"I worked at Rolls-Royce"

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We have received the following from Mr. A. F. Atterbury:

I started working for Rolls-Royce at Derby as an errand boy at the age of 14 in February 1935 for Mr. E. W. Hives. My starting wage was 9s 6d (47½p). “H.S.”, as he was known was then the head of the Experimental Department, and his assistant, who was in thy same office, was Mr. W. A. Robotham. H.S. generally looked after the aero-engine side, Robotham the cars. In the outer office, were the technical assistants, among them H. S. Grylls, A. E. Hardy, “Knocker” West, Bob Young, “Jock” Burns, and several others. All these made the grade to the top, many at Rolls-Royce. As a keen follower of motoring from a very early age (my father began motoring on a Rex motorcycle in 1906), it was truly a revelation to be allowed to wander around both the Experimental Garage and shop in the course of my duties, and see some of the work being carried out at that time. I well remember seeing a V16 Cadillac stripped and being well and truly examined, and also an Auburn having similar treatment. The Phantom III was then being developed and one of these cars was built to carry out a 10,000 miles testing programme in France. It was fitted with a full seven-seat swept-back body finished in blue and black.

Alas, it never finished that particular test. The driver, a well known experimental tester, crashed the car in France, killing a cyclist. The crash must have been pretty bad, as I remember looking at the chassis after it was stripped and seeing how badly damaged it was.

H.S. had many visitors and amongst them I remember having to take Captain George Eyston to his office. I still remember how I felt seeing one of my heroes in the flesh. [I felt the same when I first encountered Capt. H. R. S. Birkin, Bt., in a similar humble capacity. — Ed.]

Them were also regular meetings held between H.S. and Elliot Ellor, Rowledge, Eric Platford, and H. S. Swift. And, as the office-boy, one of my jobs was to take messages to these people. God help you if you failed to deliver the correct message, or you did not address these people correctly!

When I used to go to the Car Repair shop (No. 6 shop, a new shop built in 1934 for this purpose, with two special car-lifts to carry the cars to the second floor, still in use today, although not for the original purpose, I remember playing with a Company-owned Silver Ghost and also a 10 h.p. Rolls-Royce. The Ghost had a brass plate on the dash stating that it had covered 100,000 miles (I think) and had been given to R-R by its previous owner. This car was fitted with an open tourer body, and at the time was in a very poor state. So where did R-R get their existing Ghost from? I always thought that AX 201 was the car I saw at Derby but I understand that the Company say they bought it in about 1948. Both these cars were stored during the war years at an old brewery at Shardlow and I saw them there many times, together with other Company Rolls, which were stored “for the duration”.

When I reached the age of 15, I was allowed to start my apprenticeship as a fitter and turner. I still have my Apprenticeship Certificate to prove I have served my time with R.R.

I started in the front-axle assembly bay and was allowed to help in building front brake drums for 25/30 h.p. Rolls-Royces and 4¼-litre Bentleys. These were built in three stages. First, the plate was fitted to a cast-iron ring. This assembly was then sent to have the face for the splined-hub ground, then the splined hub was fitted with tapered bolts and this assembly was sent to have the braking-surface ground and the outside stove-enamelled. Finally, the assembly was returned for the hub to be assembled with its bearings. For this work I received about 13s 6d (67½p) per week. This included bonus, which had to be earned.

When I was 17 I transferred to the Chassis Final-Assembly line. There were three apprentices on this line, and our job was to wire the chassis by feeding the conduits of the harness through the chassis and clipping them in place. Also, we fitted the propshafts, hand-brakes, fuel-pumps, filters, engine-dampers, instrument-panels, and many other small parts.

Each chassis bore its owner’s name and any special requirements were listed.

Raymond Mays’ chassis was one that always had a list of special requirements. During the time of building brake drums, I had one special set brought to me and I was instructed to take great care of these. They were not like the standard drums, being made of aluminium, with a steel liner, and just requiring the hub fitting and then the hub building up with bearings. The foreman, Mr. Jim Roscoe, said they were for Mr. E. R. Hall’s racing Bentley, and were being tried out, as the steel ones had expanded during the TT race and had lost Hall the race because the mechanics could not get the wheel off. During the war years two cars belonging to E. R. Hall were garaged at Sanderson and Holmes’ showrooms in London Road, Derby, both cars carrying similar two-seater “beetleback” bodies. One was a 3½-litre, the other a 4¼. I know about one car in the Briggs Cunningham museum, but does anyone know where the other car is?

