I started in 1936 in 1202 Department, as a callow youth of 15 which to the uninitiated, dealt with Accounts. It was the time when Eddie was lusting after Mrs Simpson and she was looking longingly at the throne and wondering whether, after Wallace, Warfield, Simpson, the name of Windsor at the end would roll off the tongue nicely. Give the girl full marks for trying. Fortunately the British Public and Mr Baldwin told her to get off at the next bus stop.
My first job was to do the daily turnover of the shops, of which, if I remember, we had about 102 in those days. On one sheet of paper I had to list all the names of the shops, how much their total takings were, how many shoes they sold, plus, hosiery, pedicures in some of the larger shops, tins of polish, laces and other bits and bobs. If this wasn’t enough, each item had to be written in against it’s estimate in percentages, all this bumph was sent overnight by each shop manager on a slip of paper about two feel long and just over half an inch wide, they were torn out of a book they were given for this purpose. Alas, people being as they are and probably missing the last post, there was always about half a dozen at least that fell by the wayside. With these and to fill in the gaps, I had to phone each of them up to get the details. Now in those days, one didn’t just pick up the phone and dial a number, the Company had a morbid feeling, touching on acute paranoia, tat some wayward oik would phone up his mum and ask what was for dinner and did she remember to iron my shirt as I was going to the pictures that night? In consequence , I had to get another sheet of bumph and get four managers signatures and present it to the switchboard operator for clearance to go about my lawful duty.
In 1939 when the war clouds began to gather in September, Thomas (Bata Jnr) and Victor (Schmidt), took off for calmer beaches to fight on , 3,000 miles away in Canada and young John Tusa took over the reins. It is here that I feel I have to say that I rather respected the lad, I reckoned he made the Company and I’ve nothing but praise for him. Some thought he could be a bit of a tartar at times but one had to be if they were to get the job done. John would seldom be seen without his titfer, an Anthony Eden type of grey or pale tan and he used to part it in my office in the Leather Factory when he took Friday conference, there it would sit on the top of a cabinet daring anyone to walk past without showing obeisance. After the conference I would make sure the lift was open and ready to take him on an inspection of the other floors and then nip onto the phone to warn the other floormanagers that he was on his way.
We also had minor celebrities come visiting the factory. The BBC, in those days used to broadcast a programme called “Workers Playtime” and on one occasion from the Bata Cinema, which had a number of uses in it’s time. I recall taking Cardew, the Cad, Robinson around the floor, also the laddie who organized the Scout’s “Gang Show”, Ralph Reader and also the Chief Guide, that is if anybody remembers them now? As regards the Scouts and Guides, we used to do some sort of deal with them whereby we made “Wayfinder” shoes, especially for them that had a small tab under the heelset, which if one lifted it would reveal a compass, there by completely doing away with the necessity of finding a tree with the moss growing on the North side.
I feel that I should add also that I was either selected, or maybe, banished to go to Jamaica to open up a factory there. I asked my wife, Mary, as to what should I do, take it or not and she came out with the question as to whether we wanted to stay on the estate all our life? We decided to go, but first we called into a bookshop in Gravesend to find out where Jamaica was. The factory was in a suburb of Kingston, in Spanish Town Road and we had to start from scratch and put everything together ourselves in a shell of a building, I used to help Don Wiggins, a foreman electrician that came out with us, and I guess I might have been able to qualify as an electrician’s mate, what with all the conduits I put up. I remember once in the later years taking a breather and leaning against a wall and thinking that little me had taught all those locals how to make shoes. However, I suppose it was all good training and the weather was warm, though we hardly had time to enjoy it, even such glamorous places a Montego Bay was little more that a hotel built beside a swam and the smell from the back, from the kitchens, reminded me strongly of pie and mash from along Southend’s euphemistically called “Golden Mile”. After we’d done our stretch of four and a half years we returned to England when I was promoted to the heady heights of floor manager.
Ron and Alan Cossins look at the Coronation Display.
Ron, John Tusa and others in Jamaica.