Just Miles
The Memoirs of Percy Harwood

Page 10

Although Neville Chamberlain had brought his piece of paper from Germany saying peace in our time, as the year wore on we were obviously preparing for War. At this time we took a few days' holiday at Femdown, home town of brother George who was away serving in the Army. We paid a visit to Bournemouth and, looking in a small garage saw a man sweeping the floor. I got into conversation with him and he told me of a Daimler car - seven seater almost brand new. He would only tell me where it was on condition that if I bought it I had to give him £25.

I agreed and on seeing the car could not resist.

So at a later date I made my way back to Bournemouth and bought the car for £375 my entire wealth.

Having bought it, I now had to get it home. I pumped up the tyres, let it down off the blocks, and eventually got the engine to start. There was enough petrol in the tank. I then made my way to the Lymington ferry. I had no trade plates nor was the car licensed. I broke down once but luckily got it started and reached the car ferry only to find they were loading on tanks. I could see that I really had no chance of getting on, so waiting my opportunity I rushed on between two tanks. There was an unholy row, for there I was sitting between two tanks but I came over. I arrived home, jacked up the car in the corner of the garage and covered it with sheets.

We are at War, this is Neville Chamberlain on the radio. Looking out of our window in the flat towards Ryde I saw the National Benzole petrol lorry obviously empty because of the way it was bouncing all over the road, rushing towards Fishbourne Ferry. It was driven by Cecil our petrol man who was normally a very good and steady driver. All this happened at the moment of the announcement Cecil was a very short, stocky, helpful and most obliging man, but we have never seen him or the lorry again. Being our regular driver over the years it was a very peculiar feeling.

The next announcement was that a ship had been sunk. The German submarine was and must already have been in position.

That evening a plane went overhead and we heard gunfire for the first time. We heard later that it was one of our aircraft. The blackout was now in force. It was almost impossible to black out the garage; unless a fortune was spent, so we turned one of our spare rooms upstairs into a shop. I had shelves fitted all round the room (box room). It had no windows so we were able to use the electric light. We were still very busy in the garage, fitting masks to car head lamps. The masks had large flanges so we cut them down to the size of the lamps. The first six months or so was almost normal business, even the odd new car was sold. In March 1940 we were able to buy a new Ford Anglia, this was to be our last for the period of the War, DDL 154, and what a car. We had three taxis, a Hillman Hawk , ADL 865, a 7 seater, an Austin 12 DL 9472 and the Ford. The Ford being the smallest car used less petrol and was therefore mostly used.

Ben now had to leave and went to Thorneycroft the shipbuilders at Southampton, a great loss. Jim Colleypriest was called up and joined the Air Force , so now without their help we were beginning to struggle. Willie Hoare the Engineer Director of John Samuel White's suggested that I return to my old job of turning so when the machine shop was eventually blacked out, I volunteered for night shift so back I went to my old job. At this stage only three of us were working in "A" shop. We ended up at about 150. "A" shop had completely changed from the time I left, gone were all the overhead shafting driven by massive electric motors, most of the noise and clatter had gone. All the lathes had their own independent motors, Capstan lathes with covered slides and modem gearboxes for screw cutting. Gone were the ear wheels which had to be selected and worked out the number of teeth.

All men had to join some unit, Home Guard, Fire Service, ARP, and so on. I joined the ARP as an ambulance driver of a converted single decker bus. It was fitted out as a mobile hospital unit carrying all equipment possible. The bus was stationed at the garage.

The other drivers were Harry Coombes, Les Bedford a local lorry driver, and Hodge who was also a bus driver. We all looked after the bus, taking it out once a week to keep it in working order. In spite of all the raids it was never used.

One day we received phone call from the Wootton Railway Station Master. There is an Austin Seven car outside the railway gate, it has been there for several days, will you please collect it. This we did and stored it for several years, before it was advertised that it must be collected or it would be sold to defray expenses. It was never collected.

