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As a young lad I was in awe of this bloke called my dad

By Black Country Bugle  |  Posted: August 02, 2014

By John Workman

  • The Oliver Shop which TW Lench took under their wing in the 1930s is preserved at the Black Country Living Museum

  • Walter Green and his wife Lily

  • T.W. Lench Ltd. Auxiliary Fire Service (AFS) Brigade 1939-45

  • A Second World War poster declaring "Britain's fire guard is Britain's defence"

  • A Fire Guard badge, similar to one that Walter Green would have worn when on night duty

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EVERY son should be proud of his father, and in the 20th century there was plenty going on to be proud of, with possible involvement in The Great War and subsequently the Second World War, and numerous other life changing events.

It is fascinating to look back at the lives of loved ones and appreciate some of the momentous decisions they had to make at critical times in their lives, the sacrifices our distant relations were faced with, and lots of other things we probably took for granted when we were youngsters. And it's during periods of reflection and reminiscence that the roles our parents played become more focused and take on a greater significance.

Maurice Green lives in Telford and thinks the way the Bugle deals with its regular postbag of memories from every walk of like deserves credit. He recently read about the war work carried out by the industries of Halesowen in the Second World War, and with a pride for his father that grows more and more each day, he decided to send his memories of those dark days back in the '40s when no one on the home front knew quite what the next day would bring.

With the imagery of his dad working hard for the war effort still burning bright in his mind's eye, Maurice told us: "My dad Walter Green was born on March 10, 1907, at No 10 Church Street, Quarry Bank, but had moved to Blackheath by 1937 to be closer to his work. He had got a job at T W Lench Ltd where he operated an upset forging machine making general purpose, medium sized, steel bolts and telegraph insulator spindles for the GPO.

"When the Second World War broke out he was thirty-two years of age and quickly became involved in the manufacture of items for the war effort. Because of his considerable experience in upset forging work, he was selected to make thousands of shackles (U-shaped fixtures with a bolt through the open ends), primarily intended for the boom defences protecting harbours around the coasts of Great Britain. The machines originally installed at Lench's factory were not capable of processing the much larger size of material needed for the heavy-duty shackles, so a new machine made by Greenwood and Batley was installed.

"Upset forging machines operated a grip slide which held a round metal bar heated at one end, while a heading slide closed making a form in the bar to suit the shape of the final product. When first operated the grip slide in the new machine was not holding the metal in place, so the first action in getting the machine to work had to be adjusted to correct this defect, and my dad had a hand in design modifications. The material used to make the shackles was 2 inches in diameter, could be up to a metre in length, and quite heavy to handle in the process of individually heating each end, forging it into a ball, then flattening it into a 2 inch flat ring using a vertical, pneumatically driven hammer. The straight length was then bent into the U-shape using the hammer and would always be drilled and threaded to take the securing bolt.

It is difficult to describe my dad's job without becoming too indulgent with technical jargon, but to see him in action was a wonder for a young lad like me. I was attending the nearby Powke Lane Junior School, which was just around the corner from Lench's at the time, and occasionally went to see Dad at work, sneaking across the steel stock yard into his work shop and stealing myself inside his locker just in case a foreman came round the corner and told him off. I was fascinated watching my dad on the upset forging machine, a situation that would never be allowed today with the strict heath and safety laws that are in force.

"Entering my dad's working domain, which was only about ten metres square, was an awesome experience, like Dante's Inferno. It wasn't well lit, except for the glow from the oil-heated furnace where the steel billets were fed through holes in a large side section. The forging machine stood beside the furnace so that the heated steel units, glowing bright red and yellow in colour, could be conveniently transferred for the 'heading' process.

"The hammer was my favourite tool and stood on the left at right angles to the forging machine to allow access via the shortest distance. The atmosphere was very hot and must have been almost unbearable on warm and sultry long summer days. The air was thick with the fumes from burning oil, smoke from the hot surfaces, and sweat from the two man team who had to toil in such a claustrophobic space. Of course as a young lad excitement overruled the existence of any oppressive conditions and I couldn't help but be impressed and proud of my dad and the work that he did. I was also fortunate to occasionally accompany him and some of his workmates to the National Restaurant in Birmingham Road, Blackeath, for lunch, a real treat for me. They were a happy bunch, but all I ever wanted to do was shout out loud, 'That's my dad and he's great'. Needless to say I never did, not in public at any road.

"Back in the workshop after every shackle had been finished it was inspected and if approved stamped by an Admiralty inspector. On one visit to the works the inspector surprised every one, not least my dad, by saying that Walter might not be there for his next visit as he would have volunteered for the army. But dad was immediately informed by the management that he wouldn't be going anywhere. His experience and ability at the job he was doing was far too important to be lost, a decision I think made my dad feel really appreciated.

But while Dad failed to don a uniform in the military, he didn't miss out altogether. He had joined Lench's Auxiliary Fire Brigade early in the war and became second in command, studying hydraulics and pump deployment to direct the supply of water to where it was needed.

"Probably much to my mother Lily's dismay, Dad's important work at Lench's and turning out for the AFS didn't seem enough and he took his turn at fire watching. Thankfully he wasn't on duty the night three German bombs landed in the steel yard, the very one I had previously walked across, just yards from his workshop. It is thought the intended target were the factories of Accles and Pollock and Albright and Wilson in Oldbury and Langley. It was a near miss. A few more yards and the production of shackles would have ground to a halt. I remember Mom giving him an ear bending for taking the two family deck chairs into the fire watching room for more comfort.

"I was in awe of this bloke called my dad and his energy seemed endless. He hadn't a single ounce of fat on his body and muscles like a professional wrestler. He loved his garden, half of which he used for formal decorative beds, and the remainder for growing vegetables. He also had a greenhouse for tomatoes, cucumbers and chrysanthemums. Then there was the allotment in the factory grounds along the Ross where he grew more vegetables. I think it's safe to say we got our 5 a day despite there being a war on. He was also blessed with an essential-user petrol allowance which meant with careful use we could make short private journeys in the small Ford car he purchased soon after moving to Blackheath.

"Dad died back in 1983 aged 76 and I take my hat off to the way he saw his family safely though the war, and from the home front to have done his bit to safeguard the security of this nation."

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