“Walker Brothers Ltd made a significant contribution to the war effort in the 1940s. Machine shop fans were assembled to serve underground aircraft factories at Corsham near Bath and Drakelow (Kidderminster). In the erection shop there were several marine engines for the Canadian Navy – one for a Corvette, two for a frigate – and around the time of Stalingrad several winding engines were provided for Russia.
In addition, a shell shop was set up with Capstan lathes, turning sixteen pound shells. The shop was staffed by women who could leave their infants in a crèche to be cared for by trained nurses.
A pig farm was even set up at one end of the factory, using leftovers from the canteen. The pigs provided fresh meat to the canteen in return. On the gun gallery, 25lb gun carriages were produced, which played a prominent part in the African campaign.
In 1942 the Atlantic convoys were struggling against U-boats. I was seconded to the fitting shop, reporting to top fitter Alf. He had an upturned trunk slide for a vertical marine engine. This required some small holes to be tapped within the casting and Alf decided to do this from the inside. I whistled up the crane and using hand signals guided the crane driver. Alf stood upright in the fitting shop whilst the 10 ton casting was lowered over him. In these days of health and safety, I would have needed certificates for the eyebolts, shackles and chain sling. I would have also required a certified slinger to organise the lift. All we had on this occasion was me – barely out of school.
Once installed, Alf’s connection with the outside world was through a hand hole through the casting. He told me to get a set of taps from the tool store. This required a signature from the foreman, who could have been anywhere on the site. I ran him down an hour later. Alf remained entombed but he managed to attract attention and managed to get the casting lifted off him. He came into the tool store fuming, whilst I was sorting things out. He snatched the parts out of my hand and went away muttering. Alf had a problem with his ‘r’s and I think he was saying ‘Christ above’. The trunk slide was completed and transferred to Gladstone Dock, ready to re-join the Battle of the Atlantic. Alf and I survived – he didn’t send me on any more errands.
Walkers’ contribution to the war effort was recognised by a visit by the King and Queen in 1945. I turned out to see them, and was taken aback to see that the King wore make up! Major Walker must have thought he would get a knighthood after the visit, but he was disappointed. The old firm was on its last days and that might have saved it. But it wasn’t to be, and at the end of 1946, it was taken over by Walmsleys of Bury. The work they had to do was the manufacture of paper making machines.
I left Walker Bros soon afterwards, leaving all the tracers in tears after several impressionable years!”
We would like to give a big thank you to John Webb for kindly sharing with us his memories of working for Walker Brothers (Wigan) Ltd.