When I joined BOAC there were about 23 or 25 staff made up of office staff and warehouse staff.
We worked a three shift system 7 am to 3 pm, 3.00 pm to 11.pm and a night shift, and certain staff worked office hours (day shift).
On Saturday & Sunday we had one office person and two warehouse staff on duty from 7 am to 3.00 pm and the late shift consisted of one office worker (this was before H & S had been invented).
Night shift was one office worker unless there was a scheduled freighter due in when there would be two office staff on duty.
Most of the office staff would ‘play’ with a forklift until they were proficient because cargo would be delivered for export outside normal hours, and someone had to operate the forklift to unload the cargo.
In addition, we often had the general public walk / drive in with heavy suitcases or packages.
One late Saturday afternoon when I was in duty a car pulled up and the driver and his wife wanted to send excess baggage to India as they were flying there later in the week.
This was not unusual so I told the driver to drive around the corner and in to the warehouse and to park near the scales so that the baggage could be weighed & measured.
Cargo was sold by the kilo or by the volume – one volumetric kilo was (is) 6000 cubic centimetres, but in the 1970’s it was also sold as 427 cubic inches = 1 kilo.
I walked across the warehouse to the parked car and noticed that the rear springs were nearly touching the floor, the diver must have something heavy in the boot.
I was told by the customer that he had a suitcase to send in advance, and because he had a ticket, he was entitled to 50% discount off the cargo rate – which was true.
I asked him to place his suitcase on the scale – he opened the boot and struggled to unload the suitcase and eventually managed and put it on the ground. I tried to pick it up by the handle to place it on the scale – it was so heavy I could not pick it up, because I was concerned that the handle would break. The suitcase weighed just over 44 kilos.
I asked what he had in the suitcase and was told it was clothing and some personal effects.
I then switched to Hindi (with my Scouse accent) and asked with a smile if it was so heavy because he had stolen all the dobi walla’s work.
(Dobi walla means ‘washerman’, as in laundry man).
At least this brought a smile from the customer, so I asked him to open the case and show me the contents – he was reluctant but realised that he did not have a choice.
On opening the case I saw that it was a Triumph Herald gear box, or something similar.
Triumph Herald car, circa 1970
Triumph Herald gear box packed in the suitcase.
No wonder he had a struggle getting it out of the car . . . but he insisted that it was his personal effects, so I asked him with a smile to wear his personal effects if he wanted the 50% discount.
There was a long silence until I told him that he was exporting car parts and he should have an invoice.
He looked blank at me until I explained that if we coded his shipment as car parts it was a lot cheaper than the 50% excess baggage. The light dawned and he and I entered the office and I made out the document (Air Way Bill) to accept the shipment as car parts and he sat at another desk and wrote out an ‘invoice’.
The full kilo rate was around £10 per kilo, so by claiming the 50% discount the customer was expecting to pay £5 per kilo, but be reclassifying the cargo as car parts the price was about £1-10-0 per kilo. (£1.50/kilo).
The UK did not change to decimal currency until February 1971.
AWB =- the above code of 406 denotes the airline, so the BOAC code number would be 125 – followed by a unique number for tracking the shipment, by telexes not computers.
At that time all paperwork was completed via the typewriter because computers were in the future. We had to press hard to produce, I think from memory, eight copies of the original via carbon paper between each copy . . . later the AWB paper was produced with the ability not to require carbon paper.
The customer paid and we left on good terms. As I processed the paperwork, I heard a loud bang and crash from the warehouse.
The customer had driven in to the warehouse via the ramp, but on leaving he had exited via the truck loading bay . . .
This is to illustrate the drop – it is not a picture of the BOAC warehouse.
The car was balanced part in the warehouse and the front part delicately balanced in mid-air. As soon as I realised what had happened, I fired up the fork lift and drove down the ramp and placed the forks under the front of the car to stop it tipping any further. I shouted to the driver to put the car in neutral.
I then slowly raised the forks of the lift and eased the car back into the warehouse.
The driver was shaking, but I do not think it was from the experience of nearly driving over the edge of the warehouse, but from the torrent of language and arm waving from his wife. She was not happy!
I pointed out the ramp to the driver and left them to have their domestic . . .
Life can be strange – working for an airline we sold cargo space in pounds or kilos – dead weight or volumetric weight. We converted it to kilos for shipping and charged in pounds, shillings and pence at so much a pound . . . .we used ready reckoners to work out the totals.
Consider 43 kilos at £2-6- 7- 1/2 (Two pound six shillings and seven pence h’penny / kilo), but don’t use a calculator!
In 1969 /70 we were on the cusp of the personal electronic calculator at a cost that the individual could afford.
Ready Reckoner – having used both & I prefer the calculator