Manufacturers of the Best Aircraft in the World
- This is from the "magnum opus", Dad's memoir of his life up to middle age.
When I attended an interview at the Handley Page Limited Test Department at Park Street, near St Albans, the Electrical Laboratory was like being back in the RAF, the components of the 'Hastings' aircraft which were awaiting attention being exactly the same as the 'Lincoln' components. I could easily recall the service reference numbers and this probably had some significance in my being offered the job. My title was Technical Assistant to the Chief Test Engineer, 'Don' Pratt. The interview should have been with 'Ken' Pratt (no relation), but he was sick. 'Ken' was Assistant to W H MacRostie but was soon to be appointed as Chief Engineer.
'Don' discussed the travel problem as my motor cycle was not yet finished and I took his advice to seek 'digs' in St Albans. I moved in with Mr and Mrs Griffin of Tavistock Avenue and this worked out very well because there was a backlog of work which allowed me to work overtime so I could leave at 6pm and get a lift with 'Griff' who commuted from Edgware Station to London. The 'digs' were home from home and were normally shared by two of us from Handley Page Limited (HP), my fellow lodger or PG (paying guest) as Mrs Griffin preferred to call us varying from time to time as and when my colleague got married or moved to Hatfield, to deHavilland. It was quite usual for personnel in the aircraft industry at that time to move between these two companies as salaries and other factors fluctuated.
My main activity initially was involved in servicing of 'Hastings' aircraft components. The aircraft came in for a major service, which included a spar change. If there was any damaged skin, this was replaced. The wiring was renewed and all the electrical components were tested. If they proved to be 'SERVICEABLE' then they were simply refitted on the aircraft but if they were found to be 'UNSERVICEABLE' then they were replaced with new items. There was a very small amount of servicing, confined to the sort of simple adjustments that any competent aircraft electrician might undertake in the Service. In other words it really was just like being back in the RAF. However, while we were doing this work in the Electrical Laboratory, the principal job of the Test Department was the structural testing of the 'Victor' aircraft to gain its Certificate of Airworthiness. The 'Victor' had made its maiden flight on Christmas Eve in 1952 and I joined the Company in May 1954. It would be easy to write a detailed history of the Company but that has been very well documented by a mass of literature, notably, 'Handley Page Aircraft since 19O7' written by C H Barnes, published by Putnam in 1976.
I very quickly settled into a routine of spending the week in St Albans and going home for the week-end. The motor cycle was completed and I took it to the 'digs'. Life seemed to be very settled. I was getting on well with colleagues at work, Terry Garard was in the same laboratory and the Flight Observers were in the next office. The partitions between the offices were typically flimsy and the girls in the 'Flobs' were very understanding about my robust language. The 'Flobs' were led by Ian Bennett and included a young Australian, Bruce Heithersay, who was madly keen on tennis and did everything possible to be at Wimbledon every day of the tournament. The Chief Test Pilot was Sqn Ldr Hazeldene and he seems to have led a charmed life. His biography should be written. I have suggested this to him but I get the impression that although 'Hazel' doesn't mind a chat over a glass (or two) of beer, he is reluctant to commit himself to what seems to be a lengthy ordeal. On what must rank as one of the most dreadful days that I have ever known, the 'Victor' was being prepared for flight and time was getting short. 'Hazel' disliked taking off after lunch because this would inhibit his intake of refreshment. Of course, he would not abandon a series of sorties just to have a 'liquid lunch' but it did tend to control the start of the day. The 'Victor' was not ready in time so 'Hazel' said: "Right, I'm off." He then went to the George and Dragon and another pilot, Ronald Ecclestone, was given the job. The task was to check pitot error. Instruments such as the Air Speed Indicator rely on pressure being fed into a tube from the pitot head. As the air speed changes, so does the pressure and hence the speed can be measured. The whole system must be calibrated and, in our case, Cranfield was being used. They had a black corrugated section of curved fence with a cine camera mounted at its centre of curvature. The aircraft being tested then flies at the appropriate speed along the runway, followed by the camera which 'sees' the aircraft and, simultaneously, the graduations marked on the fence. The test proceeded normally until a run at 25O knots (I think) when the tailplane was seen to leave the aircraft which then crashed, killing all four crew aboard.
