- Rivett, Norman C
- History - general
- RAN Ships
- None noted.
- June 2009 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
When I first arrived at HMA Naval Dockyard, Garden Island, on 24th January, 1955 – which happened to be my wedding anniversary – the system of time-keeping was very familiar to me for it was almost identical with that in use in the Engine Works and Naval Yard where I served my apprenticeship in England. Not surprising, perhaps, for the system was introduced to Garden Island by Mr Westerway the Dockyard’s first Foreman Fitter. He had come from England and HM Naval Dockyard Devonport on the twenty-third of August 1895, bringing with him four established personnel in the Boilermaking, Engine Fitting, Coppersmith and Enginesmith trades.
The system was very simple but effective, providing everyone played their part. It is necessary to understand its workings before I proceed with this tale.
It was to a great extent an honour system reinforced by severe consequences for any abuse. The principle feature of the system was a brass docket – a disc of about one and a half inches in diameter with a central hole about five-sixteenths of an inch in diameter, with a number and the letters G.I. for Garden Island stamped on it.
Each workman had an individual number and just inside the entrance to the Dockyard was a time station where dockets were arranged in numerical order on key hooks inside a number of glass-fronted cabinets, the doors of which could be locked. At the workman’s place of work was a similar cabinet.
The dockets were placed in the cabinets at the time station in numerical order by the timekeeper, Mr Danny Atkinson, who had the most amazing memory I have ever encountered. Danny could, and I am informed can still today, half a century on, recall the hundreds of docket numbers, the names of the owners, and put a face to every one. I was ‘Norm Rivett, Number 101, Chargehand Fitter’.
To proceed with the story, on entering the Dockyard each workman took his docket from the cabinet and proceeded to his place of work, or his change room in the case of Fitters Afloat, and placed his docket on the appropriate hook. On the sounding of the whistle at 7.30 am for the commencement of work the cabinets were locked and the latecomers could not access their dockets. They had to report to their respective foremen before being allowed to start work and consequently lost half an hour’s pay.
At 8.00 am the Dockyard gate was closed and latecomers after that hour lost half a day’s pay, if indeed they waited until 12.00 noon for the gates to re-open.
Needless to say, time-keeping in the Dockyard was good, if attendance was perhaps not so good.
This tale concerns an Ironworker in the Coppershop. This unfortunate individual was in poor physical condition and undoubtedly numerically illiterate. Just why this was the case is a matter of conjecture, but the prevailing opinion was that he was a former PoW of the Japanese. He always moved at a trot and appeared to be in a nervous state. He seemed to appreciate approximately the position of his docket in the cabinet but could not positively identify it.
If the dockets surrounding his had already been removed before he arrived he could pick his own but frequently he would arrive early and take someone else’s docket.
In addition to this being an offence, it caused mayhem to the system and extra work for the timekeeper who had to sort out the resulting confusion. Without Danny’s extraordinary memory, the Dockyard would have been in chaos. The inevitable result was a severe reprimand for the Ironworker from his foreman Mr Frank Russell, with a serve from the timekeeper for good measure.
When this situation was repeated on several occasions tempers were wearing thin despite a general sympathy for the poor man. Reprimands were of course of no avail. In this case they only served to unnerve the man still further.
Watching this futile exercise was Mr Stan Pollock, a quiet kindly old chargehand – ‘old’ being relative to us younger men. Stan took the man aside and went to a small brazier where a pot containing white metal was kept constantly in a molten state for the re-metalling of bearings.