There go the ships – M.Meek

Let me introduce to an incredibly good book written by Marshall Meek CBE, who was one of the foremost authorities in the shipping world.

It was published in 2003, and did the rounds on the Cox side of our family.

Marshall was born and brought up in Auchermuchty, a small village in Fife, Scotland.

After studying for one term in the sixth form he somehow found himself leaving school and starting employment at Caledon Shipbuilders, Dundee.

That was the 21st December 1942, and in war torn Britain that week included working through Christmas Day.

From being the drawing office junior Marshall diligently applied himself to his tasks, and also took the opportunity to squeeze in a university education.

About 11 years later Marshall got to know the Cox family, and in 1957 he married Roz’s Auntie Elfrida.

By now Marshall was “going places”, and taking on all sorts of responsibilities.

Throughout his career he valued to the opportunity to broaden his knowledge, stand on committees and generally do all that he could to help a national industry which went into decline after the war.

Here he illustrates complacency on behalf of senior management, and militancy from the workers in our shipyards.

As time wore on the situation was exacerbated by dockside industrial action, and the emergence of fresh thinking in the shipyards of Germany, Japan, and Korea.

Marshall cites his years in “Shipowning” as the best in his distinguished career.

Working with Blue Funnel in Liverpool his stature within the firm rose, and eventually oversaw the business and fleets of 60+ ships. At the same time he headed up the designs of new craft that cost many millions to build.

His greatest triumphs were bringing in new designs, and then watching them slide down the slipway.

You can tell he had great affection for his first, the Centaur but it was hearing a casual remark whilst staying in a hotel that led to his greatest success.

All around the world cargo ships were spending far too long loading and unloading, as freight was slowly hoisted in to hold and secured.

Often boats were at the docks for 200 or more days. Marshall and his team had got wind of new fangled “containers” and managed to design an entirely new fast class of ship.

When he started they didn’t even know what sizes the containers would be, and additionally they were faced with challenges of keeping a ship stable when in effect it had vast open holes in the deck.

After discounting the British Rail 30ft container requirement and talking to the right people they worked on an arrangement that housed 40ft containers, and cruised at around 30 knots.

The Liverpool Bay exceeded all expectations, and changed the face of merchant shipping across the globe.

Excuse my enthusiasm! This is a long post.

I remember spending time with him after the Falklands Conflict when he was chosen to be part of the team which reviewed the navy after it lost 4 ships.

Here he spend several pages pointing out the crews were first rate, but let down by weaknesses in ship design that wouldn’t have been tolerated on merchant vessels.

Later he covers his time in a long costly debate about the (still current) Type 23 frigates, and how he had to stand his ground in the short fat v long thin hull debate.

Whilst key figures buckled under the pressure and resigned, he was the man in the firing line as The Times newspaper championed the Mr. Giles S90 short fat “solution”.

The whole saga cost over a million, and wasted valuable time and the short fat design was categorically not a cost saver or even remotely viable option.

Throughout the book Marshall speaks well of virtually everyone, but one can sense smoke almost coming out of ears over this period in illustrious career.

Here and there as the book unfolds one gets glimpses of Marshall’s Christian faith, and he gathers it all up nicely in the latter pages were his continued activities through retirement get a mention.

I knew that he was Gideon passing out Bibles, but didn’t realise he would visit prisoners once a month on a Sunday to tell the poor souls “inside” about Jesus.

I don’t recall reading many books that have had such an impact on me as “There go the Ships”.

I knew the title was inspired by scripture, but was blown away to find out it was HRH Prince Philip who pointed Marshall towards Psalm 107 when attending an RSA function.

I like the picture at the head of this post, but ironically it isn’t quite the face of the man I knew.

Marshall always seemed to be smiling, even when Roz’s Dad asked him to do the “public speaking” when Roz and I got married.

I still remember the joke he told (linked to shipbuilding) and he made the day all the more special.

I suppose the moral of the story is value your friends and family whilst you have them.

As much I’d like to believe we could “chew the cud” discussing all things nautical in heaven I’ve a feeling we will be pre-occupied by our Lord.

Turn your eyes upon Jesus
Look full in His wonderful face
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim
In the light of His glory and grace

6 comments on “There go the ships – M.Meek”

  1. General cargo might have had its day but they were the best ships to sail on – long stays in port, visiting places that were off the beaten track, and they required a skill set that I guess has been largely lost these days. I think the longest I ever spent in port on a general cargo ship was about 14 days including time at anchor waiting for a berth.

    I don’t think any of the folk I sailed with welcomed the advent of container ships – although they weren’t that big in my day. The only containers I ever saw were carried as deck cargo!

    Sounds like an interesting book.

  2. Well done Steven, a wonderful testimony to a man that befriended our family.
    I chatted to Ros’s aunt Elfrida the other day and was so glad to find her fit and well.
    We were privileged to have them stay with us more than once. The last time was probably some 7/8 years ago and we took them on a long drive around the south.
    He climbed to the very top of the Spinnaker Tower in Portsmouth despite struggling with Rhematoid Arthritis. He pointed out to me from the days of wood, The Victory. The Warrior, first iron clad steampowered warship, and the submarine base where he studied many years before. We went on round to Rockbourne in the the New Forest to see Carl and Nicki, then up to Raes sister and her husband David and Eleanor for a meal. I only thought of it just recently as getting on in years ourselves and asked your aunt if we tired them out. They slept all the way home but he kept the map on his lap, needing to know exactly where we were now and again. Lovely Christian company all day a man and wife of a different Spirit who achieved so much in his life, serving God as you mention, but also man with the design of the Supertanker of today.

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