My name is John Barrett, I was born in Ickenham near London on 25th May 1933.
In 1934 my parents had a bungalow built in the small village of Normandy near Guildford in Surrey, my sister Ann was born there in May 1936.
The back garden led to a 5 acre 'small holding' which my parents progressivly devoloped into a mini farm with a horse, goats & chickens and eventually a cow, pigs, turkeys and bees. Their forsight ensured that as a family we did not suffer too badly from the deprivations of World War Two.
Fortuneatly, when war broke out in 1939, my father was in a reserved occupation, working for a company in London that imported essential grain supplies from around the world.
Soon after war broke out my maternal grandmother and two maiden aunts moved from London to the house next door.
I attended the local Wyke school for a year or two, then the Guildford Borough Preparatory and later Salesian College in Farnborough Hants where I learnt about NEGATION at an early age being awarded a "This is not a School Certificate" with credits in Mathematics, General Science and English.
National Service beckoned forcibly and I joined the RAF as a trainee pilot at No 3 ITS , RAF Cranwell but instead of taking to the air I took to a bed at RAF Nocton Hall, an ex USAAF hospital nestled amongst the Smith's Crisps potato fields in rural Lincolnshire.
Re assigned, I finished my 2 year term as an instructor at the RAF Fighter Controller / Fighter Plotter Training School at RAF Middle Wallop in Hampshire.
Equipped with a totally useless trade I returned to Civvy Street in 1953. On the strength of recognising some relays and a uni-selector I was employed as an 'Industrial' in the Mathematical Services Department at the Royal Aircraft Establishment, Farnborough.
Initially I was constructing and testing equipment designed by department engineers which was 'digitising' the data from the supersonic wind tunnel instrumentation at both Farnborough and Bedford.
I am standing at the left in this technical discussion group photograph in 1954.
In 1955 Mathematical Services moved from it's collection of interconnected timber huts into a brand new, purpose built, two storey aluminium building (R 14) in preparation for the arrival of the DEUCE computer, RAE being the first customer to be supplied outside the English Electric group.
In hindsight, I was fortunate in being chosen as the maintenance engineer for the Deuce but at the time a pretty daunting task for someone who wasn't entirely sure how a thermionic valve worked. Elevation to the rank of Engineer 3, which came with a larger desk, and provision of a copy of "Elements of Pulse Circuits" helped ease the unease.
The Logical Design Manual which forms a major part of this website was still being written so 'on the job training' from two of the English Electric design engineers, Reg Allmark and Tom Elliot was the order of the day. After 45 odd years my recollection of this period are pretty hazy but it did require a pretty steep learning curve.
Bear in mind that in those early days, despite over an hour of routine maintenance each morning, it was pretty unusual for the Deuce to keep operating until the following morning.
In 1956 , before the second Deuce arrived, I left RAE to join the Government Section of ICT based in London as a Field Service Engineer working on the first electronic multipliers, calculators and computers that ICT produced.
I was transferred to the Ministry of Agriculture Fisheries and Food (MAFF) (A Block) in Guildford, Surrey, when the 555 machine was installed, as resident ICT engineer for all 5 series machines there.
After a couple of disappointing years with ICT I joined English Electric and became one of the three engineers maintaining the Deuce Mk II at the MAFF (C Block]. This machine operated on a two shift system, five days a week, calculating, verifying and cross checking the multitude of subsidies available to farmers in the UK as well as generating reams of statistical information for the agricultural bureaucrats in London.
In 1961 I married Jackie Rawkins, who was a machine operator in the room adjacent to the Deuce computer room at MAFF and we moved to Kidsgrove straight from our honeymoon in Torquay.
From November 1961 I was working on the development and production of the KDF9 computer and at the end of 1963 we left Kidsgrove to install a KDF9 at Sydney University.
Jackie and I arrived in Sydney on New Year's Eve 1963 on a three year contract, initially to install the KDF 9 at Sydney University and train the local staff. This was at the time when the merger of EE, Leo and Marconi was in full swing, here in Sydney Amalgamated Wireless Australasia also got into the act and as EELMAWA was considered a bit over the top the imaginative title Australian Computers Pty Ltd was coined.
We lived initially in a 7th floor flat with a view of the Pacific Ocean and a short walk to Bondi Beach, Jackie was pretty lonely at this time, I was working round the clock trying to get the KDF9 to pass it's acceptance tests, she didn't know a single soul south of the equator, it was very HOT and the local 'deli' didn't even know what an 'iced lolly' was!
After six months in Bondi we moved to St Ives on the Upper North Shore of Sydney and I became Chief Engineer of 'Aust Comps"after John King and his wife decided to return to UK.
Our first son Graham was born in 1965 followed by Ian in '67 and Alan in '70. Our daughter Rebecca was born in 1972 but died from cot death when only 7 weeks old. This traumatic event prompted Jackie to start the Sudden Infant Death Association (SIDA) to provide the support to SIDS parents that she wished she could have received.