To complete the 'Hazel' saga, there must have been many occasions during the war when 'Hazel' had narrow escapes, but had previously been lucky. On one occasion, 'Hazel' and another HP pilot, Dalton-Golding, exchanged 'Canberras'. We were building, under licence, two English Electric 'Canberra' aircraft a month and the ground crew had put the wrong gear into each of the aircraft. 'Hazel' and 'D-G' simply exchanged machines and took off. The machine being flown by 'D-G' suffered jammed power controls and it plunged into the railway embankment. On another occasion, it is quite likely that 'Hazel' would normally have been flying the 'Hermes' which crashed on its way to London Airport. After the takeover of Miles Aircraft Limited, HP continued production at Woodley, renamed HP (Reading) Limited. The 'Herald' grew out of this and, after being fitted with two Rolls Royce 'Dart' engines, it was flown from Radlett airfield. One morning, 'Hazel' had a slight difference of opinion with his wife who, nevertheless agreed to fly down to Farnborough. On the way, one of the 'Darts' lost a turbine blade which sliced through fuel lines and made a hole in the fuselage. The flames from the ensuing engine fire burnt the tailplane and control by any pilot with less strength or skill would not have been possible. After very narrowly avoiding some power cables 'Hazel' belly landed in a field. The 12 people on board were terrified but 'Hazel' quietly advised them to leave: "By that convenient hole in the fuselage." While they stood and watched the aeroplane burn his wife said: "Look Hedley, I know that you're in a bad mood, but this is ridiculous."
It may well be that my whole mental attitude towards making friends has been biased by the 'Victor' Prototype (WB771) crash because I have not made lasting friendships as easily since. It was only a short time after the crash that I went home one week-end to be greeted with the fact that, because we only needed a smaller flat, the Council had offered a two bedroomed one on the third floor and Mum had agreed to the move. She took me up to see the new flat and I cannot describe my feelings when I saw that it was number 8O, the 'Victor' being HP8O. For some months, every time that I saw the number 8O on our door I felt sick. I cannot explain why it should act as a reminder.
By the late summer of 1954 I was beginning to be bored in the evenings so I telephoned St Albans College of Further Education (as it was then) and spoke to Lewis Budd, the Head of the Evening Department and told him that I would like to do some part-time lecturing. He explained that he had all the staff he needed for the coming session but would let me know if any vacancies arose. I thought that this would be the end of the matter but, in December, was invited to attend an interview. There were three candidates for one job and the first of these was clearly too young and inexperienced so while he was being seen, the other candidate and I discussed the position in detail. He was well qualified, had experience of lecturing and seemed to me to be the right man for the job. I explained this to Lewis and said that I would not be at all offended if he and the Principal, Donald Newman, made the appointment. Lewis said that there were now two jobs and he felt that I was the right man for the second of these. In his usual disarming fashion he explained that the students were pre-engineering apprentices and carried bicycle chains under their collars. He said: "You are a big lad and look as if you can take care of yourself." I hasten to add that Lewis did mean all this figuratively and I have never (well, only once) hit a student. The students that Lewis referred to were a group of 3O pre-apprentices split into two groups. Lads left school at the age of 15, spent a year as 'shop boys' and then started apprenticeships at 16, and finished at 21. The College was accommodated in two large Victorian houses and I taught on the ground floor in one. It was a long room with a wide bench along its entire length. The blackboard was at one end and the lecturer's desk at the other. It was easy to pass along one side but involved a certain amount of 'squeezing past' down the other side. One of my students was from HP and he decided to 'play me up'. After two evenings of his nonsense I went from my desk to the blackboard via the difficult route. As I stepped over the hearth I tripped and my elbow gave him a firm whack round the ear. I, of course, apologised for my clumsiness. In a very short time he started again so I asked: "Do you want me to fall over the hearth every five minutes Dronfield?" The rest of the class laughed. I was somewhat concerned when the Apprentice Supervisor came to see me but he merely wanted inside information because other lecturers had complained. Eventually, Dronfield was sacked. Some months later a new Dronfield, minus the 'Teddy boy' haircut but looking clean and smart in Army uniform came into my office and, giving me a smart salute, thanked me for putting up with him. I realised that the right way to deal with student problems does not lie in tripping over kerbs and when my patience got near to its limit in later years I thought of Dronfield, who had no aptitude for engineering. The reason why HP had been chosen as a career company was that the family lived in the near vicinity and it was simply 'expected' that any younster would go to work for the Company.
