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A.W. Martin

Albert, William (Bert) Martin was born in Glasgow in 1910. His father had been apprenticed to Yarrow shipbuilders in Poplar, East London, and relocated to Scotland with the firm when they moved around 1907. Sadly, in 1917, his father who was Turbine foreman for Yarrows became ill with TB.  The only treatment at the time was a move to better climes and so the family moved to Freshwater Isle of Wight to stay with an aunt.  Unfortunately, Bert’s father died in 1918, and the family then moved to Southampton to stay with his mother’s parents.  About a year or so later his mother remarried in Southampton.

Times were hard and when Bert won a scholarship to grammar school he could not take it up, as the family just did not have the money.  He left school at 12 and worked for his stepfather who was a painter, decorator and general builder.  It was a precarious existence in the tough times of the great depression in Britain.  However Bert loved making things mechanical and it was this passion, which eventually provided a route out of his restricted background. He decided to find full time employment and took some of the things he had made along to the British Power Boat Company at Hythe, run by the redoubtable Hubert Scott-Paine.

The company were impressed with his work and he was given a job, even though his engineering skills were entirely self-taught. It was during his employment at Hythe that much of the following narrative took place, although he mentions very little about his daily work.

His skills had developed to such a stage, that he built a scale model of a Rolls Royce Sea Merlin motor that was presented to Sir Kingsley Wood on the occasion of the opening of the new works canteen. That he was not given credit for this rankled somewhat and following a dispute over his hourly rate of pay in 1940, moved to H.P Folland’s factory at Hamble. Follands were sub contracted to make the Spitfire's tail portion and Bert’s contribution was to devise a range of jigs and tools which speeded up production of the tricky to make tail section at a critical time. Many of the aviation projects he was involved in then and later can be seen at the Solent Sky museum.

In 1942 he married Irene Salisbury and had three children, Frank born in 1943, Tony born in 1945 and Joan born in 1949. After the war Bert worked for a few years at Vickers Supermarine in Woolston. The end of the war, however, saw a massive downturn in the fortunes of the aircraft and boat building industry around the Southampton basin leading to Bert moving to Southern Apparatus (SACOL) at Totton where he specialised in hydraulics and Power Take Off technology, including the systems used by HCB-Angus on their fire engines. He eventually retired when he was well into his 70s, but kept on working just as hard with family history, building his own telescope, including grinding the lenses and doing extensive write ups. Unfortunately, his health began to suffer and the resulting treatment caused him to lose some six inches in height, which explains references in the text to him being ‘taller then’.

Here then is Bert's own account:-

Some time ago, on a visit to a mobile library, I came across a book on flash steam. (Experimental Flash Steam. Benson & Rayman) On one of its pages I read as follows.

‘One exponent who did much to keep flash steam interest alive in the thirties was A. Martin…’ ‘His ability in lightweight construction with high output was truly remarkable….’ ‘Mr Martin made a successful post war appearance, but has not been seen around regattas for many years.’

The book had been first published in 1972, and so the ‘many years’ have eleven more added to them. Now I knew this Mr Martin very well indeed, perhaps better than anyone else. I knew his motivation, his dedication, how it all started, and why it ended. So who better to sort out the old photos, to copy them and reproduce the ME accounts, to write the story. And, being a person who eventually seems to find time for everything (thanks to an overworked providence) at long last – here it is. A.W.M 1983

This book was compiled in order to record an 18-year episode in my life, between 1932 and 1950 approximately. Although quite a bit of model work was done before 1932, very little was done afterwards, other than simple, quickly made models, such as jet driven model aeroplanes.

Kit sets were almost unknown 50 years ago, nor would I have found the least interest or joy in copying anyone else’s handiwork. And so everything had to be MY idea of the thing in hand, with no bought-in finished parts at all, other than steel balls, for even the races were home made. This also covers the design side. No drawings as such, were necessary, for I seemed to be able ‘to see’ the finished article in my mind, even before the first bit was made. Roughly scribbled outlines were made for the ‘bits’, whilst the outlines of boat hulls would be laid out on the reverse side of spare wallpaper. The various drawings, even in the book were made after completion. To say ’18 years’ is not strictly correct, for World War 2 kept me very busy indeed, both at work and in the Home Guard, over about five of those years. ‘Spare time’ was as scarce as most other things at that period.

How did I learn the art? I didn’t. For I was born with both the capability and enthusiasm, in much the same way that artists are. I was very much a loner, and met no kindred spirit until about the same year as the start of this book. I just knew how to make things, from the simplest materials and a minimum of equipment: for I simply did not have enough money to buy them! Of course I owe debts to others. To my patron saint Bert Gardner, who showed me how to silver-solder. To Harry Puntis, a master at the art, and with whom I spent many a busy and pleasant hour. To Vic Mitchell - a man of great personality and good cheer: and of course, my trusty friend Steve Penfold – ‘Mr. do anything for anybody.’ Whatever success I enjoyed was in many ways due to such company, and to whom I will always be grateful. Scene one is at the time of the Great Depression, which served to bring out the better side of people. Or so I found

This little steam launch was made for my stepbrother, 7 yr. old Peter Collins (also seen looking very pleased with himself with a yacht that I made for him) The launch had a boiler made from a shaving-soap tin, and a home made engine that chugged away with the right sort of noises, whilst the exhaust come out of the funnel. As can be seen from the photo, it was no slouch at getting along.


