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Volunteer Stories: BAC Apprentice 50th Anniversary Reunion

28 August 2019

In this year of momentous 50th anniversaries, the first man on the moon and Concorde’s first flight, there is yet another, albeit a little less known.

On the 9th September 1969 a large group of teenage lads came together to form the 1969 intake of apprentices at BAC Weybridge. Such was the demand for skilled aerospace workers at that time that the purpose-built training school along Brooklands road could not accommodate that year’s intake; the solution was to place them in another building. The building chosen was part of the Research and Development Department now known as the ERA Shed.

The apprentices spent an enjoyable 12 months in this building, working across the Brooklands factories gaining a wide range of knowledge and experience. But as you can imagine with a group of teenage boys, the daily routine was often interspersed by pranks! The favourite aide to these ill-advised activities was the canteen trolley. The trolley was used to collect the morning and afternoon tea urns from the canteen and supplies from the main training school building. You can imagine what antics would follow after telling two apprentices to take the trolley up the Campbell circuit to the Training School, and under no circumstances to ‘ride on the trolley’. Luckily in the 12 months of using the trolley there were a few bruises, a few scares but no serious instances while riding the brakeless trolley!

Another time, when the Stratosphere Chamber was still fully operational and used for testing, the group were invited into the airlock to watch a test in operation. The first group of apprentices went in and as they exited, they told the second group what type of test was being carried out. They always ‘looked out for one another’ so In typical jovial style, they warned them it was a very hot one when in fact it was actually -40oC in the airlock! You can imagine the surprise of the second group when they realised!

And who were the unsung heroes trying to keep all of this in check and at the same time turn a bunch of unruly teenagers into professional engineers? They were Mr Wallace, Mr Sanderson and Mr Syd Binstead. They too were subject to the occasional prank, black shoe polish on the phone being an example, which they took in good humour. Age and experience has since taught that they would always have the upper hand.

On completion of the first year the apprentice engineers were dispersed around the factory and technical offices, changing location every few weeks, gaining a wide experience of aircraft design and manufacture on a number of BAC aircraft such as the VC10, 1-11 and Concorde. Most went on to enjoy careers with the British Aircraft Corporation whilst a few left and followed different careers, some moving overseas.

As a result of the decline of the British aerospace industry, most of the Brooklands site has been completely redeveloped, but not the apprentice’s workshop! This now remains as an integral part of the Brooklands Museum. Cars now occupy the area where the benches were, motorcycles the machine area and the tool store is occupied by pedal tricycles. Although the layout and content of the building has changed, the structure and fabric still evokes memories of those 12 months half a century ago.

On the 24th August this year 20 apprentices and one long suffering apprentice instructor, came together at Brooklands to mark the significant milestone with a 50th anniversary reunion.

Almost immediately the banter started as if they were back in the workshop all those years ago. Must have been the feelings evoked by the familiar surroundings, or just the fact that engineering apprentices never grow up! It was a very full day, rekindling memories of the time they had trained and worked on the BAC Weybridge factory site and seeing some of the aircraft that were manufactured during the apprentice’s tenure, now on display in the museum. Each apprentice had worked on Concorde in one department or another so it was a fitting end to the celebrations to join the Concorde experience on G-BBDG.

So much has changed since their time at Brooklands, but the apprentice’s legacy is their dedication to the British aviation industry and their playful attitude to the job, embodying the long-standing ‘Spirit of Brooklands’. What a pleasure and an honour it was to bring the team back home again.

Mike McCully - Brooklands Museum Volunteer

Apprentice Training School