Biography of Reg Miles
Ex Apprentice No 1 S. of T. T. , R. A. F. , Halton 39th Entry 34 - 67 M. U. s - 27 A/S Bloemspruit South Africa - Lympe Kent, Flight Engineer 432 - 420 Squadrons RCAF, 6 Group Bomber Command, Eastmoor, Tholthorpe, Yorkshire / 242- 246 - 511 Squadrons Transport Command Lyneham, RAF
My parents called round to this very old, dirty, requisitioned house and found me in my battle dress trousers and very large white flying rollnecked sweater sitting on the floor smoking a "Churchill" cigar( very large and the last of my Indian purchases) cleaning and stopping up holes in the wall of what would be our dining and living room. To say that they were horrified would be putting it mildly, where was their son of whom they were proud? The Flying Officer in the RAF who had been on bombers and regularly flew to India and other foreign parts, gave all that up to do what? I couldnt tell them because I didnt know, just wanted peace and my own family and no more racing about the world. Something would come along I said, my parents were not impressed they had battled for years to get a little bit out of the working class rut, still only out a little way and here was Reg on his way up and just throwing it all away to be at home cleaning up the dirt of years of neglect. After our marriage on each trip to India I bought carpets and other items that would help to furnish a home, after the floors walls and ceilings were washed the carpets gave a nice touch of luxury to the place. In the kitchen was a brick built "copper" this was filled with water, a fire lit under and when hot this water was used for cleaning the house, washing clothes, and once a week for Phyll and I to have a bath, the babies of course got at least one a day. Friday evening was usually "bath night", Phyll had managed to buy an adult size "tin bath" which spent most of its time hanging on a nail in the back yard, with a fire going well in the back room downstairs, the bath was placed in front and buckets of cold and hot water carried in from the kitchen. Ladies first was always the rule so Phyll could have hers in comfort, when she got out I got in and removed my dirt, now came the reverse trip with the buckets of water, each one tipped outside to run into the drain by the back door, once tried to empty the bath by lifting it up to the window sill and sliding it out, not much luck with that just a lot more water to wipe up. I did eventually install a proper full size bath in the kitchen with the drain passing through the wall and hot water fed from a gas heater and cold from the one cold tap. The whole thing was boxed in with a hinged cover which gave Phyll a decent size work surface when cooking, and fun for the boys to hide in when not in use for either of its purposes. I thought I might like to work as a mechanic in a garage, just shows you what an innocent I was, spoke to a garage owner who had looked after Dads car before the war and asked if I could work there without pay for a couple of weeks to see what it was like. Started a few days later and after a day or so he wanted to pay me, worked there for a few weeks, cant say I thought much of the job or the owner, gave me some wooden boxes with parts of a lorry engine in it and told me to build it up, no instruction manuals so took me a while to sort out what went where and he was not impressed, went out on welding jobs to hotels whose heating boilers had frozen up and cracked, nothing went right and as I unloaded the gear from the truck he threw a heavy spanner at me which just missed, I threw it back and nearly hit him, so he said I was not suitable for his job, not a very good start to civilian life! Next I called in at the Labour Exchange and it was suggested that I should go on a course to become a commercial artist, couldnt draw to save my life so that was out, they had a vacancy for a Trainee Manager for a laundry would I like to try that. Why not I thought, so turned up for an interview by the boss lady and started next day, must learn all the processes she said and put me on a Hoffman Press doing fancy pillow slips, kept coming by every so often and throwing all I had done in the "do it again" bin, all females working there and most old enough to be my mother, put me on the calender, long steam heated rollers that were used to iron sheets and other large items, I was at the back on my own taking things off while two or three women fed them in, of course I got in a muddle and another job hit the dust!! So it was back home and helping Phyll with house cleaning, my father was not impressed and said I must have a job what ever it was and suggested that he could get me a job with the large building firm of which he was a very senior employee. When it came, it was as a painters labourer ( the lowest form of life in the building industry) but I just took it to save any arguments and did my turn of holding the bottom of ladders while the painter did the clever stuff, while doing this in the middle of the local shopping street two RAF officers much junior to me on my old squadron couldnt believe there eyes, told them that good jobs like this were going fast so theyd better get in quick. I had bought a new bicycle, the one that I had bought with the money from my photo job before going into the RAF had been completely destroyed when my uncle Jack was killed on it by a German shell outside Dover. I cycled about Margate going from one painting job to another, the one I most remember was the one at the local brewery, being the lowest on the totem pole I had the job of lighting a fire with wood scraps and making the tea at mid morning and afternoon breaks, got things going just waiting to see how many to make and no one turned up, went out side into the yard and there all the workers were, both brewery and building, lining up for tankards of beer. Told to come and get mine but just did not fancy cold beer for a drink, went in and had my cup of tea, we were there for some time and eventually I was persuaded to give the beer a try, never tasted anything like it, smooth and warming and just perfect, asked where I could buy some of it, told not to be so silly, this was a special brew made by the brewer for the staff and not on sale anywhere!! I had not taken up the offer by my CO to go back into the RAF, guess time just went by and didnt give it much thought, from a salary of 20 pounds a week I was now earning about 3 (took me about 14 years to get up to that again and it wasnt worth as much when I did) we managed, or at least Phyll did, both of us took extra jobs she did cleaning for the local library and tourist department and also worked in the evenings as a cashier at a large seaside restaurant, later on Phyll worked at a couple of hospitals in the Margate area, I carried out maintenance at the same restaurant and also had a teaching job for the local technical college. My father was talking to the company manager who asked how his son the RAF officer was doing, when told that he was working for the firm as a painters labourer suggested that there was a need for a fitter to take control of the depot used to store all the machinery used in the company and also large stocks of materials surplus from contracts would I like it? Would I just, right up my alley so after a couple of days I started work at this depot which was on ground adjacent to Manston RAF Base, and in fact my yard was next to the station bomb dump that my father had built just before the war. When I eventually found the yard it looked like a rubbish tip, met by an old man who said he was in charge and who was I. Explained what my job was and found out that he had been there for some