Memories of a ROF apprentice. Part 2
By John Day
While I was in the New Fuze Factory I also worked on a milling machine. Right in the deep end for John, I made a set of helical milling cutters for use in the tool room, sizes ranged from half inch end mills to 4 inch slab cutters Anyone who has done helical milling will have found that the calculated settings for the helix are not the settings for the machine, that is where experience comes in. The chap who taught me was Fred Best the highest regarded miller in the shop who did not hold with advanced education and told me I was wasting my time as there are people with degrees sweeping the streets. One Fred’s jobs was making the gauges for slide ways for the new 3.7 inch gun. These were planed on his Parkinson milling machine using the fast table feed. Fred’s usual work was to mill the spiral sectors on cams for the automatic lathes in next door‘s factory. I can still remember how it was done if anyone wants to know
Another engineering apprentice in the tool room at the same time - he was a year before me -was A Sherwood who became a Professor of Mathematics in Australia and achieved fame for building an 00 gauge coal-fired model steam locomotives
There was always tea making. This was done by boiling water in a conical tin tea can which had a tin cup as the lid and scraping a ‘screw’ into the boiling water. A ‘screw’ was a mixture of tea leaves and condensed milk screwed up in a corner of newspaper and brought from home. Overall washing was provided by one of the labourers who boiled them in soda over the shop blacksmiths forge in his lunch hour. The money he charged for this was banked with the Royal Arsenal Co-operative Society to provide him with a funeral with black horses, plumes and all the trimmings. He also kept the shop supplied with cigarettes, tobacco, biscuits and sweets which he brought wholesale and sold at retail prices for the same cause.
The hours of work at Woolwich were 8 a.m. to 5:40 pm and 8 to 11 40 on Saturday with two weeks holiday. The two weeks were made up of ‘closed week’ Kings Birthday (the Friday afternoon and Saturday morning before Whitson bank holiday) bean feast and the bank holidays. Timekeeping was by Gledhill- Brooks time clocks and individual time cards. There were two racks for the cards one each side of the clock, in and out. These were normally kept shut during working hours and opened a few minutes before clocking off time by the time clerk. It was well known that by rattling the handle the clock could be made to jump a minute sometimes and the first on the clock was expected to gain this extra minute for the rest of the queue. One minute of lateness was allowed clocking on thereafter one lost a ‘quarter’ up to 15 minutes late and so on. Nobody was allowed to start until the foreman had walked up the shop, where there was a panic to put away newspapers. I once started before as I had a ‘stranger’; or ‘contract’ job for a friend on hand and received a right earful from the stop steward.
Another earful was earned when I was doing a ‘contract’ job on the Brown and Sharp surface grinder. Somebody had acquired a length of stainless steel having a section similar to a flat bottomed rail and I was asked to grind the base so that he could make a spirit level. I put the stainless steel on the magnetic chuck, switched the chuck on and brought the grinding wheel down onto the job. That was when I learnt that stainless this is not magnetic. There was a bang, the job flew across the shop, the 6 inch diameter wheel broke and bits flew through a window across an alleyway to another window and landed in the shop next door. Questions were asked. I hadn’t a guard over the wheel - nobody had guards, they slowed work down. The enquiry laid down that guards has to be refitted. They were for a week or so. There was very little guarding of moving machinery in those days compared with now. Most of the machine dated back to World War I and were driven from line shafting through open belts. There were no chuck guards on lathes, no cutter guards on milling machines and speed changing on cone pulleys was done with the lump of wood against the moving flat belt. We learnt to keep clear ourselves rather than relying on somebody else having made a machine fool proof. I don’t suppose there has been a great reduction in industrial accidents in this mollycoddle age
This article first appeared in GIHS newsletter October 1998.