Tuesday, 3 February 2015

Freda's Story - And Now To Work part 2

This is the second part of the story of Freda's working life.

Part one can be found here

And the other parts of her story so far can be found here:

The Early Days

My Parents

School Days

The next part of Freda's story which I will post next week centres around her travel from holidays here in England to visiting the Vatican.

Once, we were on duty, from 6pm to 6am. Our sleeping quarters were right on the top floor of our warehouse at Eastgate. Not an ideal place, but we accepted the situation. I must add, we spent most of our time playing cards and afterwards would send out for fish and chips. Mr Sutcliff (the chip shop owner) would keep them back for us and no coupons were required. There was much laughter and thankfully we were never called into action, only when practice runs were arranged and everyone had to know what to do. I had my moments.

On one occasion the alarm went and we all reached for our helmets and boiler suits. Now I was quite plump and they had picked out the biggest suit for me. Alas I was short too and with the long legs and arms of the suit, I had great difficulty in running to my place. The warden in charge took one look at me and said “You, girl, go back to the shelter, as you’re no good to me like that!” It was a grim Freda that night and caused quite a bit of laughter. But that’s the way it was. Later my sister cut and stitched the arms and the next practice night went better.

Looking back on those evenings, they were some of the pleasantest nights of the war. We were on duty one Christmas night and though we all moaned about it, it had to be done. The evening turned out better than we thought. My Mother, bless her, cooked a large chicken, and we did roast potatoes in the oven that was in the room that was used as a canteen. With mince pies that the girls had brought, we had a real Christmas evening. Luckily there were no sirens that night.

Another memorable night, we were woken by a continuous noise early on in the evening. Looking out of the window, we saw tank after tank and lorries full of men trundling up over the hill and onto the A38. This went on for ages. Little did we know it then, but we found out later they were on their way preparing for D-day and the Normandy landings. One night I shall look back on with some pride.

And so the war went on, and the factory followed the fortunes of our boys who were called up so quickly. It was amazing. They all came back except one and he was not killed by enemy action, he was accidentally shot on the shooting range whilst they were practicing. We all mourned for Ivor.

 We went through some hard times when the order books were empty and we all got a bit worried about our jobs. It was then Mr Besley, one of our favourite bosses, called us together and put the situation to us. I can still remember his closing words at the meeting.

 He said, “We are in this together. All I ask is that you put every effort into the work and we shall get through this crisis.”

It must have inspired all concerned because a few months later we were on our way up.

The management had got it together and orders were coming in and we survived.

After the war, nylon and terralin came on the market and the factory took on the new product and threads were produced for the fishing net making industry. It was an exciting time and soon we were making and supplying nylon and terralin threads to the net making firm at Bridport Gundry, who were known as net makers to the world. It proved beneficial to both mills, as with only a few miles between us, it meant that threads could be delivered quickly. At that time, there was quite a lot of business between the two places, Bridport and Taunton, and many exciting and important issues unfolded.

One memorable occasion was the world cup in 1966. The goal nets used at the Wembley venue were made at Bridport, but most importantly, the twine used in this making was ‘twisted and thrown’ at Pearsells in Taunton. The men involved in the spin and throw actually believed they were entitled to a cup final ticket but of course, that never happened. But it was a blow when they heard the directors were there. Ah well, you can’t win them all.

The nets at Wimbledon too started their life at Pearsalls and we made and produced mending twine for several Scandinavian countries. It was good to be involved in this new and exciting product and so the firm prospered.

I was involved in the making of surgical sutures and spent quite a bit of time on the braiding machine that produced them. Three nights a week, I worked with the night shift worker, Len, preparing the machines for the night run. I worked from 6 until 8, it was quite an amazing time and I became quite an authority on sutures as my day job was involved with the sutures too. I remember when I started at fourteen, there were only about thirty heads making sutures and after the Second World War there were 400 or more producing sutures and we made and supplied them all over the world and I felt a sense of involvement which gave me quite a kick. This might sound a bit over the top but I was young and enthusiastic and wanted to know as much as I could.

On a very special day quite out of the blue, my foreman and works manager recommended me as a supervisor and I took on a new role. The machines I knew well were moved to a little original factory built in 1816 by a man called George Rowlinson who came to Taunton during or just after the Luddite rebellion. He first went to Exeter with a Mr Heathcote. I haven’t heard what exactly happened but Mr Heathcote went on to Tiverton and established a factory there on the banks of the River Exe. Mr Rowlinson came back to Taunton and built a factory on Tancred Street, It had quite a piece of land in front of it and cottages were built for workers with two rooms up and two rooms down. The
toilets were shared and built within the area, not ideal but that’s how things were in those days.

It was amazing that families were brought up in these little buildings. During the second world war the little factory was taken over by the government. Stores and buildings were erected to house firemen who had suffered in the blitz in London and other cities.

Now back in use, I was put in charge of the top floor of this historic building and I spent many happy years there. It was quite an event when it was decided to build an extension to the factory on ground joining the existing one.

And so in the seventies the new factory took shape and was officially opened and new and modern machinery from Italy was installed. Soon they were up and running. It was good to be involved in such a project.

 Later I was made the training officer for the firm which meant that I dealt with all the new intakes. This was quite varied as some were older folk but the most interesting ones were young folk straight from school. Being with these young folk and assessing their potential was very rewarding and very helpful to the works manager. I soon set up a rapport with them and some settled more quickly than others. We were very keen to help backward teenagers but we were always able to fit them in somewhere.

