More of John Day's
MEMORIES OF AN ROF APPRENTICE
As far as I remember there were four canteens for the use of the workforce. They all reeked of a strange mixture of boiling fat, cabbage and cheap soap - and I kept out of them - but they were well supported during the day for tea as well as during the official lunch hour. The surgery was presided over by “Septic Sam”. As now all injuries had to be reported and sent to the surgery but such was the treatment meted out that small injuries were kept quiet. I went once and have a memory of a mid - Victorian standard of equipment and hygiene. The surgery backed onto the boundary wall a couple of hundred yards from the main gate nearby was the apprentices club. It’s main attribute was a table tennis table which was heavily used lunch times and evenings.
The last shop I worked in as an apprentice was Miscellaneous Machine situated at the Warren Lane end, - near where the new Museum of Artillery will be. There I worked on what must have been a rejected export to Russia just after WW I; all the wording on it was in Cyrillic and, what was worse, all the feed handles worked the “wrong” way because for a fixed handle to move a slide away by clockwise turning, the thread has to be left handed. I also made bits for a printing press which the foreman was building for himself - all the apprentices well knew that if they got a drawing on an odd sheet of paper, it was a 'foreman’s foreigner'. There was a first year apprentice in that shop who asked me about a difficult screw cutting job. I lent him, grudgingly, my special screw cutting tool with instructions not to let it get blunt. When he came back it showed signs of heavy use, so I told him to take it to the shop blow pipe and harden it, but not to get it too hot. He came back, very hang dog, with a shapeless blob of metal to the delight of the rest of the shop who knew that the tool was made of lead !.
I don’t remember ever getting caught by the old favourites of “a long weight” or “a right hand cuff”, but Woolwich had a special trick that was foolproof. Going to the stores to borrow a tool, one would be told that 'Bill Starbuck' had it, but was 'not using it at the moment' . Enquiries about Bill’s whereabouts landed one in a far corner of the shop asking again, only to be told he was working in another building and to go there. The other building either denied knowledge or moved one on another wild goose chase!
In April I became 21 and could no longer be an apprentice, so when term at the Poly finished, I went back as a journeyman fitter for a few months. WW I equipment was being resuscitated and I was engaged in fitting drum brakes to 1918 3 inch A.A. guns to make them suitable for vehicle towing, There was also another job in strengthening the trails of 9.2 inch howitzers – knocking out ¾ inch rivets to enable a heavier gauge plate to be fitted. As I left I took out my tool box in my own Austin with a gate pass for the tools. The only thing I was not allowed to take was a very nice set of single ended spanners up to 1 inch. These had arrived with a new electric motor and had never been entered in the books, so I reckoned they did not belong to Woolwich !. There was quite an argument and in the end
this article appeared in the January 2001 GIHS Newsletter