Ship Repairs at Brigham & Cowan

During the war I worked as an apprentice at Brigham & Cowans Ship Repairs in Hull, East Yorkshire. We had a destroyer called the Express come in with the entire forward end blown away, from the bridge to the bow. The dead were still aboard when it was towed in. Volunteers went aboard to remove the bodies from the wreckage.

Battle-damaged HMS ExpressWhen we finished repairing the Express, it was recommissioned as the Corncrake and joined the Canadian navy.

We spent a lot of time installing submarine detection gear called Asdic, which was a top secret new invention at the time. A policeman was on duty in the dry dock on the work site to keep unauthorised people away. We also built a midget submarine in our fitting shop.

At one point we worked on the biggest destroyer in the world, the Leopard. This ship was a Free French destroyer, and when we finished our work on it, it was inspected by General De Gaulle. We later heard that the crew mutinied in the Mediterranean Sea.

Another distinguished visitor to our shipyard was the Duke of Kent, who was killed in an air crash soon after his visit.

One day I was walking down the King George dock, when Winston Churchill passed me in the back of an open-topped car, smoking one of his famous cigars even though no smoking was allowed on the docks! He had been there to give the dockers a pep talk - they had been causing a bit of bother at the time.

I also watched the building of two Mulberry Harbour blocks, made of concrete, in the dry docks. We had no idea what they were for at the time, but later heard that they were used with much success during the D-Day Landings.

Arnold Drury


Copyright (C) 2003 Arnold Drury/The People's War.
Article ID: A1118620

WW2 People's War is an online archive of wartime memories contributed by members of the public and gathered by the BBC. The archive can be found at bbc.co.uk/ww2peopleswar