time just to help unload and load up the odd lorries that came in from building sites, asked why things were scattered all over the place and he said that he just put things where there was a space, and certainly didnt do any clearing up or sorting out. A number of sheds had been erected and were all full of a jumble of building materials returned from sites, he didnt know what was in any of them and had no intention of finding out, bricks of every shape and colour were stacked in heaps without any order and large stacks of roofing tiles had collapsed, spreading out like the tide to cover other items, with weeds and flowers poking their heads between. Loaded lorries had driven over what looked to the driver empty areas, but were in fact filled with sheets of glass, tins of paint, sanitary fittings, and various strange items returned from sites as not required or perhaps in many cases wrongly ordered, so that a sticky mess of dried paint, broken glass, and unknown fragments covered some areas resembling the appearance of a hastily cleared bomb site. This would not do for me, dotted about amongst this bleak landscape were concrete mixers of all shapes and sizes, and many other rusting hulks that I had no idea what they were, order what was wanted and somewhere to work and store tools in safety. I found a shed that looked as if it might keep out the rain and with the old mans help cleared some space for a bench which was among the multitude of items scattered about the site. One water tap was near the front entrance, I say entrance more like the gates of hell or a test of drivers skill to weave through the junk piled just where it fell, and without me asking a cup of tea was soon offered, that at least had received top priority. I spent the following week looking at machines, to in the first case find out what they were and to check if they could be made to work, that would be my first job, to get the plant needed on building sites in a fit condition for work. To make matters worse there was no electricity or phone connected to the site and very little in the way of anything to help me lift and replace things that were broken, I needed to get things sorted with the boss, calling into head office for my pay on Friday I asked to see him and told him what I needed and was given permission to book anything I wanted with their local supplier and arrange for power and telephone to be connected, the old man would return to his normal work of bricklayers labourer and I could engage a young man to take his place. So the clean up started, I concentrating on checking and repairing machines and my new helper re-stacking fallen heaps, wheeling away to a corner all the rubbish he found during his efforts, which would eventually be used to fill in some large holes uncovered during this clear up. The first shed I had used was emptied of all the rubbish and made into a small workshop where other benches were installed, the power and telephone were connected, I purchased some items of tools including a complete oxy-acetylene welding and cutting outfit from BOC, which I then had to learn how to use!! A call came for a large number of wheel barrows for a site, most that I had found had splits and cracks in the bodies and all had narrow steel wheels, repairs by welding were hastened and a quantity of wheels with pneumatic tyres were purchased, a coat of paint given from our stocks, all of which turned out to be grey of various shades when mixed together, the site foreman phoned to send transport, who shortly after receipt of the barrows phoned to register his delight in getting what appeared to be a truck load of new equipment. Gradually sheds were emptied, their contents sorted and listed and put away in some sort of order, all stocks of bricks, tiles, screws, nails, plumbing fittings, and all the multitude of items used in the building and construction industry were sorted and listed on stock sheets, these were sent to head office for typing and all site foremen and those people in the drawing, quantity and supply departments given copies, amendments made to these when required. All materials for building work was on licences, which were hard to get and the cause of a great amount of office time and paperwork, my lists helped to overcome some of these delays and gradually most people in the organisation used them to help in planning, they became even more useful when I was able to add separate sheets which gave lists of what machines were held in stock and what their state of readiness was. I was now getting more and more calls from sites asking for my help not only to supply machines and materials but my advice was asked for on the manufacture of items for sites and in many cases I was asked to make thousands of an individual item for the massive tower blocks being built in and around London to house those who had lost their homes due to enemy bombing. for most of this twelve years we still lived at Tivoli Road in the requisitioned house, much cleaner and more livable after Phylls ministrations, the wall paper in our bedroom which consisted of large purple parrots on a dark blue background had like the rest of the house been removed and given coats of a more restful colour of paint, there was always plenty of part tins returned from contracts so no problem with supplies! Philip our second son had arrived on the scene about two years after Tony, which gave Phyll. more work with washing and caring for two boys who carried on a constant war with each other and would always try to outdo each other in the speed at which they turned clean clothes into dirty rags. Sheila, Phylls sister came to stay and had the usual boy friends, mostly American service personnel from Manston, none of which seemed to understand that rationing of everything was still in place in the UK, invited to an evening meal on one occasion the incumbent boyfriend took our familys weekly ration of cheese spread it on our total stock of biscuits and swallowed the lot! Whether it was the same one who broke our settee into fragments one night in a fit of passion I dont know, the remains however did come in useful as our ration of coal for heating had largely been burnt and the settee ended up as fuel the stuffing and covers used to add humus to the starved patch of soil called garden at the back. To help with the family budget Phyll had obtained part time evening work at a large restaurant on the sea front manning the till, she also cleaned the Margate library, and at times the Margate Information centre, she wasnt afraid of hard work but it did and still does seem all wrong that people like her who had done their bit during the war got nothing for their efforts while the stay at home fortune makers still got all the benefits, I noticed this particularly when visiting an aircraft factory in the Midlands, whole families worked in the one factory each one taking home much more than the fighting men did and most seemed to have a fiddle of some sort which enabled them to get the best of every thing regarding food and clothes, some got bombed but most got rich! Susan came along after a further eight years, she was born at home as Phyll had not been happy at the treatment she received at the local maternity hospital and determined not to suffer that again, her brother Peter was performing with a band at a local venue and his wife Jean stayed with us until she had her second child, we even at times had other artists to stay all to help with the family budget. I had changed my cycle for a "Corgi", this was the war surplus parachutist motor bike, dropped with them for quick movements of men, they had a small 125cc two stroke