Written by Ian Johnson
Seaforth Publishing, 2014, Hardcover £30.00, 192pp, 179 ills in black and white, List of Sources, Appendices.
For lovers of warships this book is a 'must have'. It provides a detailed record of the work of John Brown's Clydebank shipyards during the Great War by using examples from an outstanding collection of black and white photographs of ships under construction, together with details of every ship constructed during the period. These are all brought together in a high quality publication that is a pleasure to read and view.
Ian Johnson's excellent introduction sets the scene by describing the setting up, probably uniquely, of a professional photographic unit at the shipyard which resulted in a fine record of high quality photographs. He describes the origins of the shipyard and covers the acquisition by John Brown & Co Ltd, a Sheffield based forge master, of the Clydeside business in 1899 as part of a diversification strategy. He describes the use of photographs to record the progress of construction and of the photographers employed by the yard. So important were this unit that, at the height of the depression in May 1932 and the consequent large scale lay-offs of workers, two photographers who were 'on the books' in April 1904 continued to be employed. In 1972, with the demise of the Shipyard, some 23,000 glass plate negatives and 20,000 celluloid negatives were saved for the nation and are currently held in the National Records of Scotland in Edinburgh.
Johnson explains the impact of the Munitions of War Act of July 1915 which lead to the designation of the shipyard as a Controlled Establishment enabling the Admiralty to prioritise work by switching contracts between shipyards to maximise the available resources. He also describes the scale of the construction work which occupied a site of some 80 acres divided into two Yards. Johnson also describes the makeup of the workforce which averaged 10,000 workers split 70:30 between shipyard and engine works, and how the peacetime system of hiring and firing used to maximise efficiency ceased to work as men left to join up and the labour market effectively ceased to exist. In order to cope a policy of 'dilution' was introduced which aimed to maximise the use of women labour, but by January 1918 out of a total of 5270 workers only 87 were women, a very small proportion compared with some other areas of industrial production.
The book goes on to illustrate the work of the shipyard chronologically. It covers the construction of capital ships, destroyers and, to a lesser extent, standard merchant ships. Some iconic names are evident in the list of ships constructed, including Barham, Repulse and Hood. In all some 47 ships were built in the shipyard during the Great War.
This publication is more than a photo album of ships and a shipyard but includes some interesting visual commentaries on the life of the shipyard together with some well researched background information. In considering the Great War the importance of industrial production cannot be understated, for it was such places as John Brown's shipyard where the war was won, for the success of the battle for efficient war production ensured British forces had the right tools to finish the job. As someone not particularly interested in maritime conflict, I was nonetheless captivated by the photographs and highly recommend this publication to those interested in knowing more about the battle beyond the battlefields.
Reviewed by Valerie Gray