Into the alleys of lunch rode the Dockyard Light Cavalry

Let's hope their meal is on the table
Let's hope their meal is on the table
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I’ve still not had a definitive answer to David Baynes’s query last week about whether Portsmouth Dockyard workers were ever allowed to officially take 90-minute lunch breaks.

However, Archie Malley, of Hayling Avenue, Copnor, wrote to me explaining the procedure for the lunchtime mass exodus in the days before the Fleet Maintenance and Repair Organisation took over.

Dockyard workers leaving Unicorn Gate

Dockyard workers leaving Unicorn Gate

Archie says: ‘The one-hour lunch break from clocking out at noon to return to clocking back in before 1.01pm meant wives just had to have the meal on the table when their husbands arrived home.

‘He had to be away – timed to the second – to return to the ’Yard so he would not receive a red mark on his clock card from his Clock Recorder and a loss of pay. One minute late meant a loss of a quarter of an hour’s pay for the industrial workman.’

Archie also sent me one of his articles for Journal, The Portsmouth Royal Dockyard Historical Trust’s publication, which includes this poem written by shipwright Ron Seager who, when it appeared in the August 1975 issue of Dockyard newspaper Trident, was 56.

Archie, quite rightly says it is self-explanatory but, as we all remember, ‘very true’.

The Dockyard Light Cavalry goes into battle in 1975

The Dockyard Light Cavalry goes into battle in 1975

The Dockyard Light Horse

A wonder to many journalists

In the days when Britain was great

Was the number of Dockyard cyclists

Coming out of Unicorn Gate

This highly irregular force

Of cycles and men was so large

It was nicknamed The Dockyard Light Horse,

For it looked like a cavalry charge

Pedestrians took headlong dives

Bus drivers would blanche;

Strong men ran for their lives

From this human avalanche

There were cycles of every hue

And many of various makes;

Some had a mudguard or two

A few of them even had brakes

Tourists came from miles around

To see this awesome sight

Mass Dockyard wheelers homeward bound

At noon and also at night

Mothers gathered their offspring

And took them to safety for

They knew the sound of the hooter would bring

This ravenous horde past their door

A Dockyard cyclist was able,

Or so old wives would recount

To get to his dining room table

Without having to dismount

His wife would open the door

And then stand well to one side

And without his feet touching the floor

Straight up the passage he’d ride

You could do to him what you thought fit

You could curse him all you like

But the worst crime you could commit

Was to kick a Dockie’s old bike

The workforce has dwindled, of course

The Empire is now no more

The ranks of The Dockyard Light Horse

Have been thinned to just a few score

Now only memories remain

And they fill me with remorse

For never will I see again

The Charge of the Dockyard Light Horse