A MAN’S WORLD IN THE NAVY, ITS DOCKYARDS, VICTUALLING YARDS, STORES DEPOTS AND MANY NAVAL ESTABLISHMENTS IN THE PERIOD  1920’s/30’s!

Whilst thousands of civilian men were engaged/employed in these yards/establishments shown below, increasing rapidly to almost doubling their numbers as WW2 took hold and progressed, only 710 civilian women secured jobs in 1931 [which were pigeon-holed as shown] but without doubt, increased during the period but not recorded:-

Colour-makers;  Upholstresses;  Machinists in Roperies;  Seamstresses;  Cooks, Domestics and Laundry-women; Examiners of Ordnance Stores;  Char-women and Cleaners; Nitro-glycerine and Cordite Process Workers; Repair of Bags, etc., in Victualling Yards and Supply Stores; Messengers and Telephone Operators; Operators and Testers in Experimental, etc., Establishments; Printing Process Workers; Leading Tracers and Tracers.

 

Of these trades/occupations, the colour-makers took the lions-share of the jobs [127] with the messengers and telephone operators the least with [8]. The most dangerous job, sometimes involving death or devastating burns, was the nitro-glycerine and cordite process workers, and they took just 27 of the job total. Shotley had but three women, two kitchen workers and one seamstress.

 

During this period the WRNS of WW1 had been disbanded, to be re-established just before WW2 broke out and some of these women might have been ex-Wrens.

 

These were troubled times for the country; for some women' rights; for unemployment;  for the armed forces where outlandish curtailments were made on lower deck pay resulting in the Invergordon mutiny; for warring factions specifically Japan's rape and ravage of China many years before WW2 started with the attack on Pearl Harbour, and the problems of the International Brigade fighting General Franco and the German air force in the Spanish Civil War involving many British people.  Paid employment was never easy to find, not like the good and generous years we live in now in the second decade of the 21st century.  That said, those fortunate enough to be employed directly by the government faired better than those in commerce, in the mines etc. The book  "Britain's Forgotten Decade" -The Thirties - An Intimate History by Juliet Gardiner ISBN 978 0 00 724076 O, reveals many terrible happenings to my parents generation starting in 1906. If at anytime we think that we live in troubled times [and by comparison we definitely do not] think of the "sandwich of fate" with the bottom slice of bread the horrors of WW1, the sandwich filling the 1920's/1930's and the top slice the horrors of WW2 and that's the proper definition of "Troubled Times".   The scourge of our times is cancer and many died [I have it and I am fighting it!], but when I was born 80 years ago,  measles, chickenpox etc were [or could be]  also killers and the victims were invariably young children: unbelievably sad times!

 

Although the devastation caused by WW1 didn't really affect the UK infrastructure to any great degree and that caused by German warships shelling east coast towns and in other places, Zeppelin raids, at least nothing like the damaged caused in WW2 by the Luftwaffe bombing raids, its affect on morale albeit localised,  was total and unrelenting. The 1920's were a time of going without, no homes promised to support the governments "homes for hero's" pledge, social depravation disease and yet more civilian deaths caused by the Spanish Flu pandemic which worldwide killed millions, when just as many more millions renounced their cruel and uncaring God and all hope was abandoned this despite the so-called 'winning of the war'.  As the 1920's progressed things started to improve, hope and God returned in peoples hearts and minds,  and it looked as though the 20's would finish on a high heralding in the 1930 decade when it would be impossible, surely, to live through a period like 1914 to 1925 ever again. In 1929 all their hopes were dashed as the American Wall Street financial centre collapsed and tilted the entire financial world system to a dangerous and almost unrecoverable angle, to what we sailors called "on our beam ends", indicating a ship laying on its side [on its beam] before sinking. The 30's, as Juliet Gardiner called her book ' Britain's forgotten decade', was probably forgotten on purpose because by and large it brought untold misery to so many people compounded with the start of WW2. There was little to recommend them to posterity! Here are just a few examples:-

 

The impact of the Depression 1931–39


Unemployment in the 1930s
The areas that were hardest hit in Britain were those of “heavy” industry – shipyards, steel, coal mining.  By 1932 – 34.5% of miners and 62% of shipbuilders were unemployed.  80% of new factories built were in London or the South East. These were new
industries – car making. They meant unemployment in London/South East was kept low.

 

Government Reactions

1929 – Labour Government. Prime Minister – Ramsey MacDonald.
The Government made big spending cuts and could not cover the 1929 unemployment rates.
1931 – Benefit rates were cut by 15% and a Means Test was set up.  Officials could examine whether a claimant needed the money.


National Government

This was a coalition of moderate Labour, Liberal, and Conservative MPs. It won the General Election in October 1929.  It cut the benefit rate by 10%
1930 Unemployment Insurance Act – had to prove you were seeking work
1931 Means Test introduced – 271,000 failed the means test in the first 10 weeks = no benefits
1934 Unemployment Act – made the division between National Insurance payments and the dole
1934 Special Areas Act - £2 million aid for Scotland, Tyneside, Cumberland and South Wales
1937 Special Areas (Amendment) Act -gave tax cuts/low rents to businesses that moved into those areas.


