Dockyard Personnel Postcard

During the Second World War there were many instances of civilians and military personnel working alongside each other on a day to day basis. One example was in the dockyards of Great Britain where naval ratings and NCOs worked closely with civilian engineers and labourers in the repair, manufacture and refitting of warships and today we have a group photograph that depicts one such mixed workforce:

As one would expect, the officers sit front and centre and from his uniform we can see that the man in the centre is a Commander and probably served in World War One from the impressive row of medal ribbons:

These home based jobs were often given to older men so that younger and fitter personnel could be freed up for service aboard ship. Other naval personnel include Petty Officers and Class III ratings in their fore and aft rig:

Some of the naval men are wearing overalls and presumably are fitters or those in greasy and dirty jobs. The civilians are almost universally wearing brown work coats over suit and tie and with a variety of headwear, although large flat caps predominate:

It was not just men who were employed by the Dockyards of Britain, there was also an army of women in a range of jobs from welding to clerical positions. Sheila Dusting was one of those office staff:

I was 16 when I entered the Civil Service in Devonport Dockyard (as it was then called) in October, 1938. This was considered quite a good job in those days — I had to pass a Civil Service examination and came 4th out of around 300 applicants — the pay was 21s 6d per week, for a 40 hour week.
One of my main jobs was having to do the filing, which I dreaded. Copies of every Order (instructions sent by the Admiralty) had to be registered and filed. Admiralty Fleet Orders, Admiral Superintendent’s Orders and the like, all flooded in to the Registry Section of the Expense Accounts Department where I worked. This was a very tedious and messy job, as the Orders had to be pasted and stuck individually into a thick foolscap ledger. I frequently had to report to the first aid room for plaster for badly slit fingers; everyone knows how easily and painfully paper can cut and, believe me, this was more like razor blades than paper.
Another job I hated was hectographing. The typists would type with a hectograph ribbon in their machines. It was of deep heliotrope colour and came off on EVERYTHING. The Dockyard Messengers had an evil-smelling little room down the corridor which contained a series of different size trays, about an inch or so deep, rather like outsize Swiss roll tins. On a little portable stove they had an empty paint pot filled with some sort of jelly and, having melted this and permeated the entire offices with the most appalling smell, they would pour it into the trays and leave it to cool . The hectographed typing would then be placed face down upon this, carefully smoothed, allowed to remain for a few seconds, and then peeled off. Copies could then be made from this ‘original’ by placing plain paper upon it. If I remember correctly, one could get quite a number of copies off one ‘stencil’ but fifty or more copies necessitated the re-typing of the original draft. The stencil would then be carefully wiped clean and the same base used once or twice more. After that, the jelly was broken up, melted and the whole process started all over again.
However, one of the worst of the copying jobs upon which I was engaged was in the preparation of adhesive backed labels to be used on all envelopes being address to H.M. Ships. In those days, we still had a large navy and hundreds of invoices, advice notes, etc., etc., were despatched daily. The address was always the same — Commanding Officer, H.M.S…… c/o G.P.O London. One does not need much imagination to realise that removing sticky labels from a jelly pad and setting each one aside somewhere to dry and prevent them from curling into a small tube, was well nigh impossible. And it must be added that the staff washing and cloakroom facilities in those days bore little resemblance to those provided today. Hot water did not come through pipes — it was boiled up in enormous, black iron urns — usually one to a floor — and was mainly used for making tea. (And woe betide anyone who took some hot water and failed to replace it immediately with cold so as to maintain the supply!) So hectographed, sticky fingers were cleansed — partly — with cold water and what optimistically passed for soap. It was called, of all things, Windsor! The final indignity came with the weekly issue to one and all of a personal hand towel made from a form of cardboard called huckaback. It was impossible to use and, although by the end of a week some softening may have occurred, one really needed to emulate the Eskimos and chew it thoroughly!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.