In recent weeks we have looked at the work of the well-known Wolverhampton firm John Thompson Water Tube Boilers Limited in building landing craft for the Royal Navy in 1944-45 (see Bugles 1041 and 1043). The story was brought to us by Tony Groucutt of Penn, Wolverhampton, whose father Norman was one of the workers who built the landing craft. Now we have another story of maritime engineering about Norman and his colleagues.
Norman Groucutt worked for John Thompson for around 15 years, before he left in the early 1950s; he was a senior fitter, in charge a number of men. The company was renowned for the great boilers it built for shipping and it would often send teams of workers out to shipyards across the country to install boilers in new ships or to work on repairs.
In the summer of 1949 Norman and his workmates were dispatched to the Furness Shipbuilding Company, Haverton Hill, on the banks of the River Tees, to repair the boilers of TES San Silvestre, a turbo-electric oil tanker built for the Eagle Oil and Shipping Company. The ship was launched on 1st December, 1948, but it seems that after sea trials repairs were needed to the boilers before the ship was delivered to its owners on 21st July, 1949. And so Norman and his colleagues were sent to work on Teesside.
Tony has a battered copy of a report written by Mr G.A. Plummer and sent back to Thompsons in Wolverhampton. It was addressed to Mr W.R. Edwards and copied to E.W. Thompson, J.W. Wright, W.L. Partridge and F. Briscoe. Dated 20th June, 1949, a month before the ship was delivered, it describes the stage that repairs had reached: “A visit was made to the Furness Shipbuilding Co. on the 15th and 16th instants. The following is the present position:
“Port Boiler. All repairs to corroded boiler, superheater and economiser tubes have been made good. Boiler subjected to hydraulic test of 850 psi in the presence of Lloyds Surveyor and Mr Vaughan, the Ship’s Engineer and all found satisfactory. All tubes have been painted red oxide, close pitched tubes in addition being trowelled level with Silimanite, finally caposite insulation fitted in position. Castings were at the time of my visit being replaced and it is expected to have all ready for commencing first boil out on Saturday 18th instant.
“Starboard boiler. All casings are cleared, repairs to corroded superheater and economiser tubes completed and painted red oxide. Building up of corroded boiler tubes proceeding, expect to complete for hydraulic test by Tuesday 21st instant and commence boiling out Saturday 25th instant.”
This was clearly something of an urgent job and Norman and his colleagues had worked hard. Mr Plummer was full of praise for their efforts and singled out Norman in particular: “I cannot speak too highly of all our men who are carrying out the boiler repairs, particularly N. Groucutt, who is in charge of these men, for had it not been for this particular man’s efforts in every way the very considerable repairs that have had to be carried out on these boilers would not have been anywhere near complete at this stage. This man has not spared himself either in the hours that he has put in nor in the way that he has looked after the men.
“Every one of the men employed and now on the job have pulled their weight throughout. They are: “Welders. Masters, Bradford, King, Lea. Fitters. N. Groucutt, Gavin, Wall, Griffiths, Dell, Galentree, in addition Mason, apprentice from the drawing office.
“I cannot speak too highly of the loyalty shown and the work done by these men. Gavin has been working under extreme conditions, he is suffering from head wounds including shrapnel and has carried on as long as he could, almost to the end of the job when unfortunately he was overtaxed by this war disability and has had to return to hospital.
“The work done by these men has created a considerable impression on the shipyard and by all who have seen what they have done and I have promised that a bonus shall be paid to these men and never in my experience of the firm has a bonus been better earned.”
Tony has supplied us with several pictures of Norman and his mates at work on the San Silvestre.
Fans of Midlands rock giants ELO will be interested to note that Norman Groucutt was the father of bass player and singer Kelly Groucutt, who was a member of the band between 1974 and 1983. He played on the albums Face the Music (1975), A New World Record (1976), Out of the Blue (1977), Discovery (1979), Xanadu (1980) and Time (1981). He passed away in 2009.