So towards the end of November we were back in London with the week to fill in before we went to Germany. Edna in NZ House had organised our two industrial visits to justify the week in UK before we went to Germany.
On the Monday we travelled by train up to Ansty, which was the heart of the Rolls Royce gas turbine development empire. We had a two-day course designed to familiarise us with gas turbine operation and maintenance requirements. The course was aligned to the gas turbines that were to be installed in TARANAKi as part of the gas turbine conversion.
This conversion was subsequently dropped not long after our time at Ansty. The reason given was the hull condition of the Y100 frigates that were then twenty years old, so we were glad that that announcement came after we had completed at Ansty, as well it was driven by the RN announcing their fleet redundancies which opened the avenue for NZ to purchase what were to be two more Leander Class Frigates that were becoming surplus to requirements. More of this issue will be forthcoming, as my future story will indicate.
The course was interesting and included a visit to the factory and development centre in which we were lucky to observe the running of a gas turbine under development. The amount of monitoring equipment mounted on and around the turbine was quite staggering. The company took us out to dinner with all the trimmings and we were made to feel really welcome.
After the two days with Rolls Royce we travelled back to London and then spent a day at Halls Refrigeration located in Dartford Kent. We travelled down for the day and had a guided tour around the plant. We were taken to lunch in their boardroom and the guide was mystified as to why we were being entertained in the Boardroom. He was most amused when I related the story of how we had meet Tom and Doreen when Tom had come to NZ to set up a Refrigeration business Halls had taken over. Tom had subsequently climbed the promotional ladder and indeed ended up as Chairman at Halls before retirement.
So after an interesting day at Halls and two lowly CPO’s being treated royally we returned to London and readied ourselves for a week in Germany.
We flew to Zurich on a Sunday and were concerned as to how we would get from the airport to the railway station, as we had to catch a train down to St Gallen and then a ferry across the Bodensee to Friedrichshafen. Our concern was unfounded as we discovered the railway station was actually under the airport terminal so it was into the terminal and down about two escalators and we were on site to catch our train.
The journey down to the border of Switzerland at St Gallen was truly picturesque. It was of course now winter and everything was covered in snow, it looked so white and clean. We caught the ferry across the lake, this was now early evening and the sky was clear and starlit, it was a great introduction to Germany, and German efficiency of course when we arrived in Friedrichshafen. Customs were quickly passed through and we were whisked off by taxi to the Krone Hotel for our week stay. It was a very warm welcome especially as it was so cold outside.
We ventured out for dinner, of course the menu was all in German, I had done three years of German at secondary school but the titles of what looked like exotic meals were beyond my basic understanding, as you may have gathered I wasn’t the best pupil in this subject. However a lovely lady could obviously see we were undecided and came over, her English was even better than ours so we managed to know what we had ordered and were about to eat.
We had arrived in Germany on the Saturday so had given ourselves Sunday to acclimatise and find our way around the town. For a relatively small town it had some big well known businesses, MTU and ZF were probably the two I knew of but of course the Zeppelin Works had been located here as well. We got up and organised on the Sunday morning to discover the town was blanketed in fog. It was really thick and you could only see about ten metres in front of you. This was a real turn up after the night before when we arrived in beautiful clear weather. So our introduction to the town was not the greatest as we couldn’t really get our bearings, however it was a pleasant day out strolling the streets and it looked like the population deemed Sundays as a family strolling day.
In the week we were in Friedrichshafen we experienced all types of weather. Beautiful the night we arrived, fog next day followed by some rain Monday & Tuesday and then the Saturday we left there was a heavy snowfall, so I guess we were lucky and saw it in all weathers.
We were picked up on Monday morning by ZF and started the gearbox course. The organisation was terrific and very impressive. Our instructor was an Englishman who had come to Germany at the end of the Second World War and married a local girl thus remained and so language was not an issue. At times during the course we had another ZF employee sit in with us, this was to improve his English, as he was one of their field service engineers.
The course was well organised and thorough, we did theory and also practical maintenance on the same type of gearboxes fitted in the Lake Class Patrol Boats. Their tooling for maintenance was first class, and every aspect of the maintenance had the special tools that made some of the tricky assembly operations easy.
We also had a tour through their factory. This was an amazing eye opener. After coming from the Paxman Works at Colchester where they were just upgrading from basically dirt floors in the factory to this modern factory and assembly lines. In one area we watched a drilling machine drill and tap a whole gearbox casting in one move, there must have been a hundred drills, which descended together to drill the top plate, and a hundred taps, which threaded the holes, followed them. The most impressive part of this was all the swarf (metal material removed by the drilling etc.), went onto an underfloor conveyor and was removed directly out of the factory into a railway carriage to be taken away for reuse.
The week went really quickly and the last night ZF took us out to dinner, which was a nice social way to complete the course. We then packed our bags and took the boat and train back to Zurich and our plane back to London. There is something disconcerting about sitting in an aircraft while they de-ice the wings so you can take off and then you taxi down a runway with piles of snow on either side. However we arrived back in London safely and had a couple of days to kick up our heels before flying out to Singapore. Kerry had decided to meet me in Singapore so I was anxious to get on the plane and head for home. One of the sights at London airport was the number of armed policemen as this was still at the troubles in Ireland. So finally we climbed on the plane and departed London after three pretty intensive months. The flight seemed to be endless but finally we landed in Singapore.
We landed in the midst of a pretty severe tropical down pour. So when we got out of the airport and were met by NZDF driver we started off on the journey out to the Fernleaf where we were to stay for two days. We were half way to Sambewang when we had to sit in traffic for over an hour, as the road was flooded. This was not the outcome I was hoping for, as I was pretty keen to get to the Fernleaf, as I knew Kerry would be waiting there with John and Chris Pullin.
Finally we pulled in to the Fernleaf and I was reunited with my Wife. We spent the two days with John and Chris, included a bit of shopping but really needed to get my body clock realigned to local time. It was also plainly obvious that I had just come through pretty much two winters as my white body was exposed to the elements and the swimming pool.
Finally we caught a plane home to NZ arriving home not long before Xmas and being reunited with our children, it was a great feeling to finally know I was home and looked forward to some shore time and a more normal family life.