One of my colleagues, Eric Abbott, was a Senior Technical Assistant. We had many jobs and problems which brought us together and we became good friends. Eric was an extremely competent mechanical engineer and although he understood any electrical principle that I explained, he always asked for my specialist opinion. Our first joint ventures were two involving one of Eric's staff in the manufacture of test rigs for testing of starter motors and fuel pumps. One of Eric's staff drew a design for another rig which was to be manufactured from sheet steel. The 'works' were busy and so we were asked if it could be made from plywood instead. This was agreed and the drawings amended and re-issued. The following day, the Foreman Carpenter came to ask Eric to explain how he could weld plywood.
Eric was also lecturing part-time but at Hatfield Polytechnical College. One evening he was to give a lecture on Hooke's Law of Elasticity. He thought that it would be more interesting if he told the students the background of Hooke, being a contemporary of Halley and interested, not only in microscopes for which he was already justly famed but also Astronomy. Hooke wanted to develop a timepiece so that he could use astral charts in order to navigate. This meant developing a source of stored energy and hence his interest in Elasticity, leading to Hooke's Law. Eric said that his students seemed to be more interested in the man than in his law. I was not surprised to hear this and my interest in Hooke began. There was a biography of Robert Hooke by Margaret Espinasse in the College Library. The last week of the College year was devoted for a number of years to 'Options Week' in which students could attend any events of their choice, such events being arranged by members of staff. I was asked to provide a lecture and decided on 'The Life and Times of Robert Hooke'. Eric's basic outline was supplemented by notes made after reading the biography and one of my colleagues lent me a model of the first illuminated microscope. I saw a mention of the Oxford series of books 'Early Science In Oxford' by R T Gunther and asked Roy Nichols, the Librarian, if he could get these for me. He found them in the London Wing section of the British Museum Library. They had to be delivered by Securicor and an undertaking given that they would not be allowed out of the Library. I was allowed to take them home and read them from cover to cover at least twice. After telling the family parts of the Robert Hooke story over the years it has now become quite normal when there is a mention of any invention for one of them to say: "I'll bet Robert Hooke invented it first."
When 'Julie's' mother died there was enough money for her to buy each of us a present. 'Julie' approached specialist booksellers to see if any of them could supply these books. An antiquarian bookseller in Mill Hill got some together. He apologised that one volume had some pencilled annotations where a previous owner had used it for research but said that he wouldn't attempt to clean them off. The name of that owner was on the flyleaf and it was Margaret Espinasse. The five volumes of which I am now the proud owner are:
- Vol VI The Life And Work Of Robert Hooke (Part I)
- Vol VII The Life And Work Of Robert Hooke (Part II)
- Vol VIII The Cutler Lectures Of Robert Hooke
- Vol X The Life And Work Of Robert Hooke (Part IV)
- Vol XIII The Life And Work Of Robert Hooke (Part V)
- Vol X includes Hooke's Tract on Capilliary Attraction 1661 and Diary 1688 to 1693.
- Vol XIII is Hooke's Micrographia 1665.
When 'Ron' Pottinger and I were taking our HNC, we were told that Applied Mechanics at 4th year would be assessed. It therefore became very important to pass. 'Ron' offered to teach me the Principle of Bow's Notation which had eluded me throughout the year. I insisted on allowing it to remain a complete mystery and knew that my choice of questions would thus be reduced from 6 of 1O to 6 of 9. One Wednesday afternoon Cyril Green, the Head of Department of Engineering, rang me at HP to ask if I would mind giving a lecture for him that evening. I was already lecturing on Tuesday and Thursday evenings and when I agreed, the conversation went something rather like:
Cyril: "I don't want to take up too much of your valuable spare time." George: "That's quite alright Cyril, I'm very glad to have something to do." Cyril: "Are you quite sure that I'm not imposing?" George: "Of course not Cyril, I'm as free as a bird." Cyril: "Good. Well Mr X has been taking the ONC Mechanical Science and has been called away on business. He has left a copy of the syllabus marked up and I would like you to teach Bow's Notation. George: "Right, Cyril I'll be there."
