from the abbreviated memoirs of Walter Downs
Following my release from H.M. Forces on the 22nd February 1945 I had four weeks leave to sort my life out and find myself employment, bearing in mind my disabled left arm and shoulder, my injury prevented me from returning to my pre-war employment, which had required me carrying pieces of cloth weighing up to 150 lbs to various machines in the processing department. My former employer, who throughout the war had really looked after me, sending food parcels and money at regular intervals was most sympathetic when I returned, offering me a light job in the office. However, I felt I would be taking advantage of his generosity so I graciously declined his offer, thanking him for his past kindness and I remained a friend of his until he passed away.
At this time I decided to spend a few days in London with my Army pal Len Sanders who at this time had returned to England from Belgium where he had returned to his job as Officers’ Mess cook. but whilst moving from one billet to a new one, sitting on the Mess equipment aboard a 15 cwt. truck, he had been knocked off the truck by an overhanging branch, resulting in a dislocated shoulder, causing him to be sent back to hospital for treatment and with his usual luck after being treated he was posted to the Army Catering Unit two miles from his home and promoted to Corporal. When he had related his experiences I told him that in my opinion he was the luckiest man ever to set foot in Normandy. During my stay with Len and his family the Germans were sending doodle bugs and flying bombs into London and we heard quite a few exploding round about us, but on the third night one went off about two miles from Len’s house and shook the house so much we thought it would collapse and we made a quick exit only to return an hour later when we felt the house was safe, following this last incident I told Len that it was much safer in Huddersfield and I would return home.
The day after my return I made my way to the Labour Exchange in Huddersfield and told the official my circumstances and asked if they had any vacancies that I might apply for. He was very helpful and in the afternoon |I found myself on the way to W C Holmes at Turnbridge where I was interviewed for a storeman’s job, which I readily accepted. I started work on the following Monday morning working in the stores with two chaps, one aged about fifty and the second one about 45 years old. He had a glass eye which had kept him out of the services, but he seemed to run the stores. He certainly had his money’s worth out of me as he had me moving materials about and if I stopped working he would come over and find me something else to do whilst he and his mate would sit in the cabin smoking. I realised after a couple of weeks working in the stores that my arm had started aching and the wound itself had become inflamed and was weeping so I attended our family doctor, who after examining my wound, suggested that the work was too heavy and I should pack it in. The following morning I went to work, and saw the Manager and explained my case to him. He gave me two weeks’ wages and wished me luck. At this particular time I was all right for money as I had been awarded a 100% pension and whilst living at home I found this adequate.
When my wound had dried up and the ache had subsided I made my way to the Labour Exchange again and I was lucky enough to get a job as an office clerk at a small iron foundry which employed eight men producing castings for local engineering companies. The owner was a big chap and had been a Rugby League player, unfortunately, he had an artificial eye which had kept him out of the Services. He also owned a precision engineering company in Chiswick which produced high quality jigs and tools for the engineering industry and took up most of his time. His idea was for me to run this small office whilst his working foreman ran the foundry. The foundry workforce consisted of three elderly moulders who had previously owned the foundry and had sold out to the present owner on condition that they continued to work until the war ended. I had only worked a week when the owner had to return to Chiswick so I found myself working alone, taking messages into the foundry foreman and telephoning customers who were progressing their orders. The accountant who looked after the Company’s affairs came to see me one day and quizzed me about my past and when I told him I knew nothing about book-keeping he agreed to send one of his juniors to the office to show me how to keep the books. I learned very quickly about the books and I also found out that the company was losing money. It appeared through what this junior was showing me, we were not charging enough for our castings and secondly the owner had borrowed money from our biggest customer and was paying the debt off by deducting 50% from all his invoices.
When the owner came to the works the next time he said he was quite happy with my work and asked how I felt. I thought this was the right time to put him in the picture regarding our financial position and explained what I had learned from the junior. He then told me that he had borrowed this money to get his Chiswick company going as he visualised a great future for it, but late deliveries and cancelled orders had made it impossible to repay any of the debt. He was thinking of selling the company in Chiswick and concentrating on the foundry. I thought this would be a good idea, and the next day he came to the works to discuss the situation saying that it was going to be difficult to carry on at the foundry with little or no money in the bank. I could see my job slipping away and made a reckless decision. During the months I had been in hospital I had received very little of my Army pay and had accrued a bank balance of just over £200 which I told him about, saying I was willing to lend it to him until times became better and he could pay me back. He accepted my offer and further promised to make me a director. I rushed home and told my Mother about the arrangement and she was very pleased feeling that I had secured a job for life.