engine, folding seat and handle bars, no instruments of any sort and very basic lights, push start, no gears, and certainly no suspension, the front tyre wore to a point after some miles so that turning on wet or icy roads was fraught with peril, many was the 360s I did on old cobble stones and slick corners. A large metal box was made and fitted and my range of operations grew to sites many miles away from base, it was a cold and slow means of transport, crawling up a hill with the box on the back filled with heavy tools after an hour or so on the road to be passed with ease by everything on wheels and some even on hoof did not endear me to other road users, who out of pure spite drove near and informed me if I pedalled harder would get along faster. To spend over an hour on the road to get to a site that had called me that they had problems with machinery, only to find as I often did that failure to check the oil in an engine had caused it seize up, the topping up with fresh oil prior to my arrival supposed to fool me, strong words were said by me while I stripped the engine freed the pistons and rings and got it running again. Some cases were even more bizarre, once called to a site two hours away because the small bulldozer would not "go", this was in the middle of winter with ice and snow about, found that the machine had been left after its days work in a large puddle of liquid mud, this had frozen overnight and struggle as it may the poor thing could only slip clutches trying to get out of the clutches of the ice, a stern word to the "ganger to get off his backside in future meant no more silly alarms from that site. On another occasion nearer home I was asked to call at a site because the 14/10 mixer would not mix (14/10 -14cuft of dry material in and 10 cuft of wet mixed out) It was still operating when I arrived on site to be shown that as the hopper tilted to pour the dry material in it shot straight out the other side, shut it down and had a look at the blades inside the drum, these often got badly worn after months of use, not in this case the drum was full to the brim with rock hard concrete. Again poor or perhaps in this case non existent maintenance, I had issued guide lines to all foremen as I found that certain work methods damaged or caused performance problems with plant, in the case of concrete mixers at the end of a days work a few shovels of sand or gravel should be placed in the drum and allowed to mix for a few minutes this combined with the liquid cement usually still present from the last mix and made it too weak to set hard, the following day it would be broken up during the first mix. There were a number of these information suggestions most of which I have no memory, one that still remains is the one involving flexible drives used on vibrators to consolidate concrete in shuttering, or formwork, it was common practise to hang the vibrating head over the shuttering and leave it operating while the concrete was poured, the sharp kink in the flexible drive caused the high speed inner drive to cut a hole in the outer casing, this would be fairly large on the inside but often a very small slit on the out side, if this slit became immersed in the concrete the rotary action of the inner drive sucked in liquid concrete which soon set when switched off and the next day no vibrator, more obvious to the operator was the damaged caused if the actual vibrating head was to touch the reinforcing steel bars inside the shuttering, I have had the heads returned to me cut in half after being in contact with the steel. During the 12 years I was employed by Rice and Sons many things happened that are worth repeating, I cannot begin to remember them in any proper order will just tell them as they pop up in my memory, a local garage owner whos place of business was just up the road from the yard, I bought my petrol from him and we often helped one another out with bits and pieces, he had been the only one who had an independent supply of electricity provided by a single horizontal cylinder glow bulb diesel engine, to start it needed a long heating of the bulb part with an oversize blow lamp, then grasping the spokes of one of the very large fly wheels a heave to start the rotation and followed by more pulling until it fired and continued on its own, the trick was to let go before you went with it, rather like prop swinging an aircraft engine, his wife helped him to serve petrol, but needed the engine running to supply electricity for the pumps, the odd times when he was too ill to get out of bed I would start the thing for her and so we became friends and swapped ideas about things, he had "come upon" some very cheap metal twist drills and wondered if I would like some they certainly looked good quality but would they cut I asked, well give them a go he said and put one in his bench drill stand and tried to drill a hole, no luck must need sharpening, and still no luck, a close examination showed that they were left hand drills were stamped USAAF and no doubt had originated in the USAAF Base at Manston and were made for a DeWalt machine that did a number of operations some of which required left hand drills. The local manager of Rice and Sons had a number of children one of which was a young girl who like so many of her gender rode and had horses, the garden at his house had become too small for her latest horse and as there was quite a bit of open space at the yard now it was tidy he asked if we could manage to find room for it, wasnt very keen but found a space between piles of bricks and partition blocks that could be fenced and space in a shed near by that would do as a tackle store. The young girl turned up with this, to us great hairy beast, and put him away while dad pulled up in his car and took her home. We used to let it out to feed around the yard during the day and never really had any trouble putting it away at night, not that any of us felt very comfortable with it, but it did cause trouble, one day it got its nose and most of itself jammed in the door way of a shed while it warmed itself on a potbelly stove that was burning to drive out the moisture from stored items, one of us climbed through a window and tried to back it out but it wouldnt budge, only thing to do was push it forward and dodge the backward explosion as its nose got burnt, it often scratched its back on stacks of bricks or tiles, our only warning the rumble as thousands of carefully piled ones slowly slid down to cover yards of ground, when burning worm infested wood it loved to put its hooves into the hot ashes and the long length of pipe we used to move the wood about poured out smoke from its top end, the horse stood with this in its mouth and seemed to enjoy the odd smoke. We had a few minor problems with this horse, it got out one day when a stupid lorry driver left the gate open and the young lad I had taken on spent most of the day chasing it over hill and dale until it leapt a fence into a paddock of other horses and charged about until this owner caught it and insisted on knowing who the owner was. The end for us came when I arrived at the yard one Monday morning to be greeted by a very irate RAF officer, the horse had apparently got out during the weekend and right opposite was the grass runway of Manston Aerodrome, these acres of lush grass were heaven to the horse so in spite of large numbers of service personnel in jeeps and on motor bikes it just cantered madly about preventing the circling aircraft from landing. The main runway at Manston was some miles long, equipped with FIDO and a major airfield during WW2, at this time it was occupied by the USAAF flying Lockheed "Skunk Works" F80 Shooting Stars, Spifires had by legend taken off across the runway it was so wide, the grass runway was used by visiting light aircraft to leave the main runway free for ops. I noted that the officer concerned was a non flier and after he had calmed down suggested that he get a few years in before going off at the mouth to me, but felt sorry for him as no doubt he had been torn off a strip by some other prat in uniform, told him the horse was not mine and mentioned my service number which shut him up, but the horse had to go and so it did. Another morning I arrived to be called over by the next door neighbour, who had a small holding and piggery behind his house, to complain about the noise I had been making late into the previous evening, said he would come over and shut me up if it happened again, told him I wished he had which surprised him. What had happened was I crawled into the drum of a large concrete mixer to check the blades and water feed pipes, it was going out on to a site the next day and the phone call only came in as I locked up the workshop, my men had already gone, knew that most of the mixer was in good condition but wondered if the blades and water pipes had been checked, blades were OK but still a small amount of concrete on the inside of the water pipe, got a hammer and cold chisel from the toolbox and chipped out the bits and pieces, a small pebble just didnt want to move so pushed my finger in to flick it out, the pebble dropped down jamming my finger in and the harder I pulled the more it jammed. The only way I could get out was to hold up the pebble with a piece of wire while I eased my finger out, the tools I had with me were too large, that is why I was banging on the drum hoping someone would come and help me, but no luck and I was going deaf from my hammering. Perhaps the last shovel of sand put in to weaken the cement remaining in the drum had a piece of tie wire in, what a hope but after scrabbling about with my free hand for some time I found a piece, held the pebble up and quickly grabbed my tools and crawled out, the neighbour laughed and would come quick if heard banging late again. Another Monday I arrived at the yard to find the entrance blocked by a very large and dirty Steamroller, no sign of a driver, enquires with neighbours did not help, no note or message on the machine, just parked most tidily across the entrance, walking space only. None of my people knew anything about it and none of us knew how to drive, we checked the tank which had some water in it but no coal or wood, lit a fire made sure the sight glass was full and when steam started to come out of various holes, pushed and pulled every lever in sight until it moved into the yard, rolled up and down the yard a few times to make our road smooth and put the brake on, the fire was only wood so it soon burnt down and went out. It stay there for a couple of days and then one morning when I got to work it was gone, never did solve the mystery of the vanishing steamroller. While I was having fun and games at work Phyll was doing her best to balance what budget we had, many times when the gas meter was emptied we didnt get any "rebate" only the return of the many foreign coins left over from my trips abroad that we had used to get gas because we were flat broke. Tony and Philip were a great trial being about 5 and 3 years old, she once got them all dressed up in their best white outfits, told them to be good boys and play together while she got dressed in her only decent frock, we were going to my Granny and Grand Dad Miles 50th wedding anniversary party, all the family would be there and poor as we were had to make out we were not. I was on my way home from some job or other and arrived in time to see the two boys playing together in the garden as requested, only they were playing in the heap of soot that the chimney sweep had left the previous day after sweeping our coal fire chimneys!! Poor Phyll all the hard work, no only did she make their outfits, get them clean and looking smart, rushed to get dressed herself, and now had to start all over again, and I turned up dirty as well. We got to the party and everyone said how smart the boys looked, just one more of the miracles she worked. Kids can drive you mad and at other times make you laugh, arriving home from work one day Phyll told me that Tony had put his head into the bath of bleach water while she had been hanging out the clothes, What a silly thing to do I said to him, it could burn you and make your hair fall out With eyes as large as saucers he looked at me and said, Is that what you did Daddy I couldnt keep a straight face nor could Phyll. Returning from a trip to my brothers small pig farm Tony suddenly said I know eggs come from chickens Dad, do pigs lay sausages? always expect the unexpected where children are concerned. Apart from all the house work, looking after our growing family, Phyll always managed to find yet another job to help the budget, with Susan in her pram she pushed her quite a way to clean and tidy the house of the local vet, his wife looking after Susan while she did this, funny thing neither of us complained, just glad that we could feed and clothe us all from week to week. Among the jobs I did as part time extra work, was painting a house that a nurse lived in near the Manston yard, and doing all repairs and maintenance at the same restaurant that Phyll did evening work. This later one was a real learning experience, all equipment and machines had to be checked before the place opened for the summer season and most were completely strange to me. All the kitchen machines had to be cleaned and tested, and what most of them did was a mystery to me but head down and asked a few questions and off I went, the chipper didnt work I was told, pulled a cover or two off and found that the last one to use it had put in a rock instead of a potato (dissatisfied employee?) cleared that, straightened the blades and OK again, the spud peeler was very slow, found that the abrasive lining was no longer abrasive! new lining ordered and fitted, and so I worked my way through all the catering gear. The manager asked me to look at the revolving entrance doors, had been very stiff at the end of the last season, what did I know about revolving doors, nothing, but there must be a reason, climbed on top and found that the lock nuts that held the door up were loose and had allowed the door to drop so that it dragged on the floor, soon adjusted that and smiles from the manager, he began to think I was a miracle worker, but most of it was just the very uncommon common sense. This restaurant was situated on the land side of the road that ran along the beach, a section that was below high tide mark had a dance floor and entertainments as well as food and drinks served. The floor and walls up to high tide level had been "tanked" with a bitumen coating to prevent sea water damaging the decorations and timber block dance floor, some clever "dicky" had removed some of this timber block dance floor and "tanking" to increase the area used to cater for food and drink patrons, vinyl floor tiles had been stuck over the bare concrete floor that was exposed, at the same level and matching those already installed, but these new ones had no "tanking" underneath. The manager explained that as the tide came in and out the salt water dissolved the adhesive which expanded into a large ulcerous looking lump in the middle of the tiles, ladies with stiletto high heels punctured them when they stood on them and the resulting black goo shot up their legs damaging stockings and dresses. I had a look at the problem and