Worms Eye View by N. Walsh
Leaving Ludlow Road School at the age of fourteen was the signal to start my working life. There were no school career officers in 1927 and one took any employment available; with no question of likes or dislikes. By some mysterious means I found myself on three weeks trial at Zilwood’s, producers of the large posters advertising cinema shows. The film stars those days were Rudolph Valentino the girl’s office pin-up; Rin-Tin-Tin a male predecessor of Lassie in the dog world. The films were either full of torrid love scenes or completely opposite like “The Ten Commandments” and other biblical themes all being made at colossal expense and described as stupendous, magnificent etc. However three weeks on trial was twenty days too long. It was a filthy job, and by the end of the day I was covered in poster paint, that and the Dickensian conditions were too much for me; and I left.
By further mysterious means I found myself working at the Supermarine Aviation factory at Woolston. I was seconded to the Metallurgical research laboratory which was presided over by a Mr Black, who seemed to be impregnated by the chemicals he handled. I was the laboratory washer-up having the job of cleaning the numerous flasks and test tubes used by Mr Black. Black magic seemed to be involved, the deposits at the bottom of the vessels seemed to have been concocted by the devil, nothing would move them and I finally resorted to using my fingers. Once again I had a job nobody else wanted.
Once again fate took a hand, “someone up there” seemed to care, for I was suddenly wafted to a different world as an office messenger; work which took me to all parts of the factory. We were based in a room next to the telephone exchange over which Miss Page the telephonist cast a benevolent authority. She passed letters to us through a connecting window, which we delivered to the various factory offices. The progress Department, Body Shop and Machine Shop were usually en route, and to me still in short trousers, it was heaven. The towering fuselages in the body shop, the oily smells of the machine shop and the smell of dope in the department where the wings were proofed were all a bonus. On odd occasions I delivered mail to the great R.J.Mitchell himself. I was once requested to hand out afternoon tea in the Drawing Office including Mr Mitchell, and Mr Holroyd who worked with him. R.J. was a quiet pipe-smoking man with none of the air of superiority which most executives seem to exude, his quiet tweed jacket belied his real ability. His partner Mr. Holroyd was the opposite, smart and wore glasses. I should imagine they were a perfect team. Little did I think R.J.Mitchell would become a legend.
I saw my first Schneider Trophy machine in the body shop, seemingly pushed aside to make room for the bread-and-butter work; at the time the production of the Southampton flying boat. The S.5 was sans wings sans floats and propeller but nevertheless was awe inspiring, the Napier Lion engine seemed to fill half the fuselage and the cockpit did not appear large enough to fit a dwarf, its shape was that of a blue and silver bullet. The illusion of the small cockpit was soon dispelled when I saw Messrs Webster, Kinkead and Waghorn the pilots who were involved in the project. Flying Officer Webster was of average height, fair and wore his cap at a rakish angle. F/O Kinkead, later killed when his machine plunged into the Solent was over six feet tall.
We used to watch the “S” machines being taken for test, they were lowered down a slipway into the river Itchen then towed into Southampton Water from whence they entered the Solent. When airborne the predominating feature of the machine was the two floats in which I understand the fuel supply was stored, the radiators were in the stubby wings. The S5 was raised from the surface of the sea by sheer unbridled horse power the scream of the Napier Lion engine was frightening. Flying Officer Webster won the Schneider Trophy for Britain that year, 1927. Venice was the venue and the average speed was 281.65 m.p.h. The factory staff were cock-a-hoop, the S5 was their baby.Flt.Lt Webster (back) with R.J.Mitchell (centre) and the Supermarine “S” team at the Woolston factory. S5 winning at Venice at an average speed of 281.65 mph.