60 Years of Checkmate: An Interview with Henry
Six decades of unwavering commitment, expertise, and dedication to a single organisation is a remarkable journey that deserves to be celebrated! We had the privilege of sitting down with a true company stalwart, Henry Berry, as he retires today, August 24th 2023, exactly 60 years to the day since his first day of work on August 24th 1963.
We delve into the story of a career that spans generations, witnessing the evolution of not only the company, but also the very landscape of rubber engineering. This interview captures the insights, experiences, and memories of a remarkable individual who has been a part of Checkmate’s journey since the beginning.
Interviewer: Hi Henry, we’d love to find out a bit more about your journey. You said you’ve been with Checkmate for 60 years. How did you start here?
Henry: Well, I started on the 24th of August, 1963.
Wow! So that is nearly, how many years did you say you were here for? 60?
Next week it will be 60 years to the day.
What was your job role when you started?
I started with Avon Industrial Polymers at Avon Rubber Company. I started when I was 17 as a rubber craft trainee. My job was to go around the whole factory to look at the jobs and see what happens.
Then, one day a week, I had to go to the laboratory in Bradford on Avon, Spencer Moulton. Then, after a year, they opened a technical college in Trowbridge – a rubber technology course. I was there for a year until 1965 – but I had a bad accident on a motorbike so I was out for 14 months and couldn’t go back on that course with the same people because they’d all finished. So I decided to go on to the shop floor at Avon Industrial Polymers.
Do you know what kind of products they were making, were they similar products that you guys work on now or was it a completely different product?
I was making vertical liners for milking machines. I did that for three years. They’re the little rubber bits that attach to a cow’s udder.
Then I went into the Handmade Goods area. In those days we used to make diving suits for the Navy, dry diving suits and also bladders – I was the first one to make a bladder. I was there until we moved to Chippenham in the 80s – making handmade goods and missiles.
We moved to a factory in Chippenham as we needed more room to make the hovercraft skirts. There used to be a cross channel hovercraft going from Dover to Calais of which we used to make the skirts but in 1999 it stopped and Avon could see no future in the hovercraft business, that’s when we were acquired by Checkmate.
So, we moved up to Bowerhill, Melksham in 1999.
So Avon Rubber was the company you worked for and then they were acquired by Checkmate in 1999 and you’ve been here ever since?
Yes. I was a chargehand back in the day (looking after the shop floor for the foreman).
I was a chargehand all the way through really. And then when we came up here, we had a foreman, so we didn’t need chargehands at that time, so I sort of relinquished that job then.
As the years went on, my main job was working on new projects. So if a new project came in I would be put on that to develop and fabricate it.
I was asked to go to see the Queen.
Was that for the Queen’s Innovation Awards?
Well, that was me and Mark. He was the technical manager here, we went up together.
A year later, we had another member of the royal family here to present another award to me on behalf of the company – because of my service.
You’ve got quite the decorated history!
I’ve also got my original Union card from the day I started back in 1963 too!
So you moved on from a chargehand to a foreman, and then you said that you were promoted to work on new projects that came in and to fabricate those.
Which I still do now!
Apart from meeting the Queen, are there any other interesting events or projects that have happened over your 60 years?
I was asked to make six 6ft men that would inflate.
We’d never made them before but we had to try and make them using a fibreglass shape, cutting them off and joining them back together. They were to be used as crash dummies for helicopters. They were filled with water so they were the same weight as a man and the divers would recover the dummies from under the water.
We are in awe of the incredible journey that Henry has undertaken over the past 60 years with Checkmate Flexible Engineering. His unwavering dedication, boundless expertise, and enduring passion have left an indelible mark on both the company and its people. Henry’s story is a testament to the power of commitment!
As we bid farewell to Henry today, we extend our heartfelt gratitude for his exceptional service. His contributions have helped shape the course of Checkmate’s history and his presence will be deeply missed!
Henry, your journey with us has been extraordinary, and your impact is immeasurable. On behalf of Checkmate Flexible Engineering, we express our sincerest thanks and best wishes for a fulfilling and joyous retirement. Thank you, Henry.