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To mark the firm’s wartime association with Bideford, a cabinet containing specimens of three types of aircraft pumps manufactured by them at Bideford and a handsomely bound album telling in pictorial form the story of the activities concerned were presented to the town by the British Rola Ltd on Friday.

1 January 1946 Rola Ltd


The presentation took place in the Council Chamber, the civic gathering also including representatives of the Services, other local industries, trade and organisations.
Speeches at the ceremony and at the luncheon to which the gathering was subsequently invited at the invitation of Mr C R Andersen (chairman) and other directors, acknowledged the very worthy contribution the Company and its employees had made to the war effort, and the influence of such employment on local prosperity. While it was regretted the company was not continuing its association with the town on the same scale, the establishment of a subsidiary – Rolamatic Ltd – was cordially welcomed and the hope expressed that this ‘child’ would in turn grown into a ‘parent’. The Rolamatic company is housed in the former NFS station, Alverdiscott Road, East-the-Water.
Before handing over the gifts, Mr C R Andersen explained that the pumps themselves were not much to look at but it was intended to present them sectionally so that the delicate work going into their making and the wonderful job local people had done could be clearly seen. The company’s war job started in a small way in 1938, being rapidly increased from Munich time onwards. They were asked to make vacuum pumps. It was not a job to which they were used: pre-war they made loudspeakers. After Dunkirk the need for the pumps and components which they, and only two other firms the country, were making became ever more urgent. The Ministry were concerned that with two firms located so close together in London they might be put out action, leaving them dependent on one small firm in the Midlands. It was therefore suggested that Rola works should move a unit out of London.
‘The Ministry told us it was utterly impossible to find suitable accommodation in Devon or Cornwall’ Mr Andersen continued, but he was not satisfied and wrote to the town clerks of the more important towns. He got a number of answers and Bideford’s reply was magnificent, giving a schedule of what were considered suitable premises. An interview with Cllr W E Ellis, chairman of the Development Committee, was arranged and eventually it was decided to use the garage of Messrs W H Elliott and Sons, Kingsley Road, and some of Messrs Rawle, Gammon and Baker’s premises, and a party was sent to Bideford to make preparations.
When the firm’s premises were closely menaced by bombs the Air Ministry sent a fleet of lorries, the plant was loaded on them and the whole moved from London to Bideford in three days. It was a superhuman effort. They took about another four days to get it installed and then the wheels of production were turning again. Eventually they were turning out these much needed pumps at the rate of 250-300 a week in addition to other work. The whole of the administration came to Bideford. There was also a move to Devizes.
Mr Andersen spoke of their production of the vacuum, feathering and integral hydraulic pumps (specimens of which were in the cabinet presented) and of the contribution those pumps and other appliances made in various theatres of war.
They had made various kinds of things for COXE , the combined operations organisation which did so much experimental landing work at Westward Ho! ‘We had the sense never to ask what these things were for, but we hope one day we may be told what we did towards the landing on the French coast’ Mr Andersen commented. They had helped the American forces too. They had another factory at Woolacombe, and turned out nearly three quarters of a million incendiary noses. He gratefully acknowledged the reception accorded to them at Bideford. They first came to Bideford with about 40 employees and eventually were employing over 500 people here, and the bulk of these came from Bideford, Northam and Appledore districts. It was labour that had never been in an engineering shop before but which, after training, had done a really fine piece of work.
Now they were leaving Bideford, but Mr Andersen mentioned an offshoot would remain – a little factory with about the same number of 40, but it might be that one day that the factory would get to the 500 mark. It had started off all right and they were pleased to have this continuing association with the town.
Mr Andersen especially thanked Messrs Elliott and Sons and Messrs Rawle, Gammon and Baker for what they had done. ‘I don’t think people really appreciate what it meant to these two firms to lose their premises’ he said.
Thanks to Mr Andersen and other directors for their valuable and interesting were proposed by the Mayor, who on behalf of the Corporation formally accepted them. He expressed appreciation of the tribute paid to Bideford workers and recalled the arrival of the firm and the problem of securing accommodation for the firm’s workers. He mentioned those who had helped with this and the great help generally of the Development Committee under Cllr W E Ellis. They were proud that the workers of Bideford were able to make a valuable contribution to the war effort through the firm. It was recognised, too, that the wages paid to employees helped to keep the town prosperous during those trying years. Bideford’s history was one long story of gallantry and effort on behalf of the country. It had not been behind this recent war and its sons and daughters had given themselves – and in many cases their lives – in the nation’s cause. He firmly believed that the contribution made in helping to produce the machinery for the war effort through Messrs Rola Ltd and in boatbuilding and in other ways, would rank as high in usefulness as any effort in the town’s historic past.
Cllr W E Ellis, seconding, also recalled the early approach of the company to Bideford and the settling in and how particularly Bideford was interested in the growth of the industry and the prospects of employment for men. Besides its help with the war effort the firm and its employees had also helped a great deal with the social and sporting activities of the town, and he wished particularly to acknowledge, as chairman of the Area Committee, their support of National Savings. Mr R W Cotton, former managing director of the Company, had also been a very efficient ambassador between Bideford, Devon and Biddeford, Maine. Ald T Burton supported.
At the luncheon following at Tanton’s Hotel, the Mayor, before calling on Rear-Admiral H G C Franklin to voice thanks to Mr Andersen and fellow directors for their hospitality, referred to the happy feeling between the firm and its employees. He had been associated with it in connection with the trades union movement, and wished to say they had worked together very well. He also particularly mentioned the able way the women of Bideford had taken to the intricate work,
Rear-Admiral H G C Franklin, voicing thanks for the hospitality to the gathering, also thanked the firm for their experienced and ready help when required by the Combined Services Experimental establishment locally.
Cllr W Harris, who acknowledged the warm congratulations offered him personally on his recent election as a County Alderman, associated himself with the expression.
Mr C R Andersen and Mr A L Smith replied on behalf of the firm, saying they would never forget Bideford and its friendly atmosphere and voicing their hopes for continued close association with the town through Rolamatic Ltd.
A toast was drunk to the success of the Rolamatic Ltd, on whose behalf Mr R A Foster acknowledged. He had come to Bideford, he said, as one of the first of the few and was now one of the last of the many. They had plenty of work on hand – work for years – and their present premises were packed to capacity.
Ald H W Fulford and F E Whiting, Cllrs W R Ellis, T A Goaman and W H Short, and Messrs M F Lee and C H Wilshere (Manager, Bideford Employment Exchange) added expressions of thanks, greetings and tribute.

Bideford Gazette article dated 1 January 1946.

1 January 1946 - Rola Ltd

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