INDUSTRY: A sombre anniversary

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Among all the happenings of recent days and weeks, just a reminder of an event that took place 50 years ago, August 3, 1966, that changed the lives of over 1,250 workers in Blyth forever.

Nothing in comparison with recent events, but something that has stayed for years in some memories.

While on the last week of their annual holiday, all employees of Blyth shipyard received by post notifications that liquidators had been appointed and, without warning, the shipyard was closed.

Instructions were received to report to the nearest employment exchange, so, with five ships under construction and a 25,000 tonne bulk carrier in the pipeline, they were out of a job.

The MP at the time made a perfunctory remark that alternative employment would have to be found and went on holiday. The workers went to sign the unemployment register.

Meetings were held, calling for support from all and sundry, even local business, little was forthcoming. Even when the situation was raised at Blyth Town Hall council discussion was ruled out of order.

The shop stewards committee came to an agreement with the liquidator that 700 employees would be reinstated to complete a ship on the stocks. The committee, fronted by the MP, went to Parliament in an attempt to save the shipyard. The rest and result, as they say, is history.

The shipyard built the first aircraft carrier Ark Royal, the conversion of the first British escort carrier, Audacity.

Eric ‘Winkle’ Brown was a member of the air crew. The dredger WD Tideway, according to all, a Rolls Royce of a ship built for the price of a Ford, is no more.

The Rogate was the last ship completed and the name of the first officer was Horatio Nelson Hall. Unfortunately, the committee or the workers did not have a person of this calibre to represent them.

E Cain

Blyth