sure enough a number were well and truly ready to "blow their top", dug out those that needed replacing and realised that to put new ones in with adhesive was not the answer, nails would be good but the heads would probably trip people but headless ones might be the answer but into concrete could be a problem, had an old gramophone at home that used the old steel needles, gave that a try and magic no problem the hardened needles went into the concrete easily and held the tiles OK, quick trip to the local gramophone shop got all their old used needles and a few boxes of new ones and just kept an eye on the tiles and as they started to bulge out they came and new ones in, during that summer think I changed the whole lot. I was on call during the evenings and week ends not too many problems, most had been already fixed mainly things broken by staff or customers, the chefs were a funny lot always on their "high horses" about how clever they were and just threw things about if upset, more work for me, the amplifier and microphones at the dances often played up due mainly I think by drunks grabbing the mic. to bellow their inane rubbish. During the summer season Phyll did other work, one of her aunties had a "Boarding house", perhaps the more modern bed and breakfast might convey to readers what it was, whole families came to Margate and other seaside resorts to spend their summer holidays, the cheapest accommodation for a family being the Boarding House, must be out of the house by about nine thirty and not let back in to the afternoon, these regulations varied, some miserable people stuck to them, but people never went back to them. Phylls job was to clean and tidy all the bedrooms, change over days, usually Saturday was very hard, most of the houses were big old places with perhaps only one lavatory and bathroom on each floor, some not even that, so chamber pots or gusunders were provided under all beds, hence the commonly used expression used in those days for all things running late "here it is (time) and not a po emptied". How Phyll managed to keep house, look after me and the kids and still go out to work I dont know, no such thing as child minding in those days, we couldnt have afforded it if there had been, must ask her some time how she managed it all!!! The house in Tivoli Road had no electricity, lighting by gas may be romantic but fraught with problems, too much gas pressure or touched when being lit and mantles break, a small hole will send a jet of flame against the glass cover and in winter when the whole house is cold, the glass shatters and people get cut, candles were used to move from room to room, and checking a sleeping baby without dripping candle grease on everything was an art soon learnt. We decorated this old house from top to bottom, never thought to ask for money to pay for things just got on and did it, remember Phyll standing on a chair wallpapering our bedroom just hours before she asked me to go out and phone the midwife as Susan was on the way, we had made up a bed for her in the dining room so no stairs to climb, I was pushed out and told to boil lots of water and get piles of newspaper, think the water boiling job was to shut me up, brave things women, glad it was Phyll and not me going through child birth, I need medical attention if I break a finger nail, guess all men are cowards. Because the house was one of a long row of terrace houses, now known as town houses, houses all joined together, being old and some had been empty all during the war, mice had invaded one or two, we had used traps and got rid of ours but roofs and coal cellars joined, so that migration to the best food source was common. All food was kept in mice proof containers, the only source of food not covered being the layers of fat on the inside of the ancient gas cooker, efforts to get it clean only disturbed the recent deposits. Leaving Phyll sitting beside the fire in the room we used most of the time, I went out to the cold kitchen to make our nightly drink of cocoa, as I lit the gas light I could hear a scrabbling coming from the oven, a mouse was having supper also, blocking the rear vent up with some clothes waiting to be washed I turned on the oven gas, waited for the scrabbling to end and picked up a dead mouse and in triumph took it in to show Phyll threw it on the fire and returned to make our cocoa. The next night a repeat performance was in sight as the next mouse awaited its fate, on went the gas, open came the door and Reg ended on his back against the wall as the cooker exploded, with eye brows, eye lashes and moustache singed I staggered into Phyll, no longer the hero just a poor wounded soldier. The previous night the gas for our cocoa had not been lit, tonight it had, when I opened the oven door the gas escaped and was lit by the gas alight on top. Phyll covered my sores with vaseline and I hurried out to get the mouse only to see it disappear behind the vegetable boxes in the larder, using all my force I crushed the box against the wall and another dead one, but of course the milk boiled over so I guess you could say, Reg one, the mice one, a draw. A friend of both Phyll and I when were at school was Laurie Foat he worked with his father who had a Greengrocers shop in Eaton Rd, I had been interested in bees when at school and found that Laurie also had an interest and had in fact a number of bee hives. We got together and started to expand the number of hives by breeding and bought quality Queen bees which we introduced after removing the old queens, we had bees in all sorts of places, orchardists welcomed us as pollination of their fruit trees was ensured, growers of many crops wanted our bees on site, this sometimes was a very painful as during transit the hives often moved and many times we travelled with swarms of bees round our heads, hoping that we would arrive on site still with enough to carry out the job in hand.
We experimented with new ideas, the only hive that had been used in England apart from the straw skip was the WBC, this had inner boxes in which the frames fitted, usually two types, honey and brood, and outer sloping ones that gave insulation in the cold months when the bees were in hibernation, we tried out the new style National hives, these were single wall and larger than the WBC ( how I remember all this after 50 years, I do not know) The National hive was a copy of hives used in warmer countries such as Australia and South Africa, where the honey flow continued most of the year and hibernation was not needed, our extractor could not handle the bigger National frames and filling by the bees took much longer and in fact frames were often found to be only half full even if the honey flow had been good, they were easier to handle but really not for the small bee keeper who enjoyed the hobby more than the honey.
We also tried out a new floor board which had a fine mesh panel in it, a cover over it was controlled by a thermostat which opened and closed it depending on the temperature, this in theory helped the bees to drive off the moisture from the honey before it was capped. An old wives tale says that your bees know you and you must tell them all about your family particularly births and deaths, whether this is true I don't know but sitting by the entrance to a hive as the sun goes down with crowds of bees at the entrance to the hive all facing inwards fanning their wings madly to drive off the moisture from that day's honey crop is a rather magic experience, the bees ignore you and with your face close to them the sweet smell of clover, apple or other flowers they have been visiting beats any of man's bottled perfumes.
