bridge.

We formed a Sports Club at Hibberds and I was a member of the Committee. We ran a cricket team and hired a pitch at Acton, playing mainly on Sunday afternoons against other works teams. We all paid a small subscription each week to keep the club going. The firm built us a wooden hut for a clubhouse, which was big enough to hold a small dance. After obtaining a license to supply alcoholic drinks, a small bar was built into the hut. We took it in turns to do fire-watching at the works, passing the time away by playing darts, Now that we had a block house we joined a Darts League and the bar was an attractions when we held a darts match. A ladies darts team was formed in which my wife played, and she was also the scorer at our cricket matches.

And so the war went on. London was taking a bashing and people were sleeping on the platforms of Underground stations. In June 1944, Hitler presented his new secret weapon, the V-bomb-doodle bugs we used to call them. They were flying bombs launched on London from the French coast. There was not much defence against these things, although you could see and hear them coming. When the engine cut out, you knew the bomb had dropped. One day we got the warning at Hibberds that a doodlebug was on its way. We saw it pass over and a few moments later heard the explosion not far away. I heard that it had dropped in Southview Avenue and I told the manager I was going home to see what had happened. The bomb had dropped in a builders yard at the end of our road, which was a shambles with debris. Roofs and doors were blown off, glass all over the place, but as it was early afternoon most people were at work and only a few were hurt or treated for shock. Our flat was a couple of hundred yards from where the bomb had dropped but a hole had been blown in the roof, the bedroom window was blown in and the window near the street door was shattered. I found out cat lying at the foot of the stairs among the broken glass, and as he did not move when I picked him up I thought he was dead. As I Iaid him outside on the veranda he suddenly came to life and flew as fast as his legs could carry him and was missing for two or three days. It must have been the shock. I phoned my wife and she came straight home from work and we began cleaning up the mess. There was loads of glass to be swept up, our bed was covered in tiny pieces, and a number of tiles were blown off the roof. We had to sleep in the shelter that night, but the next day workmen put tarpaulin over the roof to keep out the rain and covered the windows temporarily with paper. The government paid for this and the cleaning of all our bedding. Eventually the repairs were done and we were able to sleep in our own home. Some of our friends had to move out of their flats while they were being repaired. I kept a large metal fragment of the bomb, which I found on our doorstep, as a souvenir from Hitler. The R.A.F eventually found the V-Bomb launch sites and bombed them night and day until they stopped coming over. Gladstone Park had been dug up for allotments. It was lovely soil, and on my plot I was able to grow all the vegetables that we required.

By now our army was pushing the Germans back out of France. On 9th Mary, 1945, the war in Europe had come to an end. We were dancing at the Trocadero on VE night and had a grandstand view of the celebrations in Piccadilly. It was a great night with the crowd singing and dancing. Hitler was supposed to have committed suicide or been blown up in his bunker. The Japs were still carrying on but the first atom bomb fell on Hiroshima and that finished the Japs. Peace at last and no longer any worry about air raids. Rationing on food and clothes still continued, and we were still digging for victory on the allotments!

Hibberds continued with the bridge-laying equipment until their stocks were used up. As they gradually returned to their peacetime work, I was promoted to foreman. However, I did not like the job and I returned to Swift and Swallow in May 1946. I was welcomed back as I knew how to assemble their machines. I became a charge-hand, just showing other people how to do the work. The company took over Short Bros. factory at Lewisham for the manufacture of sausage-making machines. The North Circular Road works became a repair depot, and sometimes I had to travel around by train or bus even as far as the south coast to repair machines on site. The company was expanding rapidly, establishing a large sales staff and opening depots all over the country. A number of de-mobbed men came to Swifts as trained and were later transferred to the Service Department, which moved to Lewisham and the North Circular works were closed.