Ted Simmonds - Coventry's cup of tea!
Ted Simmonds was on duty with the A.R.P. all night whilst the destruction of Coventry went on. The Authorities would not allow the Birmingham rescue squads to enter because of the danger from collapsing buildings. So he went direct to his office in Bromsgrove Street prepared to carry on with his business, which was mainly concerned with keeping the food machinery in the area in usable condition, and meant operating a very efficient service and organisation of spares.
There were few sales, and these only by special permit; he had purchased a lathe which allowed him to make up or repair the simpler components. He was friendly with an engineer who owned a well-equipped factory, and who would make a one-off for him at very short notice; he had an arrangement with B.E.R. to repair or rebuild at as little as twelve hours notice a motor burned out by incendiary bombs. As soon as the building was cool enough he and his men would go, rescue all the machinery, and bring it in for instant reconditioning. The work was very valuable to the War effort, and he enjoyed the challenges offered.
That morning after the Blitz in Coventry he received a deputation of officials from the City, who said that they had been informed that he would be able to help them.
The precise problem was that thousands of homeless people were wandering around a city which had no power available, all gas and water mains disrupted, and they feared demonstrations might arise if these people could not be looked after. The most urgent problem was to be able to offer them hot tea and perhaps a bun or a roll. Their scouts had located some bakeries who were prepared to supply the food, provided they could get supplies of fuel, power and water.
They had sent out teams of men to map out all the broken mains so that they could find the best routes whereby repairs could feed the Technical College, which was the only large building still standing - although damaged - in the centre of the town. They had at the same time to provide similar links to the bakeries needing services.
Could Ted suggest some way in which they could provide a lot of hot water?... And could he use his influence to get some essential preparation machinery into the College, so that they could get on with more substantial supplies of emergency food?
Because of the very real danger of falling masonry (there were few steel and concrete buildings in the centre of Coventry) all movement into and out of the City could only be granted by what came to be known as a ‘Queen’s Pass’; this because the Queen was heading a Committee of Rescue, hastily organised as soon as the terrible effect of the bombing was known to the rest of the country. Ted found out the Authority concerned, and telephoned explaining that he intended to arrange transportation of a load of vital Food Machinery into the town, and would they please issue a verbal pass to the Commander of the Security Forces to allow him to take his own vehicle into the centre; also would they issue a written pass to the Hobart Company as soon as they received the request, so that the machinery to be supplied by them could pass without hindrance.
He then phoned his London Office and spoke to his friend the acting Managing Director asking for his instant cooperation, which was instantly given. He now telephoned the General Manager of the G.E.C. at Witton and asked him to get him five 3.5 kilowatt immersion heaters complete with flanges. He was told that the section where these were stored had been completely blitzed three nights earlier.
“Then get some lads searching through the debris, but for God’s sake find me those heaters!” “All right old boy, I’ll find some somewhere.”
“ Good! Deliver them to my office no later than 11am!”
“Sorry. That’s all the time there is.”
He left the G.E.C. to sort out their problems, and then drove south to Kings Norton to see the people who made up replacement tanks for old Hobart dishwashers.
“I want a 200 gallon copper tank complete with all fittings except heater flanges, which I will supply to you for brazing on.”
“Oh yes, right - just draw us a sketch of what you want; we’ll be pleased to make it.”
“Right.” Ted drew on a piece of notepaper what he wanted.
“OK, piece of cake. When do you want it?”
“Not later than 2 o’clock today.”
“I’m not!” and he proceeded to explain the situation in Coventry.
“Let’s call in my men, see what they say.” The five employees came in, obviously curious.
“Mr. Simmonds wants us to make him a large boiler. He’ll explain to you.”
Ted made his explanation.
The men looked at each other; the charge-hand nodded his head. “What are we waiting for? Let’s get on with it. You’ll get your tank all right guv’nor. It’ll be waiting for you at 2 o’clock.”
And that was that.
