Maurice Wedd

My time with EKCO Electronics By Maurice Wedd – September 2004

Part 1 Malmesbury

During the interview with my so called Careers adviser at School in Stratton just outside of Swindon, it was pointed out that it would be a complete waste of time for me to even write to EKCO in Malmesbury for a job. Fortunately the Science master Mr. K.P. Suter was made of more substance and readily agreed to support my application to EKCO with a letter of reference.

I was delighted to get an interview with the personnel manager Mr. Kebby who rapidly handed a group of us over to several other men, one of whom was Darkie Hutchinson, the foreman of the Model shop at that time.

Each man in turn tried to find out what aspect of the work we were interested in. One of my answers was to the effect that I was more interested in what happened when turning the shaft of a control than to making the shaft itself.

On the 29th August 1955 a very nervous lad woke early, got ready and then cycled the 4 miles into Swindon to catch the works bus (Clifford’s Coaches) to travel to Malmesbury by 07:30 am.

A group of young men started on that day and after some initial talks we were taken to our appointed places and introduced to our mentors where we were advised that the 1st year was to be considered as a probationary period prior to starting as a Trainee.

I was lucky enough to be placed into the Development Wiring Shop (DWS) (located above the model shop) under the guidance of Mr. Jim Bailey.

Some of the men working in DWS at that time were as I recall; Bert Ball, Tom Stacy, Ted Holmes, Stan McCluskey, Artie Attwood, Les Tombs, John Cooper, Bob Ward and Ron Fields (known as Paddy for obvious reasons) with the Foreman being Dennis Rickets. The Manager of the development section was Mr. Seal. The Development section also included a coil and transformer winding section whose probationer was Ray Sturgess and who started on the same day as myself.

My first real job, after they trusted me not to mess up valuable components, was to wire up a Klystron Control unit, a sub assembly of the “Blue Skies” radar unit I believe.

Most of the men in this section had seen service time which may well have been a strong factor in the way authority was tolerated but circumvented at all opportunities, for example if a radio set at home failed, it was somehow brought into work and repaired.

As the trainee, my shop credit rating would be raised if I made contact with the other people in other disciplines to beg or scrounge materials. I soon learnt that nothing was impossible, difficult and tricky yes, impossible never.

Lunch and break times were eagerly anticipated as times when skunk jobs or foreigners could be worked on or pranks organised. Tall stories, of which there were many, were greeted by swinging the pendant lamps which then hung over each work place.

When the question of the Barnes Wallace Dam busting bomb was discussed, doubt over whether it was real raid or a sabotage job raged between ex RAF members and other ranks.

This resulted in the need for a demonstration using a large glass fronted fish tank that was employed for leak detection of pressured units.

A model dam was constructed in the fish tank and red tip material from match heads scrapped off to form an explosive charge and placed in tiny thimble sized aluminium containers. These were positioned next to the model dam and electrically detonated from behind the nearest bench.

Early trials only produced a tiny spout of water strengthening the position of the sceptics. Clearly RDX is more powerful than match heads, thus requiring the bomb to be re-scaled.

The model dam was finally breached successfully, as was the glass front of the fish tank!!

Upon his return after lunch the foreman wanted to know about the flooded floor and the broken tank. “There must have been a residual stress in the glass that failed when the sun shone on it” was the straight-faced explanation.

If you asked a sensible question of any of these men you received a considered and complete reply.

I learnt a little about electronics and a lot about people in that period.

In the second year the Trainee Scheme commenced and thus I moved to other departments of the factory that included time spent in the Plating shop, Production machine shop, Tool room, Production Wiring and Production test. This was invaluable for future contacts.

It was during my time in the production department that I was to meet my future and current wife then called Jean Hicks who lived in Kemble at that time.

Jean recalls working on; Radar Ranging units, Dose Rate Meters, 1998 Set Radio Transceivers, 1392 Radio Sets, 38 and 88 sets. The later used miniature wire ended valves and was fitted into the Armies Tanks. Her foreman was Bert Alexander.

