The city PC’s son and the great American brain drain

Remember the brain drain? The slow trickle of our finest scientific minds from drab unappreciative post-war Britain to a grateful America?

Aeronautical engineer Edward Piper was one such. Mr Piper, who now lives in Pennsylvania, e-mailed me after seeing a 1866 map of Rochester I published. On it was marked the old Rochester police station, then at the back of the Guildhall. “That was where I took lunch to my father, a Rochester City policeman, PC17, F A Piper,” he wrote.

So I asked him to tell me — and you, dear reader — a little about himself. Read on … this story has a rather nice sting in its tale.

“I was born to Frederick and Dorothy Piper on July 5, 1924, at 38 Richard Street, Rochester. I started my education at Troy Town School in 1929,” Mr Piper says. “Three years later our family moved to Weston Road, Strood, and I was put into Station Road School and later into Gordon Road School. Sir Joseph Williamson’s Mathematical School was my next centre of learning although I was not a very bright student; my teachers’ comments were usually, ‘He could do better’.”

Away from school, Ed loved his childhood. “Our weekly trip to the pictures was eagerly looked forward to. Mum brought sandwiches — probably to keep us children quiet. The highlight, after the pictures, was lemonade and a packet of Smith’s Crisps at one of my dad’s favourite watering holes! My dad, as a city policeman, had varying days off, but we never missed our pictures nor our summer week at Margate.”

Over those idyllic summers, however, clouds were gathering. “Alas, the world was heading into the Second World War and we were evacuated to Canterbury in 1939, but not for long. I joined Short Brothers as an office boy in January, 1940. Little did I know that fate had set me up for an aerospace career, serving an apprenticeship in the machine shop of Shorts, with subsequent employment in their stress office.” (A stress office, eh? — I think I’ve worked in one of those.)

Ed, however, did not join up. He was classified as medically unfit for military service in January, 1942, and remained with Shorts at Rochester until the company amalgamated with Harland in Northern Ireland. “Moving to Belfast in November, 1947, was my first time away from home and Rochester,” Mr Piper writes. “Once again, fate stepped in — steering me into marriage and emigration to the USA via Canada in 1952. I had the distinction (perhaps) of being part of the so-called brain drain of aeronautical engineers leaving England for North American aircraft companies. Very few saw fit to return home.

“After a few moves and a growing family, in 1962 we settled in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, on the Brandywine River, where British forces overwhelmed Washington’s troops during the Revolutionary War on 11 September, 1777.

“The aerospace industry was still thriving, so I stayed with it until 2001. At that time, due to department changes, the fun had gone out of my work … so I retired. Now, I just make sure that the little brain cells are kept active.”

Ed, Dad … and the basket full of King Edward’s finest

Soon after this published, I received a call from my sternest critic and most useful contact, E S Rayner (hello, Dad).

“Go to the photo album,” he said, referring to the vast tome that contains Rayner family photographic history (above), which is now in my safekeeping. “Turn to the page taken in Mount Road before your grandpa had the house built. “That’s Mr Piper. Teddy, I always called him.”

And there indeed they were, aged about nine, helping with the potato crop in my grandfather’s bewilderingly vast garden at 20 Mount Road, Borstal. (It seemed about a mile long, had sheds everywhere and an air-raid shelter that I longed to explore.)

Rayner Sr and Mr Piper were boyhood pals. And here they are. My dad’s on the right. Small world, isn’t it?

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