A conversation with Jock Winkworth
by Norman Whitwood in 1982     

From the Border Country to British Aerospace; from apprentice draper to aircraft inspection superintendent.

After forty-five years in the aircraft industry, most of them in the hot-seat of inspection, Jock Winkworth obviously prefers to talk about those early days in the tiny Scottish village of Eaglesfield, Dumfriesshire.

"In the drapers and grocers shop where I served my apprenticeship", he says, "you had to be prepared to sell anything from a sack of corn to a suit. I started on eight shillings a week and we worked a basic fifty four hours".

His employers also owned a sheep farm and Jock continually returns to the subject. They had to work on the farm for two weeks every year, shepherding, branding and even shearing the flock. He obviously loved every minute of it. "Everyone worked on the farms in six month terms, so the shop rendered accounts in May and November, just as they were all getting paid off".

Jock used to go back regularly, but when he returned this year for his son's marriage to a Glasgow girl, it was the first visit for a long time. With the young couple setting up home in Carlisle, the nearest large town to his home village, Jock's migration has turned full cycle. Having just retired, he hopes to go back more often. His irrepressible, dry sense of humour is never far from the surface. "I've still got two houses up there, both with tenants. I only charge them five bob a week, but they refuse to die so I can get in and change the places. Very inconsiderate, really!".

He left Scotland when he was twenty, in 1937, and moved to Short Brothers and Harland in Belfast as an aircraft fitter working on Bristols and Handley Pages. "Some of the aircraft didn't have much bottle" he says, "but they had to make something". Having left Eaglesfield because of lack of prospects, this was a completely new world, in more ways than one. "I had to sneak off to the toilets to sort out Decimals. We never did them at school".

Jock worked on the same bench with an Australian, a Welshman and an Irishman and with the shipyard next door, his lifelong career in the hard, but friendly, world of engineering had begun. By the time of Jock's retirement, aircraft construction  and testing techniques, as well as metals technology, was to reach incredible levels of sophistication, but in the early days in Belfast you just drew some sheets out of store and slapped them on the aircraft - no heat-treatment, no age-hardening, nothing.

Jock remained in Belfast for three years before moving to Luton after four years in Reading and two years as an RAF flight mechanic. In 1947, ten years after leaving home, he returned to Scotland, only to head south again after three months because "I couldn't stand it".

When he did journey south again it was to DeHavillands at Hatfield, where he was to remain for thirty five years. "I was always an inspector" says Jock. "In those days we were selling Comets to just about everyone at half a million each. If we'd had Green Shield Stamps, we'd have given them away too". DeHavillands became Hawker Siddeley and then British Aerospace but for Jock nothing changed much. They just kept on making aeroplanes and the names rolling off his tongue, sounding like a roll call of British post war aircraft classics: Mosquitoes, Venoms, Vampires, Chipmonks and many others.

Besides an increasingly well-established career, Jock made another valuable find at Hatfield: his wife Peggy. Peggy was secretary to the Financial Director and Jock was in digs with her sister. "Her hair is no longer red, but it was in those days" says Jock, "I must have been mad!".

Mad or not, since they moved to Harpenden in 1955, they have raised a super family of three strapping boys, all of whom have done very well for themselves under their parents' canny guidance. Jeremy the eldest has his BSc. and he's married and living in California. Kevin is the next one, with a degree in law. He's the one just married and living in Carlisle and then there's Andy, who decided he wanted to be a policeman. Educationally, Jock had his own incentive scheme. It was five Bob for an '0' level and fifty quid for a degree", he says. It seems to have worked because together with the two degrees, they all have ten '0' levels each.

The boys have been totally absorbed in Jock's hobby of rebuilding Morris 1000 motor cars. "It all started when Jeremy needed a car to learn to drive. I bought a Morris 1000 for him and we renovated it and the others followed suit. Altogether, we've had about twenty through our hands". The lads all passed their tests first time, too. Mind you, I used to take them all down to the test centre and we would follow the people being tested. Then I'd say "There you go. Easy, isn't it?"

That kind of direct thoroughness and humour is typical of Jock and these are invaluable characteristics which have clearly been passed on to his sons. Now that he has retired, he is looking forward to simply pottering and enjoying life. He grows a vast array of vegetables in his garden, utilising every square inch, and will turn his hand to any odd jobs for themselves and their friends. "I've always worked on wood and metal, always worked on the house" he says. " If you can't knock a nail in mate, you're helpless."

Jock is the kind of person who is known by everyone, even in a place as large as British Aerospace. An often irascible, but always knowledgeable factory floor character with a heart of gold; the one who looked after the apprentices and trained the young inspectors; the almost institutionalised old boy who was always ready for a chat and a laugh, ready to perform any favour in return for goodwill and friendship.

He will be missed every bit as much as he in turn will miss the hassle and argument which is so much a part of an Inspector's life. Perhaps because his retirement is very recent, Jock still seems reluctant to talk about his former job . "It wasn't always easy" he says. "There was a lot of troubleshooting and we were always up against Production. They naturally want stuff out the door, but it's your inspection stamp that goes on it. Once you stamp it, you're on your own. If you don't stamp it, they can't take it."

Whatever life now has in store for him, Jock will still have his favourite excuse when things do not go according to plan. He will be remembered long after his departure, standing with hands held up and an innocent expression on his face, pleading in that distinctive Border Country accent, "I don't know everything you know, I'm only a draper's assistant."


Jock in September 1939 - WWII Travel Card
 

Return to the Main Menu Page