Saturday, June 23, 2012

News from Home

The Heald Machine Company no longer exists, but in its heyday it was a major employer in Worcester, Massachusetts and an important manufacturer of grinders and other machine tools for American industry. During World War II at least 1,000 of the company's employees served in the military, and the monthly newsletter shown here, the Heald Listening Post, was produced by the company and mailed to their servicemen and women wherever they happened to be stationed. Subtitled A Periodic Message to All Heald Employees in Uncle Sam's Armed Forces, the newsletter probably began in early 1942 and was still appearing in the fall of 1945. There was no masthead, but the editor, at least for the parts of its run that are in my possession (Nos. 15-25, 35-39, and 44) seems to have been one Lew Hastings; there were other regular contributors and staff members, including Larry Bacon, Maurice Brigham, and a woman referred to only as Blondie. It appears to have been produced by mimeograph, though some issues have a sheet or two of black-and-white photos on glossy paper.

The newsletter was intended to boost the morale of those in service and provide news and gossip about the company and their fellow employees. It included a regular quota of corny jokes, often mildly risqué and sometimes racist (judging from the photographs of men and women in uniform, there were few if any African-Americans in Heald's employ). Much space was devoted to the company's bowling leagues and other sponsored sports teams, and at least in later issues there is a fair amount of feedback from the recipients, who gave updates on where they were and how they were doing. An upbeat tone was called for (and the newsletter was no doubt subject to the approval of censors) but the Listening Post does note the deaths of at least nineteen employees who were in service, as well as a few who died at home. Sometimes it can be quite blunt about the circumstances:
No doubt some of you know Jack Pillings, who has been kicking around here for some 25 odd years. Of late he has been down to Prescott St. Jack didn't have a chick or a child - not a relative. He hasn't been too hot lately, and decided the next world might suit him better, so a couple of weeks ago he turned on the gas in his room at a boarding house, crawled into bed and went to sleep for the last time. (Issue 15, May 17, 1943)

Some of you fellows probably know Albert Pierson in the Unit Assembly department. Last week Al was feeling fine and was here all the week. Sunday, without warning, he collapsed and was gone before medical aid could reach him. (Issue 19, September 21, 1943)

In addition to female Heald employees who signed up as WAACs and WAVEs, there were also WOWs (Women Ordnance Workers) who stayed home and took factory jobs:
Haven't mentioned the WOWS in the last two or three issues since they have become part of the picture and it would seem strange to go back to a man's shop. Naturally some are more efficient than others but on a whole they rank high and for steady going they put the male to shame.

Some are running lathes like old timers, whetting up the tools, slapping on the dogs and leaning right in to check that tool cut.

Jim Symes has a bevy of them in the Screw Machine department, they snap the levers into position, correct flow of oil and Zip, a piece falls off. As for Inspection, why they handle a pair of mics with the dexterity and finness [sic] of Lady Astor fingering a teaspoon at one of Eleanor's "My Day" parties.
The V-E Day issue (below) was celebratory, naturally, though it noted the deaths of two more servicemen.

The only issue I have after that is No. 44, from October 15, 1945. By then the war was over, but the editor cites one additional name for the company's Honor Roll, a Sgt. Albert P. Belaki who was listed as missing in the Pacific theatre. Many of the Heald employees were now being discharged, though others were still writing in from places as far afield as France, India, Japan, and the Aleutians. One soldier sent in a brief, haunting note:
"I am now in Dachau, Germany, where the Nazis had one of their worst concentration camps," says S/SGT. FREDERIK HIRTLE. "It was sure a horrible mess over here."
I don't know when the Heald Listening Post ceased publication, nor have I turned up anything so far about its editor, Lew Hastings. The Heald Company published at least one other periodical, the Heald Herald, but this was more of a regular trade journal aimed at customers. According to published reports, Heald was acquired in 1974 by Milacron and liquidated by the parent company in 1992.

Feel free to contact me if you have any additional information or if you know someone who worked for Heald during the war and would like me to check to see whether he or she is mentioned in the newsletter.

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