14 February 2017
I left school age 16 in 1938 with School Certificate to be an engine driver. But starting as a loco cleaner in Treorchy did not live up to my expectations. So with help from the manager at the Loco Shed and my mum, a hospital matron, I was found a job as a laboratory assistant at the Ocean Coal Company.
I studied by correspondence for my Higher Certificate being allowed to use the company lab in the evening for my practical work, supervised and encouraged by the manager, a great inspiration to me.
I then enrolled at the Treforest School of Mines and Technology, with a student scholarship, for a four year diploma course in chemical engineering whilst I continued with industrial emplacements at Ocean Coal. At the School of Mines I was President of the Student Representative Council 1944/1945 and won the Nobel Industries Gold Prize for my final exam. The country was at war and outside of work and school I was a fire-watcher with the Local Defence Volunteers seeing the streams of aircraft every night, both our fighters from St Athan and the German bombers. There were bombs and fires all of which I escaped – my only serious injury was when I fell off a roof at the School of Mines Engineering Labs which we were using as an observation post. There were Army Commandos undergoing technical training at Treforest at the time, I am sure they must have been on the roof doing exercises that loosened our ladders!
Now qualified as an Associate Member of the Institute of Chemical Engineers I continued in the lab and contemplated my future. The country was still at war and I was in a reserved occupation. Money was extremely tight and so I sold the Gold Medal for a few pounds – with hindsight I wish I had not done that.
In order to earn more money I left home in July 1947 and took a job as Technical Assistant Roasting with Imperial Smelting in Avonmouth. I married Vera Owen, from Trehafod, who had been a Staff Nurse at Llandoc and East Glamorgan hospitals throughout the war. We settled in Bristol living in a company house on the site in St Andrews Road. Gradually I was promoted – Assistant Superintendent Acid Plant and then Superintendent on Acid, Roasting and then later Fluoride plants.
On one notable occasion I was sent to Sydney as a trouble-shooter. Rio Tinto Zinc, (RTZ) owners of Imperial Smelting also had a Fluoride Plant which was not performing and was to be closed. A big problem and a long way from home for a Valley's boy. The plant was made to work and I came home to be promoted to Assistant Works Manager at RTZ's Llansamlet plant in Swansea,
Following this I became group works director for Swansea, Burry Port, Avonmouth and Holland. This meant living in Bristol again contributing to the 17 times Vera and I were moved by the company over the 60 years of our married life.
My time as works director and later managing director was rewarding but also challenging.
I finished my career as CEO for Australian Mining and Smelting Co. (Europe) which was a major subsidiary of RTZ. The foundation for all this was the diploma in chemical engineering from Treforest School of Mines and Technology.
Were you involved with the Student Union during your studies? We would be keen to hear your story. Email the Alumni Office and lets start the conversation.
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