Mr Les Cullum (also known as Jerry), was born in 1913. He was interviewed on 18 October 1984, when he lived at 84 Church Street.
He also appears on tape 95.
For more information about him, see Cullum, Les (Jerry) in the People category.
The original recording of this interview is held at the Essex Sound and Video Archive. To listen to the recording, please contact them at email@example.com or 033301 32500.
[???] shows words that are not clear enough to interpret and so have had to be omitted.
[?] after a word shows that its interpretation is not certain.
Later explanatory additions by JG or the transcriber are in square brackets [e.g. explaining locations etc.]
Continued from tape 95
[re Crittall’s factory, Braintree Road, during Second World War]
Mr C: On the outside of the …
Q: Oh is that what they are, by the road there?
Mr C: Yes, you know the concrete, you know the concrete. That’s what they were, shelters. Then there’s another one, what I used to use during the working, used to have the subway where the lifts were, see. (Q: Yes.) Literally used to be, go right down in the subway. There was three floors, ground floor then subway where you used to get from the wood shop over to the main shop and they made that into an air raid shelter. We was down there during the War. Which was the best one really I think, the safest one. (Q: Underground wasn’t it).
Q: What did you think when you saw this plane machine-gunning, that was a bit frightening wasn’t it?
Mr C: [???] [???] Then Lily saw, she stood and watched them drop the bombs. Of course that frightened here, she knew I was over there. See them drop the bombs. See there was a plane come round and drop the bombs.
Q: You stayed at Crittall’s through the War did you? (Mr C: Yes, I was there all the War, yes.) What were they doing do then?
Mr C: I was, another story. I was on windows, we were all on windows, Then Hoffmann’s came down and they had part of the factory for making shells. (Q: Oh did they, I see.) So I went down to see the manager. I knew I wouldn’t be called up because I’d just had that kidney operation. I knew I wouldn’t be passed. I wasn’t called up anyway, I was on a reserved occupation anyway. I knew I wouldn’t be called up. And I went in to see the manager and he said, ‘I want to get off windows’, see wanted to go on shells. ‘I don’t think I’ll be called up anyway’, I said, ‘Not fit enough’. ‘No’ he said, ‘You stop on windows’. So he said ‘There’s an inspector coming next week from the government’. He said ‘I’ll send him up to see you. And of course he did, he came up and saw me. He said ‘What’s the trouble Mr Cullum?’ I said ‘Well look, I wanted to get off, I won’t be called up’, I said I want to get off windows and do something worthwhile’. He said ‘You stop just where I are’. He said ‘What you’re doing is more important than those shells over there’. He said ‘We want these windows for Nissen huts for the troops’. He said ‘We’ve got several factories making shells’, he said ‘You’re doing a good job, so you stop there’. I thought ‘Well fair enough’. I didn’t argue any more, see, though I still wasn’t really happy. Anyway about three months later I had to go down the manager’s office. ‘Mr Cullum’, he said ‘I’m taking you off my machine, we’ve got the girls coming, and women coming in next week, they’re going on the machines’ he said ‘and you’re going to look after them’. (Q: No?) And I was still stuck on windows, I was on windows all the War. As I say. It was interesting. There used to be about ten girls. We had sort of two lines of five machines on each line and girls on them. I had to set up the machines and look after them.
Q: How did they get on then, the girls?
Mr C: Oh, there were some hard workers. Some of the girls were as good as the men and some were better than… There were some strong girls in there. Some were better than the men, they were. They were on heavy work too some of them.
Q: I’m sure it was useful [laugh]. So you never got to make shells then?
Mr C: No, I was on windows right to the end of the War.
Q: Did they have women making the shells as well?
Mr C: Yes, it was mostly girls on the shells.
Q: That was Hoffmann’s? I didn’t realise that.
Mr C: Hoffmann’s for the shells yes. They had part of the [Crittall’s] factory. Of course the War finished, of course they went back on to windows and got busy. We was doing a hundred tons a day, sometimes weekends and Friday and Saturday morning, doing a hundred tons. Now they are only making seven tons a day. Very slack at the moment over there.
Q: Because after the War it was pretty busy wasn’t it?
Mr C: Then, I went on nights with another fellow [???] This Mr Jarrett said I’m on next week and stop on. Of course I stopped on over a year. Stop on permanent nights for over a year. I wasn’t on the staff. I was getting five shillings over my money over the pool money and I was looking after the whole shop, all on me own. Other than an under-manager being there. Then this Mr Jarrett he got me on the staff, he got me on the staff.
He more or less looked after me all me life really. He kept me there when they were sacking them and he got me on the staff. He came to me one day when the foreman was ill and he said ‘Come on Jerry’ he said, ‘I want you to do Len Custer’s job’. I said ‘No, I can’t do that.’ ‘Come on’ he said, ‘you can do that with your eyes shut’. That was the foreman’s job. Of course I done it. It was only five shillings over the pool and doing the foreman’s job.
Q: So what did the foremen do that the checkers and inspectors didn’t do? What did the foremen do specially.
