When Bletchley Had To Be B...Y (15 August 1975)
Local relics of the Second World War keep popping up. Each one is a reminder of the conditions in Bletchley and District at that time and of its total commitment to the war effort.
The latest to come to my hand is a copy of a works magazine. It is not dated, but the contents seem to indicate that it was issued at the beginning of 1942. The name of the firm is not specifically stated either. Even the name of the town is reduced to “B . . y.” Evidently the editor had security very much in mind.
The give-away, as far as local people are concerned, is in the title: IMPAC. If you turn the first two letters upside down and reverse them, the result is WIPAC. Furthermore, there is one reference that has got through the editor’s guard – the fact that this shadow factory is occupying Rodex premises.
Announced as “A magazine compiled by and for the staff,” IMPAC is well-produced with limited means. It has 16 pages, plus an orange-and-black cover, and has many line drawings of a humorous kind.
The price is 3d, all of which goes to the British Red Cross. It is also the No 1 edition. I don’t know for certain whether there was ever another. The man who has kept it all these years tells me he was fired shortly after obtaining it for washing his hands in the firm’s time!
“Editor and Office Boy” is R J Curzon-Berners; art editor R Penn; and cartoonist “Nibby.” They disclose that their normal work is done in overalls. Otherwise I know nothing about them.
However, the magazine has a pep message from the main boss, Mr C B Jarman; a light-hearted article on “The Birth of W——— O-B,” by the second boss, Mr D A Pacy; and reference to Mr George Gaylor, head of the research department, and Mr A C Long, among others. Mr Pacy later became vice-chairman of the Bletchley Urban Council. Mr Long was also a councillor for a time.
But to begin at the beginning. In 1926, the Wico Electric Co, magneto manufacturers, of Springfield, Massachusetts, set up a small branch at Perivale under an American manager and with a staff of five, of whom Mr Jarman was one. Parts were imported from America and assembled at the rate of about a dozen magnetos a day.
Five years later the American manager returned to the States and Mr Jarman was appointed his successor. The branch continued to grow and by 1939 they were turning out about 4,000 magnetos a month.
Then came the war, and with it the difficulty of transferring money to the USA. As a result, in 1941 the parent company sold the British company to Mr Jarman, who changed its name to Industrial Magnetos Ltd.
Meanwhile, in 1936, the Ever Ready company had set up a small subsidiary company at Edmonton for the manufacture of sparking plugs, with Mr Pacy in charge.
Mr Jarman first met Mr Pacy when his own biggest customers were having trouble with a motor. Mr Jarman’s magneto was suspected, but Mr Pacy diagnosed plug trouble and made some changes, as a result of which the motor worked exceptionally well.
Mr Jarman forthwith gave Mr Pacy an order for plugs, but in March 1941, the plug factory was blitzed before delivery could be made. Mr Pacy saved some of the plant. He also took over the small company as his own.
The two then got together in a working arrangement which developed into the Wico-Pacy Sales Corporation Ltd. All electrical parts were then at a premium and in huge demand, and at the instigation of the government the firm came to the requisitioned Rodex coat factory at Bletchley with a staff of 40 to help meet that demand.
With all the billeting that was already being done in Bletchley – of Bletchley Park people, and child evacuees, including one complete junior school from London located at the Spurgeon Baptist Sunday School – local people had doubts about this further influx.
But, according to Mr Pacy’s article in the magazine, “Mr Sanderson nobly did a house-to-house canvas and achieved more in a few hours than the local council and billeting authorities had been able to do in weeks.”
He also writes of arriving at the Rodex factory only a month after the Edmonton blitz and finding the future assembly shop empty save for a few benches.
By the following year the firm had decided to stay in Bletchley after the war. They acquired a large slice of the future Denbigh Road Industrial Estate and began building. With the end of the war they also began branching out into other “Wipac” lines. In 1947, they concluded an agreement with the American company allowing them to sell the British magneto throughout the world instead of just in Britain and Australia.
By 1949 they had 500 employees and had built the imposing office block which still stands. But it is no longer theirs. For in the 1950s they privately sold their premises in Bletchley and moved to Buckingham, some employees continuing with them by workers’ buses.
For two years the premises stayed unused. Then the owners put them up for auction in London. Bletchley Council made the winning bid of £100,000 and, despite gloomy prophecies, within six months had let the premises to new firms coming into the town at rents which covered the principal and interest twice over.
The Wipac saga ends there as far as Bletchley is concerned. But this little magazine is a reminder of those brave days and braver nights when, according to one of its wisecracks: “If your girl is on late shift, feed her on onions; you will then find her in the dark.”