At the start of WWII, my brother (Laurence) and I had an engineering business in Romford, Essex, and we were able to obtain government contracts for war work. Anybody with engineering knowledge and facilities were seized upon by M.O.S. ( Ministry of Supply) to get the war effort started.
We began making the end caps for gas bombs, Yes. I did say gas bombs !! Within a year, we had increased our labour force to eighteen, all males over the call-up age, one lathe turner had only one leg, it was amazing how he could do an eight shift , standing on one leg. We were also making barrels for Sten guns at the rate of 200 per week, although the ones we made were for the Admiralty, and were a deluxe edition and renamed The Lanchester 9mm Carbine


Lancaster Carbine

In 1940 we merged with three other engineering companies, under the umbrella of a finance company. This enabled us to quote for larger contracts, and within twelve months we had a staff of 400 (100 males and 300 females) and a factory of 25,000sq.ft.
The contracts consisted of gun barrels at 1000 per week, jettison drop tanks for Spitfire aircraft, drawbars for laying mines at sea, and Spitfire wing ribs. The Spitfire ribs were made in sets of 20 ribs per wing, port and starboard, at the rate of 200 sets per month. We understand that there were five factories in the UK also making ribs, these were dispersed in case of being bombed.


Spitfire Spitfire drop tank Spitfire wing ribs

All products were passed by resident government inspectors before dispatch. The SAID (Small Arms Inspection Dept) for gun barrels and AID (Aeronautical Inspection Dept) The women, mostly housewives, on production, were very good at picking up the various machining and assembly operations.
The drop tanks were made in 35gal.and 45gal. streamlined and fitted to the underside of the fuselage. This gave the aircraft extra flying time to escort the bombers further into France. They were then jettisoned over the English Channel if intercepted by enemy aircraft. They were made at the rate of 200 per week.
Later in the war, we were approached to assist in the making of a cannon mounting in the leading edge of the Spitfire wing, to enable 20mm cannons to be fired from the wing. This involved nine months of difficult fabrication work.


We made these Spit parts.


During this period, I had been courting Irene since 1939. She worked for our company for a short period, then decided to join the NAAFI. On the day of her interview, she met a woman Clara who has remained a lifelong friend. They decided to apply for jobs as cooks. They were accepted, and were stationed in London at an underground bunker off the Horseferry Road, called the Rotunda, reputed to be bomb proof.
This building was The Fourth Army Headquarters, and housed all the top brass for the British, American, Free French, Polish, Police and Fire Services. It was also connected underground to Winston Churchill’s War Cabinet bunker ( which is now open to the public)
Irene and Clara, with two others, on two shifts, 6 to 2 and 2 to 10 had the task of cooking for the whole establishment, which involved a 100 meals, three times a day.
The night shift, 10 to 6 took care of the preparation for the next day.
In the event of an air raid, the large bombproof door were closed, and it became a self contained unit, and would have been instrumental in continuing the war effort, if surface control had been destroyed.
Irene stayed in the NAAFI from 1942 to 1944, with a short spell at RAF Hendon, quite a comedown in cooking facilities, after the all electric equipment at the Rotunda
During the whole of this period, from 1940 onwards, I was living in Romford, which was on the direct bomb flight path to London, and with RAF Hornchurch within three miles, we got our fair share of the bombing. After working in the factory, we spent nights fire watching for incendiary bombs
We managed to get a house in Romford, after spending many months looking. The owners had moved away because of the bombing. We had to be very careful, checking walls and roofs for cracking due to local bomb damage. I would get property details during the week, and Irene would come home from London ,and we would view them at the weekend. She told her friends that my letters ,read like an estate agents brochure.
Irene and I married on the 17th. June 1944, and to make our day, the V1 (doodlebugs) started on the 14th. I remember on our wedding night, walking up to the front door of our new home, with every intention of carrying my bride over the threshold. At that moment, a V1 came overhead and cut out, the dreadful moment of silence, is something anybody who was in the war, will never forget. Will it continue to glide, or will it plunge to the ground? I opened the front door, and literally threw Irene on the floor, and fell on top, some home coming! Incidentally, the flying bomb continued for another three miles before crashing on another poor soul. We spent the first year of our marriage sleeping under the dinning table.
On the 19th. June, we went on our honeymoon to Stow-on-the-Wold in the west country. This was mainly to give us a break from the bombing. It took quite a while to adjust to the quietness of the countryside. We stayed at the Red Lion, which we thought was a licensed pub, it turned out to be a temperance establishment, run by a vicar. Our ration books, which we handed to the hotel, were in our single names, which took a little explaining to the vicar.
A year before our marriage, we realized that all house furniture manufacture had stopped. The furniture manufacturers had turned over to making wooden Mosquito aircraft. We were able to buy one of the last dining and bedroom suites made, from Messrs Harrison & Gibson Ltd of High St. Ilford. We were able to get them to store them for us, for twelve months, until we got the house. The only furniture to come into the shops later, was known as ‘utility furniture’ a very simple and cheap construction. While shopping in Cheltenham, we spotted an essential item, something that we had been looking for desperately. A wooden toilet seat. We brought it home to Romford in our suitcase.
While on honeymoon, we spotted masses of aircraft, towing gliders. This continued for days. It was only when we got home, that we found out that D-Day had started, and the gliders were troop carriers.

During 1945, as well as running the business, I was called to serve the Home Guard (the original “Dads Army”) this entailed one night a week duty, with also the possibility of full time duty. I was appointed to the Intelligence section, which entailed accepting messages from signals, and interpreting them for Command. I spent the night in an empty bombed house, and slept on the floor, although this was better than the platoon which usually finished up under a railway bridge. The coffee and baked beans in the morning, went down great.
One night Irene and I went the cinema, and although the air raids were always announced on the screen, people became so adjusted to the nightly occurrence, very few left their seats. On walking the two miles in the blackout, to her mother’s house, the bombs started dropping close by. On arrival, there was complete chaos, a bomb had dropped in the street, but by a miracle, it fell on a scout’s hut. there was extensive damage, but no one was killed.


When the war in Europe was over, the M.O.S. contracts started to dry up, orders were not repeated. I received papers saying, my deferment was cancelled, and I would be called for national service. I was twentyfive.and had a wife and baby son, and was looking forward to a rosy future. The business closed, putting people out of work.
On reporting for call-up in February 1946, I asked “ Why me now?” I was told, they “needed me to keep up the numbers, as the others were being demobbed” and I would serve “for the duration of the present emergency”


Lancaster MkIII RAF Colerne Lancastrian


Taking my engineering experience with the manufacture of Spitfire parts, into account, I was placed in the RAF as AC1 (airframes) and spent the next two years in the south of England, on salvage units and MU’s (maintenance units). The last posting was to Colerne near Bath, where we were stripping Lancaster bombers, which were taken out of service, and converting them into transporters and renamed the Lancastrian. This entailed removing all radio equipment and gun turrets, and fitting new nose cones, and fitting new seating. A number of these planes were sold to foreign powers. I was demobbed in February 1948

Top left in this photo
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Ronald. H. Rawden 1920-2011