There was no way that I could now wriggle out and so I went up to Eric's office and asked him: "How long would it take you to teach me Bow's Notation?" Eric gave the question a 3O second 'trance', which is what we rude juniors called his periods of thought and then replied: "Five minutes." I asked if he could spare me five minutes. Needless to say, I gave the lecture and, largely thanks to Eric's fine skill, I have regarded this topic as one of my favourites ever since.
One of my routine jobs was to test samples of the crimping of electrical connections. This required measurement of the electrical resistance of connections and their 'pull off' strength. The best connections will break in one of two ways before 'pulling off'. Eric took keen interest in all these tests and, together we set up the HP standards, with some 3OOO results to back us up. We took the results to the British Standards Committee but failed to convince them that we had something to offer. However, one of the manufacturers, ERMA Limited of Wembley, needed independent test results for the CEGB and the founder of the Company, Eric Marx, had considerable confidence in our test methods and awarded HP with a contract. This involved visiting the CEGB at Leatherhead and, in turn, being visited by one of the Board's Consultants, who was also independent. Later, the tests involved cycles of heat to simulate atmospheric conditions. I needed a 32OO ampere supply and decided to make this by over-winding (with 16 x 2OO ampere coils connected in parallel) a transformer which was already available and used on a regular basis. It was still working at the demise of HP.
Eric had a major job in testing of windscreens. It is hard to imagine the stresses to which an aircraft windscreen is subjected but, suffice to say that with four windows, side by side in front of the two pilots, liable to be struck by a bird weighing four pounds, it cannot be taken lightly. Add to that the fact that we developed electrical heating by means of a film of gold, which was 'spattered' on to one element of glass before lamination and you may begin to get some idea of the complexity. Add to that the fact that in order to heat the glass to prevent icing up and/or misting and that the supply is from the aircraft's 2OO volt, 4OO hertz, 3 phase supply with a maximum consumption on all the four window panels of 8 kilowatts and the testing complexity, at the normal temperature at 'service ceiling' of -7OoC can more easily be imagined. One of the basic problems was that we had a good supply ot test equipment but it would be a nuisance to tie any of it into a test rig for very lengthy periods, eg 9 months. I therefore made up electrical test instruments, not only for my own rigs but also for Eric's.
Having completed our own testing of the Triplex Gold Film Windscreen, Eric took the specification to the Society Of British Aircraft (now Aerospace) Constructors, Farnborough and it was adopted as their (SBAC) Specification. British Standards were represented at the meeting and adopted our specification as the BSS. Another job on which Eric and I co-operated was the device which dropped nuclear stores. There was a major snag which needed to be explained to senior Air Ministry personnel. We went to RAF Station Gaydon and needed entry to sensitive areas. Security screening at HP was satisfactory but we needed honorary ranks for the day. Hence I was a Squadron Leader for one day. It had not occurred to me what the effect would be of telling the 'powers that be' that the Country had no nuclear deterrent. There was considerable dashing 'to' and 'fro' with 'Signal here' and 'Signal there'. Within a few days the panic was over and we returned to normal.
There were two other contracts awarded to HP in which I was involved. The first was Bay Servicing of 'Hastings' aircraft. Bay Servicing is simply servicing in a fully equipped bay so that components, when certified 'SERVICEABLE' are then re-lifed and fitted to the aircraft 'as new'. I prepared a report, listing all the servicing schedules, requirements for spares and special tools etc and fairly high ranking Civil Servants came to a meeting to decide whether HP should get the contract. We were in competition with another company who specialise in this sort of work and also with the RAF. I started by working through my report, showing its feasibility, that the 'through put' timing was correct and that the pricing had been correctly arrived at. This took most of an hour, at which point the Chairman, Chief Draughtsman 'Freddie' Cooper, asked if there was any point of fact to query. The most senior of the Civil Servants asked: "What is Bay Servicing?" When I later reported to 'Ken' Pratt, and knowing that I could sometimes respond rather rudely to such ignorance, he said: "You didn't, did you?" I hastened to reassure him that I did want to win the contract and to tell him that it had been awarded to HP. Later, the ministry put the 'Victor' servicing out to tender and I won that contract as well.
