The Falklands War

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A Magnificent Response

Norland Ferry conversion in Portsmouth Dockyard
Norland Ferry conversion in Portsmouth Dockyard (RNM)

The Defence Review of 1981 envisaged that the Navy, and consequently the Royal Dockyards, would play a small role in any future conflicts. Therefore it called for a drastic reduction in the number of workers in the Dockyard. The first rounds of redundancy notices were issued on 2 April 1982. This was the same day Argentina invaded the Falkland Islands. Against this backdrop of redundancies Britain went to war and once again the Dockyard mobilised.

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"On the Friday, we were told that everybody would have to go up to the senior foreman's office, although we called him a foreman, we used the old term in actual fact he's quite a high civil servant. We all went up to our senior foreman, the shipwrights went up first gang by gang and then the liners we went up last. There were only 8 of us and he stood very stiffly behind his desk and he read out the letter. Of John Nott's statement and he said I'm sorry you all have an envelope, everybody has got an envelope, I'm very sorry but everybody will be getting an envelope, he said "I even think I'm getting one but I haven't got mine yet". We all accepted the envelope and walked out. And it was to say that you would be discharged but you would be notified, this was a letter to say that there was an intent to discharge but you would be notified later if you were one of the lucky ones to be retained. That was about 10 o'clock. Nothing was done after that, it was almost impossible to generate any enthusiasm in anybody and you walked round and all you got were groups of men, standing round everywhere talking, looking at letters. We went back to the office and it was the same in the office, nobody wanted to do anything, they all thought right, well if that's how they're going to be they can poop their work."

The order received on Friday 2 April was "Ships must sail by Monday morning!" The state of the Fleet in the Dockyard was as follows;

  • Dockyard workers were seeing to operational defects on HMS Invincible.

  • The second week of maintenance had just begun on HMS Hermes, with her superstructure in scaffolding and much of her machinery under refit.

  • The Navy had paid off and de-stored HMS Intrepid.

  • The stores ship HMS Stromness had been decommissioned.

Work began to make these ships ready to sail, storing and supplying with fuel and ordnance. The Dockyard successfully completed these tasks in 3 days, and the Fleet sailed on Monday 5 April.

Here are two views about how the Dockyard workers felt working that weekend after the redundancy notices:

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"And suddenly we got a call to go up to the foreman's office, and we went back up to the foreman's office, and he said, I've just had a signal from the constructor, the fleet is sailing on Monday, we've got to get the Hermes, and Invincible and the others ready, can you work all through the weekend? And the Hermes had staging all round the bridge, all in the hanger, on the flight deck, it was in a right mess, anyway they did. I didn't hear anybody say "well, you've given me my notice, I'm not working." Everybody felt a great injustice about what the Argentine's had done I think it was the pictures of the Royal Marines laid on the floor, made to kneel down by the Argentine commanders upset everybody to think that we should be treated like that. And everybody was only too pleased to work harder than they would have normally done to get the ships ready and to see them sail on Monday to go down there and kick the Argies up the arse really that what's they all felt."

Another is "money always buys loyalty, patriotism call it what you like...there was a chance to earn some money before being chucked out"

The fleet showed their appreciation by sending signals to the Dockyard;

HMS Invincible:

The spirited and willing assistance we have received in preparing for our deployment has been quite exceptional and was greatly appreciated. Please thank all concerned for their splendid farewell, which has sent us on our way in great heart.

HMS Hermes:

There is only one way to describe the support we have had from you, magnificent.

HMS Fearless:

Your response to the challenge of the last four days has been truly magnificent.

During the Falklands war, the Dockyard worked on Stuft vessels, which are Ships Taken Up from Trade. One of the 18 vessels converted in Portsmouth Dockyard was the Nordic Ferry. She was fitted with helicopter landing pads, refuelling-at-sea gear and extra navigational aids.

Nordic Ferry in Dock
Nordic Ferry in Dock (RNM)

In May 1982 there was a call for Dockyard workers to volunteer to go down to the South Atlantic as part of a repair group. This was to include 16 tradesmen including shipwrights, welders, iron caulkers, riveters and burners. There would also be a foreman, inspector and two technical supervisors. The group assembled and began the journey south. They had reached the Ascension Islands by the time the Admiralty decided that they were not needed could return to Portsmouth.

A souvenir booklet entitled "Her Majesty's Dockyard Portsmouth and The Falklands Campaign 1982" was given to dockyard workers to commemorate the conflict and to acknowledge their contribution. It listed the ships which the dockyard prepared for the Falklands, the work which was brought forward as a result of the Falklands Campaign and the damage repaired afterwards. It also listed the work on the Stuft (Ships Taken Up from Trade) vessels undertaken at Portsmouth. The last page in the booklet was a certificate and each worker received one with their names entered.

Souvenir booklet front cover
Souvenir booklet front cover (PRDHT)

Souvenir booklet certificate
Souvenir booklet certificate (PRDHT)