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Fred Bowden interview: Starting at work



At the age of 14. I became a farm labourer for one year till I was 15. I was hospitalised because of acute appendicitis anyway, so I was out of work as a youngster for 12 months. At the age of 16 the Junior Labour Exchange sent for my father to take me to their office where he was presented with a list of jobs which I should take or my proportion of the dole that he received would be stopped. I landed up the best I could find, or that he could find for me off that list . Was working as a furnace hand in a tube works in West Bromwich where I was in lodgings. They found lodgings for me. The wages were 17 shillings a week, the lodgings cost me 17 shillings a week. So each Friday evening after work we had to go to the local Juvenile Labour Exchange to obtain half a crown spending money. Now that went on for 12 months from the age of 16 to 17. I worked on the furnace, very difficult, very hot and I was growing. I grew up, I lost weight. It  wasn’t doing me any good at all. And I worked there for another year. I worked for two years on this furnace and then I gave it up. I couldn’t stand it any longer. At the age of 16 to 18 I was there. I went back home to Swansea. Whilst I was there my brother came under the same jurisdiction at the age of 14 and he was sent away to the Birmingham area in a factory there, and when I packed this job up which was about Easter in 1938 we both came home to Swansea. Down to Gower. We had enough money for him to have a train fare to take two suitcases. I cycled all the way from West Bromwich, down through mid-Wales, over the Brecon Beacons. I started at 7 o’clock on a Saturday night and I got into the outskirts of Swansea and surprised my Auntie Grace, which was the first port of call at 10 o’clock on Sunday morning. I had been cycling all night.

I was back on the dole. My father had been on the dole all these years. He never worked again.