John Munro – Campbeltown Shipyard 1968-1988

My dad, John Munro, was a native of Caithness and was born near Wick in July 1923.

During the early years of World War II he worked on a farm in Caithness, which was a reserved occupation. However he wanted to join the Merchant Navy but the farm owner would not let him go unless he could get a replacement for himself. In 1943 he told the farmer that his younger brother Sandy would be willing to replace him. The farmer agreed to this and my dad headed off to Newcastle to sign up with the Merchant Navy. At the end of the first week the farmer saw Sandy getting on his bike with his rucksack containing all of his possessions. The farmer asked him where exactly he thought he was going since he was to live full time at the farm. Sandy said that since he was only 14 he was under-age to do reserved work on the farm and he was going home. When asked where his brother was his reply that ‘he had left Wick and gone to Newcastle’ sent the farmer into a rage and he turned the air blue when he realised he had been tricked!

John Munro when he was enlisted for the Merchant Navy in 1943. Photo courtesy of Iain Munro.

After training as a fireman he was posted to the Empress Of Russia and then the Il de France, which were both converted as troop carriers and also used to transport German prisoners of war to Canada. He also worked in a bar in New York for three months whilst the vessel he was on was in dry dock for repairs. In 1944 he was posted to the RFA Black Ranger which was an oiler used to refuel convoy escorts. As a result he completed three of the renowned round trip Arctic convoys to Russia including the final convoy of the war in May 1945. These were the convoys Winston Churchill described as the ‘worst in the world’.

In April 1946 he married my mum Jean and they had three children, Evelyn, Maureen and myself. 

After the war he remained in the Merchant Navy until 1967, chiefly on North Atlantic voyages between Europe and Canada, the US and Mexico. It was during this time that he met John Carmichael who became a great friend and was instrumental in bringing him to Campbeltown.

In 1968 John Carmichael contacted him and asked whether he might be interested in coming to help set up a new shipyard which was being built in Campbeltown. He had been at a bit of a loose end since leaving the Merchant Navy and was itching to get back involved with ships. So on 5th November 1968 the Munro family, with the exception of two daughters already working in Glasgow, moved from Clydebank to a new adventure in Kintyre. We initially lived temporarily in Davaar Avenue before moving to Ralston Road, and then Smith Drive.

The workforce was based initially at the Old Quay repairing fishing boats whilst the Yard was being built at Trench Point. I was only 9 at the time so my recollections are a little hazy but I do remember that he and the small number of employees at the time had to turn their hand to many different tasks and money was very tight!

John Munro in a photo taken in the early 1970s, on the Learside Road between, Campbeltown and Southend. Photo courtesy of Iain Munro.

During his time at the shipyard he ran the stores and ended up as the Buyer for the yard. However he still got involved in lots of other work and I do remember one incident in particular. He had been up at Kennacraig near Tarbert doing some work at the jetty on a ferry. There were welders working on the side of a vessel and one fell into the water and when my dad reached down to grab him the weight of the welding gear dragged him in also. He said that when he went down his feet touched the bottom and he pushed himself back up as hard as he could. This happened a second time and again he pushed himself back up. This time some arms reached out to grab him and pulled him out of the water. He said that he thought if he went down a third time he wouldn’t have had the strength to come back up again. For all the time he was in the Merchant Navy he had never learned to swim!

There are probably lots of stories that were never told at home during the time he worked at the Yard until his retirement in 1988. However I am sure some people will remember the time he took our dog, Trudy, to work with him and she stole Archie Johnstone’s lunch and probably a few others too. After that whenever he took Trudy with him to work if any food went missing she got the blame, and probably for a few forgotten lunches too!

Trudy, John Munro’s dog, who became infamous for stealing people’s lunches on her visits to the shipyard. Photo courtesy of Iain Munro.

There were numerous launch invites during his time at the Yard and he was enormously proud on these days. Looking at the list of names of the employees on the website there are many that I recall my dad mentioning not only as work colleagues but also as friends.

After working at the Yard, he did some work with John Carmichael and was an expert at lagging engine room pipes. He was never happier than when he was crawling about in the confined space of an engine room! He and my mum left Campbeltown in 1991 to live nearer the family in Glasgow. However, occasionally he got a phone call from John and off he went again! After my mum died in 2002 I took my dad back to Wick to look around his old haunts and he enjoyed a chat with Norrie Bremner, whose family had several boats built at the Yard. My dad passed away in December 2008 and when I went through his papers I found several articles and photographs of the Yard that I know he was so very proud to have been a part of and always looked back fondly to his time there.


Iain Munro 12.07/2109



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