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The Launch of the Dominion Monarch 27th July 1938

A great experience, a wonderful day and a very happy memory.

Shipyards were sanctuaries of great employment. None more so than Swan Hunter’s in Wallsend in the days when the lower orders all knew the mechanics of forelock touching. Swan Hunter’s head foreman plumber was only one rung down from the deity. A car would arrive at a reasonable hour to propel him to his place to be worshipped and a minion would arrive to do the shopping for his wife, after which a bit of gardening was usual.
Mrs Sellan, the near deity’s wife, was a lady of stature and considerable girth. Pavements were for mere mortals and she rolled along her allotted route in the middle of the road, “A ship in full sail”.

Launch day in Swan Hunter’s and the stage was set. Not any old launch but that of “The Dominion Monarch”, 27,000 tons and the most powerful diesel powered liner in the world. A mighty passenger liner, designed for the Shaw Savill & Albion’s Co’s fleet by a Commander working for Swan Hunter and Wigham Richardson to accommodate 517 first class passengers and 382 crew, as well as refrigerated space for meat and butter from New Zealand.
We children were a privileged lot and I was a guest of the Foreman Plumber, not of course to be seen by him or near him, but a ticket had found its way into my sticky paws and oh boy the status!

A big launch isolates the aristocrats from the pretenders. The shipwrights are in charge and their genius is breathtaking. All chocks but the last one have been removed, the tallow has been applied and the drag chains precisely calculated and positioned. Lady Essendon, wife of Lord Essendon the chairman of Shaw Savill, released the champagne against the prow and asked for a blessing on all who sailed in the mighty vessel. The last chock was removed, the last piece of slipway dropped an inch into place and the great ship gained momentum, seemingly out of control. The drag chains suddenly bit into action, the huge ship slowed dramatically, turned and the cheers went on and on.

The Launch Party made their dignified way to the well-filled trough and the rest had a drink appropriate to their station, a sausage roll, a sandwich and a sweet cake.

A great experience, a wonderful day and a very happy memory.

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