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ORAL HISTORY - BILL FIDLER - FRIDAY 5 DECEMBER 1997.
Bill Filder was born June 1918 at Hill Bottom and has lived and worked locally all his life. At the time of the outbreak of war in 1939 he was working for W.N. & E.Fisher, builders and contractors, at Emmer Green. He has a heart defect and was considered medically unfit and consequently was not allowed to join the Services.
He continued his trade as a brick layer but as soon as local knowledge got around about the building of 70MU he went down to the local Labour Exchange at Pangbourne to get a job on the site. To him it made good sense to walk the few hundred yards to work, rather than catch a works bus to a remote site. At first they refused to give him the job on the grounds that he already had one, but on appeal to a Senior Official, he was given the job as a bricklayer.
The contract to build 70MU was given to Foster and Dicksee Ltd,(Registered Office 1 Baker Street, London, W1) builders and contractors of London and Rugby, and they were Bill's employers. He started with them at the onset in 1941 and continued with them until the job was completely finished sometime in 1943, for approximately 2 years.
Some gangs of bricklayers came up by coach from Bournemouth. George Fox drove a 30 seater Bedford bus, owned by Olivers Coaches who had the contract, to bring another gang of men daily from Eynsham, near Oxford. Two local men had a tractor with a sawbench attached and cut down the trees to make the shuttering for the concrete bases.
Bill spent most of his time brick laying the buildings on the Head Quarters Site. He remembers that the YMCA provided a canteen on the site for all the workers and they had their meals there. The YMCA also provided a mobile canteen which visited all the other sites with sandwiches and afternoon tea. (It was this mobile canteen referred to in the Newspaper report of 13th March 1942).
Mrs Foster ran the canteen and Bill remembers that tea cost one penny a mug, irrespective the size of the mug. George Reynolds had an exceptionally large GWR (Great Western Railway) mug which he would have filled for a penny exclaiming that it was his normal mug as his initials GWR was his name of George William Reynolds. Bill also remembers that they sold date cake.
Bill recognised Arthur Highley and Walter Nash as volunteer firemen in the photograph taken June 1948. Remembers also the Gibbs, both Bob and his brother Hector, but could not say which one was in the photograph.
He recognised the Gas Defence Centre from the photograph (Factually the Ambulance and Fire station) as he had built it half way with double bricks when he was stopped by his foreman and not allowed to lay another brick. They continued with a single layer from then on. (as the plans dictated).
He said that the bricks used were 'old London bricks - made of sewage'. He said that the stench of sewage was terrible when they broke a brick in half. (I deduced that Bill was implying that the bricks were already second hand having been reclaimed and came from building rubble, including bricks used in sewers, as a result of bomb damage in London. Perhaps this was a fiddle whereby reclaimed bricks were substituted for new with the difference in cost benefiting a 'middle man')
Jack Kerswill who lives in Manor Road was a coach driver for the daily work runs to and from 70MU. (J.E.Kerswill, 18 Manor Road, Whitchurch) They used Bedfords and Commers, and all had utility seats.
William Bradley, was chauffeur to Mr.Hignett, of W.D & H.O.Wills, tobacco manufacturers, who owned Hook End Farm at Checkendon. During the war years William Bradley was the driver for the Commanding Officer of 70MU.
C.H.Palmer JP, of Huntley and Palmers Ltd, who owned Bozedown House (Where currently the Burmah Oil Research Laboratory is, previously ICI) probably was the owner of land requisitioned which is attributed to Huntley and Palmers.
Bill remembers Gordon and Jack Ritchie who operated from Crays Pond where the garage is now situated. They had several lorries that they used to collect gravel, sand and ballast. On a few occasions Bill drove for them when they carried goods on behalf of 70MU, although he was classified as a bricklayer and not a driver. However they were short of drivers and on one trip he collected 6 tons of soap from the railway sidings at Pangbourne. On another occasion he and another driver called George collected a consignment of drums each containing 40 gallons of pure glycerine (Presumably a de-icing fluid). George drove a small dumper truck (dumper on the rear) and collected about 8 drums. Bill had a standard lorry without sides. He carried about 20 drums and secured them with rope around the edges of the load. As they drove up Whitchurch Hill, Bill selected 2nd gear at the bottom of the hill, and crawled all the way up. George, who had not secured his load, belted up the hill, changing down the gears as required. Half way up the hill he had to stop and change into 1st gear. He let the clutch out with a jerk for a hill start and the jolt jettisoned his load down the hill. The drums bounced and crashed their way down the hill leaking glycerine on the way.
In the summer the roofs of the Storage Sheds were sprayed with tar and covered with cork chippings. These stuck to the roof and increased the camouflage. Bill was insistent that it was cork chippings.
Dorman Long & Co. Ltd built the storage sheds, (of Middlesborough, iron and steel manufacturers, and constructional engineers.)
Bill knew Molly Morris, Vera Robbins, Jack Hatt, Lilly Simmonds (see Newspaper report 11 June 1943)
Bill said that when they dug the inspection pits for the Head Quarters Motor Transport shed, the pits had to be lined and sealed, in accordance with the plans, to prevent land/rain water seeping into them, despite being built on a slope, and because of the ground structure, would drain anyway and would not hold rain water.
Captain C.J.Goldsmid built the present house at Bakers Shaw on the site of the HQ sewage works for his own occupation.
After his two years were up when Foster & Dicksee had finished the contract Bill went on to help build the water works in Tidmarsh Road, Pangbourne on behalf of Reading Borough Council.