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‘Let Go the Anchor’ had quite a different meaning for Norman!

The following story is one that truly happened to me, and I wonder if it has ever happened to any of our Merchant Navy Officers during their apprenticeship days:

The keel and framework for the King George VI battleship began to be built in 1938 at Cammel Lairds Shipbuilding Company on the river Mersey at Birkenhead, England.

King George VI and Queen Elizabeth together with their two daughters Elizabeth and Margaret were the guests of honour.  The Queen launched the ship by breaking a bottle of champagne against the bow.  She then made a short speech and pressed a button and down went the mighty ship down the slipway and into the river. 

Once the ship is in the river, the shipwrights who are aboard turn the rudder to steer the ship up the river and against the tide to slow the ship down so the tug boats can get their tow lines aboard the vessel. 

Because of the size of the battleship, she was going too fast and to slow her down, the port anchor was let go, but they had forgotten to couple the chain to the anchor.   Next, they let go the starboard anchor, and it too was not coupled to the anchor chain.  The ship eventually stopped on a mud bank but the four tugs were able to tow the ship back to the fitting-out basin for the completion of all other installations. 

Fortunately, the Royal Family had departed after the launch so did not see the fun and games out in the river.  This could have been a disaster and could have held up delivery, but she was eventually handed over to the Navy in 1938/39. 

The shipwrights are not only responsible for the building of the hull but also for the launching of the vessel.  The shipwrights should have checked to ensure the chains were coupled to the anchors.  For this mistake, they lost a day’s pay and received a written reprimand.  The Head Shipwright was fired from his job. 

This was a wonderful experience for me at the time as it taught me to do my own checking on all future work for which I was responsible and it has held good all through my working life, both at sea and working ashore.


Norman James