I am 83 years old and have lived in Thurrock all my life, I am writing to tell you may experience of Bate Shoe Factory.
I started work at Bata’s factory in late 1938, starting in the rubber factory at the time of that twenty odd local teenagers arrived bck from Zlin, in Czechoslovakia. They had been learning to work machines that made shoes, on a conveyor system. At the time of working in the rubber factory, an elderly man named Joe Cruse, an ex-boxer, started to arrange boxing shows downstairs in the Bata Hotel. Ed Martin, a New Zealander, and foreman of the rubber factory, was also involved in the boxing shows and asked me if I would box in these shows to raise money to buy Spitfire aeroplanes - to make one cost £5,000. I agreed, so he got me transferred to the export department. One of the boxing shows I fought in the Bata Hotel was refereed by Larry Gains, the black Canadian, who was the first black boxer to win a British Empire Light Heavyweight Title.
My foreman there was Charlie Clare, and the Manager was a Czech, Mr Mizia. Also in the export department was a Mr Bubeny and Alan Johnson.
At this time most of the employees were teenagers from distressed areas like the North East of England and Wales. They were known as “Hostel Boys”.
When war broke out six foot deep trenches were built on the open ground inside the factory gates, and when the air raid sirens sounded, everyone had to go in the trenches where we watched dog fights of German and British planes fought out.
Everyone in those days cycled to Bata’s. The factory gate keeper was a Mr Noble.
Both Alan Johnson and myself eventually went into the Royal Navy, at one time both serving in a motor gunboat flotilla although not on the same boat. Alan won the Distinguished Service Medal, and I was “Mentioned in Dispatches”.
Just a few words to let you know what it was like. When I started work in the morning music was played as you entered the gates, you weren’t allowed to talk to one another on the conveyor line and you were not allowed to leave your machine to go to the toilet until the foreman allowed you to. Each conveyor line competed with one another, getting points and bonus for the best conveyor line each week.
Charles Mercer with six of his Great Grandchildrens and Grand-daughter.