East Kilbride at 75: Apprentice engineer Sam Burke was at the heart of iconic Rolls-Royce plant

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In its heyday, Rolls-Royce was very much the beating heart of the East Kilbride community.

As well as offering young city dwellers the chance of a richer suburban life, the Rolly quickly became a social haven for the first settlers of the new town.

Sam Burke was one of RR’s first, and youngest, apprentices to pull on the overalls as a teenager.



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And, 12 years later, he set up home in The Murray with his late wife, Betty – a shorthand typist secretary at RR – and their one-year-old daughter Lynn.

Very much at the heart of RR life himself, the late former Royal Navy submariner was instrumental in setting up its thriving social scene.

Starting out as a production line foreman turning out steel wheels for the jet engines at the Nerston plant, he then moved into training where he taught up to 500 new apprentices before moving into recruiting.

But he was also firmly at the center of RR’s many social clubs and, for many years, organized the EK plant’s famous Christmas parties and gala days.



Sam with colleague, friend and neighbor Bill Arnold, at an RR dinner in the social club in the mid-50s

Sam gave 43 years of his life to the Rolly before taking early retirement at 58. And is eternally grateful to the aerospace giant for giving him the opportunity to lead the life he has.

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Speaking to the News in 2016, at the age of 90, Sam said: “My memories of Rolls-Royce are extremely good – that’s why I was there for 43 years.

“When they were building East Kilbride about 20-odd people were bussed up from Hillington and we were taken back at night as the factory was still being built.

“Without being parochial, there were quite a number of us who were original Rolls-Royce apprentices that we considered anyone else as outsiders – we were Rolls-Royce East Kilbride.”

When Sam moved into his three-bedroom terraced house in Rutherford Square in 1952 the other side of the Square was still being built and there were no street lights.

He added: “In the Square there was only two people who weren’t employed at Rolls-Royce. We even had the head of the Rolls-Royce Police living here.”

Sam got the social club off the ground in 1954 which was originally the small backroom where the workers would play darts and dominoes while enjoying a pint or two from the club bar – a hatch in the wall.

The big hall, which would later go on to host private functions, was the main Rolly canteen and the secondary hall was the staff dining room.



Rolls-Royce’s former sprawling plant

“We had everything,” said Sam.

“The biggest functions were the children’s Christmas parties. We had to have two because there were so many children!”

Looking back on some of the high points and fond memories of his time at RR, Sam revealed deep in the archives there will be a film showing a jet engine coming in for service, written and directed by himself.

He said: “I wrote a script about the overhaul and repair base at EK. It should still be in the Rolls-Royce archives.

“We had some howlers at the Monty as well. I remember one of the first New Years that Rolls-Royce had up here.

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“A crowd of us went into the Monty at lunch time when we finished and in the wee lounge there was so many piled in that the floor gave way.”

And one comical mishap that will forever be etched in his memory was when the apprentices were made to wear pink overalls.

“The Rolls-Royce color was burgundy and all the apprentices were to wear overalls this color but something went wrong and they came out pink”, said Sam.

“They used to get coached down every lunch time to the canteen from the training center at College Milton and you would see all these pink people around town.



Sam and his daughter Lynn share happy memories of the Rolly

“Right away they were named the rosebuds. It didn’t go down very well – two lads refused to wear them even after being threatened with getting fired.

“The overalls stayed that way till the mid-70s.”

The iconic RR building, once synonymous with the town employing generations of families in East Kilbride, was torn down in August 2016 stirring both happy and sad memories for many local residents.

Sam’s daughter filmed the iconic Rolls-Royce building being reduced to rubble and admitted she had a lump in her throat as she watched the once mighty Rolly disappear from the local landscape.

She was glad, as her dad lost his sight, that he never had to witness such a sad day for the town.



Lucky youngster Lynn, pictured in Rutherford Square with her first bike in 1962, had a great childhood because her parents were brave enough to venture to the New Town

“Fortunately my dad never saw it being demolished,” said Lynn Hardbattle.

“You just think wow, this building brought so many families to East Kilbride.

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“It enabled people to lead their lives for their kids and their kids now as well, and it’s just like history dissolving before your eyes.

“I can imagine a lot of people will be very emotional talking about it. Rolls-Royce is how East Kilbride became East Kilbride.”

Lynn added: “It was a great social life. My dad was instrumental in setting up all the social clubs in the Rolly because there was no social life in East Kilbride at that time.

“I had a fantastic childhood. The gala days and the Christmas parties were fantastic because they involved all the families.



Lynn pictured at the Showpark in 1958 for the Rolls-Royce Gala Day

“I remember for the first gala day Robert Wiseman offered up one of his fields. The Wisemans owned the whole length of Telford Road to the Westwood – just fields full of cows.

“We used to go down there and play in the hay and chase the chickens.

“Like my mum and dad most of the young people who came up to East Kilbride at that time were families living in Glasgow or Paisley.

“Families lived close to each other and you all lived in relatively small houses or tenement buildings and to be given this opportunity must have been quite scary but exciting at the same time.

“My mum and dad were in their early 20s and were getting the chance to move out of the city and have a large three-bedroom house, just for them and their year-old baby.

“I think it probably gave us more of an outdoor life. It was virtually nothing but fields here and it was safe – we were out on our bikes from morning till night, and we were healthy kids.

“I don’t think for some of my mum and dad’s generation that lifestyle could have applied living in the city.

“It opened up all sorts of opportunities for them.”

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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