de Havilland memories of Arthur Ball

[Arthur worked as a sheet-metal worker in the experimental department at de Havillands where new aircraft were being created.]

Soap!

I’ll never forget coming to de Havillands from the shipyards and the motor car industry…you had soap when you went to wash your hands. You had soap! You’d go to the loo in the shipyard, all there was was a trough and a plank along the top with running water…no soap. [At de Havillands] if I went over to the sports club, I could get a shower. I’d never been in a shower before. So it was marvellous to me.

People like Sir Geoffrey de Havilland had his own group of people, perhaps half a dozen or less, that he was doing his own experiments with. Occasionally I’d get work to do for him. You’d know it was for Sir Geoffrey, you know. But you didn’t care. I was just doing a job. You’ve go to remember, I wasn’t  a sophisticated bloke, I was just making things and getting them past the inspector. I just wanted to get out as soon as I could…get my wages.

I was in the 94 Shop, where they built the DH 94, which was a small aircraft. But we didn’t have anything to do with that…there were ‘tin bashers’ like me all over the place.

Cut, weld or bash

Whatever you were making, sheet metal would be put into a mould – an egg-cup shape, say. They got a bit of metal and laid it in there as best as they could, as if it was paper. A big hammer would come down and hit it…and it would come out as some shape. But it would be full of wrinkles…not the finished shape required. So it would come to us. By this time someone would have made a wood frame of whatever shape was wanted. And you’d have to make that metal which had come out of the drop hammer shop into that shape…if it meant cutting it or welding it or bashing it, that’s what you did.

The most skilled job

The most skilled job in the tin bashers’ shop was to get a flat piece of metal and run it between two rollers and you would pull it backwards and forwards, stretching it. If it was a really long piece of metal you’d have two tin bashers, one at either end, pushing it and pulling it backwards and forwards, trying to get the shape. You had no machinery, except these two wheels. That’s where the real skill came in.

War

On September 3rd 1939, I went to Whitehall to join the navy. My younger brother had joined the army…and I thought I ought to do something. I didn’t want to go in the army, because I’d seen pictures and read rather a lot about squaddies. I didn’t want to join the air force because I’d done my stint in aeroplanes! So I thought I’d get in the navy because my family were seafaring people.

‘You’d better go back…you’ve got to make aeroplanes.’

So I went up to the man behind the counter, and he said, “Where are you working?”. I said I was working at de Havillands. He knew the name, didn’t he? He said “What do you do?”. So I told him. And he said, “Oh, you’d better go back…you’ve got to make aeroplanes”. So I came back, not feeling very happy.  I didn’t get called up until 1943. I still feel that I ought  to show my children and grandchildren I tried to join the navy in 1939 and they wouldn’t let me.

Oral history project

Arthur Bal came to Hatfield to work at de Havilland in the late 1930s after working as a sheet metal worker in the shipyards in Grimsby and the car industry in the Midlands. His sound-clip recalls the sole bombing of the Hatfield site during the Second World War – wreaking devastation on ’94 Shop’, where Arthur worked.

Arthur’s memories have been collected as part of an oral history project led by Andrew Green at the University of Hertfordshire

This page was added on 12/01/2010.

Comments about this page

  • Great story , I am currently looking into family history and my wifes Nan used to work as a assistant cook , her name was Eilleen Quinn she had red/orban hair and an irish accent , do you remember her or have any photos of kitchen staff ?

    By Russell Ray (10/08/2014)
  • Hello,

    This is a long shot but I know my grandfather Ralph Mitchell and his younger brother Frank Edgar Mitchell worked at de-Havillands during the 2nd World War.  I know they were both fine carpenters.
    Would anyone of heard of them or have photos or lists of names of staff at that time. Many thanks Penny

    By Penny Mitchell (26/05/2014)
  • Norman Thompson my grandfather was put with the dead after the bombs had hit but thankfully a Doctor saw that he was only injured and he was treated. He never fully recoverd from his war time injures, but he was well enought to tackle a section of Germans in a ditch just outside the factory. Thankfully it was only a test for the factory’s defences and they were Brits in Jerry uniforms. After the war my dad Len Gillman joined and made the air intakes for Tridents. It was at a works dance the he met my mum Norma who also worked at the factory offices for a bit. So you could say that I am a product De Havillands too.

    By Dave Gillman (21/03/2013)
  • Love this nostalgia. My dad worked for de Havilland at the Hatfield site as a structural test fitter from mid to late fifties until retirement late eighties early nineties. My dad still lives in Hatfield. When he was recruited from the RAF he was housed in Cherry Way South Hatfield. I worked at the Hatfield site from 79 until 88 then again after closure at Bishops Square around 92/93. I was in the weights office. I played rugby for the Comets until closure of the field and we moved to Roe Hill and became Hatfield Rugby Club. I now live in Australia still working on Aircraft.

    By ray johnson (21/03/2013)
  • My dad also worked as a sheet metal worker in 1953 until he retired in 1978.He worked on the comets and my mother worked in hawker sidley dynamics which was just behind the old de Havilland building.

    By Geraldine Andrew (15/06/2012)

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