Maurice Ralston's memories of his working days

Life in the engineering industry

By Roslyn Cook



Photo from Heritage Plus Archive

Photo:The photograph above shows Maurice's company at Sandringham in 1943 where they were stationed in order to guard King George VI.

The photograph above shows Maurice's company at Sandringham in 1943 where they were stationed in order to guard King George VI.

Photo from Heritage Plus Archive

Photo:Maurice (far left) with some of his company in Paris and a Bofus gun

Maurice (far left) with some of his company in Paris and a Bofus gun

Photo from Heritage Plus Archive

Photo:Maurice and his wife Jean

Maurice and his wife Jean

Photo from Heritage Plus Archive

Photo:Maurice at work

Maurice at work

Photo from Heritage Plus website

Photo:Maurice photographed at Rathan Court

Maurice photographed at Rathan Court

Photo from Heritage Plus Archive

The Army

Maurice was born, one of a family of four children, in Manchester on 14th December 1921.

He joined the Territorial Army when he was 15 and the regular army - the Argyle and Sutherland Highlanders in 1939 when he was eighteen. He remained a soldier until 1946.


Maurice met his wife Jean when he was stationed in Newhaven in 1943 and when he was discharged in 1946 he returned to the town and they were married.  He was very proud of the fact that he wore his demob suit for the wedding.

For most of their lives, apart from short spells in Manchester and Peacehaven, Maurice and his wife lived locally. They first lived in a little cottage, Greenaway Cottages in Railway Road Eastside, Newhaven, (now a car park) and then made their home in Folly Field, Lewes Road. Finally they were one of the first occupants in the flats in Fort Road called Meeching Court.  They had two sons Martin and Stuart.

Asham Cement Works

All Maurice's working life was spent in engineering.  His first job in 1946 was at Asham Cement Works near Beddingham driving the little engine that pulled skips of chalk.

"The chalk was tipped into a pit where it was crushed ready to be used in the making of cement.  My wages were less than £5 per week.  After a while I wanted to change my job but before I was able to leave the cement works I had to appear before a tribunal.  This was due to the Direction of Labour after the Second World War when vital skills had to be protected".

The Parker Pen factory

However Maurice got permission to leave and then got a job at the Parker Pen factory - he used a lathe to turn the barrels and round off the ends of the pens.
"I received no specialist training for this - you were just shown what to do".

The pay and conditions were as follows:-  There was no special uniform or overalls. Pay was £4.10/- a week.
The hours were 7.30 - 5 with a half day on Friday.
Two weeks paid annual holiday.
Hardly any deductions were taken from the pay packet in terms of tax, insurance or superannuation.

"The rent of the cottage I shared with my wife was 10/- a week and so we were able to go into Brighton twice a week for entertainment.  As we lived so close to the factory I was able to walk to work".

Bicycle chains

After a while Maurice and Jean moved to Manchester where they lived for two years.  Again he had a job to do with engineering - he was employed at a Dutch company called Hans Reynold which made all kinds of chains, particularly bicycle chains.

During the mid 1950s Maurice and his wife returned to Newhaven and he got a job in Crawley where he was drilling holes in metal.  Here his work life and travel arrangements were very different.

"I had to work 4 nights per week and had to travel to and fro by train.  The train journey was very slow - two hours there and two hours back.  At this time the trade unions were beginning to show their influence.  The union brought the factory out on strike over a dispute about the sacking of one person.  After the strike was over, gradually everybody who was involved in the strike was given notice to quit."

Flight recorders and reproduction antique clocks

However, Maurice then got a job much closer to home in Denton where he worked for a firm called Fells which made flight recorders and reproduction antique clocks.  By now he was earning £12 to £15 a week.

After working at Fells, Maurice moved to a firm called Neumo in Peacehaven making pneumatic filling machinery for products such as shampoo and toothpaste.

Biodegradable nappies

His last job was in Lewes working for the world's very first company that made biodegradable nappies. He worked on a lathe making bits of machinery.  By now he was earning enough money to buy a car - a Ford Escort - which he would frequently drive to Manchester .

Maurice eventually retired at the age of 70.  During all his working life he never had any formal training - "I just picked up everything I had to do".  He found it very interesting and must have had considerable ability in working with metal.

Sadly, during the making, of this booklet Maurice passed away. My heartfelt sympathies go to his family and my thanks for allowing me to continue to include his memories here.

On talking to his grand daughter I discovered that not only was Maurice a much travelled man - having been to Australia , Italy , France , America and Egypt - but had many hobbies.  He was a very skilled antique clock and watch repairer, a fantastic sign writer, a keen potter and cabinet maker and an artist who worked in the medium of water colours and oil.  A very talented man indeed.

Leanne, his grand daughter said of him "He was a fantastic Dad, Grandad and Great-Grandad".

This page was added by Roslyn Cook on 12/06/2009.

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