1940s Fiction

noimage The Amazing Affair of the Shipyard Sabotage (1940)
Stanton Hope

A Sexton Blake mystery.

Stanton Hope, The Amazing Affair of the Shipyard Sabotage, (Sexton Blake Library, 2nd Series No. 736., London, 1940).
noimage Port of Little Ships (1940)
Andrew Wood

Set in the small Yorkshire fishing village of Saltness. The Little Shipyard had been building wooden fishing boats for centuries. During the war Sir James Cole arrives and announces plans to demolish the yard and build a major shipyard to build large steel ships. He is soon found dead in the street with his skull smashed. Inspector Buffet of Scotland Yard arrives to investigate and the community closes ranks.

Originally published in the Blue Book magazine and then re-issued c.1947 in a stand-alone hardback edition.

Andrew Wood, ’The Port of Little Ships’, Blue Book, 71, October 1940.
noimage Down to the Sea: A Saga of the Tyne (1941)
Charlton Waine

John Croft takes over the wooden boatyard of Croft and Mawes in the 1850s and sets about converting it to build steam screw colliers. His eldest son, destined to take over the yard, is killed in an industrial accident. His other children have no interest so his granddaughter Dora takes on the mantle. She eventually marries the yard’s naval architect and together they take over. Dora steers the yard through the depression in the 1920s and 1930s. The novel ends with the launch of a liner in 1938 with prospects looking bright again.

Charlton Waine, Down to the Sea: A Saga of the Tyne, (London, 1941).
noimage Twilight on the River (1941)
Annie S. Swan

Set in the depression. Kirkwood’s shipyard on the Clyde is facing liquidation or a merger with a Tyne shipyard. Set in the Kirkwood mansion, the story follows the family tensions as the younger generation pull themselves together and try and save the yard.

“We may’nt be up to much, but surely, after all you’ve given us, we should be able to stem a leak or two in the family ark. Buck up, darling and don’t look like a stricken deer”
Agnes rocked herself in her chair.
“Twilight on the river, Enid. Soon it’ll be dark, quite dark.”
“No, no mother. The sun will rise on the Clyde again. The Queen Mary will bring back the luck.”

Annie S. Swan, The Collected Short Stories of Annie S. Swan, (London, 1941).
noimage Growing Up (1942)
Edward Gaitens

A fourteen year old boy gets up early to go with his dad to look for work in the shipyards. He sees an accident. They both get work at John Brown’s, the boy as a plater’s boy. At lunchtime they sit by the Clyde watching ships go by. The boy goes home happy and dreams of an exciting start at work in morning.

Edward Gaitens, Growing Up and Other Stories, (London, 1942).
noimage Pilebuck (1943)
John & Ward Hawkins

Novel about an FBI agent going undercover to find Nazi saboteurs in a West Coast shipyard. Originally published in the Saturday Evening Post as ‘The Saboteurs’. Filmed as Secret Command and later re-issued under that title.

John & Ward Hawkins, Pilebuck, (New York, 1943).
noimage Behold the Threaden Sails (1943)
Beryl Moore

Story of a shipbuilding family in Cornwall set in the 1860s. Carrick Babstay is a third generation shipbuilder and shipowner in Longharbour. He is a domineering bully and treats his family and workers with contempt. His eldest son runs away, ruining his fathers plans for him to take over the yard. A union agitator turns up from Glasgow and stirs unrest. Babstay stages a lockout before the workers can strike. He then gets the agitator killed. The workers’ slum town is set alight at the end. One of Babstay’s younger sons is killed but the yard is saved.

Beryl Moore, Behold the Threaden Sails, (London, 1943).
noimage The Shipyard Menace (1943)
Joseph Stamper

A Sexton Blake mystery. The head of an English shipyard is killed. The son returning from war and wishing to marry a women his father does not approve of is suspected. He goes into hiding and gets a job as a labourer in the shipyard to find the true culprit. Sexton Blake just happens to be in the area and is engaged by the girl to prove her fiancée’s innocence. It turns out that the timid commercial manager, cousin of the boss, had an illicit affair in France, was forced into marriage and had two children, who he eventually found jobs in the yard. The evil French wife wanted the shipyard fortune and got her son to kill the boss and frame the owner’s son so he would be hung, leaving her husband as the sole surviving heir. Set in Sibport, vaguely in the North Country, south of Newcastle.

Joseph Stamper, The Shipyard Menace, (The Sexton Blake Library, 3rd Series No. 51, London, 1943).
noimage Swing Shift (1943)
Howard M. Brier

Young adult novel about Nazi sabotage in shipyard in Seattle. Dave Marshall, a farmer’s son from the mid-west goes to Seattle to find work. Ends up in a shipyard and gains rapid promotion. Also joins the Coast Guard Auxilliary. Stumbles across a plan to sabotage the launching of three ships. Finds that FBI are on the case with undercover agents. Message gets through to the yard just in time to save the ships. The author spent time in the Puget Sound shipyards studying the way the industry worked. Some passages where he describes the shipbuilding processes are a bit formulaic, but the underlying message of the book is that shipyards are exciting places and bright young men should aspire to work in them to help the war effort.

