The Phoenix Years #2

Ken Schueler was a 6′-3" tall, lumbering, gruff man who had been brought into Phoenix Rubber by his pal George Clarke. He was a bluff northener from Hull in Yorkshire and that didn’t help the existing mainly southern staff to warm to him.

On the contrary he was generally disliked and sometimes feared. For those of us who worked close to him it was a different matter. As a Yorkshireman myself the northern bluntness did not ‘cut me to the quick’ so to speak as it did the sensitive southerners. As I was under his wing, in a way, I felt as if I was almost, should I say, in a special position.

I don’t know how old Mr Schueler was in the late fifties but I suppose he must have been in his early to mid fifties. I can’t believe that someone with such craggy, hangdog features could have been in his forties.

He was married to Violet and lived at Denham in a fairly new house. The marriage was childless and I think he subconsciously regarded me as perhaps a surrogate son, to compensate for the son he never had.

What he did before he came to Phoenix I don’t know but I do know that he had something to do with margarine production in Hull during the war and that would have been a reserved occupation so he wasn’t in the armed forces.

From a very few things he told me I have since deduced that he was in ‘Churchill’s Secret Army’. Not that he ever said that because they were sworn to secrecy for life. What gave me the necessary clue was that he told me how they used to make booby traps by putting a hand grenade in a tin can with the pin removed. The tin can kept the normally hand held lever in place, peg the tin to the ground and attach a tripwire. Someone catches the trip wire and the grenade is pulled out of the tin and on a very short fuse it explodes with the desired effect.

Churchill’s Secret Army were a nationwide network of resistance fighters in place to fight the germans in the event of an invasion. Details have only recently been released and only now is it being talked about.

It figures that he would have done that because he was an extremely resourceful man. He modernised the production of PVC and rubber mainly by purchasing secondhand machinery at auctions and manufacturing special purpose machinery in the company’s engineering workshop. That’s where I came in. My job was to produce the designs and drawings for the workshop.

I had a lot of leeway and I must have got it right because it all started with GWKS scribbling a rough sketch and then I did the rest with very little intervention from him. I then enjoyed spending time in the workshop supervising the creations made from my drawings. I liked nothing better during the annual shutdown – the time when major installations and maintenance took place – than to do some practical work such as teaching myself to weld.

Due to that special position as the ‘big man’s’ sidekick nobody took me on, not that they had to because I generally got on with everyone in the company – all except Jimmy Alligan the firms forklift driver. We were at loggerheads all the time I was at the firm, mainly through competition for the eye of the young female office workers. It was more than that though, I suppose. I didn’t like him and he didn’t like me.

In the early days there I used to drive to work from Old Windsor, my parents home, in my ancient Austin 7 Box saloon. I was nearly always 5-10 minutes late. As my car bounced and hopped across the railway lines to the parking area by the associate factory across the road I am told that GWKS would often be standing watching from his first floor office window. He would just shake his head in disbelief, but I never remember him admonishing me for being late.

He was also a one for admiring the young women. I remember a girl called Maureen who worked for the Production Manager down the corridor. She’d come into his office, short skirt, boobs hanging out and all. He would swing round in his swivel chair, cigarette precariously hanging from his lips, and slowly look her up and down. ‘eaah Mareene how’d you get into that frock’. She flushed red but she liked it, every day coming into work dressed even more provocatively just for a reaction.

I was quite partial to her but didn’t get anywhere. She always seemed to have some boyfriend or other already in place. There weren’t many ‘suitable’ young women at Phoenix but I did meet Julie, my first real girlfriend, there, and Christine who subsequently became my wife in 1965. To be continued

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