During the 1980s I worked for Elan International, “The Overnight Delivery System“. I began several years of employment there as a courier driver, deliverying and collecting parcels to and from businesses all over Hampshire.
I was based at their Winchester depot on the Winnall Trading Estate. In total there were 18 depots in the UK operating over 300 vehicles.
Each night, a 40′ articulated lorry would leave for the central hub in Birmingham. On board were all the parcels and other goods we drivers had collected that day that were destined for addresess on the UK mainland. The lorry would return in the early morning and we would unload the cages, sort the parcels by destination post code into each round for delivery that day.
A smaller 7.5 tonne lorry would take goods destined for Ireland and Europe to East Midlands Airport (EMA) and return in the morning with the freight from abroad to the UK.
HGV Class I
I gained an HGV Class I licence and drove the Scania rig with it’s 40′ curtain-sided lorry to Birmingham on a few occasions. I also took it out during the day for some unusually large delveries, such as a mast to a marina in Essex.
It was unusual and enjoyable to drive what was then a new, modern rig through Hampshire and Oxfordshire into the Midlands in the dead of night, with very little traffic to hinder the momentum of the truck.
There was no GPS, satnav, or mobile phones. We relied on the Local Red Book range of maps in the form of indexed booklets for our navigation. Like anyone who earned a living on the roads, experience broadened knowledge until a courier driver could complete a round with only the occasional reference to a booklet for a new address.
Eventualy I moved from the road to the office and worked as an export clerk. My job was to prepare the international freight and create a manifest of its contents. This involved typing the information into a green screen terminal and faxing the finished manifest to our office at East Midlands Airport.
Elan International & DHL
Elan Internationl was a subsidiary of DHL and consequently we employees could take advantage of their air travel perk. This involved traveling as a courier aboard a scheduled flight. The courier would travel with cabin luggage only, and the hold luggage allocation would be used for the DHL bags for the destination.
We had to add our names to a waiting list with a choice of destinations, and eventually the applicant’s name would reach the top of the list. If the applicant turned down the offer of a flight they risked being overlooked for any other flights, so when the call came you had to be willing to go, but they did give you a few weeks notice so that you could make arrangements.
In this way I managed to obtain three free return flights Singapore, each with two week stopovers. All I had to do was to travel light with a single small bag and hand over the envelope containing the manifest to the DHL staff on arrival in Singapore.
In this way I had three cheap holidays in Singapore, Thailand, and Malaysia. I flew Economy aboard Singapore Airlines 747s, and once got to visit the cockpit (this was long before 9/11).
There was also a courier waiting list for flights aboard Concorde but unfortunately my name didn’t reach the top of the list before I left the company.
The end of Elan International
After a few years as courier, export clerk, and occasional trucker, I was promoted to the position of traffic supervisor. Eventually, I quit for pastures new, and a few years later the depot closed when Elan International went into receivership in February 1994 with the loss of 760 jobs.
One of the aircraft that once flew from EMA to Cork and Shannon airports in Ireland was the Armstrong Whitworth Argosy that now resides at the Coventry Air Museum. It was a strangely nostalgic feeling to see it and climb inside to view the cockpit, the cargo area, and the few rows of seats.
Later on, I found a similar job with Fedex in their Nursling depot in Southampton. At the time, Fedex were pioneering the use of barcode scanners that stored tracking data and the PoD (proof of delivery) for each parcel. These scanners were placed into a rack at the end of a shift and the data was downloaded for processing.
I could see that the future lay in information technology and as fate would have it, Fedex made us all redundant by closing the depot. Within a year I found my first position in IT as a network technician working for Hampshire County Council in Winchester.
Elan International Argosy G-APRL
This Armstrong Whitwork Argosy flew to Coventry Airport in 1987 and was donated to the Midlands Air Museum where it now remains. These photos were taken in March 2019.