Mr C: Well they more or less moved men about you know, moved the men about [???]. One night there I was on and I wanted another man on welding see they couldn’t get enough work. It was busy. I went down to the, there was a new under-manager on, I forget what his name was. And I went down and saw him and said I wanted another man on welding. He looked in the book and ‘Sorry’, he said, ‘Mr Small said you’ve only got to have so many men on welding’. I said ‘Well, if I don’t have another man’ I said, ‘we’re not going to get the work through, that’s what it amounts to’. ‘All right’, he said, ‘Don’t worry about what Mr Small said, you keep it quiet, he said, you put another man on.’ [laugh]
Q: I suppose you knew what was wanted didn’t you?
Mr C: He, he I don’t know where he come from but he didn’t know much about windows. Nice fellow this under-manager. I used to say to him, ‘cos we was doing about, making about twenty-five tons a night then, and I used to say to him ‘You keep out of the way and I’ll get the tonnage through all right’. He used to come and see me first thing at nine o’clock when we started and never see him any more till about five o’clock in the morning. He never come near! Used to come up about five o’clock and say ‘How are you getting on.’, and used to take tally of how much we’d done, all that sort of thing.
Q: But you weren’t called a foreman or anything?
Mr C: No, no. I used to have to move all the men about, where I wanted it, and all that sort of thing. (Q: That was at night?) Yes. Used to have to make the outers and then make the inners to go with them and the vents. You had to have everything sort of more or less complete, see. Wasn’t no good just making the outers by the time they got up the other end they couldn’t complete the windows, so you had to work it all through during the night.
Q: I see. They all had to be done at the same time. So what did he used to do, do you think, the under-manager?
Mr C: Sit in his office all night I reckon. [laugh]
Q: Was he always on nights?
Mr C: Vice-versa with Mr Jarrett. See Mr Jarrett was on a fortnight about see. He was under-manager then, Mr Jarrett. Well he was under-manager right up till the time he left Crittall’s I think. He was never a manager I don’t think.
Q: He was still Union representative as well then, was he?
Mr C: Mmm. Of course when he, he give that up when he was made under-manager. Give the Union up then.
Q: And you said Fred Cook was an under-manager, was he?
Mr C: Yes, he was an under-manager there.
Q: Was he there when you started?
Mr C: Freddie Cook? I think so. Yes, I’m sure he was. He used to be on time studies. He came to me one day and timed me. I knew exactly what I could do, so I told him. He timed me for about quarter of an hour see. So I said ‘All right, Fred, put down so-and-so’. Before he started, before he started this was. Course I gave it myself, and I done did exactly that in that time. I kept on the go, I didn’t rush it you know.
[brief silence, post arrived]
Q: So you put him right as well.
Mr C: I told him what to put down and what I could do. Of course it was the piecework rate see. I worked it so that I could do more than that [laugh]. You had a price, you had a price for a certain job. If you went mad when you was being timed they’d fix that price and you couldn’t … You didn’t have to go slow, you know, pull your weight you know, but not quick enough so that when the price was signed you could do a bit more.
Q: They accepted the time that you did, did they? They didn’t say you should do it quicker? They didn’t tell you you should be doing it quicker. (Mr C: Oh no, no, no.) I should think that was a difficult job for him then, wasn’t it? (Mr C: It was, yes, yes.) Because they used what he said to set the prices, did they ?
Mr C: Yes, that’s right. I always got on all right with Fred. I think Fred liked me, always did.
[chat about being tired, not noted]
Q: So did they have the clubs and things like the snooker while you were actually working as well? Did they have the Social Club when you were working?
Mr C: You mean like they’ve got now? Well, the Social Club was always there but never started this Pensioner’s business, not for …
Q: So you could go there after work or something could you?
Mr C: Oh yes, could go to the Social Club after work yes, that was always there. That was always there. But now, you see, we play snooker all the afternoon, all free. Give you the money to put into the …Have to pay, but they give you the money to put in, Thursday afternoons. Then we have Bingo, we started Bingo last week, we have Bingo all through last winter, once a month. First time I went up there to play Bingo I won groceries first, they play for money now.
[account of game of bingo, not noted]
Q: So you don’t regret going to Crittall’s in the end really ? Even though you had to stay at Crittall’s by accident …
Mr C: I was glad I did in the end. For one thing I wouldn’t have met me wife. There’s all that you know. I always used to say to them, if dad had his way and took us to London I would never have met you.
[about health and operations etc., not noted.
Q: So did she go to work in the War [his wife]?
Mr C: No, we had two girls from Norwich, you know they planted them on you. If you had the girls you couldn’t go to work. You had to look after them. Anyway she fell for a baby, fell for the first baby, and of course they had to go then. Then we had another one, two in seventeen months. She had her work cut out looking after them. That was in 1942-43.
Q: So these girls that came to stay. They were evacuated were they?
Mr C: They brought them up from Norwich to work here. Go to work. They were workers. Crittall’s workers. Crittall workers we had to have. But they were a bit on the rough side anyway, these that we had. We were jolly glad to get rid of them. They marked the furniture, all that sort of thing. Weren’t a bit fussy. Used to make a mess, spoiled the house. Any it happened that way, and we got rid of them. There were some rum girls over there you know. These different types.
