Page 5.   Shelvoke & Drewry Enthusiasts' Club Newsletter - Auttumn 2018.

The second article from 15 years ago was related by Keith Dunham.


By Keith Dunham – Former S & D Development Shop Superintendent.


I remember coming out of the Broadway Cinema on VE Day in 1945 and seeing on the land opposite a small ship on a trailer,. On going closer to see what it was I read a notice that said: “This miniature submarine was made  by Shelvoke & Drewry as part of the war effort.” When I arrived home I said to Dad: ‘You never told us you were making submarines.’ ‘No, we were told to keep it top secret,’ was his reply, ‘and your brother worked on them too. We shipped them out of the factory at 3 am in the morning when nobody was about.’

 Arthur, my Dad, worked for S & D for over 40 years. For some of the war years he was in charge of the Night Shift which included the building of the secret miniature submarines. Such was the security at the works that no-one in Letchworth knew that S & D were engaged in this work from 1944 onwards. After the war Dad was in charge of a section of capstan lathes in the Machine Shop.

So I was following in my father’s footsteps when I started at S & D as an apprentice in 1946. I made it a condition of my apprenticeship that I shouldn’t work under him. It didn’t seem right. As an apprentice I also made an unusual request; I wanted to learn to weld. ‘We don’t allow apprentices to learn welding,’ I was told. But I persisted and eventually spent six months as a welder – the first apprentice to do so. When my apprenticeship finished in 1951 I spent two years in the army on National Service.

I returned to S & D and was put on the section making masts for the newly introduced Freighlifter forklift trucks. After a while I thought: ‘There’s more to life than forklift masts.’ So I left to join the Tabulating Machine Company. But by 1960 I was back at S & D in the Development Department. I say ‘Department’, but in reality it was Jim Hacker, a long serving employee, and me. We built the first Tillson designed Pakamatic and the first Revopak. When Jim retired I became the Development Shop Superintendent for the next 20 years until I was made redundant.
 I thoroughly enjoyed this varied work. It took me to the Motor Industry Research Association test track at Nuneton for 3 months of the year, to the Fighting Vehicles Research Establishment at Chobham, and overseas trips to South and West Africa, Holland and many other places. The S & D designed 16 ton chassis on six wheels could be driven through boggy land, that Chobham regarded as impassable without caterpillar tracks. Sadly when we’d developed this chassis Bedford brought out their version and S & D’s market didn’t materialise.

Similarly our crash tender was copied by others. I also worked on the prototype massive 27 tonne capacity Defiant forklift – there was nothing to touch it on the market at the time.

Shelvokes was a great place to work, both at work and socially. I was not unusual in being part of a Shelvoke family, who put job satisfaction before financial reward. In retirement it’s good to be able to look back and say; ‘I was part of that, even though sadly S & D is no more.’

The Welfreighter on the Internet.

More information on the Welfreighter submersible can be found on Tom Colville’s detailed website Tom is in the process of revising the website to a more compatible format and you may have some problems in navigating the site. (Hint click on the blue section of “Welfreighter” rather than on  the name.) Immediately after the war these craft appear to have been known in Letchworth as “miniature submarines” and it was only when security restrictions were lifted that its true designation as the Welfreighter became known.

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