Meet Ron Watts Part 2

Well, I promised that I would let you know about the better half of my life. During the time we were working on the more up-to-date missiles I had interviewed my wife to be, June. She joined us to work in the Performance Section, reading film recordings of the instruments in the test beds.
The following year we were married, and having no savings were fortunate to rent a house in Harlow New Town. The town was indeed very new, and still had a pioneering spirit. We enjoyed living there, but rent and high travelling costs meant we were unable to save, so we moved in with June’s parents near Uxbridge and saved the deposit for a house.
Our first house was in Cuffley, near Potters Bar. Soon after moving in June had a breakdown which left her with mental health problems, preventing her from working. She also had an undiagnosed physical health problem. These difficulties continued in varying degrees for some years.
It was now difficult for me to continue working for de Havilland, so I took a job as a lecturer at Hatfield College, quite near to home, less demanding, with fewer hours away from home. It was to be a temporary measure, as my reduced salary together with the loss of June’s earnings made things difficult.
Reviving her interest in piano playing, June passed the graded exams of the London Academy with distinction and was then able to teach younger pupils – something she could do at home.
In the meantime, the Ministry lost interest in small rocket engines, and the Rocket Division was slowly wound up. Now large rocket engines were to be built by Rolls Royce. I was invited to join the project but I could not. The de Havilland company, which then made conventional jet engines, the Gyron and Gyron Junior, also turned their attention to gas turbines for helicopters. Many of the engineers from the Rocket Division joined this new project.
When I had joined Hatfield College it was a Regional College with aspirations. They were keen to run an external London University Mechanical Engineering Degree Course. I was recruited to assist with the subject of thermodynamics and fluid mechanics with special emphasis on dynamics and thermodynamics of compressible fluid flow, and aircraft propulsion. The lecturing was demanding at first as I had to build up the necessary laboratory facilities. We soon got approval from London University.
After a few years, I got leave to lecture for four days a week for a year, so that I could go back to the old company, now Rolls Royce, to assist in developing their helicopter engines. After which I returned to the College.
It was about that time that our daughter was born, bringing with her a lot of pleasure and the usual upheaval in domestic life.
Things were also changing at the College. When I joined it occupied a 93 acre sloping green field site, but it slowly spread up the slope as the Student numbers grew. Our degree courses were now run under the auspices of the NCTA, and later the CNAA (Council for National Academic Awards). A multi-storey library block was built, as well as a multi-storey computer science block, and a new industrial engineering centre. My department increased its number of wind-tunnels. Then, we added a design centre and branched into automotive engineering. Finally, the student Halls of Residence were added. So the campus occupied the whole of the original site. Later it used the land across the road. Even later, British Aerospace vacated the Hatfield Airfield, and the college expanded into part of that. This addition of extra faculties meant that engineering became a smaller proportion of the college.
We set up our first computer in the early 60s. Before microchips, it consisted of a number of large steel cabinets housed in quite a large room which had controlled temperature and humidity, and was lightly pressurised to ensure dust was excluded. It had a fraction of the computing power of my laptop, and cost a small fortune. At that time, we had to write our own programmes and produce them in punched paper tape, put in a paper tape to get a paper tape output. The rate of progress in computing has been staggering.
All in all, I was with the college for 27 years, in which time it grew in status to become a Polytechnic and finally the University of Hertfordshire. For my last eleven years, I was Head of Mechanical and Aeronautical Engineering. In a survey of Mechanical Engineering teaching by the Times Higher Education Supplement three years before I left, Hatfield Polytechnic was placed sixth on points, ninth overall, which put us alongside Cambridge Imperial College and UMIST, and above all Polytechnics and about 32 Universities, including Oxford.
For many of those years, June’s health meant that she preferred not to go abroad for holidays, nor did she want to fly. I didn’t mind that at all. I had to take business trips to various parts of Western Europe, and spent two short spells working in Egypt. I certainly wouldn’t go there for a holiday. But I did always like flying, though I’m less keen now with these huge aircraft. And I don’t like airports!
So when our daughter was small and until she was about fifteen, we took most of our holidays in a touring caravan – a Sprite Alpine. We covered most of the UK, from Scotland to Cornwall. Our favourite place was the Lake District, but we spent many times in Devon and the Cotswolds because we had relatives there. Norfolk was popular for short breaks.
After sixteen years living in in Cuffley, we’d moved to Chrishall, a village south of Cambridge. Whilst there, June’s health improved when her physical problem was finally diagnosed and treated. Before June joined de Havilland she held a very good job as an audit clerk for Express Dairies, a large concern with many branches supplying milk and dairy products to most of Greater London and the Home Counties. Her area was the north-west sector of Greater London.
When she was approaching her 50th year, she started work at the Imperial War Museum at Duxford as a clerk in the Finance Office, and remained there until she retired at 60. At evening classes, she learned how to manage a computer, and introduced them to the Finance Office at Duxford. For five years before she retired, she was head of the Office.
She was very talented, not only with music, but in art, in sport when she was young, and with numbers. I confess that I am completely devoid of talent, but I do have great respect and admiration when I see it in others.

After leaving Hatfield, I worked for a time as a self-employed consultant, but soon found myself working for one industrial company three days a week, which was as much as I was prepared to do. I enjoyed this time very much. By the time I was 63 I was fully retired.
Though we mixed with the local community, we were not deeply involved, although, for my sins, I did edit the village Newsletter in Chrishall. Dispersed around the UK were three couples with whom we went on holiday and exchanged visits. And June’s two brothers and my three siblings scattered around the country, made up the major part of our social life. Now, all but one of the six friends have gone, as have June’s brothers, so our social life is much diminished.
In 1997, our granddaughter was born. In 1999, daughter and granddaughter moved to Stoke Ferry. We’d talked of moving to Norfolk, so this was the necessary trigger. We had both liked Norfolk, especially North Norfolk, and have enjoyed the easy access to it that living here provides.
Our young granddaughter revived memories of our caravanning days, and we bought another caravan – somewhat bigger than our old Sprite – And equipped with heating, refrigerator and shower. All sites have electricity, and site showers are mostly very good. There were often dishwashing facilities and washing machines. All very different from our earlier trips. We enjoyed these holidays but were less ambitious about how far we were prepared to drive. I think the furthest was to York.
When June’s mobility deteriorated, we travelled less. We watched TV more, and read more.
I have been asked if I had any particular pet hates. Well, litter, loud people in pubs and on planes, etc. dogs not under control, bullying, cooking programmes on TV, tattoos, chewing gum – and dare I admit it? – football. Not so much the game itself as the culture, the hype and hysteria which seems to accompany it. I guess many more things if I stopped to think about it.
Twenty months ago, June died. I cared for her at home until the end. It was an awful end for her, and a long emotional wringer for me. We were together for sixty years, a close couple doing most things together. She always supported me in my work and tolerated my idiosyncrasies. We were so entwined we didn’t have two lives – there was one life that we both shared.
Now, I must admit, my life seems pointless and I find it difficult to sort myself out. My close family has been brilliant but that does not find me a place in the world, although I think I am beginning to find my way. I work as a volunteer for the Norfolk Hospice one day a week, putting donated gifts on ebay and also as a volunteer for the Food Bank in Downham, with the work spread over two days. These activities are helping me.
It seems that getting out and about and helping others who need it, is as much of a benefit to oneself as it is to them, and I highly recommend it.

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