Post Office Student Apprentices - Memory from 1965


The Student Apprentice scheme was what was then known as a "Thick Sandwich" training course, comprising:

  • One year of practial training and experience within the Post Office Engineering Department (POED).
  • The three-year university undergraduate course, usually in Engineering or Physics, leading to a Batchelor of Science (BSc) degree.
  • Following graduation, further training and experience pending appointment to a permanent, usually second-level, management post.  By mutual agreement, some Student Apprentices remained at university to study for a masters degree or doctorate, thus postponing formal appointement into the POED.

The autumn, spring and summer terms of the university undergraduate course were, of course, punctuated by vacations.  During the Christmas and Easter vacations, the Post Office left the Student Apprentices free to catch up on their studies.  The university summer (“long”) vacations were, however, used to expand the student's knowledge of the world of telecommunications.

For most of the students, the second summer (1965 for the 1962 intake) featured a four-week exchange visit with an overseas telecommunications authority.  This recognised the growing importance of international telecommunications and also served to expand the minds of intended future Post Office Telecommunications managers beyond purely British ways of doing things.

The writer was privileged to join a group of four students sent to Norway, as guests of the Norwegian Post Telegraph & Telecommunications (PTT) authority.

Clockwise: Roger, Benny, Griff and Jerry in Norway - click to enlarge Thus, Jerry Stockbridge, John (“Benny”) Goodman, John (“Griff”) Griffiths and Roger Powell set out for Oslo.  Memories on the technical side included:

  • The TV tower on the mountain overlooking Oslo - TV distribution and transmission came within the PTT responsibility.
  • The strange dials in the Oslo area which were numbered in the opposite sense (9-1,0 rather than 1-9,0) to those found outside the capital city - and indeed on private branch exchanges in Oslo.  This called for some neat interworking equipment to convert pulse trains.
  • The register-controlled crossbar and panel switches, common on the European continent but alien to British eyes conditioned to step-by-step (“Strowger”) switches then used throughout the UK.
  • The neat and tiny rural switches used to serve small communities.
  • The fully furnished mountain chalet, built around a bomb-proof chamber protecting a mountain top co-axial cable repeater system.  In winter, engineers could find themselves marooned there for days on end.  The students spent a very comfortable night there (see accompanying photograph).
  • The underground transmission centre - housed in a huge cavern - terminating the international submarine cable from UK.

... and not forgetting our other memories:

  • The two attractive young ladies who managed our “digs” in Oslo - and laid on delicious and extensive breakfasts each day.
  • The fish restaurants in town.
  • The fall of the Norwegian government in the election (it wasn't our fault - honest!)
  • The transport around the coast of southern Norway - and back over the mountains to Oslo - in a vast and solid limousine left behind by the Nazis in the war and then comandeered by the PTT for VIP transport.
  • The universal Smørrebrød snacks (rye-bread open sandwiches) - which we christened “small-breads”.

... and so four young engineers learnt a little more about the world.



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