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Recollections of working in the war by a master tube bender

By Black Country Bugle  |  Posted: August 15, 2014

  • Harry Worrall, a proud Black Country mon

  • Harry measures to within a few tenths of an inch to perfection

  • The tube is prepared for bending with George Jones up top

  • Harry far right and Wilf Worton lower the tube with the capstan taking the strain

  • The bending process is well underway

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EVERYONE has a story to tell, about life at home, working in the factories, serving in the armed forces, sporting achievements, etc, and over the years the Bugle has helped bring hundreds of moving, amusing and informative tales to the attention of its many readers.

Harry Worrall who lives in Cradley Heath is a gentleman who would like to carry that tradition on and with the help of his daughter Elaine Vine he invited us to his home to talk about working in local industry during the Second World War. Born in 1918 Harry is 96 years of age and with his exceptional memory he took us down many a winding lane as he recalled his youth, learning to dance and attending one event where two full dance bands were playing simultaneously at the same venue, dodging the commands of air raid wardens during air raids, and the remarkable story of England cricketer Eric Hollies, the man made famous for bowling Don Bradman out for a duck in the great man's final test match innings, when the same man bowled a few down to a statuesque Harry during practice sessions.

But these tales and many more like them will be told another day, as Harry turned his thoughts to working at Stewarts & Lloyds at Coombs Wood where he learnt everything there was to know about tube bending. Clutching a copy of the history of Stewarts and Lloyds Ltd from 1903 - 1993, Harry told us: "I started at S & L at 18, so that would be about 1936. My dad had worked at Coombs Wood for years and my brother Fred was there to and I worked with him until 1939. I was eager to learn everything in the factory, and on one occasion managed to work nights for a week. Back on days the foreman Percy Roberts asked where I'd been for a week, and after I told him I'd done nights, he wasn't too happy, probably thought I was a bit cheeky. Let's call it youthful enthusiasm.

"When the war started the first change was the introduction of twenty-four hour working, non stop production, morning, noon and night. By now I was bending tubes and we were given a six month time scale to complete the work for a munitions factory in Cardiff. We started in November 1939, but managed to finish two months ahead of schedule in February 1940.

"Air raids were a nuisance, especially with the furnaces fired up. When the siren went off we had to shut everything down and any work underway would be wasted. The power was switched off and we made our way to the shelter. I remember during one night shift , the siren sounded at 7pm, the all clear was given at 3am, and absolutely nothing had happened. That was generally the case. There was one occasion when a stray German bomber appeared overhead in broad daylight. We rushed out to see what all the fuss was about as the enemy plane flew over towards the Austin motor works, with two of our fighters in hot pursuit. There was no cheering, just a sharp 'Get back to work' from the foreman."

Harry then produced a set of photographs that had been taken of himself and his two mates George Jones and Wilf Worton by a company making a film of the manufacturing processes at Coombs Wood. Harry and his team were in command of the tube bending process, firstly packing it, then firing it and slowly bending it until the correct angle had been achieved and measured within a few tenths of an inch. Harry described the individual stages of the tube bending process with technical precision and enormous experience, which must have brought the memories of working on the shop floor flooding back to this very genial Black Coutry mon.

The firm of Stewarts and Lloyds is just one example of the heavy industrial character of the Black Country, a tradition that has all but disappeared. Harry has his fond memories, but have you any you would like to share with fellow Bugle readers of working in the factory. If so please contact 01384 567678 or email jworkman@blackcountrybugle.co.uk

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