My last placement in 1972 was as a production apprentice in the Templeborough Finishing Banks or the T.F.B, on Sheffield Road near Rotherham. This part of the steelworks was where all the steel blooms, slabs and billets were finished off, all defects removed and the steel cut to size etc. There was a grinding shop, a pickling shop where cold steel billets were dipped in a large acid bath and a cold shearing shop amongst others.
The T.F.B. was annexed to the cogging mill where steel was turned into billets or slabs. In the cogging mill there was a set of ‘flying shears’ these shears were just a frame and would rise up like a giant set of jaws and ‘snap’ at the steel billets flying through them, cutting the passing steel like butter to the required length. These ‘flying shears’ were confiscated off the Germans for war reparations. I don’t know which world war though. After my six week stint here I was placed permanently in the finishing banks.
My first job was as a paint lad on no3 bank, working with a team of deseamers who dressed cold steel removing defects out of the steel billets and slabs with their blow torches. My job involved painting the end of the billets and slabs, colour coding them. I had to go into the stores for the different colours of paint, if they didn’t have the colour you wanted you made it by mixing different colours together. The storeman was always on hand to help.
I was 17 years old and I worked under a team of eight old steelworkers, they were fair men they were the old school, they didn’t stand no nonsense and you respected them. They took me ‘under their wing’. Another of my jobs was ‘mashing lad’ you did this job whether you liked it or not, it was part of the course. Three times a shift I would trot off with eight cans and walk into the cogging mill canteen and fill them up with boiling water. At the end of the week you got your ‘natty money’. They all gave me ten pence each, one old hand would say ‘your natty moneys on the table lad’ I didn’t do it for the money I enjoyed it, you had no option though.
The men in our team were mainly WWII veterans, in fact I was surrounded by war veterans, this was 1972 and these men were in their late 40’s or 50’s, still in their prime. There was Bert Wilcox, the men used to say he use to strangle Germans with his bare hands. His hands were like shovels and his fingers the size of sausages, Bert was a lovely man, very quiet and deep. He only spoke when he had something to say. Then there was George Bush ‘Bushy’ another lovely bloke, very jovial and smiling all the time, he would greet you with an enormous smile, his daughter married my uncle’s son. Then there was Freddie Mangham, Fred was small slim built chap, black hair and a little Errol Flynn moustache. Fred couldn’t stop shaking, it was awful to watch him sup his tea or play cards. He would hold his right wrist with his left hand, to keep it steady, he had a bad case of shell shock the poor bugger. Fred had been stuck on the beach at Dunkirk for days on end, bombed and straffed by the Germans until rescued. His nerves were shattered, but in the cabin no one took any notice everybody was used to it.
Then there was Tony Globe, now here was a character, his nickname was ‘Dippo’ he loved a drink. Well Tony had been a Japanese P.O.W. and you could tell. You would be sat in the cabin which was a steel box 12 foot long and 8 foot high, with a light bulb in it, and a steel door, you would be sat there playing cards and the door would fly open. Tony had a dustbin lid on his head, and a holding a sweeping brush under his arm, the bristles under his arm, he would charge into the cabin and ‘bayonet’ everybody. We all had to pretend to be dead! No kidding.
Tony globe ‘Dippo’ soon took me under his wing, I soon became known as ‘Young Dippo’. He taught me how to play cards and drink, it wasn’t long before I was one of the lads. Every chance Dippo got he would sneak off to the pub and take me with him, usually at snap times. I was well and truly corrupted and only seventeen.
We would go to the Temple pub on Sheffield Road. Sat down with our first pint, Tony would go through his ritual. Firstly he would get a pint of bitter and a ‘soldier’, a bottle of Barley wine, he then got a filthy hanky out of his top pocket and put his false teeth in it. He then turned his cap round so it was back to front, then lifted his pint pot and supped the first bit very slowly, as if it was his first pint in years. After supping half the pint he topped it up with his little bottle of Barley wine. Now that was strong, it put hairs on your chest.
Tony hardly ever talked about his days as a Japanese P.O.W. but when he did everybody around him listened. Sometimes I felt like he would blow up or do something daft if he didn’t say something now and then, letting a lot of frustration out of what he had experienced. I never, ever asked him about his experiences and nobody else did. One day we were sat in the pub, he’d had a couple of pints and he just came out with, “na’ then lad, them Japs, bastards they were”.
I just listened to what Tony had to say, “them Japs would say drop your trousers then give you one and even if they liked it some men still got the bayonet”. He was deadly serious. I did not know what to say, I just nodded yes in agreement. For the next hour I was sat with Tony and all he kept saying under his breath and between each mouthful of beer was ‘Jap bastards’.