Engineer of the Week No.62: Diana Joan Lavender MBE, CEng, MIMechE (21st July 1928- 13th March 2008)
Today, on what would have been her 91st birthday, we remember Joan Lavender, defence electronics engineer and CAD pioneer.
Joan Lavender was one of a generation of women engineers who managed to benefit from the post-WW2 demand for technical talent as the Cold War heated up. Born in 1928 into humble circumstances in Wolverhampton she seems to have been raised by her mother and grandparents. Her time at St Jude’s, the local primary school, revealed her as very bright and she won a scholarship to go to Wolverhampton Girls High School during the war years. She left school at 16 with credits in her school certificate exams and went to the local technical college to study to become a draughtswoman and engineer, coming out top in her year which gained her the student of the year award. In 1944 she started a 3-year apprenticeship at Waddington Tools Ltd. She then got her first job, as a jig and tool draughtswoman at Villiers Engineering Co Ltd1, Wolverhampton which she combined with more college studies, leading her to 2 years toolroom training experienceon special purpose machines. In 1948 she moved south to work for De Havillands (later became Hawker Siddeley and then British Aerospace), and also joined theInstitution of Mechanical Engineers, rising in its grades until she became a chartered engineer in 1956. As her work was in the defence industry, it was all top secret and it is difficult to know exactly what she worked on but we do know that her IMechE application showed that her specialisation then was production methods using early versions of programmable machine tools and she rose to become British Aerospace’s Computer Aided Design and Manufacture Controller, Air Weapons Division.Photos from her own album indicate that she worked on both the Blue Streak rockets and the Excalibur guided artillery shell. She was awarded the MBE for services to engineering,just before she retired in 1987.At her retirement party colleagues gave her a huge cartoon of her jealously guarding ‘her terminals’ (early computers).
Joan never married and lived with her mother until the latter died in 1971. Her leisure interests were all focussed on the dog world, setting up the De Havilland Dog Training Club for work colleagues. This later became the Hatfield South Dog Training Club, which is still flourishing under the leadership of those she trained in their youth and where she remains warmly remembered.