As winter approached one year, it was obvious that two of our hives were not big enough to survive over the long months ahead, one had been used as a breeding hive for new queens, the other the remnants of one that had swarmed in an orchard miles away and the orchardist had not told us until it was too late to get most of them back. We would need to combine them and as bees are very territorial they couldn't just be put together (one of the two queens must be removed), most of both hives would be killed, there were two normal ways to do this, cover each lot of bees with flour then combine them and by the time they had cleaned all the flour off themselves they would all smell the same, another way was to block up the entrances put many layers of newspaper between the two and wait until the two lots of bees had chewed their way through and hope they would be friends.
Laurie lived over his father's shop which had a flat roof which could be reached from one of Laurie's windows, the combining needed to be watched to see if it was going according to plan, and the bulk of our hives were on land some miles away, the flat roof above the shop was an ideal place, we thought, the hives were set up near one another and a search through Laurie's wife's food cupboard failed to find any flour but a number of half packets of different coloured blanc-mange powder seemed just as good, the lid was removed from one hive and well dusted with powder, the floor taken off the other placed on top and it's roof removed and the remainder of the powder sprinkled in.
Some of the bees took offence at this and gave us both our usual injection of anti- rheumatic treatment ( after the number of stings I took should never get any joint problems, perhaps another old wives tale!) we retreated behind the closed windows of Laurie's flat to watch events, all seemed to be going well until Laurie's father suddenly appeared in the room, not a very happy Daddy, bees, all colours of the rainbow were driving his customers away, no one had been stung, but they were landing on everyone and everything and bright orange, red, blue, and even multi coloured bees were not the normal thing seen in shops. After about an hour the panic was over and all the bees had settled down to do what bees do best, hum, and make honey.
Bees like the rest of living things get sick and we sent any suspect ones to Rothamstead Research Institute for analysis. I had been working the bees one weekend and on the Monday morning woke up feeling not too good, turning to Phyll in bed asked if my face was swollen, the look on her face and a sudden withdrawal of breath told me the tale, got out of bed and looked in the mirror, two slits that must have been eyes once, two nose holes that belonged more to a member of the pig family, the whole lot buried in a red blotched landscape of no sharp edges just fat curves, felt even sicker after seeing that sight. Phyll rang the doctor, ( doctors actually came to see the sick in those days) who knew of our family history and at once remarked that it looked like a bee sting, told him we had a hive that we suspected had paralysis and were awaiting the results of tests, sat on my bed for about half an hour finding out all the symptoms of various bee diseases, gave me pills to take, come and see me in ten days, these blue pills got rid of the swelling but seemed to deposit glass chips in my joints, Phyll had to help me move and the pain was worse than the sting, managed to walk with great pain to his surgery after ten days, when I told him of my joints problem, said he should have given me these other pills to dissolve the crystals that would form in my joints.
Went to him once with a very swollen elbow, tennis elbow he said, don't play it I said, showed me his elbow which was just as swollen as mine, got mine playing golf he said, what shall I do I said, don't play golf or tennis for a bit was the answer!! Good doctor always came when asked and never gave you any bull, just one of the old school, straight answers to straight questions and don't go to him if you just wanted a note to stay away from work, I never did, in fact had to argue with him at times when he wanted me to rest, but mutual respect was our way.
At work load was getting greater most self inflicted see a job do it is still my way, and the firm found that if they wanted some thing done and it was possible for me to do it, it got done. The "Corgi" motor bike was just too small for all the tasks expected of me, tried to get a van from the firm, but even old ones were very hard to get after the War, saw an advertisement for a 1928 Austin 7 only 20 quid, borrowed the money from my Dad and went to pick it up, one of the firm's lorries dropped me off at this farm many miles away from home, it was in the back of a barn and sounded a bit rough when started up, farmer said it had been used to carry a full milk churn down to the front gate each day, drove it out to the yard at Manston, the engine rattle getting worse as time went on. Left it there to begin work on it the next day, stripped it right down, found the front seat was a bale of straw, no back seat, when pulled to pieces the small parts just filled a cardboard box, the chassis was two slender bits of channel joined at one end and that had a number of cracks in it, engine and body was all aluminium so very light, Phyll not very impressed when she first saw it, a box of greasy bits and some other bits of tin hanging on the workshop wall. I rebuilt the thing from scratch, crankshaft reground, cylinders rebored, valves and seats refaced, king pins and bushes renewed, any cracks in the chassis or body welded up, new seats, and tyres and tubes, it was a "tourer" open body and need less to say the canopy was missing, I had a new one made by a coach builder, when finished I spray painted it dark blue, and we now had our own motor car to go about and I had arranged payment by the firm for so much a mile when I used it on the firms business, which in fact covered all our costs of the car and a bit over, the overhaul had been done in the firms time and at their cost, not that they were made aware of it, and wouldn't have minded if they had, for me to be mobile anywhere anytime was what they wanted and now had it.
I could take a decent size tool kit out on repair jobs and even the odd spare part, if they wanted me to do oxy cutting or welding a van or truck had to be available to carry the cylinders and other gear, and the oxy cutting began to become a major part of my work, I had taken on a fitter who stayed at the yard and together with the young bloke I had engaged kept on top of the repairs to machinery while I was out on jobs. A list of all of the metal work jobs I did on site would take pages and strain the old memory but some can never be forgotten for various reasons.
There are three which stick in the memory, Dreamland a very well known and large entertainment park, side shows, scenic railway, ghost house, roller coaster, you name it, Klingers a stocking and tights factory built by Rice and Sons, and The new Margate and district Telephone Exchange also built by Rices.
I'll start with the last, the telephone exchange, this was a multi storey building with imposing stairs and entrance halls, Italian workers had been brought from Italy to do all the Terraza work to floors and stairs, my first contact with the site was when one of their machines would not start and the local garages couldn't or wouldn't repair it for them, not a very big job to fix it as I remember, but with typical Italian gusto I was treated as if I had saved them from a fate worse than death itself, showed me all their secrets for treating Terraza floors before people were allowed to walk on it, dozens of bottles of milk poured on after it was ground and washed, the fat from the milk sealed the pores in the cement and polish was applied over this.
