words by John Veasey
It was Monday the thirteenth of August 1945, two days before VJ day, I was fourteen years old and it was to be the first day of my working life.
I reported to my new employers, The Nuneaton Timber Co Ltd at eight thirty in the morning, at their timber yard next to Trent Valley station, anyone who remembers the site will recall that it was dominated by a very large crane which was used to offload the tree trunks from the timber wagons and feed them into the large Band Saw Mill , Blockbusters and Netto occupy the site now. I was now ready to take up my position as Sales Clerk in their yard Office to where I was ushered.
The office was effectively a glorified shed which had been fitted out as an office, it had two built in desks, various shelves filled with files, a telephone, two stools and what puzzled me, until I learned the reason later, an old armchair. I don’t remember whether or not there was any form of heating but I suppose there must have been.
The walls were painted in what at one time must have been cream but had now deteriorated to a dirty brown colour and there was an acrid pungent smell of tobacco, I now learned the reason for the arm chair and the dirty brown walls. Apparently the office also served as the night watchman’s hut and he would sit in there all night smoking his black shag twist. No one knew or cared about passive smoking in those days.
My salary was to be one pound per week less stoppages which left me with nineteen shillings to share between my mum and myself.
My duties included answering the telephone, now this was all knew to me as I had never answered a phone until then, very few people had phones at home at that time, so my first attempts were pretty traumatic. The instrument was of the candlestick type and the first time it rang, after I had eventually decided which was the earpiece, I picked it up and said, as I had heard other people in the office say, ”Nuneaton Timber” I then heard the voice from the earpiece say , “ This is Blah , Blah, Blah I want half a standard of five eighths by five PTGV1S random lengths delivered to my yard tomorrow my licence number is 116654436. Got that” . Well this was all Greek to me so I quickly handed the caller over to my boss and went back to filing despatch dockets, of which I had by then, got the hang of . For the benefit of those who may be wondering, which I doubt, what the caller wanted it was 82 and a half cubic feet feet of five eighths of an inch by five inches planed tongued and grooved chamfered one side matchboard in random lengths. I bet it is still Greek to you now.
Another of my jobs was to draw up the cutting lists for the Sawyers in the Mill, who would come into the office to collect them and one thing I noticed about them was that most if not all had fingers missing and as a fourteen year old boy, this disturbed me at first. Right from day one I had access to the whole site and could walk around and close to working machinery, overhead hoists etc without any prior safety training or safety gear such as hard hats or safety goggles. Health and Safety regulations were in short supply in 1945, though I was too young to realise it at the time.
Timber was still rationed in 1945 and no one was allowed to buy imported softwood without a licence, the general public were allowed to buy one pounds worth of home grown timber per month and had to sign a declaration at each purchase that they had not purchased any from elsewhere in the same period. To put this in perspective one pounds worth worked out to the equivalent of about 80 feet of 2inch x 2inch or in today’s money 24.4 meters of 50mil X 50mil .
Anyone who has worked with or around sawn timber will I am sure remember the lovely aromas which it can create, I can still remember them to-day, but there was one particular variety that I always tried to avoid when serving customers.
As I have said earlier, customers were only allowed to purchase home grown timber, unless they had a licence, this included trees such as Ash, Oak, Poplar and, for me the dreaded Elm. All this wood was freshly sawn and consequently still very wet so that, when it was handled, you were left with the smell of it on your hands for days. This was fine with most timbers but Elm was a different matter, it smelled something like a cross between a fishmongers slab and something I could not possibly mention here, the memory of it if not the smell still lingers to-day.
It was here at The Timber Company that I was taught one of my most valuable lessons. Outside the main office there was some excavation work being carried out to lay new cables and one day I was coming out of the office and stopped to talk to the workmen, after few minutes I felt a tap on my shoulder and a voice said “Come on get on with your work “ it was the Yard Manager and the lesson I learned was, don’t let the boss catch you, no I’m joking, it was that I was being paid to work and not waste my time chatting.
Ah well! enough rambling so I will now finish off with an event which occurred during my time at The Timber Company and which stays in my memory still
The main office was across the yard from the office in which I worked. One day I was crossing between these two and just as I got to the Yard office door I heard an almighty bang and then a clattering of metal just behind me and when I looked round there was a piece of a band saw measuring about eighteen inches long five inches wide lying where I had just walked. Apparently what had happened was that the large band saw, which was a considerable distance away, had snapped and a section of it had smashed it’s way through the corrugated iron roof and landed behind me. This was the first of a number of near misses which happened to me during my working life but I am still here to prattle on about them.
And today, the space that was occupied by Nuneaton Timber Company has shops including Blockbuster Video, Netto and Poundstretcher
As I said, at the beginning of this piece, all this started two days before VJ day so I will end with words similar to those in the Good Book “ Two days did I labour in which I did all manner of things and on the third day I rested (and went to a VJ party)”.