September 26, 1934
IT’S estimated that a quarter of a million working-class Scots lined the banks of the Clyde.
That Saturday was dank and drizzly, but when the massive structure rolled into the river a great cheer went up from the watching throng.
King George V and his consort – the ship was named for her – performed the ceremony.
This was the flagship of the Cunard Line, the greatest ocean-going liner ever built.
She was probably the greatest of the majestic ships of the Scottish yards – and that is praise indeed alongside the Lusitania, HMS Hood, and QE2.
The watching thousands cheered because they had pride in the job. The ship was a product of Scotland.
That grand old lady of the seas (she is still afloat today) stands as the single most high-profile product of Scottish heavy industry.
The tale goes that Cunard wanted to call the ship Victoria and asked Buckingham Palace if it was acceptable to “use the name of Britain’s greatest ever queen?” King George V said: “Of course. My wife will be delighted!” So they had to call it Mary after her.
Scottish workers sweated, struggled, lived and died in the mines, steelworks, foundries and shipyards to build the great liners and the fearsome warships of the 20th Century. At one point, fully a fifth of the world’s ships were Clyde-built.
This triumph belongs to the industrialists, the designers and the engineers who made it happen. But while they stand in the vanguard, behind them was an army of strong men, skilled craftsmen and willing apprentices.
They used to say that passing pedestrians had to scurry out of the way when the evening hooter sounded. The gates of the yards opened and a begrimed phalanx of working men strode out on their way back to the tenements they called home.
The image is of thousands upon thousands of grim-faced men in hard times. But, if you speak to any who lived and worked in the heavy industries, their tales aren’t of hardship.
They tell of the workplace wits and wags that made the hard labour bearable. The japes, the skives, the one-liners that were cracked.
It is the Scottish way. You toil like a machine but you can always find time to take a rise out of the gaffer.
When the British Empire spanned the globe its building blocks were made in towns like Govan, Motherwell and Clydebank.
Indeed, when the Luftwaffe tried to destroy the powerhouse of Scottish industry it was Clydebank they hit. But who do you think you are kidding Mr Hitler? A few wee bombs were never going to be enough. We had a job to do. We were building the destroyers that fought and beat your Kriegsmarine.
Sadly, it is all but gone now.
But the spirit remains. It can be heard in the banter between working men.
And the totems are still scattered around the country – slagheaps still scar parts of Fife, a few of the great cranes still tower above the Clyde and many of those great ships still sail.
When they get the chance, the Scots knows they can work as hard as any man from any part of the world – our politicians should be pointing that out when industries are looking to locate new venues.
A true Scot is born with dirt under his fingernails, callouses on his palms and the ability to get a job done.
Scots men and women believe that hard work brings its own reward.
A Scot takes pride in being able to work long and hard on the difficult jobs.
Scots get things done.
The Queen Mary is now a luxury hotel, permanently docked in Long Beach, California. The men who built her would probably not feel comfortable among the monied and perfumed clientele.
But they could out-work and out-joke them all.