GENERAL ARTICLES

He Keeps 'em Flying!

How a foreman led his troops to victory on the factory front

LESLIE ROBERTS February 1 1942
GENERAL ARTICLES

He Keeps 'em Flying!

How a foreman led his troops to victory on the factory front

LESLIE ROBERTS February 1 1942

He Keeps 'em Flying!

How a foreman led his troops to victory on the factory front

LESLIE ROBERTS

The Canadian fighter of the sky, the sea, the land is serving with everything he’s got. His confidence, his morale, his efficiency, and often hiis life, are in the hands of the factory worker. Victory and security of this Dominion’s people depend upon the co-ordination of a Team on which the men in uniform and the men in overalls are all-out partners. In a series of articles of which this is the first, Maclean’s ivill introduce its readers to men of the factories who are engaged in a personal war against a common enemy.

BETTER let me get Jock Cochrane up here,” the Big Boss said. “He’s the guy who made it possible. Jock and teamwork-ideas and plenty of co-operation Jock inspired in other people.”

“It” had been an outsize order for huge Stranraer flying boats, the big twin-engined ships which ride above the eastbound convoys out of that nameless port. The place was the office block at Canadian Vickers, crouching against the river bank in Montreal’s teeming east end.

The original order for Stranraers had been placed in 1936 when the first faint stirrings of R.C.A.F. rehabilitation happened. When war came production was still in the easy-come easy-go stages. By the time war was three months into its second year Stranraer production was months behind schedule. There was much coming and going within the walls of the great Vickers plant, but nothing much happened. The Stranraer is a great hulk of a craft. Its appearance suggests months of assembly-line toil on a tailor-made job. Somehow everybody on the floor had achieved the idea that Time didn’t matter. Then the bosses decided to act.

As a first step Managing Director T. Roger McLagan dipped into one of the big insurance companies and came up with his friend Benjamin Franklin, whom he promptly changed into an Aircraft Producer. When Franklin pointed out that he knew nothing about manufacturing things to fly, McLagan replied that he couldn’t see how it mattered. “You know how to organize things, how to make people work, don’t you?” he enquired. “Well, that’s the angle. When can you start?” That is how what may be called the “metamorphosis of Vickers” began. Now, a year later, you wouldn’t know the place. The Stranraer order is finished and out the door. The plant is tooling up for the new PB Y— last word in flying boats. Where, a year ago, the place was all sixes and sevens, today it hums with organized life, an air of good-fellowship, the spirit of co-operation, the intrinsic feel of drive and power only achieved when men work together as a team.

Bogged down, months behind production schedule a year ago, the last Stranraer went out four months ahead of time. The last eight were finished and accepted in twenty-eight days. How was it done? Franklin, who is by way of being what may be called a co-operative driver himself, says you can credit it all to Jock Cochrane. Cochrane says it was done by “the boys.”

At this writing Cochrane is general foreman of the Vickers Aircraft Plant, but when the renaissance occurred at the beginning of 1941 he was just another fellow called Jock who fussed around Stranraer hulls with tools in his hands and wasn’t any too happy about it. In looking over the gang on the floor Franklin took a shine to the hulking Scot, was amazed when Cochrane spoke to him one day and announced his intention of quitting. The Kilmarnock feet were itching for home. Canada seemed pretty far from the front to an old-time sergeant major of the Royal Scots Fusiliers.

The two went into a huddle, and Cochrane stayed. A few weeks later he was made hull assembly foreman. The hulls began to take shape with considerable speed. Pretty soon, by streamlining the job, by doubling the man power per hull, but primarily by instilling the spirit of co-operative competition into his gang, he had a job which had been taking six weeks coming down the line in less than a week. And next thing anybody knew Jock Cochrane was general foreman and the whole Stranraer job was moving in the same kind of tempo.

What spark ignites the Jock Cochranes of the war industries and spreads from them to other men, until a whole plant blazes like a prairie fire? The answer is that the Cochranes are personally at war with Hitler, Mussolini and now with the Little Men of Nippon, and that they communicate their warlike leadership to other men around them. Jock Cochrane possesses a burning single-mindedness. His job is to launch aircraft from the Vickers assembly line. His conviction is that every time another takes to the air a personal contribution to the final victory has been made by himself and the workers’ army he commands.

Cochrane doesn’t put it into such words; neither, for that matter does his boss, Ben Franklin. Deeds are more in their line of country than words. But go through the shop with the general foreman and you’ll pick it up everywhere, from his assistants, from the humblest apprentice and the union officials. There aren’t any labor problems, for the

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He Keeps ’em Flying !

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simple reason that such matters are threshed out around the council table before they can assume problem proportions. There isn’t a man in the shop who isn’t driving at full steam day in and out. His fellow workers see to that—and so do the union officers.

In other words Vickers, by which is meant every man under the roof, is at war. The idea has gone through to these people, better than 2,000 strong in the aircraft plant, that war on the industrial front is every whit as important as on the actual fighting front; more prosaic, it may be, but vital. And that is the way they are playing it under this G.O.C. who has risen from their own ranks within the space of months. This thick-set, middle-aged Scot who emerged from the last war with a sergeant major’s crown on his sleeve and the ribbon oftheD.C.M. on his breast. He must have been a grand sergeant major.

Jock Cochrane is a family man— has a nineteen-year-old son at work in the Vickers aircraft shop, and twins (boy and girl) at home. Mrs. Cochrane is a motherly sort of person, and the five Cochranes live just off Montreal’s Guy Street, in an ordinary middle-class home.

Jock drives his own car to and from work, but there’s nothing fancy about him. His vocabulary is enriched with most of the gruff Saxon words of the sergeants’ mess, and they pour out in the broad Kilmarnock burr which is the mode of speech of gentlemen who

earn their bread in such institutions as Glenfield and Kennedy, the great hydraulic-engineering firm. Then his trade was engine fitter, and Cochrane was so good at it that he was yanked bodily out of the Fusiliers by the Navy and put to work as something which the mysterious jargon of the Silent Service calls engine-room artificer, in which role he served on the Hood and the Renown.

Canada saw him first in 1927, and he has been with Vickers during most of the intervening years. Until war came he was a simple, gruff but likable Scottish working man; latterly he has become a whirling dervish personally at war with Hitler, a conviction which he holds so deeply that he carries his own army, 2,000 strong, into battle with him. He moved keymen around. He trained raw hands. He took lads wherever he could find them and fitted them into the pattern. But, more important, he instilled his victory-spirit into them. Then the Stranraers began to roll and the months of time-deficit to recede until it disappeared and was replaced by a time-credit before the last huge flying boat was out the hangar door and into the water.

The Cochrane formula is simple. “The man who says it can’t be done is usually interrupted by somebody coming along and doing it.”

So goes the story of one of the heroes of the Canadian industrial effort. In them lies the key to the door to Total War.