The interior hand rail supports up the stairs had been concreted in before the Italians started their work, before they applied the final grinding and polishing they wanted the steel core rail for the wooden hand rail fitted, from their previous experience metal filings often landed on their Terraza and caused stains which were hard to remove, all the interior and exterior steel fences and railings had been contracted for by a London based company some 75 miles away by road. Their workmen arrived on site to fit the core rail and spent a couple of weeks drilling and fitting this top rail and returned to London, the manufacturers of the wooden rail itself came to the site to check that this work had been carried out properly, most people don't look at wooden hand rails in multi storey buildings, next time you are in one have a look at the complicated solid wood shapes made to change direction round corners or up to the next flight, all made from plans and joins that are hard to see. The steel core rail was a mess and phone calls to the London manufactures went un-answered, there was also the question of some hundreds of yards of exterior fancy railings which had to be fitted into holes cut in the Portland Stone capping that was the topping for a wall that curved round and sloped and ended at various entrances on three sides of the building.
The call came in one morning to visit this site and see the site manager, who just happened to be my Father! He showed me the stair problem, the core rail in some cases had been cut short and in others it was too long making the legs fixed into the concrete look like a row of trees, some of the end rolls were all twisted, in fact it was a mess, went back to the yard got oxy gear and other tools told my staff expect me when you see me and ring if you can't cope, the only way was to remove completely the core rail, straighten and check for plumb the supports, and start one end and rectify as I went, finished that part in a week or so, it was OK'd by the handrail people and the Italians who still made a fuss of me and I started to pack up my gear to return to base, that was not on my father's plans, the steel railing manufacturers had been 'sacked', would get no further payments, I would complete the work! 'Thanks Dad I had other jobs to do, ' 'but you don't leave here until the railings are complete', see what happens when you do a good job ? you get more!!
I found that not only had I to get the railings to fit, but had to concrete the legs into the wall leaving the cement a good half inch below the top of the Portland Stone, I then had to come back when the concrete was set and pour melted lead into this space leaving it slightly proud, which I then had to hammer flat using a caulking chisel so that the lead prevented any water from getting at the steel in the wall and causing it to rust. All this was said as if I had been doing this all my life and my own father standing there and saying it, there's family for you.
I started on a long straight section and when concreted in it was straight as a gun barrel, a good start, now for this curved and sloping section, each day was yet another battle with wedging posts upright, cutting and welding, all joins in the rails had to be half lapped, welded and smooth, at last this very long section was finished, ready for the lead. Back to the yard for a coke fired furnace, pouring pots, melting pots, scrap lead, coke and other tools, I needed help with this lead pouring so told my fitter to report to the site the next day and we would make a start, did the straight run first, each hole had to be done in one pour, lead soon gets a skin on it and if stopped half way would not seal properly, things went well until we did a hole that was damp and all hell broke loose, the hot lead turned the dampness to steam the lead sealed the hole, but the steam won and lead shot out covering both of us with lead spots on face and clothes, none in our eyes thank god, a lesson learnt, back to the yard to make two face masks with thick glass and a frame much like an arc welding mask.
Each hole after that had to be heated with the oxy torch to ensure no moisture was present, winter in England there is always moisture present, and so we poured and heated and caulked our way round to the last post outside the main entrance, heated, checked for moisture, poured, and bang the whole of the dark brick work at the main entrance covered in very pretty sparkling lead spots, who should walk out before we could hide, yes dad, "now you've got a long job picking every bit of lead out", some we removed but like I said earlier it soon gets a skin and goes dark and it was winter with no light so we only spent one day doing the easy seen ones and then back to the yard for a rest!!
Dreamland was a very different job, it was the height of the holiday season and the crowds filled every place of entertainment, Margate was a sea side place and families came from all over southern England for their week or two of fun in the sun. Those businesses that depended on the holiday makers for their lively hood had just three months to make enough to last all year, rain didn't really matter the people came anyhow just spent their money in different places and Dreamland was humming. A very large building had been erected just inside one of the entrances it was about 40 feet high and about a hundred yards square, really only consisted of a corrugated cement and asbestos sheeting clad roof on massive steel supports, the interior filled with side shows and games of chance ( very little chance in most cases) and it was always very well patronised, if the sun was out it was a place to get cool and if raining a good shelter, most of the people who ran the side shows paid rent for the site and many managed to find a space in their stall to get their head down when Dreamland was closed for the night. I received a call at home before I even left for the yard to get my Oxy gear and come down to Dreamland to do some cutting, I always had plenty of gas bottles on hand and had purchased very long hoses because of the difficult jobs I was always getting. Arriving at Dreamland I could see this skeleton of a building still smoking from the fire, the foreman met me to say that the owners wanted it cleared away as soon as possible so that trading could start again, but if I made a start a professional in building removal was on his way and he would take over from me. Looking at the structure it was basically a cross with massive compound girder columns at each corner, with again compound steel trusses spanning from column to column, the roofing material had collapsed into the rubbish beneath, but the heavy purlins were all twisted about and had been put under great stress by the heat of the fire. The safest way was to get on top of the building and using boards climb up to the ridges from both sides cutting and dropping the purlins as you went, this would leave the massive truss supported only at each end, cut through this at one end with great care, and hang on when it dropped, climb up the other side and drop the remaining end of the truss, this could then be cut up into manageable size lumps and carted away, the two columns could then be cut close to ground level and chopped up and after the whole building had been removed a final cutting of the column stumps would make the site use able again. Explained my thoughts to the site foreman and the boss from Dreamland who both agreed that it seemed OK, barriers were put in place and men stationed to prevent anyone entering the area where I was working, ladders erected for me to get up top, but my hoses though long would not reach far enough, so with a bit of a strain got the two heavy cylinders up to the top of the columns and lashed them there, I would leave them in that position until the time came to fell the columns. Up I went, ladders removed and I started cutting away the purlins, each one acted in a different way depending on what the stress was, just had to be careful and not get too close at the final cut, but things went OK and soon the clatter of falling steel and the showers of sparks from the Oxy torch had a crowd of sight see'ers, got the first truss free of purlins and ready to drop one end, when an almighty bang nearly tossed me off the roof, looked round to where the noise had come from and there was the "professional", with his long ladder leaning on the truss, he had cut through one end of the truss and had not cut any of the purlins, dangling by a rope tied to the ladder his torch burning the ladder and the truss hanging by the already under stress purlins. The site foreman rushed to help him down and put out the ladder fire.
