Just Miles
The Memoirs of Percy Harwood

Page 6

Saturday afternoons I had to sit in a room without any light in total darkness this was due to the fact that at the weekend the generating plant closed down so no light! My job was to wait for the Managing Director, Mr. Peter Ewing, to be collected by his chauffeur driving his white Argyle car, I then had to collect the petrol cans kept in the regulation brick store and carry them to the car. I sometimes stayed for anything from 1-3 hours, all this for one shilling.

It was not long before I realised that the senior office boy Vernon Woodland was sweet on the girl in the print room, a blond called Miss Farrow, he spent most of his time in the print room and left me to cope with the three drawing offices and answering bells, so the day came when I refused to put any more drawings away. After one or two days we were almost unable to get into the stores.

It was then agreed to halve the drawings. I was soon to find out that the drawings he put away were stored into drawers, and mine were always in the bundles, in the lower store, which meant the stairs and in most cases steps had to be used to get them on the higher shelves, these bundles were very heavy and carrying them up steps was exhausting. One day tempers flared and we fought each other hammer and tongs, in the height of this Mr. Scadding's bell rang, he was Head of department, a small skinny grey man, I cannot even remember him smiling, he was very strict and when his bell rang we had to jump. I refused to go, so Woodward the senior boy had no choice, his hair was ruffled, face bleeding and in a general mess. The balloon went up, the outcome was that I was transferred immediately to the works.

In those days it was not a question of where you wanted to be, it was a case of where there was a vacancy, so I ended up in a shop turnery. I was put on a small Herbert Capstan Lathe under a senior apprentice, George Williams, making oil fuel sprayer spares. Later I was transferred to another apprentice, Sticker Woldsford as he was known, so my apprenticeship as a turner started.

The noise in the shop was indescribable, it was impossible to hear oneself speak, but surprisingly, after a short while, one could hold a conservation and if someone dropped a spanner at the other end of the shop it could be heard.

Having left the office we now had to use the works toilet, only ever once did I go to the "Bog", as it was called. I was really shocked, some 20 or 30 toilets in one long row, no partitions or doors, just exposed to all.

It was the practice that when a boy became 21 years old he was sacked that very day. I have known the day when some boys were sacked at lunchtime., one must remember that this was the 1930s and things were very bad. I remember that families could obtain a cup of soup at East Cowes Town hall for I p. Any food leftover I had to take to my Auntie Rene who lived not far from us. On one occasion she said that she had a bit of luck that day, her chicken had laid an egg.

J S White were known the world over and jobs were always available to a J.S.W. man if he had left the area. We all had a very good apprenticeship and because it was slowing up to the slump of the thirties we were given jobs normally kept for more experienced men, we were taught and shown by the few more experienced men in shipbuilding. Looking back nearly all the boys made good and ended up with good jobs. A few remembered Ron Love a turner and marker off, who ended up as chief inspector in an aircraft factory. Lionel Ballard, Chief Engineer in Bert Bolton and Hayward's, Ivan Ballard, Works Manager in an aircraft factory, Gilly Reeves, Chief Engineer in an oil tanker, Tange ,Chief Engineer in an oil tanker, Sam William, Government Consultant for the Navy's Fleet during the War, Oiks Reed , his own design and draughtsman company employing 30 men and many more.

  • All wore bowler hats.
  • Head of firm J.S.W.- Peter Ewing.
  • Head of Engineering - Willy Hoare.
  • Works Manager - Tommy Boyd
  • Head of Boiler Shop - Johnstone.
  • Head of machine shop - Teddy Baker

During my apprenticeship I sold my Mackenzie and bought a second hand Royal Enfield, a 2 1/4 HP 2 stroke, this bike had the luxury of chain drive and kick start, two speed but no hand clutch, but by using a toe heel pedal and by gently pressing forward the bottom gear gently engaged, and by using the heel pressure top gear was engaged. I remember riding it to Alum Bay and was able to sell it to a Mr. Isaacs of the tea gardens fora profit of three pound. I came home on one of the White Heather coaches that was an island tour. I then bought a Dunnett two stroke DL4988, a 500c upswept exhaust and saddletank as it was called, being one of the first bikes to conceal the top tube of the frame. The piston broke up and I had to get a replacement, I only mention this as I have never seen before such a piston (Insert copy drawing here.)

Three piston rings at the top, 1 ring on the trunk. The Dunned was sold and by the time I was 21 I had 17 motor cycles, Douglas , Matchless Rudge, 2 Dunnetts, Excelsor, New Imperial, Royal Enfield, Ariel and so on.

Albert Flux was the charge hand in "A" shop, he had ginger hair, always wore a cap, chewed tobacco, smoking was not allowed, his waistcoat was always shiny, not by the slurney as on most peoples' clothes but by the dripping tobacco. A very capable man, knew the job inside and out and could perform on any machine. He could also quote any verse in the Bible and every day did. One could ask him about a job and he would go on making quotes from the Bible.

In those days John Bull magazine had a competition running called John Bull Bullets. Albert came in one morning, he had won a prize with a bullet "Like a mighty ocean, Mother's tear drop", "good bye sonny". I remember he was in good spirits.

Alex Flux, his brother, also worked in "A" shop as a setter up. A much taller man who always wore white overalls (these days I employ his grandson), the wages were 7s 6d per week, 48 hours, rising to 16s, after the stamp had been paid) , up to the age of 21. As an improver, after 21 years the pay was £2.3s if one was lucky to be kept on. A mechanic got £2. 18s.

Alex would set up the lathe to make Oriface plates a kind of measured jet, and promptly told you that the last boy made 144 per shift, hinting that you were expected to make the same number, when one reached the age of 18 you were taken off this job because it was considered to be too expensive. Nelson Flux, no relation, was a tool maker always walked with a stoop, middle aged, but he had an uncanny knowledge of motor cycles, he could describe all the T.T. races in the Isle of Man and he would describe the fact that Jimmy Simpson won the Senior and middle race on the same A.J.S. 3.50 cc motor cycle.

In the early apprenticeship days I became friendly with a George Simpson, he was musical and could play the violin and I could now manage in some humble way to read music and play at the piano, so many were the evenings playing and singing together.

His eldest brother Jack, called always Jock, was an excellent pianist and had formed a dance band called the "Sylvians", this band played at most of the important dances held on the Island. There were dancing classes held twice a week at Cowes, Smalls on Monday, the Lallows on Thursdays. George and I went to these classes and at the start of the evening when only a few people were there, Jock and his band had gone fora drink, George and I had a little go. The Sylvians arrived a little later so George and I played a little longer.

We now formed our own group called the Sylvian Juniors we played at the East Cowes Barracks, the Iron Room, most of the Women's Institutes for dances and social evenings. We were the first band to play at Brightstone Holiday Camp during the summer months, 3 nights a week, also at the East Cowes open air dances on the front, this was during our apprenticeship period, this caused plenty of fun, hardships, crisis and incidents and looking back however we had the nerve and audacity .I shall never know. We were paid on average about 5s per night and if we got 7s 6d it was the tops.

  • Bruce Morris ... Tenor Sax, sometimes Bill Fripp on Trumpet
  • Norman Ridley... Drummer
  • George Simpson ...Violin
  • Jack Tong... Alto Sax
  • P. Harwood... Piano
  • Les Bears... Banjo

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.