This brings me to Saturday morning, March 15, when I and many others reported for work at Harland and Wolff's in Scotstoun. When we arrived at Balmoral Street, we were stopped by our own factory Home Guard men, who manned the security points in sentry boxes at various points around the plant. They were in uniform and steel helmets and armed with rifle and bayonets, just like the regular army. Normally, everyone going into work had to show their passes with picture attached, but on this occasion, no one was being allowed past the South Street post. The reason was that one land mine had exploded in Bay 3, knocking out a huge H-beam section, which carried the overhead cranes. One of the cranes in Bay 3 and another on Bay 4 had come down at one side and the two cranes were forming a wide V with one end on the ground and the other on the rail at 30 feet up in the air. But the main reason we had to keep our distance was that a land mine had been caught up in the power station chimney and was dangling from the parachute cords half-way down.
We were instructed to stay home until Monday morning. It was hoped the mine could be defused over the weekend. So on Monday, we reported back to work. The situation we found inside was unbelievable. The factory covered a large area and I would hazard a guess it would be a good half-mile square. Bays 1 and 2 were fairly low-roofed bays where the light machines were laid out -- Capstan lathes, surface grinders and light milling machines. There were no cranes in Bays 1 and 2. The south end of Bay 3 had three, 30-ton overhead cranes and housed vertical boring mills, one large plane with a 30-foot stroke, some heavier milling machines, including two Plano-mills and a large gear generator. The north end of Bay 3, where the land mine hit, was used for the handling of heavy sheet steel and armour plate. Bay 4 was the heavy machine area and included a 35-foot vertical boring mill, a 22-foot vertical boring mill, six heavy horizontal boring mills, a 12-foot Radial arm drill on 18-foot shears, a 9-foot, an 8-foot, and a dozen or so smaller radial arm drills. We also had two horizontal drilling machines. In Bay 4, we had cranes on three levels, 60 tonners on top and 20 tonners below, with wall-creepers on both sides. At the extreme south end of both Bays 3 and 4, we had a large number of centre lathes and slotting machines. When we arrived on that Monday morning, we found that our land mine had indeed been defused and removed, but when we went inside, we found the entire place knee-deep in glass, shattered from roof and walls. This glass had been covered by canvas and painted over with tar when war broke out, but the explosion ripped the lot out. And there we were on that Monday morning, faced with the task of sweeping it all up before we could think of doing any other work.
Every man in the place, including foremen and managers, joined workers to sweep that awful mess of glass into bins. We went over every machine with a fine-tooth comb to ensure there were no glass fragments in the motors which might choke up any moving parts. By the end of that week, we had done enough to make a start on production again. We could not have a night shift because we could not show lights, and with no roof, lights were out of the question. It took about three months before we got the place sealed up again, using mainly corrugated iron panels instead of glass, but, until it was sealed, we worked away open to the sky. When it rained, we put our coats on and splashed oil over the jobs and machines to prevent rust. But we never stopped from dawn till dusk. Fortunately, summer arrived, and provided daylight till 10 and 11 p.m. and by July, we were back to two shifts again -- seven days a week.
Looking back, it seems like we should not have done all we did that year and it is only by starting this recollection, that all of it has come flooding back. It might surprise people to hear what we had to do in the spring and summer of 1941, long before Pearl Harbor. At the same time as all of the above was happening at work, we had at least one night a week when we experienced long periods under air raid warnings. During this period, Greenock took a pounding, as did Belfast. Glasgow and other places on the Clyde got the odd raid before the raids seemed to taper off a bit. We had settled into our temporary home in the basement of a large house in Bearsden and I travelled to work by bus.
When we left our ground floor apartment in Lasswade Street, Yoker, we had to leave all our possessions behind, and it was perhaps a week or so later before we could get a truck to come in and empty out the place. The front door and kitchen doors had been blown off their hinges, and, in fact, the kitchen door was like so much kindling, so the place was unprotected. On a Saturday, probably about a week after we had to leave, I went back and found my radio set wrapped and blankets and bundles of the girls' clothes wrapped up in bundles. It appeared that someone had prepared them ready to be carried away. I took away as much as I could carry and arranged to have the furniture and utensils, dishes, etc. picked up and stored until we could utilixe them again. The bigger pieces -- arm chairs, etc. were stored at the Kilbowie Road house. I took the clothes, radio and other items to Bearsden.
We had our own entrance in the basement of the Bearsden house, and as the ground sloped toward the back, our door and room windows were at ground level. Looking out from the back of the house, we were at the top of a ridge overlooking a valley to the west end of Glasgow. During some of the later air raids, we had a grandstand view of some of the spectacular bomb bursts and anti-aircraft gun flashes along the valley. The night Rudolph Hess crash-landed in Scotland was a Saturday, and although I didn't know it then, we saw his plane going over. We found out later from the newspapers that he thought he could make some kind of deal.