Jensen Motors Inspector | Life & Times
Frank Nation ended up working at Jensen Motors in 1944, as an Inspector. Being on Reserved Occupation, it wasn’t Nation’s choice to go to Jensen Motors, he had to go where the authorities believed he was best needed. He remained at Jensen Motors from 1944 until the Company closed down in 1976. Using material from the family archive, the Museum has pieced together the life and times of Frank Nation.
Born on 11th November 1911 in Oldbury, Worcestershire , and after basic education, Nation started work at Brockhouse & Co.Ltd in West Bromwich. Brockhouse manufactured all manner of castings, particularly for car manufactures. The firm was well known in the area, for paying their employees well.
Nation married his childhood sweetheart, Florence [nee Hughes] on 16th September 1933. The couple had originally met as young children at Sunday School at the Wesleyan Church, Oldbury, and started to go out with each other in their teens. In fact Frank Nation’s sister, Bella, started going out with Florence’s brother John Hughes, and they would later marry.
Frank and Florence Nation had two children , Maurice on the 5th September 1936, and Frank (junior) on 9th May 1939. The second child came along around the same time Nation was promoted to Inspector at Brockhouse. Undoubtedly a welcome increase in wages, with two children to look after.
When war was declared in September 1939, Nation found himself on Reserved Occupation. At some-point between 1939 and 1940, Nation had to leave Brockhouse to work in Stockport for Fairey Aviation.
His time spent in Stockport isn’t well recorded by the family. In part, this may well have been due to the secretive nature of his war-work. Certainly, any documentation or passes from Fairey Aviation, would have been surrendered when he left that Company in 1944.
Nation found digs at Shaw Heath, Stockport, and the Fairey Aviation factory was situated at Heaton Chapel, Stockport. As such, it was only a modest walk to the factory and back each day. The Fairey Aviation factory was at the forefront of aircraft production when war started.
Between 1939 and 1945, the Company employed over 16,000 workers, the majority of which, were women. At the outbreak of war, the factory was producing the Fairey Battle, single-engined bomber, but very quickly took on production of the Bristol Beaufighter, and the Handley Page Halifax.
Later in the war, they produced the Barracuda torpedo / dive bomber, and specialist munitions such as the Fireflash beam riding air-to-air missiles. The factory was heavily camouflaged, had anti-aircraft defences, along with armed guards. Frank Nation would have been well needed at the factory, undertaking inspection of materials. He would have undoubtedly have been just one of a number of inspectors working at Heaton Chapel.
During 1944, one of Nation’s fellow workers, Margaret Gore, started to spread malicious gossip about Nation. The exact nature of this gossip isn’t known, but Gore may have been intimating that Nation was having an affair with one of the women workers.
Whatever the exact rumours were, Nation went to a firm of local solicitors, who in turn wrote to Gore. The solicitors letter had the desired effect, and on the 4th July 1944, Gore sent a letter to Nation, apologising for the slanderous comments she had been making, and stating her comments were untrue. The letter ended,
“I agree to this letter being exhibited in a suitable place in the works where you and I are employed.”
The morale of the workforce was always uppermost in times of war, and Nation’s bosses must have been concerned about the situation. The outcome was Nation being moved from Fairey Aviation, to Jensen Motors in West Bromwich, where he continued working as an Inspector.
Jensen Motors were heavily involved in supplying material for the war effort. This included lightweight armoured cars, gun turrets and munitions. Nation’s enforced move to Jensen Motors would have coincided with their need for another Inspector.
As W.W.II ended in May 1945, Nation wrote to his old employers, Brockhouse. He was asking if there was a vacancy for him as an Inspector.
Even although the war was at an end, the free movement of employees to jobs of their wish, was sometime off. In a letter dated 18th May 1945, Nation was told by the personnel manager at Brockhouse, that it would not be possible to take him on.
This was something outside of Brockhouse’s control. Indeed, as the personnel manager stated, there were vacancies for inspectors, but the Ministry of Labour would not allow Nation to move. The letter tells Nation the verdict of the Ministry of Labour,
“When Nation returned from Stockport, he was submitted to Messrs.Jensen Motors Ltd., as they had the highest preference at that time. Even if he were released from Jensen Motors Ltd., I fear he could not at present be returned to you, as there are several firms with higher preference than yours for Inspection Vacancies at the present time.”
Nation remained at Jensen Motors. His position as Inspector, was checking various materials as they came into the Company. Nation’s inspection would include chromed items, which he would scrutinise for imperfections, or glass, which had to be checked for any scratches or edge damage. Through Nation’s conscientiousness to his job, he was held in particularly high regard by his immediate bosses.
In addition to Nation’s work as Inspector at Jensen Motors, he was an active Trade Unionist. In April 1946, Nation became the Shop Steward for the Amalgamated Engineering Union, at Jensen Motors. How long he remained as the Shop Steward isn’t known.
