MEGAN REES' STORY
At Castle Bromwich, there was a Spitfire factory during the war.
The first Spitfires were completed in June 1940. The factory was responsible for manufacturing over 11,500 Spitfires until 1945, with a peak rate of 320 per month - the biggest output of any Allied factory.
Megan Rees grew up in Ammanford, South Wales. She came to Birmingham in 1936; and worked in the Spitfire factory during the war. Here are some extracts from her story.
... I always worked on the same section. I worked on the starboard wings of the Spitfires. The wings of the Spitfires were built vertically in jigs. When I first started, I drilled the holes on the ribs of the wing (the frame of the wing) with a hand held drill. I once drilled through my little finger and went to first aid with the bit of the drill still in my finger and holding the drill steady in my other hand.
Albert, a chap that I worked with on riveting had an ulcer so he did not eat. He smoked instead. He was a chain smoker. We would be offering one another cigarettes all day. We smoked Craven 'A' and Senior Service. I was forever putting the cigarette down so that most of it went up in smoke. I used to think that I might die from smoking before he died from his ulcer. There were no restrictions on smoking even though paint spraying was taking place in the area. It seems strange now but smoking was a way of life then.
Mr Carter was one of the inspectors. He checked that the nuts and bolts on the ribs had been locked securely before passing the job as ready to have the skins fitted. Not everyone wanted Mr Carter to check their work because he was so meticulous in his inspection. The lives of pilots depended on the planes being built properly so it was very important that everyone did their job correctly. We would see planes coming back for repair and they were all shot up, their propellers mangled like the tentacles of an octopus.
Initially we worked two twelve hour shifts, 6 am to 6 pm and 6 pm to 6 am. We all used to clock in and out. When on the night shift, at 9 pm we would put our gas masks and clothes ready at the end of the jigs so that we could grab them when the sirens went off. We would have to run to the air raid shelters. The shelters were underground and huge. There were benches each side for sitting. There were no bunks for sleeping. The men used to play cards down one end of the shelter. There must have been some lighting but there were no facilities for making a drink or anything to eat. We would have eaten any food we had taken to work long before. We would then have to stay there until the all clear was given and we returned to our work.
I remember going to work to start the 6 am shift one morning and D Block had been bombed the night before. The clothes, shoes and gas masks of the workers from D Block were piled in heaps between A and C Blocks. They were wet from the water used by the fire brigade to fight the fires. You could see bodies still in the girders of the roof of the factory. It is a sight that you never forget.
Throughout the war I just remember being so very tired working long hours but you just got on with doing what had to be done. I was too tired to do anything but work and sleep but I will always have a special place in my heart for the Spitfire.
JANE BROWN CHANGES HER JOB (1941)
This is a factory work recruiting film, made in 1941 by the Ministry of Information and the Ministry of Labour. In it, an upper-class lady leaves her boring typing job. She is trained to use tools, and then begins work in a factory that makes Spitfires.
There is footage in the film of the Spitfire plant in Castle Bromwich.
The commentary stresses the importance of the work that women like Jane are now doing, and yet seems mildly surprised that they are able to do it!
Megan's story was shared with us by Carl Chinn. It was published in Carl Chinn's Brummagem magazine ("Working for Victory," Megan Rees nee Llewelyn and daughter Jo Rees - November 2010). We created this short film based on it.
Produced by the team at Tudor Grange Academy, Redditch