The tank had to be made of heavy copper sheet hand rolled; the disk ends had to be hand beaten to shape, the water and drain connection brazed in, and the five big heater flanges brazed into the holes cut to take them. The time was 10h15 am.
Ted hurried back to Bromsgrove Street and waited until 11h30, when the immersion heaters arrived, looking a bit the worse for wear, but had been circuit tested. He immediaitely returned to Kings Norton with the heaters and then back to the office. 12h00 noon!
Then a fast drive into the Electricity Supply Offices in Coventry to report progress and find out how the link-up was proceeding.
He was very impressed; it had been decided that the General Manager of this Authority would control all services, including water supplies and gas, where applicable. There were a constant stream of reports, teams of men coming and going - an exceptional example of cool organisation, no signs of panic, just a lot of people doing what they did best, but at a much greater speed than usual!
After half an hour he was informed that they had a water supply to the Technical College; a man came in and reported that his team had only two more links to complete to provide a heavy-duty three phase link.
Ted explained what he had done so far, and promised that he would have the tank there not later than 3h00 pm. The load would be approximately 18 kilowatts - could they accept this load?
“No sweat,” he was told, “once we get this three-phase cable into the building.”
“I’ve made no provision for insulating the terminals.”
“Don’t worry about that, just get the tank to us. It has to get to the top floor, you know, because it’s the only one free of damage.”
“Right. I’m off.” And back he went to Kings Norton, from where he rang his office to tell his chief engineer to come with a mate to help to load the Tank.
It was ready on the dot - but the only way it could be carried was on the open boot-lid of the Jaguar. It weighed nearly 5 hundred-weight, but they managed to rope it on; and with three men inside to act as counterbalance, they set off for Coventry. Needless to say, the Jaguar was a very strongly built car; it had a rigid steel chassis unlike modern cars, and he had already carried a load of six heavy men complete with their gear on many rescue missions, so he was not worried about the excessive weight, but the bulk of the tank. To use his own car was obviously best as he would be in complete control of the delivery, apart from which he could drive where conditions allowed at pretty high speed.
They arrived at the College at five minutes to three. There were many helpers; the heavy tank was manhandled up three flights of stairs, was set on a hastily-rigged cradle, swift connections were made by competent plumbers and electricians - and at 4h30 that day the first can full of tea was produced.
By five o’clock a constant stream of cold, hungry, thirsty people were filling the stairways - up one side to collect the mug of strong sweet tea and two buns each, and down the other side which was the exit to the street. The boiler was kept going all that day, all night, and all the following day, until accommodation had been arranged for the homeless. All the preparation equipment, mixers, peelers, mincers, cookers, ovens arrived, were set up, and a proper catering unit provided hot meals to all who needed it.
After that, even if only a typewriter was needed, the orders came into the Hobart Office in Bromsgrove Street. Ted had to explain that there was a limit to the products of the Company, would thank them for their kindness, and recommend some other more suitable supplier! When someone in the Architects Department at Coventry commented on the way in which he had tackled their problem, he said that he had enjoyed it; and in any case what about all those people who had rallied round and made it possible?
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Edwin Charles ‘Ted’ Simmonds
14/01/1906 - 17/01/1993
Ted was the eldest of eight children - four boys and four girls - born in Worcester Park, Surrey. As a young man he emigrated to New South Wales, Australia, but was called home after a few years, and he spent the rest of his life as a salesman, designer and then executive in the Catering Equipment industry. Many of the machines he designed and built for Hobart and other companies including his own ‘Trimcote’ are still in use today. Because of his work, when the second World War came he was listed as in a Reserved Occupation; based in Birmingham, and needing to contribute more than this, he also joined the A.R.P. to take part in its sometimes rewarding, often harrowing rescue work in the midst of the bombing. During this time he met his wife Marjorie, and they married in January 1941. Their one daughter, Pamela, was born two years later. He rarely spoke of his wartime experiences until late in his life. When he became too unwell to work, Pam asked him to write his autobiography; he wrote it in the third person, and it is from that unpublished manuscript that the fore-going account is taken.
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