John Groves was a Design Engineer at Westland and worked at the Ilchester factory (so called Westland shadow factory) from 1948 to 1952
It was quite a big, old long shop with a big balcony across the end where all the offices were. We had a paint shop out there and an engine bay, which were two separate entities on the end. It was, well, probably two or three hundred yards long. It was quite large. There were a few machine tools out there. The majority of work was refurbishment servicing of aircraft. Through the war they used to have Seafires out there but that was before my time out there. As I say, when I went out there they had the Sabre contract, refurbishing the Sabres, ex-RAF, which were on loan back to the United States, USAF. Out there then we had one, two, three foremen, the manager of the whole outfit and, externally, there was an American there to liaise with the American Air Force and, of course, AID, Air Inspection Department.
So about how many people would have worked at Ilchester then?
I expect it must have been two or three hundred. There were quite a few out there, at least.
And did you have a canteen out there?
We had a canteen at the end out there but primarily we used to use the Navy canteen. Staff went across to their staff canteen and the works as I say but in the end, they had their own canteen out there. We also had a hangar, fourteen hangar out there which they used for flight operations for the Sabres. When they lengthened Yeovilton’s runway, extended it right long, we couldn’t fly the Sabres out at Yeovilton. As far as I can remember, we took them across to Merrifield where Westlands had a hangar for flight-testing and all the last flight testing was done at Merrifield on Sabres. I think Leo Devine was the test pilot at the time that I remember out there, the aircrew, yes. He was quite a character too, I remember, old Leo, he did all the Sabre work and everything.