Special birthday cake triggers memories for Llantwit veteran Alf

By GEM Staff Reporter in Local People

THE years came flooding back when a Llantwit Major pensioner had a surprise gift from a company he last worked for 50 years ago!

Llantwit Major WW2 veteran Alfred Jackson celebrated his 96th birthday recently, and a party for family and friends took place on the Sunday before the big day.

However, a big surprise was waiting for him on his actual birthday, when there was another anniversary to celebrate.

The South Wales Area operations manager of British Oxygen, for whom Alf worked in the 1950s and 1960s, made a special trip to Llantwit Major and caught Alf by surprise when he knocked on the door, carrying the biggest imaginable birthday cake – in the shape of a three-ton lorry.

It was exactly 50 years since Alf stopped working for BOC, where he was a long-distance lorry driver.

Alf’s daughter, Ellie Townsend Jones, had contacted the British Oxygen press office in London and told them about her dad’s memories.

They decided to visit Alf and present him with a birthday cake to mark his many years of good service for them in his youth.

Alf’s career as a BOC lorry driver had begun at the age of about 30, by which time he already had 15 years of experience behind the wheel.

Before the war, as a teenager, Alf had worked in his father’s mobile grocery business and learned to drive a 1929 Morris van to deliver groceries.

His ability with a large vehicle landed him the rank of driver when he was called up in 1941, and he spent four years driving trucks as one of Field Marshal Montgomery’s “desert rats”, supplying water and munitions up and down the line, in North Africa and Italy.

After being “demobbed”, he came home to the family business, but with many household goods and foods still subject to rationing, and with the arrival of small Co-op-type shops, the business became unprofitable and closed in 1951.

He set off along the Great West Road, calling in at every firm to see if work was available – and landed a job as a driver at the BOC Brentford depot.

Looking at his small stature of 5ft 5 inches, the hiring foreman doubted that he would be capable of doing the work, but asked him to do a trial drive of a lorry in the yard. Alf had no difficulty in carrying out some impressive manoeuvres and was promptly taken on.

It took months of training, working alongside another driver, to acquire the knowledge and skills needed to do the job.

Deliveries of medical oxygen cylinders of varying sizes were made all around London and to destinations as far as the south coast and Birmingham.

The M1 motorway did not open until 1959. Each morning, drivers would be given their calls and would plan their own routes.

Because the oxygen was vital to each customer, there was never any question of failing to deliver a load, however many hours you had to work in a day to achieve this.

Alf remembers that during London’s Great Smog of December 1952, drivers were sent out in twos, as often visibility was reduced to about three feet.

He remembers going on a delivery to a central London hospital near Waterloo. A driver who lived near Waterloo came with him. After making their delivery, the other driver walked in front of the lorry to guide him to a lorry park that he knew.

The vehicle was parked up overnight and Alf went back home on the Tube.

All cylinders were handled manually as there were no lifting devices. The largest cylinders were up to five feet high and about 10 inches wide (250mm), and were far too heavy to carry. Drivers were taught how to manipulate and manoeuvre them, which was a skill acquired after much training, and some trial and error.

The uniform consisted of a maroon-coloured coat and trousers, and a smart, peaked cap. The equipment issued was a pair of tough gloves and an apron.

The Area Manager, Mr Adrian Hayman, is based at BOC Margam and had travelled from his home across the Severn Bridge for the surprise visit to meet Alf.

He said: “It was fascinating to talk to Alf about what it was like to work as a BOC driver before the days of motorways or tail-lift lorries!”

The cake was polished off the following day at the weekly meeting of the Llantwit Major Pensioners’ Club, of which Alf is a long-term member.

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