Eric was given charge of the 'PERT' system in which the Bay Servicing was programmed on the ICL computer at Putney. My section was called BSC meaning Bay Services Chapman. When I was driving along with Peter Rickard one day, we came up behind a British Sugar Corporation tanker simply marked BSC and Peter said: "I think that your sweet tooth has got out of hand Chappers."
Before Peter joined HP he was employed in Labrador, on the 'Early Warning' radar and returned with enough money saved to buy a new house and a car. He and his wife, Carol, were living at Kingston with her mother and I suggested that he should try Hammersmith Bridge as an alternative to Kew Bridge and collect me at the Olympia. This worked out very well because it saved time for Peter and he preferred me to do the driving and so I gained some useful experience. I had not passed the Driving Test but neither had Carol and so the car was equipped with 'L' plates and was suitably insured. I should mention that the car was a brand new (1959) Morris 'Mini' and this was the start of my long association with 'Minis'. It was not long before Peter and Carol moved into their new bungalow in Bushey.
One summer holiday, 'Julie' and I spent a few days touring towns in Hertfordshire, calling on the likely authorities who may have building land for sale. The results were very disappointing and I asked 'Ken' Pratt if he would approach the HP Executive about our desire. The Company had, for a very considerable time, co-operated with Brent Council over housing. The Colney Housing Society had grown from this for employees who moved out from London, to then be housed in the Park Street area and large numbers of the houses built by the Society in nearby Brickett Wood and in Park Street bear testimony to this policy.
'Ken' was successful. There was a decision to dispose of a parcel of land in Mayflower Road, Park Street, by means of a draw to be held at Cricklewood, to which those who wished to participate were all invited. It has occured to me that there was an organised 'fiddle'. The parcel of land was large enough for four plots and none of us was concerned at the price, merely interested in buying the largest plot available. The four plots were designated A, B, C, and D which also happened to be the order of desirability. The first name drawn from the hat was Mrs Shaw, who was Sir Frederick's Social Secretary. 63 My name came out second, a Senior Technical Assistant. Next came 'Ken' Birkett, a Junior Technical Assistant and, finally, George Coe, an aircraft fitter. Of course, it may have been purely coincidental.
We went ahead with the purchase of the land. In the meantime, Mum had given us notice to quit, possibly believing that the purchase of the land and the ownership of a home of our own was more imminent than it was in fact. Another approach to the Company followed and we were offered the use of a cottage at Colney Street. The cottage was one of a block of four, being numbers 213, 215, 217 and 219 Radlett Road. We were offered number 213 for a year, bearing in mind that we may have built our house by then. The cottage was filthy. How the previous occupants could live in such conditions amazed us. My first job was to buy a shovel to clear dirty rubbish from the upstairs rooms. Eric and Mary found us temporary accommodation in Borehamwood where we slept for a few weeks while we made the cottage habitable. One detail I recall is that there had never been electricity installed and so we wired some rooms and had the supply laid on. The toilet (outside) needed hosing out before cleaning prior to painting. Eventually, we made the cottage into an acceptable home.
The 'George and Dragon' public house was immediately opposite the cottage and we went there fairly frequently to play bar billiards. When 'MIL' visited us we took her across for a drink and the landlord, 'Charlie' Cattermole, said: "I see that you've brought the other half of the sign in." From then on, 'MIL' was called 'The Dragon'.
Our first cat was adopted because one of the girls who worked with 'Julie' had to get rid of it. 'Sweetie' was a jet black female who immediately began to invite all the local tom cats and so we took her to be spayed. Much to our dismay, she was in such poor condition that the Veterinary Surgeon advised us to have her put to sleep. Her replacement, bought in North End Road, was a beautiful tabby tom. He had the most endearing habits, including beating the alarm clock by a few minutes and waking me by patting me on the cheek, accompanied by mewing. Unfortunately, 'Tiggy', so named because of his tiger like markings, was a most adventurous cat. He was not satisfied with the HP aerodrome and its baby rabbits, all accessible by jumping the rear fence, but insisted that there was something more interesting across the road, albeit the busy A5. One Sunday, he was run over and killed.
