Clydebank

From Great Britain at War by Jeffery Farnol

Henceforth the word "Clydebank" will be associated in my mind with the ceaseless ring and din of riveting-hammers, where, day by day, hour by hour, a new fleet is growing, destroyers and torpedo boats alongside monstrous submarines--yonder looms the grim bulk of Super-dreadnought or battle cruiser or the slender shape of some huge liner.

And with these vast shapes about me, what wonder that I stood awed and silent at the stupendous sight. But, to my companion, a shortish, thick-set man, with a masterful air and a bowler hat very much over one eye, these marvels were an everyday affair; and now, ducking under a steel hawser, he led me on, dodging moving trucks, stepping unconcernedly across the buffers of puffing engines, past titanic cranes that swung giant arms high in the air; on we went, stepping over chain cables, wire ropes, pulley-blocks and a thousand and one other obstructions, on which I stumbled occasionally since my awed gaze was turned upwards. And as we walked amid these awesome shapes, he talked, I remember, of such futile things as--books.

I beheld great ships well-nigh ready for launching; I stared up at huge structures towering aloft, a wild complexity of steel joists and girders, yet, in whose seeming confusion, the eye could detect something of the mighty shape of the leviathan that was to be; even as I looked, six feet or so of steel plating swung through the air, sank into place, and immediately I was deafened by the hellish racket of the riveting-hammers.

"... nothing like a good book and a pipe to go with it!" said my companion between two bursts of hammering.

"This is a huge ship!" said I, staring upward still.

"H'm--fairish!" nodded my companion, scratching his square jaw and letting his knowledgeful eyes rove to and fro over the vast bulk that loomed above us.

"Have you built them much bigger, then?" I enquired.

My companion nodded and proceeded to tell me certain amazing facts which the riotous riveting-hammers promptly censored in the following remarkable fashion.

"You should have seen the rat-tat-tat. We built her in exactly nineteen months instead of two years and a half! Biggest battleship afloat--two hundred feet longer than the rat-tat-tat--launched her last rat-tat-tat--gone to rat-tat-tat-tat for her guns."

"What size guns?" I shouted above the hammers.

"Rat-tat-tat-tat-tat-inch!" he said, smiling grimly.

"How much?" I yelled.

"She has four rat-tat-tat-tat inch and twelve rattle-tattle inch besides rat-tat-tat-tat!" he answered, nodding.

"Really!" I roared, "if those guns are half as big as I think, the Germans--"

"The Germans--!" said he, and blew his nose.

"How long did you say she was?" I hastened to ask as the hammers died down a little.

"Well, over all she measured exactly rat-tat feet. She was so big that we had to pull down a corner of the building there, as you can see."

"And what's her name?"

"The rat-tat-tat, and she's the rattle-tattle of her class."

"Are these hammers always quite so noisy, do you suppose?" I enquired, a little hopelessly.

"Oh, off and on!" he nodded. "Kick up a bit of a racket, don't they, but you get used to it in time; I could hear a pin drop. Look! Since we've stood here they've got four more plates fixed--there goes the fifth. This way!"

Past the towering bows of future battleships he led me, over and under more steel cables, until he paused to point towards an empty slip near by.

"That's where we built the Lusitania!" said he. "We thought she was pretty big then--but now--!" he settled his hat a little further over one eye with a knock on the crown.

"Poor old Lusitania!" said I, "she'll never be forgotten."

"Not while ships sail!" he answered, squaring his square jaw, "no, she'll never be forgotten, nor the murderers who ended her!"

"And they've struck a medal in commemoration," said I.

"Medal!" said he, and blew his nose louder than before. "I fancy they'll wish they could swallow that damn medal, one day. Poor old Lusitania! You lose any one aboard?"

"I had some American friends aboard, but they escaped, thank God--others weren't so fortunate."

"No," he answered, turning away, "but America got quite angry--wrote a note, remember? Over there's one of the latest submarines. Germany can't touch her for speed and size, and better than that, she's got rat-tat--"

"I beg pardon?" I wailed, for the hammers were riotous again, "what has she?"

"She's got rat-tat forward and rat-tat aft, surface speed rat-tat-tat

knots, submerged rat-tat-tat, and then best of all she's rattle-tattle-tattle. Yes, hammers are a bit noisy! This way. A destroyer yonder--new class--rat-tat feet longer than ordinary. We expect her to do rat-tat-tat knots and she'll mount rat-tat guns. There are two of them in the basin yonder having their engines fitted, turbines to give rat-tat-tat horse power. But come on, we'd better be going or we shall lose the others of your party."

"I should like to stay here a week," said I, tripping over a steel hawser.

"Say a month," he added, steadying me deftly. "You might begin to see all we've been doing in a month. We've built twenty-nine ships of different classes since the war began in this one yard, and we're going on building till the war's over--and after that too. And this place is only one of many. Which reminds me you're to go to another yard this afternoon--we'd better hurry after the rest of your party or they'll be waiting for you."

"I'm afraid they generally are!" I sighed, as I turned and followed my conductor through yawning doorways (built to admit a giant, it seemed) into vast workshops whose lofty roofs were lost in haze. Here I saw huge turbines and engines of monstrous shape in course of construction; I beheld mighty propellers, with boilers and furnaces big as houses, whose proportions were eloquent of the colossal ships that were to be. But here indeed, all things were on a gigantic scale; ponderous lathes were turning, mighty planing machines swung unceasing back and forth, while other monsters bored and cut through steel plate as it had been so much cardboard.

"Good machines, these!" said my companion, patting one of these monsters with familiar hand, "all made in Britain!"

"Like the men!" I suggested.

"The men," said he. "Humph! They haven't been giving much trouble lately--touch wood!"

"Perhaps they know Britain just now needs every man that is a man," I suggested, "and some one has said that a man can fight as hard at home here with a hammer as in France with a rifle."

"Well, there's a lot of fighting going on here," nodded my companion, "we're fighting night and day and we're fighting damned hard. And now we'd better hurry; your party will be cursing you in chorus."

"I'm afraid it has before now!" said I.

So we hurried on, past shops whence came the roar of machinery, past great basins wherein floated destroyers and torpedo boats, past craft of many kinds and fashions, ships built and building; on I hastened, tripping over more cables, dodging from the buffers of snorting engines and deafened again by the fearsome din of the riveting-hammers, until I found my travelling companions assembled and ready to depart. Scrambling hastily into the nearest motor car I shook hands with this shortish, broad-shouldered, square-jawed man and bared my head, for, so far as these great works were concerned, he was in very truth a superman. Thus I left him to oversee the building of these mighty ships, which have been and will ever be the might of these small islands.

But, even as I went speeding through dark streets, in my ears, rising high above the hum of our engine was the unceasing din, the remorseless ring and clash of the riveting-hammers.

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