I cut my truss end and went round to start on the other end when another loud crash rang through the site, the idiot had cut the same end of another truss and now two were hanging and swinging, told the foreman I was off, let the idiot kill himself but not me, don't worry he said he has scared himself half to death and is going home the job is all yours, I often wonder if I should have thanked the foreman. For a number of days I started at sun up and worked long into the night, balancing on boards and cutting steel, usually woke up in the middle of the night shaking at all the near misses I'd had during the day but just went back to the job in the morning, Phyll was going to the cinema one night with her friend up the road and took a short cut through Dreamland to get to the cinema, saw me up on the roof sparks flying everywhere and just couldn't go any further, got the job finished in the end but nobody ever thanked me and not even a whisper of some extra money, should have asked for some before I started I suppose, just too thick for my own good. Reading this could make people think that I am boasting about how clever I was, I'm afraid the reverse is the case, all of my children have more sense than I, if extra work is undertaken, extra pay is demanded, and received, promotion is given with extra perks for an employee of value. I just did everything asked and in most cases took on extra responsibilities without being asked and it seems never thanked, managers used my work to enhance their own images and gained increases of salary and position by getting work done under cost and dead lines because they could depend on me, and I the mug just kept on delivering. I obviously didn't realise any of this at the time, probably would have carried on just the same if I had, but I had something that none of them had, satisfaction of doing a good job and over coming difficulties that would have had many asking for help, none of my jobs could ever cause me any embarrassment about my skill as a fitter, my training in the RAF taught me that near enough is not good enough, only one way, the right way, think before you start, it might be too late if you start to think after you have started!! The next job I will describe was again something quite different, a site had been cleared on the industrial area between Margate and Ramsgate for a factory being built to manufacture stockings and tights and owned by Klingers. This factory was a very special construction in reinforced concrete, a triple barrel vault roof with north facing double sealed windows, parking and storage beneath, no columns or supports of any kind on the factory floor. The drawings of the reinforcing steel bars to go into the roof were a maze of interlocking rods, the roof changing in thickness from massive beams running the full length, to just three inches in thickness in the centre of the curves and again getting thicker to support the large double glazed window units. I was given various lists of machinery required and the dates when they should be on site, apart from the usual concrete mixers and scaffolding, steel bar bending tools were wanted to make all the complicated shapes of reinforcing needed, the men on site would start working to the drawings provided many weeks before the actual construction work started. Benches, various benders and cutting gear was delivered to the site but the foreman had trouble actually bending some of the shapes with the machines provided, investigations of machines on the market indicated that there was none that could do the tight and difficult shapes wanted. The architect would not change his design, so the foreman, workers and I put our heads together and worked out a simple device to bend the difficult pieces, made. . . .
Wedding photo April 28 1945
(more to come)
----- Reg Miles
Chapter 1, Chapter 2, Chapter 3, Chapter 4, Chapter 5, Chapter 6
Biography of Phyllis Miles (formerly Phyllis Dike), LACW, WAAF
Collected Poetry of Reg Miles, Flight Engineer, No1SoTT Halton/ MUs/ Snowy Owls, 420 Sqdn RCAF, 6 Group Bomber Command, Tholthorpe, Yorkshire / 511 Transport Command, RAF
Miss Phyllis Miles nee Dike, Photo, LACW, WAAF
Group Photo, 432 Squadron RCAF, 6 Group Bomber Command, Eastmoor, Yorkshire
420 Sqadron Badge, Photo, 6 Group Bomber Command, Tholthorpe Yorkshire, RCAF
Barrington-Kennett Trophy Winners, 1939/40, Photo, Reg Miles, RAF Halton, RAF
FIDO, Anecdote, Reg Miles, Flight Engineer, RAF
Flight Engineer Reg Miles, Photo of Reg Miles, Flight Engineer, 432 Sqdn RCAF, 6 Group Bomber Command, RAF
Flight Log 1664 HCU page one, page two, 432 Squadron page 1, 2, 3, 4, 420 Squadron page 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 1332 H.C.U. Page 1, Certificates of Competency, 242 Squadron, Page 1, Page 2, Page 3, 246 Squadron, Page 1, Page 2, 511 Squadron, Page 1, Page 2, Page 3, Page 4, Page 5, Page 6, Page 7, Page 8, Reg Miles, Flight Engineer, No1SoTT Halton/ MUs/ Snowy Owls, 420 Sqdn RCAF, 6 Group Bomber Command, Tholthorpe, Yorkshire / 511 Transport Command, RAF
Halifax, E Easy and Crew, Photo of Reg Miles, Flight Engineer, 420 Sqdn RCAF, 6 Group Bomber Command, RAF
Mail Plane, RAF Joke, Reg Miles, Flight Engineer, RAF
Missing in Action Telegram, Reg Miles, 432 Squadron RCAF, 6 Group Bomber Command, Eastmoor, Yorkshire
PLUTO, Anecdote, Reg Miles, Flight Engineer, RAF
Queen Mary, Photo, Reg Miles, 67 M. U. s, RAF
Salvaging a Bristol Beaufort, Photo, Reg Miles, 67 M. U. s, RAF
Wedding Photo, Photo of Reg Miles, Flight Engineer, No1SoTT Halton/ MUs/ Bomber Command/ 511 Transport Command, RAF
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