Monday, 10 March 2008

#012 The War Years

It was all history in 1939 as it was obvious when Hitler annexed Slovenia that war was inevitable. Quite a few of the club where called up in the “Militia”. The government had introduced ‘call up’ for age 21 group early, meanwhile my job as a draughtsman came to an end with, the firm closing due to lack of orders. I managed to obtain a job with Excelsior Foundry Co, an offshoot of the Allied Ironfounders Group (later Glynwed). This new post was in a general office and I was sent to a school in Nottingham to learn contompeters. This knowledge of Accounts and Buying was to hold me in good stead for jobs I had much later. The place of work was situated in Sandiacre which is about 4 miles from home and as we had a 1 ½ hour lunch break I was able to cycle home and back easily, this proved to be good training. Early in 1940 I was transferred to Burton Foundry Co, doing the same job but Allied Ironfounders had taken over and all our manufacture was transferred to Burton, actually only two of us were taken there the other man being the fitting shop Forman. Whilst still at Sandiacre we had with us a pattern maker for all the different castings, what marvellous men these were making everything in wood so a pattern could put in the black sand for iron moulding. We had a cupolo for melting the iron ore which came from Stanton just up the road, early in 1939 the firm had orders for bedplates for lathes manufactured by Myford Engineering Co at Beeston. The first rough castings looked OK but when Myford tried to machine big blowholes appeared - what a disaster. We had to employ a metallurgist, the cupola men had thrown coke pig iron and scrap just as they had for rainwater pipe, guttering and fire grates. The metallurgist soon put this right. My cousin Maurice, who was metallurgist at Vickers in Attercliffe Sheffield, thought it was a huge joke.

During the “phoney" war we still hostelled, especially during the winter. We dressed up Hartington hostel for Christmas using local holly and fir trees etc, it looked a picture. In 1933 the Y.H.A. was formed in this country, (by a German idea initially) A German had opened the hostel officially and had planted a tree. Owing to the hate campaign at this time towards the Germans the tree was uprooted and the plaque taken down. Luckily both the tree and the plaque was saved and when 1 took my young son Alan to Hartington in 1995 the tree and the plaque were back in position. Most of the eligible young club members were called up that winter which was a particularly bad winter.

Early in 1940 I had decided to race and with a new mate of mine, Gordon Roose (unfortunately drowned in a submarine in the Aegean in 1942) and with Freddie Hillier we started training under the watchful eye of Norman Casswell. Norman was to be our mentor for many years (wartime Navy duty years interupting this). Our first event early in February 1940 was a 25 mile T.T promoted by Doncaster Wheelers, we stayed the night at Barnby Moor about 40 mile from home. This place was a Transport CafĂ© only some 50 yds from the start. We arrived there in time for dinner. The place was run by an ex-racing cyclist named Albert Thorley, he cooked the dinner on an open fire range whilst he was talking to us about his racing and coalmining days. He paused to spit a coal blackened gob over the top of our egg and chips ‑ it almost put us off, (it takes a lot to put cyclists of their food) We then retired to bed – and discovered why the place was called ‘Thorleys bug hut’!. The race started at 7 a.m. and it was so cold. At that time, the RTTC regulation clothing was black, full-length tights and black alpaca jacket - this was supposed to be inconspicuous, we looked like a bunch of crows.

Youth Hostelling continued to play a big part in our weekends during 1939/40. Hartington, Ravenstor, Derwent and Leam Hall being our favourites, we cooked our own food having marvellous evening meals, then down to the pub, back to the common room for a singsong. We dressed Hartington youth hostel up for Christmas using only holly and parts of fir trees, it looked a picture. We stayed home for Christmas meeting on Boxing Day in the Royal Oak pub, which was just across the road from our house/shop. The pub was packed and, with piano and drums in the concert room, everyone had a great time. Early in January 1940 when cycling to work, I broke my left wrist running in to the rear of a white Carter’s pop lorry, which I had not seen in the thick fog. 1940 was a very bad winter and I was off work for three weeks of the worst of the weather. After recovering from this with my wrist still in plaster, we set of early in February on a first training run to Waterhouses of Mrs Hickinbottom fame. Things were ok until we reached Ashbourne then on the climb up Swinscoe we hit snow. We skidded down all the hills, i.e. still on 69” fixed gear with one brake, just locking the back wheel. Of course Norman Casswell had no lock ring fitted, so he had to hold on my shoulder to slow down. Arriving at Waterhouses at 12 noon we knocked on Mrs Hickinbottm’s door and for once she made us welcome, drying our clothes and our shoes, she was so surprised to see us in the foul weather. We did not stay long, although she cooked us a fine meal and supplied us with a dozen eggs each, and gave us each a box and straw to carry them back home. We had difficulty tying the boxes to the rear of our bikes, but we got the eggs home OK much to the pleasure of our parents.

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