Eddy Amey wanted to share his memories of what he describes as ‘a way of life long since passed’. Namely, what it was like to work in Portsmouth dockyard in the ‘glory’ days.
He started there as an apprentice in 1949 when the yard had a workforce of about 23,000.
He was one of 900 apprentices spread over five entry years. He started working in the ‘new factory’ as a 15-year-old where 1,400 were employed in one building. He was paid £1.11 a week.
Eddy, of St Michael’s Grove, Fareham, says: ‘Conditions were poor with few proper washing facilities – mostly a bucket of hot water drawn from the tea boiler.
‘We had primitive outside toilets in a shed with a line of about eight doorless stalls with the chain on the first stall so that, at a warning shout, all users would stand up while the flush went past.’
Eddy adds: ‘There were canteens, a wet bar (beer only) for lunchtime, a morning canteen for bacon sandwiches and mobile canteens for breaktime tea. There was also a fire station and large surgery with medical staff.’
He remembers the many ‘businesses’ that flourished. ‘The leatherworker using the leather intended for drive belts to mend men’s boots or making cases and golf bags for naval officers. There were illegal bookies’ runners with a time clock for stamping bets hidden in their bicycle saddle bag. And the workmen with toolboxes full of duty free cigarettes for sale.
‘Sometimes a man would raffle his unopened pay packet and make a bit extra. The lucky winner went home with two pay packets.’
The apprentices made what they called rabbits – sheath knives with ornamental handles, brass candlesticks and table cigarette lighters in the form of a lighthouse. One apprentice even made a slide trombone.
Eddy says: ‘Outmuster would see an exodus through police search lines. They tapped people on the shoulder and they would go into the search room with their bicycle to be searched for anything they shouldn’t have. The main thing confiscated was chopped firewood which probably ended up in the policeman’s home.’