William May (1914-c.2000): oral history audio recording.
New Bradwell was known as “Little Moscow”. It was socialist and militant, but not in a violent sense. The people worked well together for hospital funds, carnivals and the like. The one divide was religion, between Church of England, Methodist and Baptist. They did not mix, but this was not carried over into work.
WM’s father, who worked in the Colours Room at the Works, was not in a union and continued to work through the General Strike. Only he and Mr Clifton did so from New Bradwell. He was escorted to and from work by police and followed by a crowd. There was no violence, but there was abuse and nuisances like knocking at the door. His neighbour, who was in the union, stood up for him. WM’s brother-in-law, who was also in the union, tore up his union card at his front window. WM’s younger sister was threatened and the police warned-off the offender. WM himself was at school and nothing was said to him about it. There were some comments when he started at the Works as an apprentice in 1928.
Albert Brown stood on the flat roof of the newsagent opposite the Works’ entrance at the start of the Strike and shouted to the men to “Follow me”. The Strike was “completely to do with the miners” and many of the men came out because they were told to, but didn’t believe it would do any good. WM remembered Horace Bellchambers and Fred Fielding, both fitters, and William Ingram, a trimmer, who were prosecuted for intimidation. No one was sacked because of the Strike.
Albert Brown was known as “Bolshie” , for his militancy, or “Curly”, for his hair, Brown. He was a JP and a staunch Baptist. It was known that, if you were in the Baptist congregation you could be found employment at the Railway Works. On one occasion Father Guest approached Brown about “getting a few of mine in”. Brown was an effective chairman of the Stantonbury Hospital Fund and various wartime organisations. He had three children by his first wife and later married Mabel Archer, who did a lot for local charities.
Father Guest did not use notes for his sermons. He spoke off-the-cuff, was sometimes disjointed and sometimes talked over the heads of his largely elderly congregation. WM’s sister was employed as maid at the vicarage whilst Father Guest was in post.
The sons of existing employees were able to get a job in the Works in a trade, whilst those without were taken on as “labourers”. The apprenticeship lasted for seven years, from 14 until 21, after which the worker was laid-off and expected to be a journeyman for two years before being taken back as a tradesman. Exceptions were made in cases like a widowed mother. A journeyman who had completed a Wolverton Works’ apprenticeship had no difficulty finding work elsewhere.
During World War Two, the Works made wings for Typhoon fighters, forged shell casings, made gliders and repaired Whitley bombers. Many of the trades were not conscripted and retiring workers were given the option of continuing until 70.
Labour relations were largely good. There were many unions, including the Fitters’ Union, the Electrical Union, the Transport and Salaried Staff Association, the National Union of Vehicle Builders and the National Union of Railwaymen, which was the biggest. There were Shop Stewards and the Works Committee to represent the employees. Later, two staff from the Works Committee were employed full-time to represent the workers.
WM voted Labour throughout his life, except for one occasion when he voted Liberal. This was when Robert Maxwell was the Labour candidate. WM thought that Maxwell was an “enigma”. He cited the fact that Maxwell claimed not to have spoken English until he arrived in the country at the age of 17, but he had no trace of an accent. WM did not believe this was possible.