By the late Fred Sole
This article was published in the August 2016 edition of Soul Search, the Journal of The Sole Society
Ed: In the December Edition of Soul Search we left Fred realising that Army life wasn’t for him:
My demobilisation arrived in January 1948 and I received paid leave until March so I had time to look for work. Not that I needed it because once again fate was kind.
Ron Todd, whom I had known from schooldays and whose brother had played with me in Cyril Jones’s band, looked me up and told me his firm needed a delivery driver. I told him I had learned to drive in the army, but I had no licence. Ron spoke to his boss who agreed to take me on and give me a few days out with the sales rep to ‘brush up’, and he would arrange a driving test. He did, and all went well, so the Post Office idea was completely forgotten.
The new job was with a small, new company that sold motor parts, tools, accessories and paints to the garage trade, haulage, and general contracting firms. It served an area within a radius of about 30 miles of Whittlesey and, as those businesses began to grow after the wartime restrictions, so did the various suppliers servicing it. Having been started from ‘scratch’ by the owner, an ex Army man, our accommodation and equipment were simple but adequate. The boss ran a 1946 Austin 10hp, the (other) Salesman used a 1934 Morris 10/4 and my delivery ‘van’ was a 1932 Morris 10/4 with the rear seats removed and replaced by wooden floorboards. Some months later the firm invested in a new Jowett 2cyl van and later still one of the first Volkswagen vans.
Ron Todd was our storekeeper having learned his trade with a local long distance haulage company, later part of British Road Services. Our firm grew steadily, employed a second salesman and gradually occupied more of the old buildings that were part of the property.
Then, with no warning, Ron’s employment was terminated and he went to work for the Peterborough branch of a national motor parts wholesaler. I took over Ron’s position and a new delivery driver was recruited, John Lofts. John had been in my school class and had worked for his brother-in-law (who owned one of the two local bus companies) and also a local Land Drainage company.
John was a keen and experienced cyclist and soon persuaded me to take it up. Once again I suppose it was fate being helpful, because soon after the company seemed to experience difficulty with its suppliers. As a result my position in the stores became untenable and I left too. Once again, due to information provided by Ron Todd, who had found work in Peterborough, I obtained work with a Peterborough firm in the same trade but much more active.
A seven mile bicycle ride twice a day proved well within my capabilities, thanks to John Lofts.
My new company had a branch in Northampton and one in Banbury. There were two salesmen and a sales manager, two other storekeepers, a ‘goods in’ clerk, a delivery driver and seven people in the office.
Each of the other storekeepers dealt with orders obtained by a salesman and my job was to handle the orders that came in from the two branches. We all attended to customers who visited our trade counter. In addition on one day of each week (Friday) I had to deliver their orders to the branches.
My normal trips were made in a Commer van that had begun life as a furniture removal vehicle – made to carry bulk, not weight, but occasionally, if Len’s load for the day was very bulky, I got to use the other van, a Ford V8 Pilot. It was a powerful motor and it helped me get my first speeding fine – £3 !!! Well, I was in a hurry to get home in time for a cinema visit – with a young lady who was our office telephone switchboard operator, a certain Miss June Thompson.
When I was stopped the police officer asked “Didn’t you realise you were well over the limit? We’ve been trying to catch you since Finedon” (about 2 miles back – and they had a powerful Wolseley) !
Our boss had been working on a project to open a new branch in Newbury, Berkshire and his brother-in-law, who was our ‘in house’ builder/handyman etc. had spent a lot of time on site getting everything in shape. I had been allowed to believe that when all was ready I would be offered the job of manager. On our next outing together I asked June if she would join me if that was to happen and was delighted when she agreed.
Perhaps I was too presumptive, because in spite of all the work done at Newbury nothing had happened in that direction by the time we were married and our daughter Christine was born.
Thoroughly disillusioned I accepted an offer to take on the job of running the stores in a local heavy goods vehicles repair workshop and left as soon as possible
That was the first of three unsuccessful changes which led me to become very bitter towards the philosophy of too many small private employers. Things went downhill for a year or two during which I returned to my first employer (who had been in Whittlesey but relocated to Peterborough) and, when that finally folded, to a firm of motor tyre re-treaders and vehicle battery re-platers (not a common activity today!) – another company that was not long with us!
From September 1954 June and I had lived behind and above a small shop just off Whittlesey market place which I had managed to rent. In the shop, my previous workmate John Lofts and I ran a bicycle sales and repair shop.
Both now keen cyclists, June and I used a tandem and sidecar for a couple of years, taking Christine on holidays with us to Hunstanton in Norfolk and around Derbyshire where we had spent our honeymoon.
We arranged things so that John, the mechanic, was in the shop all day, and I did the paperwork, minor repairs, punctures and any frame painting during my time off work.
This worked very well, particularly as John lived next door with his parents who owned a small confectionery shop, but we accepted that it would never provide a living for both John and me. It was necessary for me to remain in work elsewhere and when the tyre and battery job ended –almost as if it had been so destined – in 1957 I finally followed the advice of Mr. Mudd at Palace Barracks and enquired about vacancies at Whittlesey Post Office.
Ed: For the benefit of new members, Fred Sole, along with Don Steel were instrumental in founding the society in 1991. Fred became Vice President and sadly died in August 2014.