Percy Llewellyn Davies
The following account is based upon input received from Percy's son Andrew Llewellyn Davies
At the age of 15, in June 1918, Percy joined Bristol-based Avonside Engine Company (Locomotive Builders and Mechanical Engineers), following in the steps of elder brother William who had completed his apprenticeship there in 1914 and followed eight years later by youngest brother Jenkin, who was also apprenticed there. Percy's apprenticeship at Avonside was to last six years, during which time he worked in the turning, fitting and erecting shops, the tool room and the drawing office; he also gained experience of iron and brass foundries; both steam and diesel locomotives and hydraulic and compressed air systems. Remaining at Avonside, he worked as a fitter for a further 21 months before joining Bristol Aeroplane Company as an erector. He remained there until August 1926 when he joined E.S. & A. Robinson, manufacturers of paper handling and printing machines; here he worked first as a maintenance mechanic, then from 1928 in the Engineers' Office, as draughtsman and assistant to the Chief Engineer.
Throughout this period, from 1917 when he left school until 1932, he attended evening classes at Merchants Venturers Technical College in Bristol, studying English, Maths, French, Chemistry and Physics up to matriculation level, In addition, he pursued a number of correspondence courses with the British Institute of Engineering Technology – in Applied Mathematics, Engineering Science, Engineering Drawing, Theory of Machine & Machine Design, Strength of Materials and Heat Engines. As a result of these studies he was able to pass the three Sections of the Institute of Mechanical Engineers Associate Member Examinations in 1932, 1933 and 1934 respectively, and was enrolled as an A.M.I.Mech.E. in 1934.
Until this time, Percy had been living at the family home at 14 College Road, Fishponds, and he had seen a steady reduction in the size of the family living there. His eldest brother William had left to join the army in 1914 and at the end of the war he married and left home. His father died in 1921 and his sister Annie had emigrated to Australia and married in 1922; brother Morgan had left home to work in London, returning to Bristol to marry in 1933, So apart from himself, only his sister Peggy and youngest brother Jenkin were still living at home with his widowed mother, who had been obliged to take in lodgers in order to make ends meet. It was then that his employers E.S. & A. Robinson transferred him to their associate company John Laird & Sons in Glasgow. As assistant to the chief engineer, he had wide-ranging responsibilities, including the design of new and of modifications to existing high-speed paper handling machinery, for plant layout, installation of machines, air extraction plants, purchase of engineers tools, etc., and responsibility for a team of twelve. At one point during his time with John Laird & Sons, he was seconded to Toronto, Canada as engineer in charge of the opening of a new factory; this involved plant layout, purchase of machines, machine tools, electric motors, etc., and the entire wiring installation for power and lighting in addition to modifications to steam plant and pipelines for heating and water services.
While working in Glasgow he met a young Scottish schoolteacher by the name of Edith McDougall, who eventually he married on 18 July 1935. They lived at first in Cambuslang, and it was here in November 1936 that their first son, Patrick, was born. In the late 1930's Percy contracted tuberculosis and after a period of hospitalisation, he together with Edith and young Patrick went to live with Edith's parents in Hunter's Quay, and it was here that Andrew was born on 8 October 1939. But the family were not to remain North of the Border for long because early in 1940 Percy succeeded in his application for a management post at a Government training centre concentrating on the training of Indians to maintain military equipment. The centre was located at Letchworth in Hertfordshire, so Percy and family had moved there – to 20 South View - by the spring of that year, and it was in Letchworth that Percy and Edith's third son Colin was born on 25 June 1941. Clearly by this time the Second World War was well underway and in addition to managing the training of military equipment maintenance technicians, clearly key to the War Effort, Percy also acted as an Air Raid Warden. At the end of the War, the training facility was closed down and Percy was offered a Government post in the Treasury in Whitehall, working in the O&M department charged with the job of improving efficiency in Government departments. His office had a window looking out onto Horseguards Parade and Andrew remembers that he and his brothers had watched the Trooping of the Colour from that vantage point on a couple of occasions.
The commute to London and possibly, the stress of the job coupled with concerns for the futures of his sons, Colin in particular, gradually took a toll on his health and for some years he was obliged to follow a strict diet all of which led to him becoming often irritable and intolerant. The situation was changed for the better in 1955 by his secondment to the Australian Government in Canberra to help establish an O & M Department there. He did however suffer one last moment of stress with the departure for Australia, which was notable for his leaving his tickets and passport in the house. Andrew recalls the experience :
A local taxi company had been hired to take us all to Heathrow and they provided a large Rolls Royce for the occasion but some time into the journey, it dawned on him that he had left the brief case containing all his travel documents on the dining room table. The solution was provided by the taxi company after frantic telephone calls to their office. A second driver went to the house, broke in at the dining room window, grabbed the case and chased us to the airport. Farewells were brief as the plane was being held back to give Dad time to board. He said afterwards that a fellow passenger had remarked to him that the delay in leaving had been due to some idiot forgetting his ticket.
Returning to UK in the Spring of 1956, he and Edith had to wrestle with the choice between accepting the offer of a permanent position in Australia, which Andrew suspects his father would have been very tempted by, as he had really enjoyed his time there, and a UK Treasury offer to go to Edinburgh to establish an O & M department in the Scottish Office. Finally he chose the latter, undoubtedly influenced by the perception that a UK education for his sons would be superior. The family moved to Edinburgh in September 1956 and Percy became well established in the job and very active in the Civil Service Chess Club, eventually also editing the Scottish Chess Associaltion's newsletter (see Obituary from the Scottish Chess Community - item No.2 in Stories List above). Andrew goes on to reflect on the last years of Percy's life :
On retirement at 65 he took on a post as an inspector advising the Government on disputes over building planning decisions. This took him to many places in Scotland. After he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, his condition deteriorated quite swiftly and he died on 15 April 1974 aged 70. He was good with his hands and had made toys for us boys, a single decker bus from steel, a landing craft from wood and a three wheeled trolley which, in winter with its wheels removed, became a sledge. With the move to Edinburgh and resulting freedom from the stresses associated with London, he became more relaxed and was able to devote more time to his hobbies of chess and cabinet making. Amongst the things he made was a nest of three legged tables, a chess table and a cabinet for 12” LP records all with inlaid veneers fitted with perfect precision. He also helped me make furniture for our first house. He was very fastidious and took great pains to achieve accuracy.
The accuracy and perfect precision he was still achieving in retirement no doubt had their foundation in the engineering apprenticeship that, like two of his brothers, he had followed in his teens. These traits, when combined with the mental agility and prowess that he displayed in his mastery of the game of chess, and his experience in planning and setting up new plants and factories, must have made him the ideal candidate to establish and manage O&M departments for large, complex organisations – an activity which was to dominate the latter half of his career. We can only begin to guess how a man so committed to precision and accuracy must have suffered as Parkinson's Disease began to take it's toll