Cyril Green decided to re-liven the St Albans Engineering Society. He invited all the local engineering firms to be represented and it was natural that 'Don' Pratt should give me the task of dealing with it and, just as natural that I should ask Eric Abbott. We were asked to stand on the Committee and when it was being decided who to invite to be President I suggested the Duke of Edinburgh. This was voted against on the grounds that: "You'll never get him." I replied that you'll never get anybody if you don't ask. It was decided to ask Councillor Thornton to be President because he was an ex-mayor and an engineer. Eric and I were about to resign but our suggestion of Barnes Wallis for Vice-President met with approval. The Committee expected to meet with refusal but when Barnes Wallis was invited he replied that he had a friend who lived in St Albans but he and his wife did not see frequently enough and he would therefore be pleased to come and talk to our members at their inaugural meeting. It was, of course, the highlight of the Society's year.
Cyril wrote to ask Barnes Wallis what visual aids he would like and he replied that: "No extras will be needed as I shall be bringing my own Laternist with me." On seeing this my immediate reaction was that it might have been wise to give Barnes Wallis a miss. However, when I went to the College early to meet the Lanternist, with the sincere hope of being wrong about meeting somebody from an earlier century, he brought in a huge wooden case from which he lovingly extracted a Victorian polished brass lantern, the chimney of which looked capable of handling the exhaust of the Flying Scot. However, when the lantern was plugged in, the details already given me by Fred (for that was the name of the lanternist) were fully demonstrated. The newly replaced source of illumination was a high powered quartz halogen lamp which, combined with the original condenser, gave superb illumination but the reason why Barnes Wallis had retained the venerable lantern was because of its lens. I have seen some magnificent picture quality in my time but never anything to match that shown by Barnes Wallis.
He told the audience about a number of his experiences, including geodetic design of his airship and the Vickers 'Wellington' bomber, about his sliding door design (in the 193O's he hung a door in his house on two pram wheels as a space saving idea), his sculpture of his wife in wood (he measured the dimensions of her head at a large number of places, using callipers, and then drilled into a block of wood to the appropriate depth. He then applied a spot of paint at the bottom of each hole and finally, carved away the surplus wood down to the coloured spots). The likeness bore credit to his skill but he modestly dismissed this as: "Simply a traditional method of sculpting." He showed a film of the trials of his bouncing bomb, used in the 'Dam Buster' raids. I think his philosophy of 'Nothing ventured, nothing gained' was best expressed in his statement that when Vickers wanted to submit a design for huge radar aerials they gave the job to him, obviously the man for the job, he said, since he had never designed one before.
'Julie' and I had been welcomed into the Abbott household to become good friends of Eric, his wife Mary and as four little Abbotts arrived, them as well. Once, while we were still living at the flat, we were invited for a week-end, "Just for a rest." A typically thoughtful gesture.
There was a raffle held each week to raise funds for the Christmas Party for Children of employees. I offered to organise the transport and it was quite usual for the coach hired from Potters Bar to pick up from there and go to Borehamwood. In the meantime 'Julie' and I set out from the Olympia with our first pick up, catching the train from West Hampstead and making pick ups there and at Cricklewood, Hendon and Mill Hill, before leaving the train to board the coach at Borehamwood. From there the coach collected at London Colney, St Albans and Garston before finally arriving at the Park Street Village Hall for the Party at 2.Opm. At 6.Opm the whole process was reversed and we made our final delivery back at the Olympia at about 8.Opm. We never lost a child and only once arrived late owing to a heavy downfall of snow. The parents began to get worried but the children seemed to enjoy the adventure as much as the party.
Much of the credit for the success of these children's parties belongs to Jack Gunn. Jack worked on the engine gang and was, and still is, one of the world's gentlemen. He had the good fortune to be tall, handsome and to have a 'fruity' cultured voice which immediately invited anybody to be friendly and helpful.
I recall one occasion when he parked his car, a Humber 'Snipe' outside his house and then removed the master cylinder from his wife's Standard 8 and took it into his garage to service it. Meanwhile, his wife took her car to do some shopping. When Jack went out to refit the master cylinder he thought that there was a 'new' dent in the back of his car. He told his wife that he had serviced her brakes and she then said that she was pleased because they seemed to be getting worse and then related how, only that afternoon, she had difficulty stopping and had 'bumped' the back of his car. Jack's reaction was to laugh heartily, probably mainly with relief that nobody had been hurt but I wondered how many couples would have weathered such an incident so well.
