Construction of the War Odyssey at the National Shipyard No.2, Beachley. c.1917/1918
Facility Type & Function:
National Shipyard (N.S.) – Merchant ship building yard.
During 1916 German U-boats sank over 300,000 tons of merchant ships in the Atlantic Ocean. The only British counter-measure was limited and largely ineffectual aerial detection of the U-boats by airships. In May 1917, given the huge losses to the nation’s merchant shipping fleet, British Government resolved to rapidly build more cargo ships to help maintain the country’s international supply routes. To supplement the nation’s privately owned shipyards the British Government embarked on a program to build three new National Shipyards. These were to be located at Chepstow, Beachley and Portbury, on the Rivers Wye and Severn. In total the three of shipyards comprised 41 slipways. The intention was to develop 8 berths at Chepstow, 18 at Beachley, 8 at Portbury, and a further 7 at Chepstow through taking over the adjacent Finch’s Shipyard.
To maximise launch rates at the yards it was intended for them to build partly prefabricated ships of a standard design. Parts of each vessel were to be manufactured in other parts of the country and then moved to the National Shipyards by rail for assembly. The first ships were scheduled to be launched in October 1918.
At Beachley in Gloucestershire, downstream of Chepstow and on the opposite bank of the Wye, construction of National Shipyard No.2 began in 1917. It construction took place under the supervision of the Royal Engineers using 4,000 German prisoners of war as labour. Once complete ship assembly was carried out using civilian labour.
To accommodate both the Royal Engineers and the German P.O.W. workforce during the construction of the shipyard camps were built at both Sedbury and at Beachley. In the latter location the existing village was cleared using an eviction order. This was issued by the Government under the emergency provisions of the Defence of The Realm Act (1914). The villagers at Beachley were only given 11 days notice of their eviction.
The National Shipyard at Beachley was served by a new railway spur and had its own dedicated power station. It comprised slipways, assembly hangars and accommodation buildings. In total its cost was over £2,000,000. However, the work was unfinished at the end of the war, and the only ship started at the site, the War Odyssey, was never completed.
The National Shipyard scheme came under server criticism after the Great War for its lack of launch rates during hostilities and its excessive costs.
National Shipyard No.2 at Beachley remained in Government ownership after the Great War. In 1924 part of the site was taken over for the Boys Technical College, later the Army Apprentices College which is now the headquarters of the First Battalion “The Rifles”.
Remains National Shipyard No.2, including embankments, slipways, sheds, accommodation blocks and a network of railway lines and sidings, can still be detected in the landscape and from aerial photographs.
Beachley, Gloucestershire – On east bank of the River Wye as it discharges into the Bristol Channel.
Associated Token, Check & Pass Issues:
Function: Unknown (Note 1)
Design: Bi-facial with a milled edge
Shape & Size: Circular, 32.1 mm
Obverse: Raised legend around upper edge within raised and beaded borders reads .NATIONAL SHIPYARD. and below No.2 plus around bottom, BEACHLEY . Stamped identification number 4849 in centre field.
Reverse: Blank apart from raised and beaded borders around edge.
Date: 1917 to 1918
Maker: Unknown (Note 2)
Published References: Cox N. & A. – The Tokens, Checks, Metallic Tickets, Passes and Tallies of Wales 1800-1993. 1994. See note on page 147 after entry for token/check No.390.
- Probably used as a works pass and/or a time check by a civilian shipyard worker.
- Checks based on the same design were also used at the National Shipyard No.1 located at Chepstow. It is assumed that these were produced by the same maker who made the above checks for Beachley.