Newsletter 15
? Winter 2006
Updated on 9Dec2006
Aviation Heritage Project
Dunsfold Wings & Wheels
Female Angle
Flight Test from a Desk
Harrier News
Hawk News
Graduate Apprentices
Hawker People News
Hugh Merewether
  1924 - 2006, Test Pilot
  Flight Development
  Faster, Higher, Further
  Spinning With Hugh
JSF Progress
Sea Furies at Reno
Sea Harrier ZA195
Sea Hawk Recovered
Sir Sydney & Sir George
Sopwith & Bradshaw
Summer's Day at Dunsfold
Vulcan to the Skies
Published by the Hawker Association
for the Members.
Contents © Hawker Association

Responding to the Editor's request, Guy Harris looks back to the 1950s and 60s and gives us Part 1 of another perspective on 'life at Hawkers'...

My early years were spent at Abingdon where my father, during the war, was working at the MG Car Company, responsible for building Churchill tanks for the war effort. Our house backed on to fields which in turn were not far from the RAF airfield, so that, at the tender age of four or five, I used to watch Stirlings, Hampdens and other bombers staggering back from operations, often with bits hanging off them. Thus my interest in aircraft was well and truly established and I resolved that when I grew up I would help to build these monsters.

In the meantime making model aircraft became a passion and by the early 1950s I had graduated to diesel powered models with a 0.5cc Dart and a 2.0cc ED Competition Special purchased with saved pocket money.

Hawker Graduate Apprentices

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For Christmas 1953 I was given the Aeromodeller Annual and an article in it resulted in me buying plans for, and building, a rather smart delta winged model, designed by a young, up and coming aeronautical engineering student. Not until  a few years later did his name, John Fozard, mean anything to me!

By January 1957 I was heading for a summer of 'A' Levels to be followed, I hoped, by a university engineering course, and I had applied to both Vickers at Weybridge and Hawkers at Kingston for possible enrolment as a student/graduate apprentice. An interview at Vickers, which included all sorts of mechanical aptitude and psycho-analytical test, and some rather personal interview questions, was followed the next day by a much more informal interview by Len Holton, the Apprentice Supervisor, at the Hawker Apprentice School. I was immediately offered a five year Student Apprenticeship which included three years at university.

Hawkers were, of course, building 'proper' aeroplanes (ie fighters) being in the middle of the Hunter programme, and the Hurricane had been one of my favourite balsa wood models, crashed and rebuilt several times; as tough as the real aeroplane. So, although Vickers also offered me a place, there was no contest as far as I was concerned and I replied "yes" to Len's offer.

A Student Apprenticeship with Hawkers involved practical training in the company's various departments during summer vacations and for two years after graduation. Especially significant to me, as a prospective impecunious student, was being 'sponsored' by the Company whilst at university to the tune of £50 per year, doubling my county grant at a stroke. Thus my financial viability for the next three years seemed to be assured and I was eternally grateful to the Company for this generosity.

In July 1957, having finally left school, I arrived at Richmond Road for my first spell in the real world before going up to university. I was sent to the 'Inspection Test Lab' where three months were spent tensile and notch impact testing sample materials, and routine sample testing weld test pieces, micro and macro etching and microscopic examination of these same test pieces; all proving quite useful in the strength of materials course at university where I could show my fellow students a thing or two!

Whilst working in this section I was sent on an errand to collect some samples from the 'Research and Development Department', then at the rear of the main factory, and I managed to have a good look at the wooden mock-up of the fearsome P.1121 supersonic strike fighter, at the time under development as a private venture but, alas, soon to be scrapped. It was in the 'Test Lab' that I had my first industrial accident when I was hit in the eye by a piece of stainless steel wire when cutting the tie holding the test pieces together; a lesson painfully learned, fortunately without lasting damage.

I see from my Apprentice Agreement that I was paid  the sum of £4/13s/6d for a forty-four hour week. I distinctly remember that my 'digs' that first summer were £4/10s/0d a week, and canteen lunches I seem to recall were heavily subsidised and cost something ridiculous like 4d for a two course meal; so I just about broke even and managed to avoid starvation! One tends to forget how much prices have inflated since those days but these figures help to put into perspective John Glasscock's contract price for the Hawks as related in the Summer 2003 Newsletter.

Training really commenced at the end of the first year at university (salary now £5/12s/9p a week) when I was introduced to the apprentice training workshop in the tin hangar next to the new R&D Department. I forget the name of the Workshop Training Supervisor, (Bill Woodley perhaps?), but I am grateful to him for teaching me to manipulate metal and to make the usual set of apprentice tools, such as G-clamps, a bevel gauge and others that I still have. We 'Student' Apprentices (as opposed to 'Trade' Apprentices) were a bit of a bind to Bill, I think, and not real apprentices in his estimation. However, I like to think that, as I had been using tools with my father since the age of seven so could handle them reasonably well and enjoyed the manual work, after three months Bill came to accept that maybe I had been worth teaching after all - even though I did once break his bandsaw blade, a heinous crime, eagerly anticipated and cheered by the other apprentices in the shop. Occupying the bench in front of me was Alan Boyd and my introduction to him was watching him trying to hacksaw off a half detached pocket from his jeans!

Another item of importance learned during this first training period was the Hawker hierarchy of canteens and toilets. There were canteens for hourly paid employees, separate ones for weekly and monthly paid staff, yet another for senior managers and, of course, special dining rooms for the directors. Similar arrangements existed with toilets (and car parks), hourly, weekly and monthly paid, senior managers and presumably gold plated ones for directors; all rather amusing in this supposedly enlightened age.

The summer of 1959 was extraordinarily hot with record temperatures and I spent it down in the 'Machine Shop' at Canbury Park Road, the old Sopwith building with a low tin roof where temperatures soared to well over 100 deg F for several days, with a very humid atmosphere stinking of cutting fluid. Union agreements meant that as a Student Apprentice I was not allowed to touch the lathes and milling machines and was supposed to stand and learn by watching, although different works departments seemed to apply the rule arbitrarily.

That, with the high temperatures, nearly drove me insane and after about two weeks of this two of us 'students' went to the shop foreman and suggested that we would learn more by going and sunbathing down by the river. A quiet discussion followed between the foreman and the shop steward and we were given a horrible job milling hundreds of rough alloy forgings into cleats for the Vulcan fuselage sections being built at Kingston. Well, we couldn't very well complain and it kept us quiet, but after the first hundred or so cleats I don't think we learned very much The only thing that enlivened our time there was when magnesium rings, for the Hunter 230 gallon drop tanks, being machined elsewhere in the shop caught fire on a couple of occasions.

 From the 'Machine Shop' we moved to the 'Fitters' and I seem to recall lying inside Vulcan leading edge sections holding the dolly whilst the fitters knocked up the rivets; no ear defenders in those days and probably my partial deafness in later life stems from that time, but it was certainly more fun than the machine shop. The social parts of those days on the shop floor were the official tea-breaks when the canteen girls came round with their trolleys of spicy sausage or cheese rolls and vile tea in five gallon tea urns, quite disgusting stuff.

To be continued.