As time went on I had a personal assistant, Derek Nudds, and it was quite usual for at least one apprentice to spend time in my laboratory. In addition, there was a 'Service Gang' outside the laboratory but within the Test Department. They numbered from one to about eight, depending on the amount of work in hand. I relied on Derek for a great deal of the routine testing, especially as the 'Victor' production progressed at Colney Street. There was an old Bedford van, for general use, but after a while it became referred to as 'George's van'. It took me on so many journeys along the perimeter track that I would quickly have lost count evn if I had tried to keep a score. Another reason for regular visits to the production shops was visits to the Loom Shop where all the electrical wiring looms were made under the watchful eye of the Foreman, 'Charlie' Reed. He was a typical example of a good foreman. After one particularly difficult series of problems had been ironed out he said: "Any more like that and I'll change the bloody aeroplane over to gas."
People like 'Charlie' kept the whole effort running smoothly, as did some Inspectors. 'Bill' Sargeant was my Inspector. When he sadly passed away I wrote an appreciation for the Handley Page Association Newsletter, a copy of which is reproduced here.
- Appreciation of Francis (Bill) Sargeant reproduced by kind permission of the Handley Page Association Newsletter.
- Hardly anybody knew his real name (Francis) because he always introduced himself as Bill and was always known by that name.
- Bill was an Inspector at HP Ltd for a very long time, his last years before the Company demise being in the Test Department at Park Street. While there he inspected many thousands of electrical components for Hastings, Herald and Victor aircraft and I can never remember a single occasion on which his judgement was seriously in question. As a Company servant he was therefore held in great esteem.
- As a friend he could always be relied upon to add wisdom and wit to any visit and my family and I will greatly miss him.
- After leaving HP he worked for Rediffusion in their simulator production facility until his failing eyesight finally forced him to undergo an operation for removal of two cateracts. He recovered well and for some years had enjoyed retirement in his cottage at Pitstone.
- Bill leaves a wife, Babs, whose paintings have, in recent years, begun to attract attention and we hope that her art will console her in her tragic loss.
Another interesting character was 'Mike' Ryan. He was the Chief Chemist and was married to the daughter of Squadron Leader Kieft, who owned Mayflower Air Services. 'Mike' was very keen on the Scilly Isles. Mayflower were allowed to run the service in competition with BEA (later to join BOAC to become British Airways) because their deHavilland Rapides (they used 2) flew from Exeter, whereas BEA only flew from Penzance.
'Mike' pursuaded 'Julie' and I to take a trip one Whitsun week-end. He arranged the trip magnificently. I paid him a single lump sum and he booked the train from Paddington to Exeter, the aircraft from Exeter to St Mary's and also arranged accommodation for us. The total cost of train and aircraft in the late 195O's was £16. We were met at Exeter by Captain Loat who, in common with everybody else associated with the trip, greeted us by name. I was invited to stand on the scales and offered our suitcase. Captain Loat then told me that it was me he wished to weigh in order to get the weight dist- ribution correct for the aeroplane. I was seated on the main spar with 'Julie' seated some distance away. The aircraft swung firmly when the brakes were tested and I felt sure that the flight would be delayed. However, the brakes were obviously felt to be satisfactory and we took off. During the flight, Captain Loat turned round (the door to the flight deck being open throughout the flight) and said: "We're just popping in to Plymouth to pick up Mr and Mrs Robinson." We then flew on to St Mary's and 'Julie' and I were once again greeted by name. The person concerned happened to be the taxi driver and when we asked him how he knew us he said: "Simple really, I recognised all the others and therefore you must be Mr and Mrs Chapman." He also knew where we were staying without any prompting from us.