A substantial period of time was then spent in the Model shop under the watchful eye of Mr. Ron Cook where we learnt to use all the machines and techniques required by that department.

One of the more challenging tasks was to obtain the art of brazing aluminium wave-guide components. The margin of error between sufficient heat to obtain a brazed joint and melting the work piece was very narrow.

One event from that time stays in the memory.

The Lunch period was used for recreation and fishing in the adjacent river Avon was one of the activities.

During the week before the summer holiday shut down a small pike was caught. For a prank this was placed in the back of the desk drawer of Mr. Cook. Nothing happened and it was forgotten in the pre-holiday atmosphere.

Upon return after this break we found that drains inspectors had been called in to investigate an un-pleasant smell. This smell was in many ways made worse by the copious use of “Jeyes Fluid” by Mr. Frank Grey who oversaw these matters.

As time passed the smell faded and it was not until much later that the prank with the pike was recalled. Upon investigation a desiccated bony stain was all that remained. This was quietly removed.

I then moved on to the trainee drawing office that was situated in a wooden hut in the woods above the factory and looked after by Mr. George “Gabby” Hayes.

I recall some of the Trainees at that time to include, Brian Gregory, Robin Lighthowler, Les Mansfield, John Holbrow and Ray Sturgess

To collect our wages we all trooped down into the main DO (Drawing Office) to get paid. One of the draftsmen a cockney by birth, Sid Morgan, remarked, “Here comes Mr. Hayes’s goblins, come down from the woods”.

My next port of call was also up in the woods in the wave-guide lab. Here I worked with a fellow trainee Pat Heath under the direction of H.H.H. Green for a period, a man whose name escapes me and finally Tim Gummer.

This was a move destined to have significant consequences for my longer-term career, as it was here that I learnt the physics of radar signals scattering from raindrops. I also visited Kemble airfield many times to use the Antenna Pattern Recording system that was installed there.

‘Me-Ladies’ bedroom in the main Cowbridge House was the next port of call. At this time it was the laboratory of Cyril Drew, Bill Graville, Eric Alden and Mike Skinner.

During this period the A.I. 20 (Green Willow) radar was being modified into ARI. 5952 (Red Steer) for use as a Tail-Warner for the V-bomber aircraft. This was an all valve unit using miniature wire lead valves. These were housed in sub units each of which was anti-vibration mounted. I spent some time travelling to Malvern where the ministry had one of the few large vibration facilities to conduct the vibration approval tests.

I also acted as lab assistant to Mike Skinner who was using these wonderful new devices called transistors to create a piece of test equipment called a Gating Unit, that could fully check the function of ARI. 5952 on the flight-line. This naturally had to be portable and work equally well in the desert as in the arctic. I well recall spending some time in lovely summer weather on the lab roof doing temperature rise tests due to exposure of a dummy unit to the sun.

It was about this time that the announcement was made of the move from Malmesbury to Southend-on-Sea.

In order to acquaint the trainees with the delights of Southend a visit to the factory and town was mounted and organised by Mr. Kebby of Malmesbury and Mr. Laird, the personnel manager at Southend.

I attach a photograph of the trainees who went on that trip taken outside of the factory in Southend.

Coach Trip to Southend-on-Sea 1960 © Malmesbury Memories

Coach Trip to Southend-on-Sea 1960 © Malmesbury Memories

Known People in Photo: – In raincoat at front – Mr Kebby Personnel Manager Malmesbury, shaking hands with Mr Laird Personnel Manager Southend. From extreme Right Brian Gregory, Pat Heath, unknown, Ray Sturgess, Maurice Wedd, Les Mansfield. – In door of coach Mike Shill, behind him Ron Cook. 9th from left (half hidden) John Holbrow. On left shoulder of Mr Kebby, Barry Alnutt.