As well as working at Jensen Motors, Nation also worked some evenings for Darby’s Brewery as a barman in one of the local pubs (continuing barman work after the take-over of Darby’s Brewery by Mitchell’s & Butler). Later on, in the 1960s, Nation worked as head barman at the Star & Garter, on the high street of West Bromwich.
On his days off from Jensen Motors and pub work, Nation could often be found in the West Bromwich Working Men’s Social Club, where he had a bit of a reputation as a hard drinker. That said, with working at Jensen Motors during the day, and working behind a bar some evenings, any hard drinking had to be generally left over to Saturday night.
Although a quiet and mild-mannered man, Nation did have a tendency to get a little leery once he had downed a few beers. Nation’s other weakness was betting on the horses. To this end, he had an on-site betting shop. Brian Elvins was a foreman in the trim shop, and on the side he took in bets on the horses. This was quite well known within the factory. Clive Kendrick, a former assembly worker at Jensen Motors, remembers Elvins,
“Whenever Elvins was walking through the factory, someone would be shouting out, “Bri, what odds are you giving on so-and-so”. I think even some of management placed bets with him.”
Outside of drinking and betting, Nation had an allotment, and one of his pleasures was getting down to the allotment, where he grew a wide range of vegetables.
As Jensen Motors slowly moved to their new factory at Kelvin Way from Carter’s Green, some employees left to find employment elsewhere, or retired. Everyone else eventually moved to Kelvin Way, and the Carter’s Green works was closed down. Nation moved to Kelvin Way. Any ideas of moving back to Brockhouse, had long gone.
At Kelvin Way, Nation worked ‘on the deck’. This was the section at the front of Bay 1, where lorries would reverse to and drop off goods. Nation’s job involved helping to take the goods off the lorry, and then checking the goods for quality control. Anything sub-standard, or damaged was put to one side. These would then be listed, and returned. The lists were then deposited with the accounting department.
At the beginning of 1960, Nation’s son, Frank, was looking for work, and his father managed to get him a job as a labourer at Jensen Motors. Frank (jnr) only stayed at Jensen Motors for a couple of years, but by the time he left Frank (jnr) had been going out with a girl (Sandra Bath) from the trim shop. They became engaged in 1961, and married not long after.
It was a precarious period to be working at Jensen Motors in the early 1960s. There were a lot of lay-offs and redundancies. Bearing in mind, Frank Nation jnr hadn’t long joined Jensen Motors, it was going to be a case of last-in, first out, when redundancies occurred. Probably on the advise of his father, Frank jnr managed to get a job at Brockhouse, after leaving Jensen Motors.
On the 25th March 1960, Nation was involved in an accident. Typically, he was on the deck ready for the next lorry. The next lorry that came in was from Jones Transport, Birmingham, this was to collect trimmed items for dispatch.
Once everything had been put aboard the lorry, Nation noticed that a heavy case was resting on the cartons with trimmed items. He climbed aboard with the driver to move the case, and to check it hadn’t damaged anything. As the driver moved the case, it caught Nation, knocking him off the lorry, fracturing his wrist, and hurting his back. After sick leave, Nation was back at work, continuing in his role as Inspector.
Back in 1961, Nation’s wife, Florence, had been diagnosed with breast cancer. After surgery she was given the all clear, but later the cancer had returned. This led to her death on the 21st October 1970. Nation was devastated.
Clive Kendrick remembers this time,
“Frank was generally a pretty quiet man, I’d go as far as to say short of word. It happened that I had to go to the deck, and there was Frank going about his work. Un-typically, he started chatting to me, and then broke down saying his wife Florence had just died and he was all alone. He mentioned how horrible it was going back to an empty house. I tried to console him as best as I could under the circumstances. But to be honest, I was a young chap that had never been confronted with a situation like this before, and so I don’t think I was the best consoler.”
Nation remained at Jensen Motors through to 1976. As with many of the employees still working at the factory at that time, Nation received his copy letter from Elston, the Personnel Manager.
The letter explained that due to the conditions attached to receivership, that Jensen Motors could not honour its severance agreement it had with the unions. However, Mr Qvale has offered to make a personal ex-gratia payment to each employee of £5 for each completed year of service. This would give Nation £160.
Frank Nation died on 10th September 1984 from a heart attack, aged 73.
See also the story of Sandra Nation | trim Shop Worker: http://www.jensenmuseum.org/jensen-motors-trim-shop-worker-day-life/
Jensen Motors Inspector | Life & Times
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS: Clive Kendrick, former Assembly Line Finisher, Jensen Motors | Jayne Nation | Sandra Nation
COPYRIGHTS: Jensen Museum | Jayne Nation | Sandra Nation
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