4.  The War Years:  1939 - 1945

True to our historical pattern, the Company got very busy under the re-armament programme of the 1930s.  This period was only marred on a family note when Lionel Meynell, who had joined in 1931 as an apprentice in the Pattern Shop, left to join the Royal Engineers in 1938.  His subsequent bravery after he was posted to the Bomb Disposal Unit located in the Coventry area, at a time when the Luftwaffe were endeavouring to knock out the engine and tank factories located there, earned him the George Medal.  I believe this was the first one to be awarded in the Midlands. 

Soon after his award he was asked to give a lecture to civilians in a Wolverhampton cinema one evening and his father, Mr Charles Meynell, who was Works Director at the time, was incognito in the audience.  When the introduction was made - “Major Lionel Meynell GM will speak on bomb precautions” -  a member of the audience in the seat next to Charles Meynell turned to his wife and said: “I know them - their family runs a little sh*t shop in Montrose Street”.  So much for the Meynell Empire as seen by others.

At the outbreak of the Ward in 1939 great importance was attached to Civilian Defence for the Home Front and, judging by the lack of success the country suffered in the early years, it was a wise move.  Our Spitfires and Hurricanes were not too effective against night bombing and the Ack Ack guns held little terror for the Luftwaffe’s night bombers.  Some bombs fell in Wolverhampton but the real fear was for the incendiary bombs which could devastate whole buildings or rows of houses once a fire was started. 

The Meynell Company building was over 100 years old and was full of ancient wooden rafters, joists and floors which would have burned merrily if ignited.  A fire watching team was organised on a nightly rota basis of 12 spotters, of whom three were active (playing cards) and the other nine resplendent in nine specially prepared sleeping bunks until it was time for the watch to change on a three hourly basis. 

Hugo Meynell was recruited to the Wolverhampton Area Firewatchers and carried out a similar exercise on the roof of the Rock Hotel at the top of Old Hill, Tettenhall from which there was a good view of most of the outlying area.  Air raid shelters were built in Montrose Street and at the bottom of Lock Street.  Of course everyone always had to take their Gas Masks with them wherever they went.

Much of British history has been taken up by the wars which have been waged and at the start of Hitler’s War in 1939 the Meynell Company was told by its chief executive, Herbert Meynell, that “we will support our country to the utmost and we will not take one penny profit out of this War”.  Very nearly all works’ production was for the war effort.  He was true to his world and at the end of hostilities in 1945 the Company was in a poor state with all the machinery run down and worn out.

In 1944 Herbert was still actively running the Company on a daily basis and when he died aged 87 he had served in the Company for 71 years.   Charles Meynell became Chairman. 

During the War the Company was on the Supply Contracts List for the Ministry of Supply, Air Ministry, Navy and had supplied the special taps for the mobile water carriers used by the Eighth Army when General Montgomery beat Rommel’s notorious Panzer Corps at El Alamein, which was when the British achieved their first really substantial battle win. For the Air Force many of the fighter bases for the Battle of Britain air planes had the Company’s standard plumbing fittings of taps, ball valves, steam traps, unions, etc as did the later Bomber Air Bases and their general support bases.  One of the naval requirements, which was unusual, was for a purpose designed flexible coupling with special flange connections used for submarine refuelling under water and this was designed and made for the Admiralty.

At the end of the War most of those Company personnel who had served in the Forces returned to their normal life.  One was Peter Walker who had been called up when he had just joined us from school and was, thus, in a very junior position in the stockroom.  He returned, after War Service, having risen to a Major in the Army but came to the Directors to ask for his old job back.  He was invited to become our salesman covering the area of everywhere north of London up to Scotland.  He was offered the comparative luxury of motor transport for this job. The car was a 2 cylinder Jowett van, being most economical on petrol, which was strictly rationed at the time.  Peter left this job in the 1960s, having been a great success, to help found Fern Plastic Products of which he was a Director and the Meynell Company was a 33% shareholder.

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