It reminds me of a similar story. A chap was going abroad for good but he could not sell his old banger of a car. So not caring he drove it down to the docks and left it on the quay. It was eventually collected by the police who fined him for obstruction. After paying the charge and storage they sold the car and posted him on the change.

It was an odd feeling going to work in the evening. Air raid sirens and the 4.2 gun at Whippingham letting go at enemy planes overhead. There was many a time we spent two or three hours in the shelters. The all clear would go, out of the shelter we would come and back to work.

Reggie drove slowly, the same as he worked and walked. The engines of these three cars were never touched. Never a new clutch or brake relined.

It was useless for customers to take their cars to any other garage because like us, no mechanics. We were expected to do our best for our own customers.

My accountant at this time was saying "Your books are in a bit of a mess, why don't you buy two more new ledgers and transfer the money outstanding to the new ledgers, but only the amounts and not the details". So being mindful of the need of this I duly bought the new ledgers and started the painful task of tidying up my affairs.

I had fitted a new petrol pump to a Mr. Farrows car some two years ago. Although I had passed him on the road coming home from night shift, he was on his way to work, we always waved acknowledgement but I had never sent him an account for this petrol pump. One evening I was waiting for my passengers outside the garage (I always took three others to work) when Mr. Farrow drove round the corner, and I realised I had not transferred the amount for the petrol pump to the new ledger.

I made a note in the daybook, Mr. Farrow owes 30s for the new petrol pump. Tomorrow I will put this amount in my new ledger. I then went off to work. At this very time, Mr. Farrow, who had driven home, he lived in Palmer's Road opposite the garage, walked back to the garage and said to Reggie "Do you know Mr. Harwood has never sent me an account for the petrol pump he fitted some two years ago. I suppose you don't know the amount?" Reggie said "It's the last entry in the daybook, 30s".

The air raid sirens operated from the J.S. Whites works and during the rest hour 2-3am we would try to get some sleep. There were times when we were asleep, that we have not even heard the siren. The heating in the workshops was very primitive. There were three upright cylinder type burning stoves, some 2' 6" diameter and 6' high stood in the middle of the shop some 30' apart. too hot when standing close, too cold a few yards away.

Someone always chalked on the stove the number of enemy planes shot down during a twenty four hour day. The highest I ever saw whilst the Battle of Britain was on was 185 of the bastards . The worst night was 4/5 May 1942 when our works and others on the River Medina were attacked.

The Polish destroyer Blickawiska was moored along the side of the Quay. It was obviously the main target.

The first bomb hit the sandbags on the Quay some 100 yards away from our own shelter, putting out all the lights. The bombing went on for about one hour. The destroyer let go with all its guns, pom-poms and machine guns - the noise was unbelievable.

In the shelter, in the dark were Alf Young, a retired engineer, brought in to help the War effort, Harry Truly, several others, and an apprentice, Scotty Yuel, quite a likeable chap, but a Communist. Alf Young kept saying, is that a bomb or a gun? Scotty Yuel kept saying, I wish I was in Churchill's bunker. I gritted my teeth so hard for weeks that my jaws hurt.

When any ship was moored by the quay for repairs and their engine and machinery was hut down, the ship was plugged into the main plant of the works, 110 volts. J.S. White had their great diesels for supplying the electrics, so during the raid the engines had to be kept running and if ever a man earned a medal it was him who stood by these diesels to keep the supply going.

I was told the Polish sailors were stripped to the waist manning the guns.

The air raid stopped, we came out of our shelter. I will never forget the sight. The whole river, both sides, was on fire. The Solent, shed, aircraft factory opposite JSW was ablaze and devastation everywhere. We gave a hand with the fires but could not do very much. We crossed over to East Cowes on the floating bridge and made our way to the Austin 12 DL 9472, which I had just bought. The car light had not been blacked out, and in spite of all the fires around, we still blacked out the side lamps with handkerchiefs. We made our way back to Wootton, passing my wife's father's home, all seemed well.

My wife had no fixed pattern for sleeping. Sometimes at her father's home, and on this particular night at Phil Deacon's home across the road from us.

