BACK TO HARLAND'SThis time around, the main job in Harland's was not Naval Guns, but Hydro-Electric turbines intended for the Snowy Mountain Hydro-Electric Power Station in New South Wales, Australia. The components we were involved with were the huge, stainless steel, straight-flow valves, each weighing approximately 80 tons when assembled, and the turbines, water-vanes and top covers which were approximately 20 feet in diameter. My job was to bore and hone and position the 24 bores down through the top cover into the turbine casing. It was close tolerance stuff and we had a complicated method of pitching these bores around a given diameter in such a way that we minimized the possible accumulated error. It was very interesting work, and was a culmination of all I'd worked on before.
I made a big mistake when I decided to go into business for myself. I could say I was talked into it, but I made the decision and it was a bad one. I prefer to draw a curtain over the years until January 1953. Wilma was born in September 1951 and came as something of a surprise, but nonetheless, welcome and loved. In January, 1953, I went scouting for a job on machines again and I landed a job in, of all places, Rolls Royce in Hillington. This was the place where they built the famous Merlin engines which powered the Spitfires and Hurricane fighter planes for the RAF. However, I did not work on aero-engines there. I worked on a six-cylinder Diesel engine, which they had designed for a six-wheel, tank-like fighting vehicle. I quite liked it there, but I had a kind of hankering to go to England, possible the Midlands. I answered an advert in the paper for machine shop personnel to work for the English Electric in Rugby and, in reply, was invited to go to Rugby for an interview. It was arranged that I and about six others would travel down on the night train, arriving in Rugby at 5 a.m. A works car picked us up and took us to the factory dining room, where we had breakfast and a wash-up. By 7:30 a.m. or so, some of the management people came to escort us around the plant, and I found a lot of the same machinery which I was familiar with in Scotland. Before that Saturday morning ended, I had agreed to start work a week later on Monday. I went home and broke the news, which was received with mixed feelings from Bessie and the family. Bessie never tried to influence me in anything and always encouraged me to go for anything I thought was best for all of us. Margaret, who by this time had a "prosthesis" and walked quite well with it, had about finished High School, was non-committal, and I don't remember how the younger ones reacted.
Anyway, I went to Rugby and the company placed me in the Carleton Hotel, pending getting a room in their own hostel, and as long as I was in the Carleton, the company car picked me up and dropped me off. This lasted nearly two weeks, and finally, I got a room in the hostel. While at the Carleton, all the residents there were disturbed one night by the police knocking on doors and asking us to step out, so they could look at us. It turned out they were looking for James Christie, a London murderer, who had killed a number of girls and hid the bodies behind false walls in his house in Rillington Place Whitechapel! Christie was found later hiding in London.
After I'd worked in Rugby for about six weeks, I became aware that it was not the best job around, and a friend at the hostel told me he was leaving to work in Coventry. We made arrangements to meet the following Saturday in Coventry and he showed me around. Coventry Town Centre had been almost wiped out in the bombing at Christmas 1940, and the beautiful cathedral was almost totally destroyed. By 1953, an entire new centre precinct had been built; Sir Basil Spence designed a modern cathedral incorporating the salvageable parts of the old one. The result is truly inspiring. That afternoon, I was invited to tea at my friend Gilbert's digs, and I found he was staying with a lady who had moved to Coventry with her husband in the 30's. She was a former neighbor of my mother in Nairn Street, and I knew her and all her family. It was arranged that I would move in as roommates with Gilbert and I got a job right away.
My new job was with the Alvis company and I found myself engaged in the manufacture of two different end products. One of these was the "Leonides" helicopter engines and the other was the frame, chassis, and body of the same fighting vehicle that I'd been working on at Rolls Royce! This kind of work sharing was a direct result of the war and government jobs were often split up then.
For two reasons, 1953 was a memorable year. The first reason was the coronation of Queen Elizabeth, whose father, King George VI, had died in 1952. The second reason was that the coronation was televised and I was able to watch television for the first time. I saw it on a four-foot projector set, and while it was a shade fuzzy and in black and white, it still was a great show. No one could say that the Queen was a very pretty girl, but she had a dignity and class which I am sure she has maintained all her life, in spite of the efforts of the gutter press and its martyrdom of some of her family.
The year of 1953 came to a close in a kind of strange way for me. Two weeks or so before Christmas, the railways had been having labor trouble and the unions had set a deadline to go on strike on December 19, if their demands had not been met. As this was in conflict with my plans to be home for Christmas, I had a talk with my boss. He suggested I quit work the week before and come back after the New Year, and he would make sure I had a job. So we arranged that I would leave about December 15 and go home to Clydebank. When I got home, I thought, it was still ten days or so till Christmas and why didn't I try to find a job to tide me over. So I went to see an old friend of mine in the employment exchange and told him what I had in mind. He opened his files and picked out a few cards and threw them over his desk. I found one of them was for an "all round" jobbing machine man for the dockside repair shop in John Brown's Shipyard! So I made my way to J.B's and arranged to start the next day. I had all kinds of little milling jobs, boring and turning, planing and shaping and the foreman was quite pleased to get someone so versatile! Some of these little jobs were for the Royal Yacht Britannia, which was being completed by then. I worked in J.B's with Christmas Day off until December 31, when we were due to finish work at noon. I told my boss, Campbell, that I was quitting then, and he was not pleased at all, but couldn't stop me, so off I went. On Monday morning, I was intending to go back to Coventry and I had my case packed and ready. But when it came time for me to leave, our family, one by one, burst into tears, until we were all crying. After that, I didn't have the heart to leave.
After a quick glance through the want ads that day, I went to Springburn, where I got a start in the North British Locomotive Co. Machine shop, which was really antediluvian. I swear they had machines there old enough to have been used by Noah in building the ark! They did have a few modern machines and I settled in after awhile. The orders they were working then were electric locomotives for the South Africa Railways and it is of some interest that although the locomotives and passenger cars are as big and as wide as any in Europe or the U.S., the gauge (between the rails) is only 3 feet, 9 inches. American and most European gauge is 4 feet, 9 inches. After a couple of months or so at North British, I discovered that an English company was opening a plant in Petershill Road, just across from the N.B. The company was Metropolitan Vickers Ltd., and their Head Office was in Trafford Park, Manchester. I explored the job prospects there and decided I would move over. They were engaged in the manufacture of power station condensers and pressure vessels of various sizes and kinds, and it was a field I was not familiar with. However, it got to the point where I had learned enough about condensers and, particularly, condenser tube plates, to take the job as charge-hand and set-up man on night shift.
It was while I was at Metropolitan Vickers that I decided to buy another car, after using public transport since late 1952. I bought an old Morris Eight - a fixer-upper. And I did fix it up to a great extent. I commuted to Springburn on that old thing. One night on the way to work, a core plug on the cylinder block blew out and I discovered that a half-penny -- a copper coin 1" in diameter -- was a perfect fit if I put it in and caulked around the rim of it.