Just Miles
The Memoirs of Percy Harwood

Page 11

We had a rather nice shed built at the rear of the garage. This was used as our home before the house was built - we could have our own cup of tea and a change of clothes. The shed was 10'x10'built on six brick pillars - cost £28.00 in 1933 (still on the premises).

We had two soldiers billeted in 1940. Sam and Ernie were a couple we remembered very well, both were motor mechanics and between serving the Army with petrol helped us with repairs. This arrangement worked very well but alas, when the Dieppe raid took place they left, and we have never seen or heard ofthem again. We in the garage trade were concerned that we could no longer sell petrol etc.

The Island was a pink area considered that it would be invaded like the Channel Islands, so petrol could only be bought from six places. So a scheme was set up and it had to be self-supporting, and all expenses of running it had to be paid. It worked out that we got 5/8 of a penny (old money) per gallon on the percentage that we would have got if we were still selling petrol. The profit margin normally was 3d per gallon, so 5/8 of a penny was a small amount. My first cheque (monthly) was for £44.00 which was really a very large sum, when my wages for six eleven hour shifts a week was £4.00.

I was now 39 years old and old enough to realise I had to keep better books and accounts.

Working on night shift enabled me to work during the mornings in the garage. We now only had one employee, Reg Wheeler, who suffered ill health and was not fit for any job except driving the taxis.

During the War period the Hillman had done 85,000 miles, the Austin 90,000 miles and the Ford 20,0000 (two engine).

The Blackwatch Regiment was stationed in the woods at Kite Hill. We saw the ducks, as they were called, amphibious vehicles, and they would practice up and down the beach at Woodside. There were two roadblocks at Kite Hill and identity cards had to be shown. On one occasion a person failed to stop and was shot. By strange coincidence on 24th April 1984, in a conversation with one of our customers, Jim James, I heard the true story of the shooting. It would appear that a Mr. Sparshot, who cycled everyday past the sentries, became known and those who recognised him let him through without showing his identity card. There were two road blocks, he was passed through the first with a wave of the hand, but there was a new sentry on the second block and when Mr. Sparshot passed through without stopping he was called upon to stop. He did not do so because he was stone deaf and did not hear the request so he was shot.

A buzz went round the village but no details were known.

The Army had also taken over Meadowside House opposite the garage. It was the Headquarters of the Jersey Regiment. For some reason or other three phase electricity was wired into the house. Special poles had been installed through Gravel Pit Road for this purpose. Years later I ordered a compressor three phase. The manufacturer asked me to check and make sure three phase was required as their information was that three phase was not available in the area.

The doodlebugs were now arriving from France, and we were soon to learn that when the engine stopped they would come down and explode. Living opposite us were two elderly people both over 80, they now wanted to go to their son's home in Hesle on the Humber. I applied for extra petrol coupons for this trip, but was told I could go but would have to make do with what petrol coupons I had. I embarked on the trip but with no signposts it was not easy. I had never been on such a trip. However I made it and with three hours sleep made the return trip.

I still went on the night shift that night. We built several destroyers and other types of ships, one special, called the flying flea, an experimental small boat. I do not know for sure but I understand that a destroyer boiler was fitted to this small boat. The boiler being big, made a hump in the deck.

Patching cars up, making do, became the pattern. We had a customer come in with his Ford Anglia car. Can you do anything forme? I've got a tyre burst. We fixed him up with a 300.18 motor cycle tube in a 400.17 tyre (normally fitted to an Austin Big Seven, on a 450.17 rim).

We had constant problems with the track rod ball joints. These became worn and, would fall off the track rods, and new track rod ends were not available. We got over the trouble by cutting from old cycle tubes elastic bands about 1/4 wide, putting the pegs in the worn elongated holes, and wrapping about six elastic bands around so keeping the track rod ends in position. It was very successful. The bands would give on turning comers, still keeping the track rods in position. Rain or wet roads did not affect the rubber bands and we never had an accident with any car so patched up.

Clothes were rationed. Our Mr. Jackson who owned the Vauxhall had now joined the Army and he sold us a set of red corduroy car seat covers. It was such beautiful material we had them tailored to make a nice suit for my wife.