We were advised to leave St Mary's every morning before the day trippers arrived on the SS Scillonian. This was easily achieved because a flotilla of small boats waited to take on passengers bound for the other islands and some round trips. We opted to go out with the Lloyd brothers. These two brothers had purchased an ex US Liberty boat and had refurbished it very well. We were therefore attracted to this smartest looking craft and, since they went to a different destination every day, we decided to go out with them every day. A bonus was that they had the contract to relieve both the Bishops Rock and Round Island Lighthouse. Unfortunately, Bishops Rock had been relieved the previous week but we went to Round Island, the main reason for this relief being that it was the birthday of one young keeper. One of the Lloyd brothers threw a package across to him and received a package in return, no doubt exchange of his Mum's present for a package of dirty washing! We all chorused 'Happy Birthday To You' and our skipper gave a cheery salute on the boat's horn. The keeper replied with his fog horn and we were temporarily deafened.
Apart from this treat, we spent every day looking at the flora and fauna on the islands. Regretably, I only had a 5Omm lens on my camera at the time and so any shots of the seals would have been a waste of film. We derived very great pleasure from the rest of the wildlife, especially the puffins and Jacks (a type of cormorant). Our return to St Mary's was after the day trippers had left and so we explored St Mary's either early in the morning or in the evening. We joined a local club and played a great deal of snooker. Our hosts told us that many daffodil bulbs were destroyed each year to ensure that the varieties were not mixed when they were lifted and offered to send us some. We left £1 to pay for these and were delighted and also amazed to receive a small sack of bulbs, the £1 having been expended in the postage. There were some 5OO bulbs of assorted varieties and, after giving 'Mike' Ryan a goodly share, our new garden at 4 Willow Grove, looked a treat.
I feel that the demise of the Company started during World War I. My colleagues seldom agree but do agree that there always seems to be some animosity on the part of the Air Ministry insofar as Handley Page is concerned.
While the Air Ministry (AM) felt that it was 'unsporting' to use aeroplanes to drop bombs on people, the Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS) welcomed the idea as an adjunct to their off shore bombardment. Sir Frederick was never popular in AM circles after that. When thoughts turned to improving heavy bombers during World War II there was, in my view, not enough consideration given to upgrading the 'Halifax' and a great deal of time and money wasted in developing the Avro 'Lancaster'. My opinion is that the latter should never have been built.
The reason for this suggestion is that the deHaviland 'Mosquito' was available to carry 4OOO lb of bombs with a crew of two at speeds higher than enemy fighters. The 'Lancaster' originally carried 8OOO lb with a crew of seven at much lower speed. Two 'Mosquito' aircraft could therefore achieve what one 'Lancaster' could, but at much lower risk. In addition to this, the 'Halifax', which accounted for some 4O% of aircraft used by Bomber Command, had a much lower crew loss rate than the 'Lancaster'. Once an aircraft has been hit by enemy fire of any severity, the crew survival rate is known. The survival in 'Lancaster' aircraft was 15% but that in a 'Halifax' was 25%.
The next incident which I found to be of some concern was that the Ministry did not want to decide which of the real V Bomber contestants to choose. There were three designs in the bidding, Vickers 'Valiant', Handley Page 'Victor' and Avro 'Vulcan'. The 'Valian' was built as an interim measure because it was of simpler design than the others and could be used as a 'stop gap'. The Ministry said that the contest would be decided on merit and, having ordered prototypes of both machines would leave the choice to the RAF. Following very lengthy trials, the RAF decided that the best choice was the 'Victor' and Sir Frederick posted enlarged copies of the telegram of congratulations at salient points round the works. His euphoria was short lived however because the Ministry decided to order both aircraft.
Another incident which gave cause for concern was when the HP 'Herald' was in competition with the Avro 748 in parachuting trials. A colleague of mine was serving in the Territorial Army when the trials took place and he was parachuted from both aircraft during the trials. The 'Herald' was declared preferable because it fulfilled all the roles whereas one of the loads failed to clear the tailplane of the 748. In addition , the cost of the 'Herald' was £2OOOOO compared with £3OOOOO for the 748. The Ministry decided to buy the 748.
My final comment concerns the fact that when Ferranti made excessive profits on certain contracts, moral pressure was applied until £4 million was repaid and when the Dynamics Division of Hawker Siddeley made excess they had similar pressure applied until £8 million was repaid. When Handley Page revealed that they had made a loss of £8 million and this placed the Company in jeopardy, the Ministry made no offer to help. The 'Jetstream' was a very promising prospect in 197O, so much so that in 199O, 2O years after HP went into liquidation, it was being produced in quantity by British Aerospace Limited.