DOWN MEMORY LANE: How Chichester folk rallied for ‘the lads in the Falklands’

Recollections of how Chichester workers responded to a call to action at the end of the Falklands War have been sent to Down Memory Lane by Mr Graham Bell, who writes:

This year, as we remember the end of the Falklands War 30 years ago, I am writing to remind your readers of the very great help I had from some of the people of Chichester in meeting urgent requirements of the Ministry of Defence (MOD) for plant to repair the war-damaged runway at Port Stanley.

Before moving to Chichester in 1973 I had been running a small company that specialised in a form of road construction called soil stabilisation, for which I had developed the equipment needed. The MOD had asked me to advise them about the equipment the Army should buy for this type of work.

Immediately after the end of the war I received a phone call from the MOD ordering me to provide two sets of equipment, comprising four large tractors with extra low-reduction gearboxes, two large rotavators adapted for soil stabilisation work and two tractor-mounted spreaders for bagged cement.

I am unlikely ever to forget the last sentence of that phone call – ‘and please get it all to Southampton Docks in ten days’ time’.

Well, we did it, but only with a very great deal of help from Smith and Jewell Limited in Leigh Road and the tradesmen who worked for them. Urgent phone calls managed to secure the tractors and rotavators and to get the tractors modified, but the main snag was that nobody made the spreaders needed and so they had to be designed and made from scratch.

To do this I started at a drawing board at 4am and by 9am the same day, what I had drawn was being made by Smith and Jewell.

After the pieces I needed had been made, Smith and Jewell shut down for a week’s maintenance work to be done in their factory. During that week their men were due to go on leave, but several of their tradesmen volunteered to do without their holiday ‘for the lads in the Falklands’ and instead to come and work with me to complete the contract. With the help of these dedicated men we managed to get completed on time.

My workshop at that time was the old Northgate Garage which was too small to have the four big tractors parked there so the adjutant of the Royal Military Police agreed to have the tractors parked in the barracks.

A picture that was published in the Observer, about the end of June or early July 1982, showed the tractors and other equipment being loaded on to low-leaders from Horley Road Services Ltd to take them to Southampton Docks.