Memoirs of a Royal Ordinance Factory apprentice
By John Day
I cannot remember whether working closed week earned me overtime or a week off later. An apprentice’s wages in the first year was 12/- a week from which unemployment and friendly society contribution were deducted. I think the first was 10d. or 12d. and the second 2d or 3d. As a result I received just under 11/- . My friendly society stamped card had to be sent to the Secretary every six months. I belonged to the Ancient Order of Foresters whose secretary was Bro. Moss of Verdant Lane, Hither Green. There was a rise of 2/- at the end of the year and the wages on up until, when I was 21, I got 63/- as a young journeyman - the union rate.
1935 saw the beginning of the short lived Royal Arsenal Sports Association Motor Cycle Club I began in the Electrical Shop with Bill Beresford (03 Norton), Bill Croft (Enfield Twin and side car), Percy Harris (649cc vertical twin Triumph and sidecar), Meredith Smith (o.h.v. Norton), Len Shum (o.h.v. Raleigh), Charles Day (Scott) my father (1150 cc Brough Superior and sidecar), Len Dent (MAC Velocette) and myself (model 9 Sunbeam).
Bill Croft ran the battery shop that charged and repaired all the dilly and other accumulators in the Arsenal. Percy Harris rewound small armatures - it was said that he did more private vacuum cleaners than official motors. Merry Smith was in the drawing office, as were Len Shum and Len Dent and was responsible for the heating in the about to be re-opened Nottingham Ordinance Factory
The club met on Sunday mornings at the Prince Imperial Monument facing the Royal Artillery Institution and went to run round the Kent lanes or to a local motorcycle sporting event. They ran a road trial which entailed following route cards at a set speed, there being time checks at unknown points. I would have done quite well in this my first motorsport event, had I not thought I knew better than the organisers in how to get from a to b! The club only lasted a couple of years eventually joining up with the local group of the Civil Service Motoring Association.
After my spell in the western D.C. area I was stationed at substation No.4 (Sub 4) presided over by Andy Clements, with Syd Freeman (electrician’s mate) and Bill Nunn (motor cleaner). Sub 4 was east of the Sales Ground where unwanted bits and materials were sold off by auction and served the Danger Buildings, the F shops where all the woodwork was done and Crossness Explosives Pier. The substation was divided into two areas - one held the voltage reducing transformers and associated switchgear and the other was the rest room where we made tea and waited for the next phone called to say something had gone wrong. While Syd brewed the first cup of the day, Andy pushed the newspapers of the table and produced a bit of chalk and proceeded to introduce the then resident apprentice in the deeper intricacies of electricity distribution of three-phase current.
One day the phone rang and Andy told me to take Syd and sort out the trouble. I forget what the trouble was but I that remember I hadn’t a clue how to solve the problem. Syd suggested a course of action sp I took it (after all Syd was three or four times my age) and all went well. When I returned to the Sub Andy asked me what I had done I told him Syd had suggested a solution. Oh dear! Andy really went for me. The gist of his tirade was if you’re in charge of a job you do not follow the instructions of a subordinate and you take responsibility. One learnt more than various trades with that kind of apprenticeship.
The Sub being well out of sight and out of mind of the main part of the Arsenal Andy had acquired a garage on the other side of the road for the benefit of engineering apprentices who wanted to work on their cars or motorcycles particularly on Saturday mornings. I suggested a lathe might be useful so Andy took me on a scrounging trip on the dilly and returned with a ½ inch centre late from a ‘mothballed’ shop. This was set up in the Sub, driven by a motor similarly acquired. News of the lathe reached the shop steward of the main shop and he began to raise great objections (he would, he was the shop turner) and he was soon told to be quiet. The lathe would only be used by an apprentice and it was only for ‘foreigners’.
Being in the woodworking area (F Buildings) there is a lot of high-speed machinery. One interesting motor that came our way for a vertical spindle router and it ran at 5.750 r.p.m. The trick was to use the first rotor as the stator for an inner (output) rotor reversing the connections to the inner rotor; one could hold the shaft with the motor taking full current.