Oral history of British science
Dommett, Roy (Part 2 of 19). An Oral History of British Science.
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Interviewee’s home, Fleet
Dommett, Roy, 1933- (speaker, male)
Lean, Thomas (speaker, male)
Part 2: Remarks on: projects being a learning process; 50 year experience benefiting his view on Trident replacement reports; father demobbed 1946; mother having another son after war due to uncertainty about the future pre-war, which also dissuaded his father from house buying; father continuing to live in a council house, despite buying and selling another property; parents' relations with their families; [03:40] parents' Labour Party support, and RD's socialist granddaughter; RD's political outlook; [06:00] local Southampton Itchen MP Albert Morely being a family friend and dating MD's mother in the 1920s. Remarks on MD's grandmother: daughters became nurses; married a marine from Medway, went to Canada, trained to midwife at Bently and set up a nursing home. Remarks on: local midwives well known, including RD's aunt Betsy Barr; MD grandmother dying in 1937; RD's cousin Peter being born without a midwife due to the Blitz; [08:40] MD's independent family outlook; issues caused by current single parent family support; apprenticeships, parents' experiences as apprentice and in domestic service; scarcity of money and entertainment; [11:50] improvements in entertainment in 1930s, mother visiting women's club, RD visiting cinemas as child, watching films now on DVD; film version of Bernard Shaw's 'Major Barbara', which he saw around the age of 10, his mother liking 'Gone With The Wind'; 'The First Of The Few.'; RD uncle, who worked with Spitfire designer R. J. Mitchell, and had memories of Mitchell that differed from those in biographies. [16:40] Comments on paternal grandparents: forbidden to marry by parents, so left Breamer for Bournemouth where they had children and married; grandfather's negative opinions of great-grandfather, with short story about him becoming a farm bailiff; grandfather being one of at least 13 children in the Foreham bridge, Godshil and Breamer area. [18:40] Anecdotes about his grandfather: letting a dog loose to cull neighbourhood cats, owning a greyhound that was useless at catching rabbits, driving his Lanchester car into the side of a bus and the resulting court case. Remarks on: grandfather working at Hampton builders, being a skilled painter-decorator; [22:15] father's health being damaged by fumes of plastic based paints at Harland and Wolff, retiring at 65 in poor health but living to 89; parents enjoying travelling and walking around the Isle of Wight; travel as a child, not much during the war, but seaside holidays at Weymouth and Eastborne in peace, coach trips and family parties with bands; [24:35] Comments on family life: only child when growing up, brother 19 years younger; played cards a lot; playing cribbage with his father in the pub at 14; parents not interfering with his education; listening to Bandbox on radio. Short story about knowing songs, such as Arcadians, 'The Maid of the Mountains', and Paul Robeson, despite not listening to the radio much. Remarks on society's changing tastes in music, the increasing importance of movement, playing The Beetles to get celebrations started in the Cotswolds, importance of group rhythms for Morris Dancing. [30:45] Remarks on: his musical abilities [with interjection by MD], newspaper round to pay for piano lessons, exams, Chopin, starting to play the accordion when he married; [32:30] reading science and engineering books and magazines, such as 'Modern Engineering', 'Astounding Science Fiction', disliking science fantasy, as he preferred science fiction with real science in it, [Arthur C.] Clarke and [Isaac] Asimov; influence of science fiction on him and colleagues; reading [Arthur Stanley] Eddington and Bertrand Russell on logic at school; Penguin's science quarterly and 'New Scientist; Steven Hawkin's 'A Brief History of Time'; reading Einstein with the help of university training. [38:30] Remarks on nuclear matters: early interest in nuclear energy; re-reading the 1946 HMSO publication on the Manhatten Project, suspecting link between neglect of British contributions and postwar American nuclear policy; researching nuclear history, reading Leslie Gower's reports, Lorna Arnold the nuclear historian, meeting many of those involved; visiting Aldermaston for first time in 1958 and knowing later directors, such as Newley [mic noise short pause] [42:40] Remarks on: Uncle Alex Ryan [interjection by MD], family background and work as a riveter at Thorneycroft; public baths; [45:15] long distance cycling habits of his uncle and aunt Ivy, and RAE colleague Mr Twiss, [47:10] Remarks on: issues with undergraduate thesis on wind tunnel problems, Taylor instability; second year vacation placement with the RAE, organised by Professor Collar, working with SSO Harold Robinson on guided missile vibration, working with cables, designing test equipment, RAE library; reading about first round the world flight competition, photographed by MD's uncle Ken; [53:20] reading about R100 and R101 in 'Flight' and 'Aeroplane', talking to people at the RAE about their work. Story about his RAE interview in London. [55:30] Remarks on: starting at RAE Farnborough in 1954, in guided weapons department to his surprise; Bristol University's work in aeronautical engineering and structural engineering. [57:45] Description of the aerodynamics group of the guided weapons department: under Ken Weaver and deputy head Stan Green; Cambridge mathematician section head; sharing an office between 13; playing liar dice together and collectively solving 'The Listener's mathematics puzzle; Brunsviga and Marchand calculators; test flights at Larkhill and Aberporth. [59:45] Remarks on: developing mathematics of aerodynamics, analytical solutions, Bessel functions, slide rules; [1:03:00] forming cricket umpire society with friends Eric and Donald at school, umpiring matches of teacher C.B. Kay, who played for Deanery; sharing an interest in mechanical design of buses with Eric; playing dice cricket, imaginary leagues; learning probabilities through games and its later uses at university and in systems work at the RAE; enjoying physics, applied maths and geography at school, but disliking languages [1:09:20]; enjoying history; being taught by Miss Pringle; attending a small co-educational grammar school; sports; [1:11:45] stimulated at school by competition with clever friends, such as Fox; friend Eric, retained local accent, became professor of modern languages at Cambridge; losing touch with Donald, conscientious objector in National Service. [1:13:40] Remarks on: RAE, status as training for later careers in aircraft industry; small design teams in firms such as Supermarine, Folland and Saunders Roe; choosing to study aeronautical engineering because of the aircraft firms in area he grew up; reflections on career path. [1:16:15] Remarks on: starting university in 1951; visiting Festival of Britain [with remarks by MD]; travelling around Southern region on a railway rover ticket; Festival of Britain's Skylon and superiority to Millennium Dome, which they visited while Morris Dancing. [Remarks by MD on bomb damage at Southbank] Further reflections on Festival of Britain and 1948 Olympics, whose cross-country course was nearby in Aldershot, Tweseldown and Windsor. [1:21:35] Remarks on: no choice but Bristol University; top A-level grades; RAE opinions on his first class degree; university engineering separate from other departments; intensive university course; playing soccer and rugby at Knowle, losing front teeth at rugby; engineers in the pub. [1:26:05] Remarks on: Merchant Venturers College, now Brunel University, located on a bomb damaged hill; engineers being too busy to socialise, working Wednesday afternoons instead of sport; workload; training for final exams; value of vacation work and differences to academia. [1:30:50] Remarks on: friend Jack Walters, who worked on Blue Water missile, RD best man when he married; a friend who dropped out of engineering to become a painter; learning aerodynamics with the aid of O.S. Sutton 'The science of flight'; needing to understand materials on a molecular level for his later work, a book on aerodynamics by Crabtree and Smith. [1:34:00] Description of methods of solving aerodynamics problems, the need to understand the physics, understanding airflow at supersonic speeds, materials on a molecular level, with reference to the impact of a weapon vaporising on armour; misunderstanding of these implications for anti ballistic missile systems.
Interview with rocket scientist and aeronautical engineer Roy Dommett