This is 1932 – and I have decided to make a boat that goes FAST – faster than anything else seen on Southampton Common. The first tiny one was so successful that the somewhat larger one, seen in the photos on the day of its official launch, was put in hand.

The name – Miss Britain II – was borrowed from a highly successful full size boat of the period. (built by Scott-Paine)

The boat had a very strong but light framework, made egg-box fashion from 1/16th three ply. It was covered with 1/32nd thick plywood. Under the removable aluminium cowling was 42 feet of 3/32 square rubber, which was lubricated with soft-soap and glycerine. This enormous power magazine was wound up by a ratchet, and drove the propeller by gearing up 12 times.

It was finished in bright blue, lined with gold and finished with three coats of Lisle Munday’s ‘Best Pale Yacht Varnish’. So it not only looked smart, it was smart and would do about 12 mph. Now on a pond with concrete walls, it was necessary to catch it before it struck, and so such a speed was about the limit in any case, even with the most dextrous catching; it weighed about 12 oz. complete, and half of this was elastic. It would also cover quite a distance.

Actually, it was the subject of the very first thing that I had published. For I sold an account of its manufacture, complete with working drawings to a magazine.

I am glad that we had a ‘Brownie’ box camera (cost 5/- 25p) at that time, with which to take the photos seen here. For it could be said that it was a handsome craft, as well as being highly successful.

A 1933 new arrival, a steam driven launch complete with double acting oscillating engine and the exhaust coming out at the side. Yet another ‘cut from the solid’. Not with a set of chisels and gouges, but with pieces of broken glass, cheap as dirt, sharp as a razor, and a wide variety of curves – just like that.

Now there are cross-roads, there are turning points in one’s life: and I had arrived at such a point. For up to this time, I had made all of it, entirely without the aid of a machine tool of any sort. Even my hand tools were of the ‘nothing over sixpence'. Woolworth sort. So my little wheel brace cost 1/6 only, 6d for the chuck, 6d for the body and 6d for the drive wheel, for that is how they got round it. Hand grinders could also be bought in the same way, but they actually sold one complete for sixpence.

However, by this time I knew I could only make very limited progress in the absence of a metal turning lathe of some sort: and being of a turn of mind that thought that obstacles were there in order to be surmounted, the day came when I made a start. A fortnight later – after about 2/- (10p) spent on material – there it was, all ready for use. It even had a compound slide rest!

One of the engines made on my tiny home made lathe. It was ¾" bore and stroke, almost half the size of the lathe.

With home-made hardened and tempered turning tools, the door was wide open now, and almost anything was possible. For with its aid I could not only cut threads, but make tools such as taps and dies, in order to cut other threads.

The methods were of course, quite primitive. But the sheer contriving, just to beat the obstacle, provided the pleasure, the sense of achievement. In later life, surrounded by almost everything to do things the easy way, I was to find that it was almost as though the previously puzzling crosswords were now printed with the answers alongside! Which begs the question, was I born at the right, the difficult time? And I really think that I was, for I did not so much make things, as contrive to make them: and the only interest was in such a struggle.

Here we are during 1934, at the side of one of the ponds on Southampton Common. I have often wondered, had I not lived within about a mile of the common at the time, would I have centred my activities on model speed boats? I think not. A most odd extension follows from this: For I innovated the use of a single cylinder instead of the previously used twins. Also, my very success with steam served to inspire others themselves to have a go. Which begs the question, would their lives have been different, due to nothing more than where I just happened to live? There seems to be very little doubt that such would have been the case. It is most strange that our lives can be very much influenced by trivial events in the lives of others.

However, here we see the Southampton Model Power Boat Club, newly formed and ‘on parade’. Vic Mitchell, in a typical stance. Then myself – about nine inches taller then! But wearing my usual unsmiling face. A most odd thing, for it hides an inside very cheerful person. Then one of the Schutz brothers, and Don Stonely. AND the spectators! No lack of them. For this was the era when vast numbers strolled on the Common, just for the sheer pleasure of it. The boat on the extreme right bears the name Sirocco. It was made for ‘straight course’ competition. In which the boat was aimed at a set of goalposts. With marks for scoring. A slow boat was liable to be blown of course by a side wind, and so most went reasonably fast. Sirocco did about 12 mph.

Came the day when an Echo photographer persuaded my friend Harry Puntis and myself to set our boats off at the same time. However, Harry’s much larger boat stopped right in the path of mine: which holed in the bows by a previous ‘failure to catch’ after leaping over Harry’s boat, slowly filled with water and sank. It was the end of Sirocco, although I later salvaged it.