Build the Ships – Chapter 10 – Epilogue (A Review)

And so we come to the final chapter of my little treasure.

Not unexpectedly this chapter focuses on reviewing the achievement of British shipyards during WWII. At the start of this final, short, chapter he includes a quote from Mr Alexander’s1 speech in the House of Commons on 1st November 19442.

Earl Albert Victor Alexander of Hillsborough

The emphasis is on the vast achievements of the shipyards in both the building and repair of naval and merchant shipping during the war, and statistics galore are thrown into his speech, such as:

“I am giving the figures from September, 1939, up to the end of 1943. Of major war vessels, including battleships, cruisers, monitors, fleet and escort aircraft carriers, destroyers, submarines, frigates, sloops, corvettes, fleet minesweepers, fast cruising minelayers and large depot ships of various kinds, we completed 634 with a total standard tonnage displacement of 1,183,501…..

…the tonnage of merchant vessels launched in the four war years 1915–18, 3,770,170, was a good deal less than the tonnage we launched in the four years 1940–43. Then the tonnage was 4,415,668, in spite of the fact that we had fewer yards and slips and less labour available than in 1918, and in spite of the blackout and air raid damage to the workers’ homes.”


Our author goes on to point out that more than half the shipbuilding workforce were engaged in repair rather than building work due to the larger superficial and underwater damage sustained when attacked by air and the greater lengths of time our ships were spending at sea. He then goes on to quote the words of Winston Churchill in 1943 when he sang the praises of shipbuilders, mentioning by name the United States and Canada, just as their leaders were paying tribute to British shipbuilders, and pointing out that, despite losses, there was a net gain in tonnage. By way of reciprocation, Colonel Knox, the United States Naval Secretary, in November of the same year, when announcing the magnitude of the achievements in shipbuilding and repairs said “Much credit is due to our friends, the British and the Canadians.”

The chapter concludes by pointing out that these achievements were made possible by the technical recovery of the shipyards, the inherited skills, experience and versatility of the craftsmen involved, perhaps most of all their versatility and adaptation. In both the real shipyards and the temporary ones everyone worked long hours and overnight when they could. Pritchett’s own words end the book, and my reviews of it far more eloquently than I might do if paraphrasing him …

“They worked when the menace of the U-boat was black, when every rivet they drove was a fight for Britain’s next meal, her drop of oil, her next tank or plane; and they worked on the offensive, too, when the menace retired and there was the first sight of victory. No one who has heard the fusillade of the riveters under the dull northern sky day after day, week after week, or who has heard the endless hammer-taps of the boatyards, will fail to grasp the meaning of that harsh grey monotone which went on for six years o war. Hearing those sounds, you hear the collective anger, the collective will of the British shipmakers who have known throughout their history that the ship is pre-eminently our weapon and our need.”

"Our Weapon and Our Need"

Copyright: Ruth Patterson 2011


  1. Albert Victor Alexander, 1st Earl Alexander of Hillsborough KG, CH, PC (summarises his parliamentary career)

2.  (record of the full debate)

3.,_1st_Earl_Alexander_of_Hillsborough  (biography)

 See also:

About Ruth Macadam

Great Granddaughter of Henry Robb. School teacher.
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