Being unemployed.

Experiences of unemployment varied. Everyone had to go to the Employment Exchange once a week to register for looking for work.
1933: British Medical Association study showed it cost 5s 1d to feed a person the minimum of food needed for health. By 1938 44% of those on dole money had to manage on less than this. People joined savings clubs for necessities.


The Jarrow March
Jarrow is a town in Tyneside, in the North East. Its main trade was shipbuilding, which was heavily affected by the Depression. A couple of years before WW1 started it had built the battlecriser HMS Queen Mary which was lost at Jutland.
1934: National Shipbuilders' Security Ltd (NSS) closed Palmers' Shipyard.
It got far too little money in the Special Areas Act of 1934.
1935 – 64% of people were unemployed in Jarrow.
1936 – the National Unemployed Workers' Movement organised a National Hunger March to London from Jarrow.  200 of the fittest unemployed men were chosen for the march. They took a petition signed by over 1000 people asking the Government to provide work. The march was called the Jarrow Crusade and banners were made of black and white cloth – this was to give the march respectability. The march covered 291 miles in 22 stages. They walked 21 miles a day in between stops. They held public meetings to state they were looking for work, not charity. Public reaction to the marchers – varied. Some towns let them use cinemas and swimming baths for free; council or church groups gave them tea/food. Some towns ignored them and they slept in workhouses. Impact of the Jarrow Crusade - Saturday 31 October – Jarrow Crusade reached London. Stanley Baldwin refused to accept the petition or see the marchers. The Government stopped the marchers' benefit payments whilst they were on the march. This was because they were “not available for work” whilst on the march. There were only small gains from the march – several marchers were offered work. Sir John Jarvis, MP, took an interest in Jarrow – he set up a steel works in Jarrow in December 1937. It only employed 200 men. The Jarrow march did not achieve its aim – the Government did not act at once. The crusade became a by word for public protest.


Unemployment dropped due to the country re-arming for World War II.

 

 Of a little interest is the following snippet.  Even up to the mid-late 1960's dockyard employees rode bikes to and from work. Coming into work in the mornings was a piecemeal event when  dockyard matey's would arrive in dribs and drabs, reckoning that if they were at their respective clocking-in date/time stamping machine at the sound of the morning hooter, all would be well: they could then stroll leisurely to their actual place of work where many of them would be late, at least by our naval standards. At the going home hooters at the end of the day, things were very different because they would leave the yard en-block all fighting for pole position to get home, or to the local pub before going home. We sailors knew this and were encouraged to stay well clear of the main cycle routes and also the rat-runs seasoned dockies knew and would take  after years of "warming the bell". Ladies of those days rode cycles without the crossbar, but being so few and much less competitive than men, they feared being trampled by their male colleagues and so refrained  from the evening dockyard 'tour de France' [Pompey, Guzz, Chatham etc] or, if they used their bikes at all, leaving later than the men. Today we see roadways with dedicated cycle lanes but relatively few bikes in them. Back then, thousands of bikes [literally] would clog up the highway system and Parkinson's Law ruled: in this case, the law said that if a roadway had say five lanes, all five would be used by motorists although unnecessarily in most cases.

 

H.M. Dockyards and Admiralty Establishments at Home [the mainland, not including Ireland] wherein civilian women were employed  in the 1920’s until WW2 was declared.  If an establishment you are familiar with by name doesn’t appear on this list, then no civilian women worked in it during this period! Note that Shotley in the early to late mid 20’s was not called HMS Ganges.

Portsmouth Yard

Devonport Yard

Chatham Yard

Sheerness Yard

Rosyth Yard

Portland Naval Base

R.N. Store Depot, West India Docks

R.N. Cordite Factory, Holton Heath

R.N. Torpedo Factory, Greenock

Inspection Dept., Woolwich

R.N. Armament Depot, Crombie

R.N. Armament Depot, Chatham

R.N. Armament Depot, Gosport

Royal Clarence Victualling Yard, Gosport

Royal Victoria Victualling Yard, Deptford.

Royal William Victualling Yard, Plymouth.

R.N. Hospital, Haslar

R.N. Hospital, Portland

R.N. Hospital, Chatham

R.N. Hospital, Plymouth

R.N. Hospital, Gt. Yarmouth

R.M. Infirmary, Deal

Admiralty Compass Observatory, Slough

R.N. College, Greenwich

R.N. College, Dartmouth

Training Establishment, Shotley

Admiralty Research Laboratory, Teddington.

Admiralty Chart Establishment, Cricklewood.

 Today, this work force is much diminished, bikes are not used so often and cars are used in lieu, while women with an engineering qualification complete with men for the relatively few yard jobs now available. Portsmouth was a builder of fine warships completing seven cruisers and four destroyers in this period 1920's/1930's. Pompey ships were well thought of by the Royal Navy.