Bob Brooks was a Design Engineer at Westland and remembers Christmas time at the Yeovil factory
When I was in the flight test department, I was a bit amazed that the metal desks we had always seemed to have bent legs. So, I enquired of one of the guys, “why have these desks all got legs bent?”
“Well,” he said, “it was a Christmas project that did it.” So, I said “0h yes, what Christmas project was that?” He said “Well, we have a Christmas project every year. Last year, the structural engineers had a project and they built a go-cart, in the office.” I said “Oh yes.” He said “It was powered by an enormous electric motor, taken from one of the test rigs” and he said “so we drove it around the office. But unfortunately, the traction was far greater than the friction of the tyres on the lino floor” he said, “so the car frequently was out of control, smashing the desks, hence all the bent legs.” “Oh”, I said, “this is a fun place to work”.
So, anyway that Christmas it was the flight test engineers turn to make the Christmas project and at the time the Wessex 1 helicopter used to use cordite cartridges to start the engine and the flight test department acquired a quantity of this cordite and built an enormous rocket! It was quite a spectacular looking thing and they decided to launch it. Perfect day for the launch, no wind and ideal conditions, except there was a thick fog. So they decided, well it would be a bit imprudent to launch in a thick fog. Anyway, after lunch the fog was still there so they thought, oh sod it, it’s got to go. So, anyway there was a flash and a bang and this thing did launch and disappeared into the murk. Where it went I’ve no idea. All I do know is that about a few months later in the summer a guy, one of the farmers further up the road at the end of the airfield, came in on his tractor with bits of metal and said: “Are these yours?” Oh no, no, no, but they recognised it as bits of this rocket, I think.
People had a lot of fun in those days, didn’t they – at work?
Yes, fun – perhaps more enjoyment – I think fun probably detracts from the seriousness of what they were doing, but yes work was fun. I mean, I did say that once. I came back from a trial we were doing demonstrating Lynx firing rockets and guns and things on the test range to a potential customer and one of our directors said to me “Oh, well done” he said “That was a good demonstration and I said, “yes, great fun.”
“Fun?” he said, and I said, “Yes, work is fun or else I wouldn‘t do it.” He looked at me as if I came from another planet, you know? But it was, work was fun. I enjoyed it.