The following morning I went to the bank in Milnsbridge and withdrew £200, telling the bank teller, a Mr Yates, whom I had known since 1935, what I was going to do and he congratulated me on my good luck. So off down to work I went and handed the money over to the owner, who, picking up the paying-in book, left the office heading for the bank I thought. The next day I wrote a cheque out for one of our suppliers for £40, the owner left me signed cheques and this was a normal procedure. Two days later the supplier rang me saying the cheque had been returned marked “Refer to Drawer.” I told him there had been a mistake as the owner had put £200 in two days previously and his was the only cheque sent out, but I promised to ring the bank and would ring him back. I did this and was told that no monies had been deposited at the bank, this was my first financial crisis and I was shattered as I knew the owner had returned to Chiswick after he was supposed to deposit the money and despite many calls to his office he was never there to speak to me.
That weekend my Father came home on demobilisation leave and, of course, I told him the whole story. After settling down and talking the matter over we decided to visit the owner at home the following morning. When we arrived the owner came to the door and was shaken when he saw my Father and I standing there. He asked us in and he was looking very uncomfortable. My Father took over and asked him outright the money was. The owner, realising that anything but the truth would be unacceptable, broke down and confessed that he had visited a gambling club in Huddersfield and had lost the whole £200. This was a bitter blow for me hearing that my nest-egg had been gambled away, with no hope of ever getting it back. We stayed in his house for two hours discussing the situation and finally agreed to put another £250 into the business on the condition that we controlled the cash flow which he readily accepted. We worked for three weeks and did exceptionally well with the production but we could feel little benefit of deducting 50% from our main customer’s invoices. At this stage I wrote out a cheque for the Inland Revenue in payment of the employee’s Income Tax and three days later it was returned again marked “Refer to Drawer” along with a letter threatening action if the cheque was not honoured within 3 days. We rang the bank to find out why they had not honoured the cheque and learned that the owner using a second cheque book, had transferred our £250 into Chiswick company account.
Eventually we contacted him by telephone and when asked why he had done this he said his Chiswick firm was booming and within six months he would be able to repay all his debts and things would go from strength to strength. However, knowing of his gambling habits and having been duped twice there was no chance of believing him so we put the ball in his court. He was unable to produce any monies so the Inland Revenue took the necessary action and put the assets of the Company up for sale. These these assets were mainly fixtures in the building, namely the crane, furnace and grinding machines and it was not convenient to move them, so my Father and I had very little opposition with the bidding and we bought everything for knockdown prices. Retaining the same staff we began work again on 1st April 1946 under the title of H Downs & Sons (Huddersfield) Ltd.
One of the three previous owners declined to accept our offer of employment as he was in his seventies and felt he should enjoy the remainder of his life in retirement to which we agreed and he left offering his services in a consulting capacity should we need any help. The work was very hard as all the equipment in the foundry was in an antiquated state, the crane was manually operated by ropes and was very slow, especially when hoisting and lowering. The furnace consisted of a steel tube lined with firebricks and the metal requiring to be melted had to be hand cranked to a rickety old platform about ten foot above the ground. Everyone pulled their weight in their various tasks and in less than a month the place was buzzing as we had been able to retain the customers previously served by the old owner. Of course the customer mentioned at the beginning was now paying his invoices in full. Because iron castings were in great demand at this time our customers were very helpful in paying their accounts which enabled us to pay our own accounts promptly which ensured us of an excellent service from our own suppliers. Our first new customer was James Bailey Ltd of Slaithwaite. The owner himself complete with bowler hat came into the yard in a Rolls Royce taxi and started to take some wooden patterns out of the Rolls, explaining how many castings he required from each pattern. This was the beginning of our association with his company and today we are still supplying the company with castings ordered by Mr Bailey’s two grandsons, the third generation of the family. The next customer was a maker of textile machinery for the cotton industry based in Castleton near Rochdale and our relationship with this company would shock most manufacturers in this age as the directors agreed to help us get on our feet by paying us when we delivered the castings. My Father used to accompany the hired lorry to the works and, as the driver was offloading the vehicle, Father would go into the office, complete with invoice, where a cheque would be made out and on his return a cheque for between £400 and £500 would be deposited in our bank. This arrangement went on for two years and enabled us to become financially sound.