After many years providing grief counseling, family support and training Jackie was awarded the Order of Australia Medal in the Queens birthday honors of 1993.
Our fourth son Bruce was born in 1973 on the day the Queen came to Sydney to open the Opera House. By then the merger with ICT had taken place and I was Support and Training Manager for the South Pacific Region of ICL. From my 12th floor office overlooking Sydney Harbour the other three boys and I enjoyed a wonderful view of the Royal firework display whilst Jackie and Bruce were busy elsewhere !
In 1968 I needed to visit the UK to process a number of engineers who had applied to emigrate to Australia but were being 'delayed' either by ICL or Australia House. We decided we would all go to show off the two grandchildren to Jackie's parents and assorted relatives.
I think around 1974 I was becoming really fed up with being an 'administrator',
I missed the 'hands on' experience and above all electronics and computers
where advancing very quickly and I was getting further and further out of date
with the technology.
I wanted to do something more practical, I suggested ICL set up "Dataspace", a service to companies purchasing their first computer, to design and build their computer rooms.
Had two very successful contracts, one for a large IBM 370 for RAC Victoria and
an ICL 1902 for Liquid Air but both where located in Melbourne and traveling
week after week became a bit of a drag and Jackie by then had four kids to care
for on her own.
CDC decided to set up a similar activity so ICL canned the idea.
I joined the Dataset division of ICL which handled all the ancillary products
associated with computers.
I was sent off to Switzerland and Germany to learn all about a range of computer controlled mailing machines made by Kern of Konolfingen.
These machines were used by many of the largest banks around the world but the sales people in Australia had very little success selling any.
Six months after the GM of Dataset attempted suiside the division was closed down and I was retrenched.
I still felt that the Kern machines had a great potential, I became their
distributor, bought the demo machines from ICL for a song and set up shop as
Computer Output Processing.
An economic down turn hit here in Oz so things were a bit lean but a company called Charge Card Services [CCSL] had been set up as a joint venture by all the banks to handle all the computing and billing facilities for the new Bankcard credit card.
I was very confident the multi million dollar sale was in the bag, references from banks around the world were positive and the computer division staff of CCSL assured me my equipment had been recommended. But it was not to be, the contract went to a German company, despite them not having a working system and no reference banking customers.
Subsequently CCSL was dismantled as the installed equipment was a disaster but this was of no benefit to me as by then I had shut up the COP shop. Fortuneately I had sold the demo Kern machines that I had in stock.
I joined a couple of ex ICL guys who had bought a company which sold and
serviced, among other things, German pigeon racing clocks!!!
They needed someone to look into the potential for electronics in the time clock industry. I designed and built some odd things, a BMX race timer for a BHP sports club in Woolongong, an electronic pigeon racing clock which could be syncronised using the time signal pips from the radio, an automated pigeon arrival clock system for a guy who didn't like getting out of bed around dawn when his birds came home from a race and several of those clocks using enormous electro-mechanical 7 segment displays that where popular in the late 70's.
After a few years they decided to sell the business so I was without a job.
After a period of unemployment I joined a company that manufactured medical
ultrasound machines, having found it necessary to leave certain words out of my
CV in order to get back into the workforce (eg: Chief Engineer, Manager, Self
At last I was involved with hi-tech electronics working on medical equiptment crammed full of micro processors. Initially I was writing test programs which made the diagnosis of production faults much simpler.
To cut what is becoming a rather long story short, I eventually became Chief Test Engineer of Ausonics, doing a job I throughly enjoyed and wish I had discovered much earlier in my working life.
My primary activity was programming a Genrad 2276 ATE machine plus trying to foresee all the things that can go wrong in the manufacturing process and devising tests to detect them.
I had some interesting OS trips including a couple of months in Massachusetts for Genrad training, Switzerland where Ausonics had it's European office and Russia.
I went to Moscow to set up an assembly facility for our latest portable machine and was actually in Red Square on the day the Soviet Union ceased to exist.
Ausonics was sold to an Israeli company and PCB manufacture was shifted to Haifa so my position was looking rather superfluous.
In anticipation of the chop we bought a little cottage on Tamborine Mountain ( http://www.tamborinemtncc.org.au ) in SE Queensland with the intention of selling our Sydney home and moving there when the axe fell.
It didn't fall as early as I expected so I was just a year from retirement age and the retrenchment package enabled us to pay off the Queensland house and do some renovations to this place, having decided we really preferred to live in Sydney.
Having made this decision, our eldest son Graham was transferred interstate to, you've guessed it, SE Queensland !!!
March 2007. I really must do this sometime !
May 2008. Updated at last !
Mainly extracts from my emails to Deuce people who wanted to know what the hell I had been up to for the last 40 Years !
To return to the DEUCE homepage click the image below.
John Barrett - Sunday, May 18, 2008