Q: I didn’t know they’d brought them in from other places.
Mr C: A lot come from Norwich and Ipswich up here.
Q: So I suppose you had to sort of blackout (Mr C: Oh yes, everything was blacked out, yes). Did you have your own shelter up Church Street?
Mr C: We had one inside, indoors. They used to come round and test all the houses. They come into our house and they said that was one of the strongest houses, ‘cos Richards was a smashing builder. My house is all brick. I think yours are too. He tested all the walls and he said ‘It’s one of the strongest houses we’ve been in to’. He said ‘You won’t want a shelter outside, have one inside’, so we had one down in the living room. When the sirens gone, we used to sleep upstairs, but when the sirens go we used to tear down, I used to pick the cot up with the baby in, with Rodney in, and she used to pick the other one up out of bed and we all used to get in the shelter. We had a bed, we actually had a bed in the shelter as well. Just an iron shelter with wire mesh inside. But they said if a bomb dropped in the garden you’d be all right. [???] Anything could happen couldn’t it.
Q: Presumably they were trying to bomb Crittall’s were they, do you think, mostly?
Mr C: Yes, they were, one dropped in Cressing Road, bomb dropped in the road in Cressing Road. Don’t think anybody, although some man got killed up there by a bomb. Whether he was looking in where it was and it went off or something like that. Somebody got killed over there. There’s still bomb holes up the walk there now.
Q: Up where those houses are? There’s still some there now are there? That wasn’t very far from you was it? [perhaps now Chipping Dell]
Mr C: And the garden field, used to be where Chipping Dell, not Chipping Dell, Saxon Drive, yes. [???] I had twenty rod of garden field up there, you know when I got married, they dropped more there.
Q: So were you worried a lot of the time do you think, or did you get used to it?
Mr C: You got used to it. Got used to it. One night it was terrible, one night. I used to be on fire watch, fire watch in the road, see. Well I used to go over, I used to over with Mr Wenden right opposite. We used to lay down in his house opposite. Because you didn’t go out unless the siren went. If the siren went then you had to go on duty. But one night, that was the night when they bombed Chelmsford, it was terrible that night. Though we never had much here but we could hear the planes, and the searchlights, and see the searchlights.
Q: So the fire watch you took turns at did you? Then you went out if the siren went?
Mr C: That’s right, yes. But what we’d have done I don’t know, if anything had happened. [laugh] We never had nothing to do anything with. In the army they had broomsticks didn’t they at first. I was in the Home Guard. Dr Benjamin, who just died. He was my doctor. I went and saw him after I’d had that first kidney operation, he was in the Home Guard, and I went down to see him and he said ‘No’, he said, ‘I’d advise you not to go in’. But I didn’t take his advice. I went and joined. During the winter this was. Down the Maldon Road, they had a hut down there. Firing one morning, course I was laying on the ground and it was all frosty you know and damp, firing, I used to love it, and Mr West was the sergeant-major. He’s dead now I think. He said ‘Who the devil told you to lay down there?’ I said ‘Nobody, Mr West, I just wanted to do what the others were doing’. ‘Get up’, he said, ‘and go in that hut and clean that hut out. The next week I went he wouldn’t have me go on the ground firing any more, so he said ‘Don’t say that I said so’, he said, ‘but take my advice and get out of this’, he said, ‘you’ve had that serious kidney operation. Take my advice and get out of it’. Anyhow he must have done it because I had to go and see Mr Bright, Brights what’s the solicitors now, that’d be his father. He was the head man and I had to go and see him, and he said ‘Don’t want to lose you Mr Cullum’ he said. ‘we know you’re enthusiastic’ he said, ‘but I’m afraid I’ve been having a talk with Dr Benjamin and he advised you not to come in it in the first place’ So he said ‘I’m afraid we’ve got to let you go’. About a year later, in the middle of, about one o’clock in the morning on a Sunday morning there was a knock on my back door. Of course I came downstairs in my pyjamas and dressing gown and there was a Home Guard bloke there in all his uniform, he said ‘Report down the George at once, report down the George at once’. ‘The George, why?’ ‘Oh he said, you’re in the Home Guard, report down the George at once, I can’t stand here talking to you, you’ve got to report down the George at once.’ So I went back to bed. I hadn’t been took off, I couldn’t have been took off the list, see. There was a bit of a scare on and they called everybody out. I went back to bed anyway. [laugh] That was funny that was.
Q: Well they managed without you. It’s a long time ago now. You do well to remember it don’t you, so clearly.
Mr C: I think everybody was very glad when the War finished.
Q: At Crittall’s, the girls that were working there. Did they leave straight away?
Mr C: No, they were kept on for a time you know. Till they started bringing the men back. [???] They kept some back in the forces, cause they had to keep them in the forces so long after the War. [???] But when they come back they got rid of ‘em. Mind you some of them stopped on, on different jobs what girls could do, sort of thing.
[chat about granddaughter’s horse etc., not noted.]