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Bonzer Words!: My First Job

"There are those who say that the sound of a falling bomb resembles an express train going through a station. Others hear an intensifying whistle or high-pitched scream. This one was a screamer! The bomb landed in the centre of the road in front of the fence and there was a sensation of earth and blackness. Fortunately the neighbours had seen me walking up the road and were able to drag me from the earth surrounding the crater, which now filled the road...''

Dennis Bloor recalls his time in Birmingham during the war years.

Dennis writes for Bonzer! magazine. For more articles and stories visit www.bonzer.org.au

The year was 1940 and I was 15 years old. Even at that age I knew that my future lay in chemistry.

A near neighbour was the Transport Manager at the Parkinson Stove factory in Birmingham, U.K. He arranged for an interview for me and in due course I arrived at the factory, was interviewed by the Chief Metallurgist, Dr. Angus, and shortly afterwards entered the hallowed precincts of the laboratory for my first day.

My official title was laboratory assistant which in today's terminology would be general dogsbody. My enthusiasm knew no bounds and when I was informed that my first task was to polish the laboratory benches, I set to and waxed them to a mirror finish. (In those days one's seniors were addressed as 'Mr. So-and-So' or merely 'Sir'.)

This task accomplished and anxious to extend my labours to more meaningful activities, I was instructed to clean, re-label (where necessary) and arrange in alphabetical order a shelf of chemical reagents.

In this fashion my first few weeks were devoted to cleaning, washing glassware and tea-making duties.

At that time the foundry was in the process of conversion to essential war work production. The Parkinson Stove Company was equipped with a fully-mechanised foundry with two cupolas producing low-grade cast-iron for domestic stoves, but with the advent of war built an extension which included two Birlec electric arc furnaces and a metallurgical control laboratory. The furnaces produced high-quality steel for Mills hand grenades and tank-track links.

Following my introduction to the essential workings of an industrial laboratory I then became part of a small team in the new laboratory responsible for sampling and analysis of the steel to meet the requisite quality standards. I was destined to remain there during the following six years in what was then called a 'Reserved Occupation' and eventually I was left in charge of the laboratory.

One of the more interesting incidents during this period occurred following the introduction of a factory Rescue Squad by the Chief Metallurgist. The team also set up a fire-watching roster, sleeping overnight at the factory. It was on such a night on November 14th. 1940, that I was awakened during one of the most intensive raids experienced in Birmingham.

The sky was lit up with searchlights, the night was split by the sounds of marauding bombers, anti-aircraft guns and the screams of falling and exploding bombs. I wondered whether the factory had sustained any hits so decided to walk the short distance to investigate. There was a fire crew extinguishing incendiaries, otherwise little damage, so I turned towards home along the deserted streets through the darkness.

Lights from houses were all blacked out at night to make it more difficult for bombers to locate their targets. I had almost reached home when the sound of a group of bombs falling close by prompted me to take shelter in a neighbour's front garden. As the sound grew louder I reasoned that this could be a very close thing so decided to peer over the fence to view the spectacle.

There are those who say that the sound of a falling bomb resembles an express train going through a station. Others hear an intensifying whistle or high-pitched scream. This one was a screamer! The bomb landed in the centre of the road in front of the fence and there was a sensation of earth and blackness. Fortunately the neighbours had seen me walking up the road and were able to drag me from the earth surrounding the crater, which now filled the road. There is a saying 'curiosity killed the cat' that comes to mind.

However there's always a humorous side to everything. I was taken from devastated Birmingham to a hospital in Shrewsbury by ambulance. During the evening a nurse was doing the rounds and said "Does anyone want any sweeties?" I had never been known to refuse such an offer and said "Can I have two please?" It wasn't until much later that night that I discovered that they were in fact laxatives, but by then it was too late!

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