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The Reyrolle Story: Nineteen - A Royal Visit

Robert Owen tells of the visit of George VI and Queen Elizabeth to the Reyrolle works in 1943.

To read earlier chapters of Robert's history of the famous engineering firm please click on http://www.openwriting.com/archives/the_reyrolle_story/

To purchase a copy of his book visit http://www.amazon.co.uk/Reyrolle-Story-History-Co-Ltd/dp/1905295073/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1245678876&sr=1-1

The War did not stop cultural music activities in Reyrolle and in 1943 both the Carl Rosa Opera Co. and the Sadler Wells Opera Co. gave selected programmes to large appreciative audiences in the No. 2 canteen of New Town Works.

While the bomb damage to Reyrolle premises was minimal, the Hazemeyer plant in Holland, which manufactured switch-gear under licence from Reyrolle, was badly damaged due to Allied bombing.

During the war, the BBC also organised several series of lunch-time entertainment programmes for factory workers. These were broadcast live from "somewhere in England". Perhaps the most well-known was "Workers' Playtime" which included many popular stars of radio and theatre. Less well-known was the "Works' Wonders" mid-day broadcast, again staged in factory canteens throughout the country, although the entertainers were usually talented local amateurs. Christmas was also a time that was used for entertainment. The first "Christmas Hour" was introduced by management in 1944, to provide opportunities for the exchange of seasonal greetings, before the break-up for the holiday period. The management, however, got more than they expected, when committees throughout the works arranged a full programme of entertainment. It went down so well that the second "Christmas Hour was broadcast in 1945!

A group of happy employees from the Hebburn Works Office celebrating during the Christmas Hour of 1945.

After introductions by Victor Smythe of the BBC, and Edward Trotter, Reyrolle Welfare Officer, the first stop was to New Town works where Jessie Smith sang White Christmas . The focus then shifted to Hebburn Works where entertainment was provided by Ward and Leslie (comedians), Mary Anderson (soprano) and Alan Hockey, (baritone) with Ian Milne as compere. The show ended when apprentice James Reilly read a Christmas Message.

A Reyrolle Local Defence Unit - L.D.U. - commonly known as the Home Guard -was formed during the war to help to protect the works from possible saboteurs One volunteer recalls that over 300 employees were recruited and shared five rifles. The LDU officers obviously recognised the need for mobility and speed so they created a platoon of cyclists, complete with puncture outfits. This was initially considered as something of a curiosity, but like metal clad switchgear was soon widely copied. In spite of the L.D. Unit, "saboteurs" did penetrate the Company s defences in 1944, when two plain-clothes police sergeants entered the West Gate under false pretences, and exposed the sad lack of security. An internal inquiry was held and reprimands followed.

Perhaps the highlight of the war years for Reyrolle, was the Royal Visit by King George VI and Queen Elizabeth on 7th April, 1943. They toured the factory and saw the workforce's contribution to the war effort. When hostilities ended in 1945, there was much rejoicing throughout the Company. A Victory Carnival Day was held in Hebburn and several floats were entered in the street parade. The Hebburn Works float emphasised its war products, while the New Town Works contribution was a tribute to Reyrolle women workers. Both floats were awarded prizes, which went to the Services "Welcome Home" Fund.


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