Saturday, 2 November 2019

More memories of a ROF Apprentice


..  another instalment of John Day's memories of his life as an apprentice in the Arsenal ...  John describes his move to the pattern shop .....

.................The foreman of the Pattern Shop was Clarke. His office was in the north- west corner of the building on a kind of mezzanine floor and he had a system of mirrors looking down so that he could see what was happening on every bench. All the apprentices took the opportunity to make themselves a toolbox and the foreman told the shop labourer to smash it with a sledge hammer. I made two boxes, one in pine to hold my teamaking equipment and the other in mahogany, which was kept in a drawer and never assembled. I told Clarke that the pine box was to keep the dust  from my cup and it was allowed to remain - he never knew about the mahogany one.

Near the Pattern Shop was the Pattern Store, where the ground floor was used for wooden mock-ups of tanks to find out how much could be stowed and still leave space for the crew. One of the apprentices surreptitiously moved everything several feet forward and opened a little door to drive his Austin Seven into the space. He then fitted it with a beautiful two seater body painted battleship grey. When we drove it out through the main gate I had a ‘Brooklands’ silencer for my own Austin between the floor boards.

From the Pattern Shop the next step was the Brass Foundry. There I spent most of my time moulding skimmer cores and brackets for the wires of overhead cranes. A great deal of the casting was done in manganese bronze and in the inlet passage the molten metal was made to duck under a cubic core to skim out slag. The “core box” for these was a block of brass with a hole of about an inch and a half square. I made them by the dozen. They went into the core oven to dry - this oven had other uses. It was ideal for roasting potatoes for a mid - morning snack. At times I had other castings to mould. 

Risers were made in which steel rods were pumped up and down to make sure the molten metal filled all the space in the mould. I spent some days casting arming vanes for torpedoes. The mould was made in steel having six wedge shaped pieces to be pulled out to release the fan shaped casting. I stood by a crucible of molten aluminium, ladled it into the mould, gave the mould a bash with a mallet, took the mould apart, took out  an arming vane, put the mould together and started all over again. It was not a popular job, especially in the summer.

Next was a spell as a centre lathe turner back in the New Fuze Tool Room. I was put on an old 8 inch Le Blond lathe. Apprentices always got the most worn-out lathe - if we could do a good job with that, we could certainly use a more modern tool. Jobs varied from 0.2 in. diameter striker pins to 4 in. diameter bronze discs. Working next to me was a rotund, red faced, cheery character who had a mind like an engineer’s pocket book. He had instant recall of all the decimals for fractions of an inch by sixty -fourths, the sizes of number and letter drills and the thread depths of all the screw pitches - all to four figures ! In our fourth or fifth year we were given a turning test. For this we were given the choice of  drawings of jobs that could be done in less than a day and given a very modern lathe in the Carriage Tool Room to make it on. The lathes were so complicated compared to the old clapped - out ones we were used to, that we either spent the morning trying to find out how everything worked or, as I did, nipped back to the old machine that we knew and machined the test piece on that.

The second spell was in the Light Gun shop. Guns, particularly in the breech, use at lot of odd, large size countersunk screws. These were the province of the apprentices as they did not rate well in the piecework stakes, but the saving grace was that an apprentice had the right to refuse to make more than twenty  three of any one thing. It was realised that they were there to learn and not to take part in production. One job was a number of Morse taper sleeves of the larger sizes, which meant that the internal taper hole was longer than the travel of the lathe top slide. Apprentice lathes did not have the luxury of taper turning attachments. I complained to the foreman, he knocked me out of the way, did one and then said you will do the ****** rest. Another lesson, if one can do the job, a subordinate has no grounds for complaint.

This article appeared  in the March 2000 Newsletter

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