Harry Parker at the Milk Factory

 

Harry Parker remembers working at the Milk Factory in Etsome Terrace and the day the bomb fell. He wrot ethis piece for the opening of the Memorial Garden  in July 2007:

REMEMBERING THE D.M.P. SOMERTON  -  PE-WAR AND UP TO SEPTEMBER 1942 As one of an obviously small group of people who worked at the Milk Factory at Somerton before the war and up to the atrocity of 1942, I feel that there might be interest in what we did, and what life in the factory was like. When I joined the laboratory staff in 1938 as a teenager, the factory, Dried Milk Products Ltd., was part of the Cow &Gate Group. It was also part of a group of depots throughout the country, with those in the West as far as Cornwall. Each dealt with milk product sin its area. A major priority was the supply of milk to the London area, sent in those days by tankers or by rail in 10 gallon churns. Through the winter most  supplies went to the liquid market, but when the spring glut occurred, the depots nearer London could cope, and the reminder manufactured their supplies into milk powder and other products. Somerton was a bit of a hybrid, still sending milk to London and drying the remainder, the milk flowing over heated rotating drums to dry. Christmas was always hectic. People didn’t seem to drink  milk, or they had stocked up, and the factory worked round the clock. Bank holidays became Blank Holidays! Despite some trepidation I was given a warm welcome, and soon became part of a very friendly and happy team. The Lab. Staff sampled or checked almost everything that went on and so we worked closely with almost all the other staff. We became close friends, learning about their families, problems or successes. This extended to the fleet of lorry drivers who collected across the area, and also the local farmers who arrived in a variety of vehicles, including horse-drawn ones. Amazingly when Austin Hughes, from our lab, married, he found himself related to no less than 16 of the 17 suppliers. As lab staff we were, of course all over the factory and could give warning if the Under-Manager was on the prowl, or the manager was, or was not, in his office. It was a friendly place to work and also a kindly one. Water was always sloshing around, so we wore Wellington boots and the always wet milk reception dock was also draughty and cold. On one occasion Kipper Cook must have seen me shivering because he suddenly appeared with a container of hot water, and said, “Stand in that, Harry, and get your feet warm.”  That was symptomatic and I will always remember Kipper for that. I established my claim to fame early on and never lived it down! I was asked to collect some distilled water and grabbed the first person I saw in the boiler room. I had previously worked in the chemist shop in the square where Jack Bond, the chemist, insisted that every substance was named in Latin. So my request for “aqua destillata” met with a look of utter incomprehension, and the second person called was equally flummoxed. A third was about to be called when the penny dropped, and I said, “Oh, you want it in English - it’s distilled water!” The war changed all our lives. With food rationing and shortages, the supply of milk became vital, especially to the blitzed and devastated cities. It was essential that the children had their daily bottle, and that dried milk and special diets were still on the shelves. It was an important part of the war effort. Our lives changed in other ways. There was the L.D.V. (Local Defence Volunteers) - one armband and a shotgun, which became Dad’s Army, the Home Guard. Then the Germans started to scatter incendiary bombs indiscriminately, hoping to destroy crops or buildings. The nearest to Somerton I saw fell on Kingsdon Hill. That meant more sleepless nights as we did Fire watch duty at the factory, hovering around the roof area with a bucket of and a scoop. They were not, however, incendiary bombs that fell on that wet September morning, but time-delayed high explosives that crashed through the building and exploded with devastating effect on the ground floor. There were some remarkable escapes. Done Dyke was in the laboratory and, realising what was happening, reached the floor below and crouched behind a large storage tank. When the dust cleared the tank had gone, and he was on about the only fragment of floor projecting from the wall. Bill Brady was peppered with dozens of glass splinters, none of which penetrated an artery or vital organ, and which took years to remove, if they ever did. When I went back to the lab later to see if anything could be salvaged, I was amazed to find that dozens of splinters had penetrated cupboards and drawers, and had even gone through fairly big books. The force was incredible. There followed a surge of sympathy, deep shock and sorrow covering the whole area, and that sorrow remains with me today. I still go to the war memorial in tribute, and the names of those nine friends are, with others, in my thoughts during the Armistice Day silence, and at other times. That is why a I am so pleased and deeply touched by the memorial tree planting and garden. I have been in touch with Austen Hughes, who is sadly incapacitated, and he wishes to be associated with the sentiments expressed. This is a living memorial to what happened in September 1942, but perhaps will say to future generations that there must be a better way to deal with problems than the killing of people who were making food for babies. With heartfelt thanks, congratulations and appreiciation, and I wish the project and its organisers well.