I worked on Chassis Erection until the beginning of 1939. helping to build be first 120 Wraiths and in early 1937 the last Phantom II chassis for a customer who did not want a PIII. This chassis was built from parts in the spares stores, as the Pll line had been finished about 12 months earlier.

In mid-1939 I transferred to the aero-engine side, and started in the Aero-Test Department, on Kestrel Ils. These were unsupercharged V12 engines with Claudet Hobson carburettors in the “V”. I then went on to Merlin Mk.Is, Ils, Ills and right on through the Merlin range until the last mark was built after the war. I also worked on Vultures, Griffons, Peregrines, and finally on the last piston-engine R-R produced, the 24-cylinder twin-crank, sleeve-valve Eagle. I have a sales-brochure for this engine, issued in 1949.

During the Second World War years much of my time was spent as a service mechanic visiting RAF stations and ‘plane makers, to carry out repairs to engines on the spot. I spent 12 months at Supermarines at Castle Bromwich in 1941, carrying out ground running and repairs on Spitfires when Alex Henshaw was chief-test pilot there. In 1942 I was sent to A. V. Roe’s at Woodford near Manchester for about a month to help to carry out modifications to some Lancasters. This work included fitting stronger hydraulic-pumps and larger generators, amongst other things. There were 22 aircraft to be modified, and when we saw the ‘planes we wanted to know what they were going to be used for. The bomb doors had been removed and a marine-winch fitted, and then the belly of the aircraft built up with only a hole left where the marine winch could be seen. All sorts of guesses were made as to what purpose the aircraft were being adapted for. Of course, all were wrong. What we had been working on was the “Dambuster” aircraft, and when the raid had been completed, Guy Gibson came to Woodford and thanked the work force for their efforts.

Towards the end of the war I was called up into the REME as a vehicle mechanic and for nearly three years I was Overseas, first in Italy and then in Palestine. During my time in Italy I worked on General Harding’s Daimler drop-head coupe and also on the Alfa Romeo presented to him as the first post-war car to come off the Alfa assembly-line. We had taken over the Alfa Romeo service station in Rome, complete with all its staff, and my job was to oversee the Italian work forerun the staff-car repair section. Some of the staff cars were anything but British Army vehicles and frequent trips to the Rome black market to obtain spares was the order of the day! We had a 328 BMW, a 540K drop-head Mercedes-Benz, and a Horch drop-head which was reputed to be Kesselring’s car. Also, a seven-seater Packard straight-eight. Various other non-military vehicles completed the list.

When my service ended I came back to R-R on aero engine build and found that all the work was on jet engines. I started on Derwent Vs and carried on through Nenes, Tays, Avons and Conways, until 1960, when I transferred to the Staff as a sub-contract representative. This involved visiting firms who were manufacturing parts for R-R and ensuring that the parts were delivered on time at the price agreed and to the standards required by R-R. This job lasted about two years, when I was offered a job on the “Blue Streak” rocket, as a technical assistant in charge of the development of the ground start and electrical systems, both in England and Woomera, Australia. This work involved quite a lot of motoring to Spadeadam in Cumbria, Hatfield, and Stevenage, and to other firms involved in the project. By 1966 R-R had decided to move all rocket work to Ansty and I was then offered a position on the technical side of the Aero-Engine spares department. This consisted of producing a spare parts recommendation to new customers in the civil airline and military business, to enable them to carry out their flying programme and to have spares available to support such a programme.

From 1966, until I returned in December 1981, I carried out various tasks within the spares department ending my career as customer-accounts manager for various customers and advising these customers on all aspects of tooling and spare parts for all engines manufactured by the Derby factories. This has required me to travel extensively for the Company to many places of interest, to name a few. The Peoples Republic of China on several occasions from 1971, Japan, Sultanate of Oman, United States, Australia, and various other places.

A. F. Atterbury

[The famous, original 40/50 h.p. Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost, AX 201, was sold to a Mr. Hanbury in 1908, after its “non-stop” 15,000-mile RAC-observed run, and re-acquired by Rolls-Royce Motors in 1949, in part-exchange for a new Bentley. Unless it was stored at Derby during WW2. which is not the official story, the 40/50 hp. car Mr. Atterbury saw there must have been another car. See Motor Sport for May, 1977. — Ed.]

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