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‘Men of few words’ by Andrew Kellard
Seventy years ago seems like a long time and in some ways it is. Let us look at the technology of 1948 in so far as it relates to my career. In that year there were still four masted fully rigged sailing ships sailing from Liverpool!
What has this got to do with my career in accounting? Well, the parallel technology in office work was of course only slightly ahead of the canvas and rope manhandled by the Liverpool “hardcases”.
In my case the technology I used at my desk had hardly changed from Dickens time, heavily bound ledger books, reams of ruled paper, probably no expensive mechanical hand cranked calculators (those were only for the boss) and a fountain pen as Biros had not come on the scene so there was blotting paper as well!
Management techniques were, to say the least, direct in style, much influenced by the military background which suffused the culture of the day. Surnames were the mode of address when juniors were called to attention and the response was “sir”. Even at home there could be something of a stiff upper lip relationship between parents and children which could persist into early adulthood. It was all very character forming and much in evidence in the professions like my chosen one. Starting at the bottom I could expect no mercy for mistakes or the slightest hint of dissatisfaction by a client. Naturally I was given all the awkward files and clients some of whom were pretty wayward in their record keeping and dare I say it, manners, at least to a young sprog like me.
On the long hard road to being an auditor I not only had to wade through piles of files which required my best forensic skills to analyse, but also I had to carry the brand of “departmental idiot”, a title gratuitously bestowed on me by “The Major” who was my mentor. The idea was that I watched and learnt in preparation for my intermediate exams. To my great delight I did get them!
So now I could handle visits to clients’ premises, I could be an auditor. Grand though this may sound it was not a gateway to the land of milk and honey. Now I was exposed to being shouted at for moving a carefully set up camera (well I didn’t know) and causing strife between husband and wife which had apparently resulted in a rather physical “domestic”.
Clubs, pubs, dentists, car show rooms, farmhouses and public schools were all in a day’s work. On some occasions I still attended with the major supported, if not by me at least by his trusted tightly rolled umbrella (never opened even in the rain) and of course wearing his best bowler, not to mention the customary silk handkerchief. But I was not yet entitled to the respect of one who had the full ticket. This is acquired by taking the finals, which in my case meant four weeks at six days per week of intensive cramming with tests on Sundays. This was the big one! At the start of the course a deposit had to be lodged with the firm. This was recoverable on passing the stages of training with the final £250 being handed back on full qualification. My parents had stumped up for this and so in a way might be deemed stakeholders. Well in for a penny in for a pound, I guess £250 might now be many thousands.
RESULTS DAY! In those times the post came almost to the minute and for us this was 6.40 am. I had tipped off dad that good news came in a thin envelope. Anything thick was a failure, like its recipient.
Dad probably saw the envelope first but really “played a blinder”, mum spoke first “well”?
Of course, dad already knew. “Open it”!!!! (Mum). I knew before actually opening it but to see the one word ‘PASS’ would change my life. Mum just said, “when do we get our deposit back”? (thanks mum, only four years of hard work). Dad, just a quiet “well done”. Those were the same words the Major said! In those days it seemed a more than adequate reward.
As I said those were different times and we expressed ourselves so very differently, some of you may agree.
Bar Room Reminiscence — Echoes from the past
As a child of perhaps 12 years old I used to ask my Grandfather (Alfred) what it was like in the trenches of the great war. Well, he would give just a little information, probably what he thought suitable for a child of that age. He had volunteered one day without telling his wife (Ethel) and she was between bereft and furious when the news reached her on the neighbourhood grapevine via an off-duty policeman who was serving with Alfred in the same station. Apparently, he had just gone out of the station and signed the papers on the spot. This would have been in the morning. Alf was still on duty until early evening, but his fellow officer had finished at lunch time and wandered home happening to meet Ethel and casually imparting the shocking news, made worse by her pregnancy.
She hurried to the police station and demanded to see Alf. I can imagine she gave a forceful account of her reasons especially as he was in a reserved occupation and could honourably have stayed in the police. He was brave to sign up but could not face her until he had to go home so she was not allowed to see him as he was engaged on “important work” according to the desk sergeant.
As luck would have it Alf had qualified as an electrical engineer via a seven-year apprenticeship and wanted to join the merchant navy as such. But when he met Ethel she said she would not marry a man who would always be away and delivered the pithy ultimatum, “Alfred: it is either me or the sea”!!!!! So he joined the police. But on joining the armed forces there must have been a little of the old yearning for the sea still with him as somehow, he managed to join the Royal Naval Air service. In the way of the world he was promptly fitted out with a basically Naval Uniform as a Petty Officer and sent to France to a land-based unit in charge of “kite Balloons”. These were something like barrage balloons but with a crew on board to do artillery spotting. As such they were fired at by enemy artillery and attacked by fighter planes. It was thought to be good form to keep the balloons up until the shell fire got too close and left to Alfred to decide when to winch them down. He cheerfully described to me how he would wait until the blast of shells just missing the balloon on either side would set it going with a pendulum motion and the crew would be yelling down the phone to be taken down. I don’t think he ever left it too late, but he was of a sporting nature and may well have taken bets on the number of near misses could be risked before engaging the steam winch! Of course, fighter aircraft were a different matter, and the two seat versions were particularly dangerous as the gunner could almost take his time and pick his shots. Despite the threats that they posed to life and limb and king and country Alfred spoke admiringly of the grace of the Albatross fighter and I had seen pictures of them, in their various marks. Always these seemed to be single seat fighters.
Fortunately he survived the war and finished up very briefly in the newly formed Royal Airforce which was the successor to the R.N.A.S. Then it was back to the Police Force where he steadily built up a pension for which Ethel was always thankful. A few years before he died in his late seventies he told me another anecdote from his service days which I was old enough to accept without undue distress.
He had been sent to recover some parts of a German Aircraft which had force-landed just our side of the lines. To do this he attended the scene by a motorcycle combination (the make being a Clino). On arrival the deceased crew were still in the Albatross. They had fought a company of infantry using their machine gun and of course lost. After telling me this story he asked if I could give him a lift to the British Legion on my motorbike. Ethel seeing what was afoot tried to forbid him saying he always was a B/F. He started singing a great war song and off we went! That was the last time I saw him.
Some years latter whilst idly going through some military files at the National Archives I came across what I believe to be an account of the Albatross incident carefully written by a second lieutenant of an infantry company. Even the make of the motorcycle was right. It puzzled me that the aircraft was a two-seater! However latter research showed they had existed. The National archive is huge and my chance find (at the end of a day when I had ceased my main search), brought back echoes of Alfred and that last song he sang as we rode off.