During this period we were able to accumulate some surplus money which we used to electrify our crane which made work much easier for everyone. Secondly, we invested in a second hand Canadian Army lorry, but my father was the only person who could drive so after delivering castings during the day he spent most evenings teaching me to drive. Fortunately it did not take long although when I took the lorry out for the first time I am sure my ability would certainly not have passed today’s test, I did improve as time went by. Our work force increased to twelve men and we had trebled our output and at this stage we repaid my father’s sister the £500 we borrowed when we bought the foundry. We had offered to repay her on several occasions previously but she had said she did not need it. This time she accepted it and we were clear of all debts.
Our landlord, a local auctioneer, had doubled the rent when we took over the lease; his reason being the previous owner had owed him a large amount of rent and despite our protests we had no option but to pay up as we had bought the contents of the foundry and he knew we could not move them. He did no repairs whatsoever to the building and the roof over the main foundry was in a poor state with water dripping through when it rained, creating a hazard when we were moving molten metal around the shop floor. The landlord refused to do anything about it, so reluctantly, my father and I decided we should have to have the work done ourselves. Gathering all our assets we gave the order to a local roofer and at a cost of £3000 we replaced the whole roof. When the landlord saw the new roof he said that having improved the property he would be entitled to increase our rent on April 1st when our lease was renewed in approximately ten months’ time.
We were disgusted with the landlord’s attitude but we were entirely at his mercy and we did not like it. At this time an Act of Parliament made it compulsory to install showers for the use of our employees and we realised that there was no area where we could build showers to comply with the order. We explained several times to the Factory Inspector who visited us frequently. One very hot sunny afternoon I was loading castings on to our wagon when the Factory Inspector, a Mr Legg, came into the yard and seeing me came over and asked me what I had done about the showers. Perspiration was streaming down my face and the last thing I wanted was a discussion on showers. I stopped working and addressed the Inspector, telling him that I was fed up with his visits, interrupting my work and wasting my time on a project that was impossible to achieve and if he could find a site I would build a foundry to his specification in the meantime would he keep away. We had, during the past three years, tried unsuccessfully to find a site. At about the same time the following day I was again loading a lorry when who should drive into the yard but Mr Legg himself. Immediately he stopped his car I was over to him asking what he was doing here when only the day before I had told him I did not want to see him again. He corrected me saying that I had said I did not want to see him unless he could find me a site.
I was shaken when he told me that he had the option of a suitable one and if I would accompany him in his car he would take me to the site. I was very excited with the news and he took me to the place where the Huddersfield Ambulance Services had been stationed, and as a new building had just been completed, the services were moving out and I was offered the site which I readily accepted. Immediately I contacted a builder friend and we set about producing drawings helped by Mr Legg who was to take an interest in the construction for personal reasons.
Whilst this was going on my father had been taken ill and was being treated for bronchitis, but after a specialist examination, he was diagnosed as suffering from lung cancer, and following a major operation which was not a success, he passed away and received a full military funeral in recognition of his service in the Army.
he building work went quickly ahead thanks to a fine summer and when our employees returned to work after their annual holiday they came into a super new foundry which had been officially opened by my mother three days earlier. I had not told the landlord of our actions until he rang me asking me to call in at his office to sign the new agreement. I replied that I was not renewing the lease but would send him a cheque for three months rent in lieu of notice, which I did, so ending my association with him. We had a few teething troubles for a few days then everything fell into place and a very happy and contented atmosphere developed. During the following months we were visited by Mr Legg who took a great interest in our progress and we have always been grateful for the help he gave us. Lots more people visited our works and we gained new customers bringing in work, which enabled us to employ more staff this in turn increased our production.