It was not long, about one hour after the raid at Cowes, the raiders came back again to take advantage of the lights given off by the many fires still raging.

I was now concerned for the safety of my parents who lived at East Cowes, so I returned to find they were OK. But sadly on my return, my wife's father's home had a direct hit, killing him, niece Joan, and my wife's sister Eve who died later. The number of people killed was something like 145. East Cowes was never quite the same.

Now, some 40 years later it is normal.

The popular capstans were Ward No 7. A larger model with chuck facilities was a Ward No 7a and this was what I was allocated. My first job was oil fuel sprayer oriface plates, the same made when I was apprentice. The method had changed. Instead of parting them of.01 proud, and then sending to the tool room for grinding down, they were now parted off big, turned round and refaced to size. This was considered faster. I struggled and worked hard producing about 40 that night. I remember going to the foreman, apologising for the small number made, remembering that we produced 144 per shift. He said, don't worry, using a strange machine it will take time. I found out later that 20 was an average number per shift. How things had changed in those few years.

The Island had now become what was known as a pink area. In other words it was expected that the Island would become invaded as were the Channel Islands. Petrol was now rationed and could only be bought from six places on the Island. All the other petrol pumps were immobilised - steel wool being stuffed down the suction pumps of the tank to prevent sucking up the petrol. Our pumps weren't.

The Army took them over. The three garages I remember that could sell petrol were Floyd's garage, Somerton, Canning Day of Newport. The other three I don't know. All the garage signs were taken down.

We had a centre lathe, mostly used to skim up commutors of dynamos and self starters. We had a contract for Saunders-Roe for making drilling bushes so we converted our centre lathe to a semi capstan, fitting an Austin 7 gear box, driven by an Austin 16, gear wheels and timing chain, and converted our single tool post to a four wheel post.

We had one or two apprentices eager to earn extra money in their spare time so these drilling bushes were made.

Taxis were at a premium. The petrol allowance could be used during the day so it was very difficult to get a taxi during the night. I used my small Ford Anglia to go to work (night shift) taking Harry Davis, Alfred Young, aged 70, Mrs. Young and one other lady. My wife would not wake me until the last minute. It was difficult to get going and on some occasions she would say "Harry's coming along the road, truly" and in the end we called him Harry Truly. We worked from 9pm - 2am, 3am. It was during the hour break 2am - 3am that I did many taxi jobs.

Because of the shortage of petrol and to make the most of what was available, if a person phoned up fora taxi, it wasn't a question of what time, but when it could be fitted in together with another job.

Every Sunday morning I took a lady to church, Quarr Abbey - for the service -using the time to read the County Press and then return to Wootton and home to breakfast.

Then on to another job and so on until my last job at 1.15pm to pick up a Mrs. Miskin from Ryde to Fishbourne. This went on for 4½ years.

The early job at Quarr went on for 14 years, including every Christmas Eve for the midnight mass.

Many was the time when six or seven people wanted to be taken to Ryde and then picked up later. I would take them to Ryde, leave my car and come home by bus, and then return to Ryde by bus to pick up the people.

Another job was to take Mrs. Hutton to Shanklin Hospital to visit her husband who was very ill. We have been known to put a little paraffin in the petrol to help eke it out. On one occasion I put in too much, so had to keep the engine running whilst waiting. No much saving on that day.

Another job was to take Mr. Goad and his secretary on shopping expeditions. He had gone to school with Churchill at Harrow. On one occasion when I was driving him to Ryde I said I could not understand why so many la-de-das as officers, he replied that from these type of people came several real leaders. I think I now understand what he meant.

On several of these occasions there would be an air raid, sirens wailing. If an air raid shelter was in the vicinity we would stop and rush in. When, on one occasion, we sent in our monthly account, he stated that he ought not to be charged waiting time. Fair enough.

When the air raids were on Reggie was called out to take women who were expecting babies to hospital. Three times in one night was the record.

Picture of Harwoods fruit shop  c1900
Percy Harwood's grandfather outside his shop probably 1897 (Diamond Jubilee year) as the shop appears to be decorated.