Howard M. Brier, Swing Shift, (New York, 1943).
noimage Swing Shift: Building the Liberty Ships (1943-44)
Joseph Fabry

Nine short stories written in 1943 and 1944 by a refugee from Nazi Germany who found renewed purpose in a California shipyard building Liberty ships.

Joseph Fabry, Swing Shift: Building the Liberty Ships, (San Francisco, 1982)
Captain Marvel 22 Captain Marvel Battles Shipyard Sabotage! (1943)
Captain Marvel saves the day again.

Captain Marvel Adventures, 22, March 1943
noimage Job in the North (1944)
Gordon Jeffrey

Novel by shipwright at Portsmouth Dockyard about refitting a warship in Rosyth.

Gordon Jeffrey, Job in the North, (London, 1944).
noimage A Job for Jenny (1945)
Faith Baldwin

Jenny gets a job as a secretary to the (married) boss of a shipyard. She has romantic notions of falling in love with him, but finds out that her sister is already having an affair with him. Not much shipyard action, but interesting in terms of attitudes to reserved occupations in wartime. The boss’s wife is in Europe working for the Red Cross, he is emasculated and plays the field. The sister is married to a soldier serving abroad but seeks excitement with the boss. Jenny ends up marrying her childhood sweetheart who returns as a war hero. Originally serialised in the Woman’s Home Companion as ‘Tell Me, My Heart’ and published in the UK in 1950 under that title.

Faith Baldwin, A Job for Jenny, (New York, 1945).
noimage Skip to My Lou (1945)
William Martin Camp

Lou Jolly was the prettiest wife in the Ozark valley of Happy Holler. Yet Virgo, her husband, would leave part of every year to find work elsewhere leaving her to raise their four children by herself until his return. When Virgo got a job in the shipyards in California, they and their four kids bundled into a jalopy and headed west. With a captivating Ozark-California background, this stimulating novel has a vein of salty humor, an original cast of characters and in Lou a magnificently appealing heroine who was transplanted from the Ozarks to California.

William Martin Camp, Skip to My Lou, (New York, 1945).
noimage If He Hollers Let Him Go (1945)
Chester Himes

This novel takes place over four days in the life of Bob Jones, a black supervisor in a Los Angeles shipyard during World War II. He has money in his pocket, a flash car and a high class girlfriend, but suffers racial taunting and communist paranoia at the yard. A white woman worker at the yard accuses him of rape and his world falls apart. An excellent evocation of the tensions in the US wartime shipyards.

Chester Himes, If He Hollers Let Him Go, (Garden City, NY, 1945).
noimage The Constant Star (1945)
George Blake

Story of cousins Mark and Julius Oliphant set in Garvel. Julius is a sensitive shipwright of sailing ships and Mark a ruthless businessman in favour of progress. They fight over their inherited business interests agains the backdrop of Henry Bell, Greenock cholera epidemic, Crimea War and American Civil War. Good local detail, but too obviously tries to include major events in shipbuilding and world history.

George Blake, The Constant Star, (London, 1945).
noimage The Westering Sun (1946)
George Blake

Continuation of The Constant Star. The story of Julius Walter Ivie Oliphant and his children. He inherited vast wealth from his mother and led the life of the idle rich. Invested in steamer venture like Ivanhoe, stealing the idea from his childhood friend Calum Bell. Bell goes on to found Turbine steamer fleet and Oliphant becomes director of railway company running steamers. Oliphant sons are arogant idle cowards. Daughter Bluebell moves to Glasgow to found a chain of high class tearooms. She dies running mobile kitchens in Clydebank blitz. Stong shipbuilding background, including mention of Pagan’s yard (from The Shipbuilders, 1935), but more a paen against iniquities of inherited wealth.

George Blake, The Westering Sun, (London, 1946).
noimage Rapture of the Sea (1947)
Beryl Moore

The story of a shipyard and its shipbuilders, of a great struggle to preserve integrity against the schemes of an unprincipled adventurer.

Beryl Moore, Rapture of the Sea, (London, 1947).
noimage Dance of the Apprentices (1948)
Edward Gaitens

Continuation of the story of Eddy Macdonnel from Gaiten’s short story ‘Growing Up’. It follows his political awakening in the heady atmosphere of Red Clydeside and sees him imprisoned as a concientious objector in WW1. Not overtly about shipbuilding although Eddy and many of the characters work in the yards.

Edward Gaitens, Dance of the Apprentices, (Glasgow, 1948).
noimage Toby Shad (1949)
Taffrail (Henry Taprell Dorling)

Toby Shad is demobbed after an exciting time in the war commanding torpedo boats. An old navy acquaintance gets him a job as shipyard manager at Saddler’s, a shipyard on the south east coast of England specialising in lifeboats and other wooden craft. It turns out that the yard has been targetted by black marketeers and Shad plays a part in bringing them to justice. He then proposes to the shipyard owner’s secretary.

Taffrail, Toby Shad, (London,1949).