I had a couple of challenges one of which was with two severely deaf boys. I am pleased to say they both turned out as excellent workers. Having a deaf mother, I was able to communicate with them well.

Later I was put in charge of Women’s Welfare and Accidents, so all in all it made my day to day job interesting.

With such a challenging job, the days went quickly and it would be very difficult to write down the many events that happened, some serious but quite a lot funny. Humour was abundant always. As you can guess, the factory always produced quite a range of characters and we had plenty of those. They made the working day very rewarding, gave one a lift sometimes when things were a bit grim.

One of the most satisfactory incidents took place in the seventies. The factory received an order from Syria for thousands of pounds worth of surgical sutures. It was one of the biggest orders ever received and the finished product revolved around my department. There was a penalty clause in the contract that the order had to be finished and delivered within a limited amount of months. A challenge indeed! I remember, with other members of staff, meeting the Syrian rep. who had placed the order and much to my surprise, the boss had told them my department was the finishing department and a lot depended on how we tackled it. He seemed quite impressed and presented me with a brass plate, made in Damascus. It still has pride of place over the mantle piece in my dining room.

He also gave gifts to other members of staff who were involved, but secretly I knew I had an excellent choice.

And so began the great push to get the product going. My team of girls were just great and I have always thought along the lines, “if you can work up enough enthusiasm, it rubs off on others” and it certainly worked for us. We managed to finish the contract with three weeks to spare. It was exciting to see the van being loaded. It was a very big one as the Syrians wanted the whole of the consignment to be delivered overland so that meant a long journey. Then something happened to give us all a shock.

Dockers went on strike!!! Our van full of exports was at Dover waiting for official documents from the Syrian embassy. The driver knew that whilst his van was in England, the penalty clause was still held. Luckily, he used his initiative to phone the Syrian embassy, telling them he was taking the last ferry out and telling them to fly the documents over to Calais. This they did and the van started the journey and a lot of relieved sales officers and directors breathed a sigh of relief. We waited for a few weeks to hear of the consignments arrival. One morning the boss came to my department with a big smile on his face, to tell my department the load of surgicals had arrived at the appointed place in Syria.

What a day that was! A tray of glasses of sherry appeared and we all shared the good news. Our efforts had been appreciated. It is at times like this that make your working day worth while and more so when you are deeply involved. I must add that the team of girls that worked under me at that time, were superb and had given everything to get this big consignment to its successful conclusion.

All in a days work!

Many months later, I received a letter from 10 Downing Street signed by Mrs Thatcher, the Prime Minister at that time. The letter informed me that I had been awarded the B.E.M (British Empire Medal) which was a very big honour indeed and such a surprise.

The letter also said it had been awarded for my services to industry, very exciting, but I thought whatever I did it was part of my job, never-the-less a big honour.

The letter stated I was to tell no one so I had to keep the secret for many weeks. Then one day, the Managing Director Mr Darley called me to his office to ask me if I had received the said letter. It was a big occasion and the news spread through the factory.

The only disappointment was, that it was a civil occasion and instead of the Queen presenting it, the Lord Lieutenant of Somerset had the honour. But I did get a letter from Queen Elizabeth, which I still treasure.

 It was a lovely occasion and I was able to invite all my girls, who worked so hard for me, and other friends and relations. A splendid meal was served, with champagne of course. My minister, The Rev’d Paul Hulme, did the devotions and read the citation. An exciting day and I received many cards and gifts and a special meal given by my church.

All of my social life was centred around the Temple Methodist Church and I was a keen worker in the Sunday School. Very rewarding it was too, and I loved being with the children 80-100 of them.

My dear friend Lilly Chidgey produced pantomimes. She wanted the children to know that the good Lord was with them in their fun and exciting things as well as being a follower of Christian belief. I helped in all the pantomime productions – there were 28 of them and very popular they were. Coaches came from all round Somerset to see our productions. I must say, they were very good and the children involved still remember these times today as some of the happiest times. I taught most of the dances and the singing. We made quite a bit of money for church projects. People would queue to get tickets. They were very hard to get but we had full houses all the week of the production and we kept going all through the war time days.

 Many interesting things happened, numerous funny ones and worrying ones too but
all in all, it is a time I remember with pride. So my social life was happy and very fulfilling
and it was grand to be involved in so many things with lovely friends but my working life
went on just the same.

My Father had died at the early age of 49 and left my dear Mother devastated.

My sisters married and were lucky in their chosen loves, both reaching their golden



joeh said...

So far, an extraordinary, ordinary life.

I hope that came out right.

Sarah said...

Absolutely Joe, Freda always described herself as ordinary but I would say that she was very far from that. I'm so lucky to have a copy of her story and it's a privilege to be able to share it

Stephen Hayes said...

Even an ordinary life can make a fascinating story in the hands of a gifted writer such as yourself.

Holly Hollyson @ Full of Beans and Sausages said...

Wow Freda - a BEM! What an amazing woman you were! Fascinating too that she knew of the origins of the nets and I felt her pain when she was too plump and short for her boiler suit! She wrote so matter of factly about it all though!

Sarah said...

Thank you Stephen, although I can't take any credit as the words are Freda's and I have done very little editing. Her story completely fascinates me.

I know Holly, totally amazing! Re-reading Freda's story is almost like talking to her, she was a very matter of fact lady and truly didn't realise how amazing she was.