Monday, 16 November 2009

29 August 1942

Out twice today from 9.15 to 10.30am  for walk around and again from 4.10 to 4.45 pm walk and ball game.  Some more people have arrived.  Fighting Mieck included.  No extra food after today, I am informed.


The manufacture of Sole Crepe is a special operation.  Sole Crepe, as the name implies, is the rubber used for the soles of tennis shoes etc.  It is possible that, since my time on Langen, manufacturing methods have changed.  On Langen strips of ordinary Crepe were built up one on top of the other, on tables specially designed for the purpose, until the required thickness was attained.

The strips, or laminations to give the technical name, were caused to adhere to each other by forceful slappings of the open hands applied to each strip as it was stretched out on the table.  It should be explained that even pressing two pieces of Crepe together is sufficient  to cause them to adhere strongly to each other.  By beating with the open hands, the strips became, as it were, welded together into one thick sheet.  The necessary laminations having been thus stuck together, this thick sheet was then passed through a pair of heavy rollers where the intense pressure completed the operation of producing Sole Crepe ready for use.  Sole Crepe was manufactured in thickness of 1/8, 3/16 or 1/4 inch and experience had taught the exact number of laminations to be slapped together in order to produce the required thickness when milled.  As an example of the strength of the Langen product, I may mention that in 1927 I had made for me a pair of sandals soled with Sole Crepe made under my supervision and these sandals I threw away only a few months ago and only then because the lether had at last given way.  In spite of my having worn the sandals regularly every day for 15 years, the rubber soles showed only moderate signs of wear.  One of the difficulties connected with manufacture was a water shortage during the dry season.  Ordinarily, water from the Tjutandoei river was pumped along a pipeline to a deep concrete reservoir in front of the factory.  This water was then pumped up into a water tank situated on a skeleton tower about 60 feet from the ground thus ensuing by gravity the pressure required to supply the faucets in the milling batteries and the many other points throughout the building.  During very dry seasons, however, the river fell so low that the inlet of our pipeline was left high and dry some feet above the stream.  We always had the reservoir to fall back upon but that supply was, of course, not inexhaustible so that a continued drought could have very seriously interfered with the manufacture.  For many years, therefore, experimental boring was carried out in the hope of striking a subterranean source of supply but without success until, in spite of repeated failures in the immediate vicinity, the manager with characteristic pigheadedness insisted on the engineer sinking a shaft just between the reservoir and the factory building.  Water was found, a pump rigged up and the precious element poured forth in a continuous stream.  I translated a glowing report to the company on the success which had at last crowned FV’s efforts.  It was only after the report had been dispatched that it was observed that, when the shaft pump was in action for any length of time, the water level in the reservoir fell and continued to fall the longer pumping went on.  Alas for FV’s hopes and his glowing report.  It was only too evident that the concrete basin of the reservoir had sprung a leak and that the supposedly tapped subterranean stream was nothing less than the seepage from that source.  It took, however, some three months of repeated pumping and observation to convince FV of the fact.

Friday, 6 November 2009

28 August 1942

Last night just before turning in composed a melody for a Cavalier ballad quoted in Sir Walter Scott’s ‘Woodstock’, chapter 20 titled ‘Glee for King Charles’.  This is the second song I have made since coming here.  The first one, which I completed about a month ago is a to a little poem called,’My Lady verily awaited me’ by Austin Dobson and quoted in F Amtey’s novel, The Pariah.  Many more people arrived overnight, apparently mostly young lads.  Out for a walk round 9.30 to 10.45 am.  Out again from 3 to 4.30 pm.  Walk and one ball game.  My rib is still painful on getting up in the morning.


My appointment was specified in the contract as that of book keeper to the Estate but it was stipulated that the manager could make use of me in any other capacity such as necessity demanded.  One point I omitted to mention in connection with my interview in London was Mitchell Thom’s reply to a rash query of mine as to the working hours on the Estate.  He just fixed me with his eye and replied coldly ‘twenty four hours a day and seven days a week!’ This was a slight exaggeration because we did go to sleep overnight.  However, it was the company’s intention that young men like myself should be trained in every branch of Estate work with a view to forming a reserve of future managers from those who displayed the required ability during the first five years.  A book keeper’s duties were not at all a full time job, so after a month or two I was given the whole manufacturing process from the reception of the liquid latex to the dispatch of the finished article and it was quite a mouthful for me to chew, considering that I had never before occupied a position of authority.  Besides I found myself all at once with almost 150 people under me and with all the power and responsibility pertaining to such a charge.  One department especially used to reduce me to a state not very far from blue funk.  This was the Sole Crepe room where between 50 to 60 girls and women were employed and I had to screw up my courage every time I entered there in order to be able to withstand the glances from a battery of over a hundred eyes and the smiles and soft spoken comments of the one to the other of the damsels there assembled.  It was most uncomfortable, the more so as I did not yet understand their languages and was therefore uncertain as to whether their observations were complimentary to myself or otherwise.  But one gets used to anything in time (even imprisonment) and it was not very long before I had a complete grasp of all the necessary details of manufacture and packing, I will endeavour to describe briefly what goes on inside an Estate rubber factory.  When the latex (literally the milk of the rubber tree) arrives in the factory it is received into large vats or tanks for the preparation of what is known as Crepe Rubber or into small rectangular basins in preparing Smoked Sheet Rubber.  Whether Crepe or Smoked Sheet is to be produced, the first equipment is to cause the latex to coagulate or bind together like, say, a corn flour pudding, by the addition of formic acid.  After being allowed to stand for two hours or so the mass is sufficiently congealed to be handled as required.  For making Crepe the coagulated latex is passed through a battery of rollers in lumps, starting with rough and grooved and ending with smooth rollers, eventually producing a strip of wet rubber, light yellow in colour, and from 8 to 10 inches broad.  This strip, which could be, if required, continued to any length, is cut off in lengths of about 10 feet to allow of their being hung up to dry on racks in the drying house.  The drying house is just a big shed containing four or five tiers of wooden rails about 5 feet from the ground and between each tier, some 8 inches apart and extending the whole breadth of the interior with the exception of a narrow passage down each side.  The Crepe strips are hung over these rails and left to dry, drying being complete within 5 to 8 days, depending on the humidity of the air.  In very wet weather, the drying process can be assisted by introducing a current of hot air into the shed by means of a special apparatus.  When the Crepe is dry it is removed from the racks, folded and packed in the regulation veneer chests for export of rubber.  Smoked Sheets being with coagulated cakes contained in the small rectangular basins which measure approximately 24 by 12 inches.  The flabby slab from each basin has these measurements and is, before milling, about 2 inches, thick and pure white.  This slab is passed through a battery of four graded rollers, ultimately emerging as a sheet of wet rubber, still opaque white, measuring 36 by 24 inches and about 1/8” thick.  These sheets are then hung to dry and cure in what is known as the Smokehouse.  Simply described the Smokehouse consists of a row of rooms fitted with racks as in the Crepe Drying Shed.  These rooms are situated on the first floor of the building, the ground floor containing large drums, usually converted oil drums, in which wooden logs are kept smoldering to produce both heat and smoke.  Each room has its corresponding drum and the heat and smoke rise through interstices between the planks forming the floor.  Within 7 to 10 days, depending on the weather, the sheet are dry and smoked to a golden brown and are semi transparent.  They are then removed from the racks and packed in veneer cases as is the Crepe.