Don Berrington was Managing Director of the Helicopter Division at Westland. He remembers joining the company in 1950 as an Apprentice
There were two sorts of apprentices, what were called technical apprentices, which were people like myself who had school certificates or some reasonable qualifications and then trade apprentices who were going to be skilled craftsmen. We all spent time in the workshops however which is quite sensible. I mean you need to know how things are done and how things are made. I enjoyed working in the workshops, to be honest. I liked working with my hands. I was very slow and in those days you were paid piece work so you’d got a rate fixer who gave you a time to do a job and if you took longer, you didn’t get any bonus, if you took less you got bonus depending on how quickly you’d done the job. You had, of course, to pass the inspection at the end so a bad job quickly done didn’t get you anywhere but a good job quickly done did, but I was never able to do it quicker than the fixed time anyway so I didn’t get much bonus.
They were still building Wyverns when I joined so my first, well, the first experience of practical activity was in the training school. About twenty of us at a time went through the training school where we did machining and were taught how to assemble small items and things like this and then we went into the workshop and my first allocation, as it were, was to the major assembly shop making ailerons for the Wyvern. That was really good. I was very lucky. I had a really good craftsman called Tom. I don’t remember his other name, but he was addicted to snuff which was a bit off-putting but apart from that he was a really good craftsman and he really took interest in teaching me everything he could. Some of the guys weren’t like that. They were just interested in their apprentices helping them do things quicker and better and making more money but he was a real craftsman. The worst part of my practical training was in the machine shop. I hated routine machining where you made, not literally, but millions of bits and pieces, all identical and you had no idea where they were used so you were just churning these things out and had absolutely no idea what purpose they had in real life.
I think the most enjoyable bit of practical work was the tool room, which don’t exist anymore. It’s all controlled by numerically controlled machines do these things but there was an awful lot of handwork so we made tools. Although I was very slow I was quite good and accurate so at the end of the day I usually got the complicated jobs which you took your time over and I really, really enjoyed it and again. I had a guy called Norman Evans who worked alongside me and he would help me and I learnt an enormous amount from him and when there were big jobs to be done, like big jigs to be built, then he would take me with him and we’d go sometimes to Yeovilton to build these jigs or perhaps jigs had got damaged and we went to refit them and that was really, really good. In fact, at that stage I thought I’d really like to be a tool maker or perhaps work in the jig and tool drawing office and I got myself allocated to the jig and tool drawing office for a while and that was really good and again the guy running it was called Johnny Perkins and he was very, very good with his apprentices because he would come out with a component, or a drawing of a component and say we need to make this component, now we’ve made components like this many times before and so there is a pretty well-established way of doing it, a pretty well-established tool for doing it, but he said I’m going to leave this with you for twenty-four hours and I want you to think what way you would make it. Can you think of something better? If it’s better than the way we make it now, we’ll take your idea. If it’s not, then we’ll go back to the way we’ve always made it, which I thought was brilliant because you were really there scratching your head thinking I’ve got to come up with something. I can’t just do the obvious. So that was very good again.