A shipyard at war 1914-1918

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A Shipyard at War – Unseen Photographs from John Brown’s, Clydebank 1914-1918. By Ian Johnston. ISBN 978-1-84832-216-5. Seaforth Publishing. www.seaforthpublishing.com. 192 pages with appendices containing the Yard’s diary and ships built between 1914 and 1919. 178 black and white photographs. Price £30 in the UK, approx. A$76.

Reviewed by David Hobbs

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UNUSUALLY for the time, John Brown’s shipyard employed professional photographers to record every stage of its ships’ construction and fitting out processes.

They used large glass-plate cameras that produced photographs of exceptional quality which, unlike the random images taken in other yards, have survived into the present era in the collections of the Scottish Archive.

Few of these photographs have ever been published but, fortunately for us, Ian Johnston has selected a large number of black and white images that have been reproduced to a very high standard, and this book is all about them. He has captioned them with an unrivalled insight into the yard’s activities.

There are famous ships such as Barham, Hood and Repulse, together with less well known ones such as Telemachus and a number of merchant ships. The submarine E-35 fell off the slipway during its launch and was photographed looking rather forlorn on its side as shipyard officials stood nearby trying to work out how to right her.

From an Australian perspective there are images of the submarine depot ship HMAS Platypus before launch and after completion in March 1917. Photographs of contemporary ship interiors are rare but the fascinating images taken inside the submarine E-35 show a layout which must have been similar to those of HMA boats AE-1 and AE-2. Many of the photographs show men and women at work, some of them using tools that are now just a memory, such as the Arrol hydraulic riveting machine. Some of them show sailors moving about on board, and stacks of weapons on the dockside.

The images are carefully selected to show details of ships in ways that have never been published before and I was intrigued by the shots of Barham being fitted out with the 100 ton gun barrels being lowered into their turrets. Machinery such as turbines and condensers can also be seen more clearly than they ever could after installation.

The first HMAS Australia was illustrated in Ian Johnston’s earlier book Clydebank Battlecruisers and this new work illustrates the yard that built her at the height of its productivity, showing construction techniques, tools and methods that are now just a memory. The publishing process has done full justice to the original quality of the glass-plate negatives and the author’s captions ‘talk you into the pictures’ to describe the visible activities.

A Shipyard at War is worth every penny of its purchase price and I thoroughly recommend it.

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