I went into the Kingston from school in 1913 as a plater's boy with the beam squad,
and started my apprenticeship a year later, but before my time was out I got the notion that I ought to be in the war, so I volunteered for the Seaforths.
After a while they caught up with me (building ships was a reserved occupation) and sent me back
to the yard, but that wasn't until after the Passchendael offensive. And believe you me, that was something to remember for the rest of your life. I tell you, I was glad to be back in the yard.
The wonder was anyone came out alive. We were relieving another lot who'd made an advance and then got pinned by the Germans, so there were no trenches or dugouts or anything like that, just shellholes and the bare ground.
Frame Boardsman, East Yard
There were no rations, bar what we'd taken in with us, because the ration parties got wiped
out. It rained nearly all the time and we were there six days, soaked to the skin, lying on the
ground. Even after dark you had to lie: if you sat up, you sank in the mud.
There was shelling all the time. Only 250 out of the 1,000 in our lot came out unwounded,
that was the roll-call. So we made up for the lost rations. We had a beanfeast for days
until the quartermaster caught up.
I certainly was glad to see Kingston again after that. It cured me of soldiering. It was the worst six days of my life.
Well, after the war, things got bad after a few years, and I was paid off, so the wife and I thought we'd go up to the Black Isle for a holiday while the money lasted. And that was the way I got into forestry. I was offered a job, and took it, and had a rare time for the rest of the summer. The cross-cut saw and the axe are hard work when you're not used to them-I found muscles I didn't know I had for the first day or two-but once you get the hang of them they're all right. I thoroughly enjoyed it.
We were felling and trimming. My one regret was that we never got into a really big one. Our biggest would be about 40 feet high, but I wish now I'd been able to get into a right big one, just once. That would have been a thrill to remember.
The job packed up for the winter, so I came down here again and never went back to forestry; but I could have stayed there fine, if the job had kept on.
Another job I did in the bad times was carting. My father ran the firm of James Pollock & Sons, of Port Glasgow, farming and contracting, so I've always had a love of horses and known how to manage them. My mother used to tell me there was one horse all the men were frightened for, and when I was just old enough to walk, they found me sitting beside it in its stall one day. So there was always the carting to fall back on when there was nothing doing in the yards.
But though I sometimes think about the forestry and horses, you really can't cormpare them with ships. Ships get into your blood, especially in my line when you get on to the reversing side of the plating. Punching plates is just hard work, but marking them, that's the thing that gets a hold of you. You start getting interested in the shape of the ship.
The best shipbuilder ever I met was Billy Adams, who used to be foreman loftsman in the East Yard. 1 thought a lot of him. I'd only been doing beams, and it was a big step to come on to the frame board. 1 felt a bit strange. Billy is retired now, but he's still on the go, and I'd like him to know 1 appreciated all the help he gave me then.
He was a real craftsman.
I've known a few characters in my day, starting with Johnny Gilvary, the first man I ever worked with. Sir James never passed that old man. He always stopped and had a word with him; and he always said: "How's the widow, Johnny?' I never found out what the joke was about or who the widow was, but Johnny made a retort every time.
Looking back over all the ships I've worked on, I'd say the quickest job we ever did was in 1940. I'd a squad by this time11 platers and two furnaces-and Mr. Henry came along and asked us to do frames and floors for four sloops at Harmiltons next door. We did the job in five weeks, and Mr. Henry stood the whole squad a dinner at the end of it. He said he'd never heard of a quicker job and neither have I.
And I'll tell you another thing about that time. In 1941 the East Yard had a record year for launches, something some of the younger lads will have a job believing. In that one year, the East Yard had 10 launches, and repaired five damaged ships besides.
When I look round the yard now, it seems there are changes everywhere. There's been a tremendous change since the war. Every time you get a new scrieve to work on, there's some new technique.
But it's a good job still, and an interesting job, and whatever machines they bring in, it always will be an interesting job. There's something about ships that keeps a man going all his days.
This article was first published in 1960
The details in these portraits have not been alterd from the source material or editied in any way. They were all taken from the Lithgows Journals and permission for their reproduction has been saught. This site was to built to bring the history of the town and what better way than to "hear" about the past from the people who lived it.
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