“In 1942 I signed up for technical studies at Wigan Mining & Technical College. This was a three-year course at night school to gain an Ordinary National Cert.  I was also seconded to the Erection Shop for practical experience.  I served under a fitter and older apprentice, assembling marine engines.

One Friday the foreman told my colleagues to go the following morning to the Makerfield Laundry, where there was a problem with the engine.  This was only a minute’s walk from home.  I decided to join them and we were met by the manager, who was lighting the boiler.  The engine was a single cylinder reciprocating, double acting engine. While the steam was being raised, I went home and returned with a tub of tea.  The engine was started and sure enough, it was noisy.  The fitter decided to remove the cover of the valve chest, but immediately there was a power cut, leaving everything pitch dark.  The engine has a lubricator which I unscrewed, cleaned out the grease and filled it with paraffin.  The lubricator had a wick, which could be lit to provide a dim light.  I knocked it over and ignited the engine foundation. Quickly I threw the jug of tea over it, leaving tea leaves all over the valve chamber.  It was discovered that the valve had a gap, causing the rattle.  The engine was started up and it still rattled.  “That’s it,” said the manager, “I’m off to a cricket match!”  The Walkers party retired to Robin Hood.

Graduates of the Higher National course at Wigan Mining and Technical College, 1944/5, with John Webb on the left and side on the back row.

On another occasion, on a wintery day in 1943, we received a telephone call from John Locke Colliery in Yorkshire to send someone to have a look at the winding engine. Joe Worthington came out of his office and collared the first man he saw, and looking at me said “take him with you”.  We crossed the Yorkshire moors from the L & Y (Lancashire and Yorkshire) station (Wallgate station) and eventually arrived at the colliery where an official took us to the winding house.  He didn’t know what the problem was, nor did the winder.  We got him to run the engine.  I took the revs at one end of the crankshaft, my colleague did the same at the other end and they were both the same!  We checked the brakes and the over-winder and obtained a straightedge to check the alignment of the crosshead slides.  The only thing we could think of causing the problem was inside the cylinder.  We got a colliery fitter to remove the cylinder cover.  24 bolts needed a flogging spanner to loosen them.  We got the crane to lift the engine cover, and sent for the manager.  The undermanager scolded the foreman fitter, the manager scolded the undermanager and they all scolded the Walker’s rep. I crept away in case they started on me.  I asked my colleague what made them so cross. He said the day turn men were coming to the end of their shift and there was no winding engine to bring them up.  They put the colliery staff on overtime, to reassemble the engine.  The Walker’s rep gave the nod to the winder to try it out, forgetting the straightedge was still lying across the trunk slides. One nudge from the piston rod sent the straightedge flying through the upper reaches of the engine house.  Very dangerous, someone could have been hurt and it could have been me! I wouldn’t like that. The journey home was very quiet. We were both sheepish, he more than I!”