It was a very gloomy time when the Renown and Prince of Wales battleships were sunk. The big firms were pressing the smaller firms for payments. Hire purchase nearly stopped. I had bought a lift costing £100, again a huge sum in those days, and a promise of payment of £10.00 per month. Even this sum was a great strain on us. We then got a letter demanding £20.00 per month, this was not possible. I remember writing back saying that I had kept my promise of £10.00 per month and in future I would pay £5.00 per month and any more pressure I would stop all payments. We never heard anymore and time caught up with the debt.

Income tax in those days was paid twice a year and about this time PAYE came into being.

It made an immediate effect when the men could see the amount of money deducted from their wage packet. The Sunday night-shift began to dwindle.

I was now a "setter up" chargehand type, setting up lathes, teaching women and apprentices and general help and adviser.

I said to one apprentice, Frank Capper , why did you not come in on Sunday night. He replied "Look here, my weekly bus ticket does not count on Sunday. I like going to church on Sunday evening and you have another think coming if you think I am going to change into dirty clothes, pay extra for the bus and work all night for 12/6." But you are not paying anymore tax than you were before.

It made no difference, he would not come in and so it was spread throughout the shops.

Another ship, HMS Abell, was a three funnelled mine layer, the fastest ship in the British Navy. She was nearly ready to hand over after trials when she was urgently required to lay mines around the harbour of Brest.

The German pocket battleship and one other were in Brest and the idea was to keep them there.

The Abell returned to JSW for completion, but a lot of extra work was now needed to be done on the turbines. Eventually the Abell herself hit a mine off the coast of Greece and was sunk.

My little part of her was that I had made all the oil Fuel sprayer bodies - 72 if I can remember.

Our second son Ivan was born May 14th, 1944, 91/2 lb, a fine baby.

Ships of all sizes were accumulating in the Solent. It was obvious something was going to happen. Several days later, taking a stroll on the Quay with Frank Pearson (he was a fitter, specialising in fitting turbine blades to the rotors and casings) the sky was full of planes roaring overhead. The whole place was seething with activity. The Second Front had started Paris was now recaptured and after some bitter fighting the War drew to its end.

I expected now I would go back to the garage, but no, we were not allowed to leave our jobs. Months went by in this uncertain way. Eventually I had to go to a tribunal to seek permission to leave my job. Later permission was given so back to the garage.

There was terrific activity in those days. The old cars were being got out, being rebored and got ready. A lot of the old cars had sun roofs which now leaked so we had a constant job covering most of them. We used Rexine secured to the roof with half round aluminium strips, screwed to the roof with Parker - Kalov screws.

We literally had a Ford 8, used during the War as a chicken house, reconditioned and sold to a dealer who drove it to Newport and resold it at a great profit.

Our first Ford Anglia had now arrived, EDL 102. We now had the old Ford DDL 154 on the lift repairing and preparing it for resale. Two dealers arrived and said we will give you £250 for it as it is now, so we lowered the lift and off it went to Guildford. It had done a fantastic mileage with the speedo broken some two years back.

We had a customer, Mr. Absey who lived at East Cowes. He knew William Morris personally. At Mr. Absey's he did the nickel plating of the Bull nosed Morris. Of course, as time went by he lost his work force to Morris who now did the work in his own factory.

One morning Mr. Absey called at the garage. He had bought the Ford from the people in Guildford. Because we had our name in the book he thought it was a good buy. He was not a particularly good driver so the little car that had done us so well was now to-ing and fro-ing from East Cowes to Guildford.

Mr. Absey had now turned Builder and built most of the houses in Millfield, Old Road , East Cowes.

I now became ill, completely exhausted. I had a quinsy in the throat and could neither eat nor drink. After three days Dr Sims came and pierced the quinsy.

I gradually got better, and keeping the promise I had made before I was so ill, built a downstairs room, kitchen-cum-diner. This relieved the pressure up and down the stairs, which was so tiring and exhausting at the time I was ill. We later built a separate kitchen, added to the downstairs room. We could not get any building materials, as these were rationed priority.

So most of the materials used were from a housein St Helen's that was slipping into the sea. Our dining room was panelled out and varnished - from large packing cases obtained from Saro Laminated at the Folly.

Although we now live in a new house my wife really prefers the old house. I suppose it was home and where the two boys were brought up.

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.