As a Great Grandson of Frank Workman (my grandfather Cecil married Frank and Sara Workman’s daughter, Florence) who, as a young man, left the Harland and Wolff Shipyard to set up his own shipbuilding business just across the River Lagan from that yard, I was particularly pleased to be invited to write the foreword to this website.
Over the last five years, my brother Nick and I have been part of a small team led by Brian Mooney, which was formed initially to ensure that the remains of the Belfast (Workman Clark) Shipyard Memorial, now on the Pumphouse Wall, Titanic Quarter, Belfast, were properly conserved and that the heavily weathered names and details of the 136 “Wee Yard” employees who lost their lives in the Great War are again available to see. It was only in 2019 that this was achieved by the erection of a state-of-the-art protective screen. In the same year, an information board, provides information on the all-but-forgotten Workman Clark shipyard, was erected near the memorial by the Ulster Scots Agency. Little did I, or indeed the other members of this small group, realise all those years ago, that this was the beginning of a much greater task, culminating, thus far at least, in the preparation and publishing of this website.
I was, of course, aware of the broad history of the Workman Clark Yard and the fact that my Great Uncle Edward (Ted) Workman was one of those who lost their lives, indeed I am the custodian of the Workman family’s archive which sets out Ted’s life story – practically from birth, in great detail. Much of the material from that archive is included in this website and I am particularly proud that a full chapter is dedicated to Ted’s short life. I do believe that this extraordinary story is worthy of telling, particularly as an illustration of how so many young men, from many diverse backgrounds, gave up all that they knew to serve their country in the hope of making it a better world but tragically never came back. Coupled with Ted’s detailed story in this website, we have little vignettes of many of the Wee Yard’s men and their families who also made the supreme sacrifice – I found these particularly moving and again stories which also deserve to be told.
This website also records, in great detail, the achievements of the men from the “Wee Yard” during the Great War, not only in the detail about some of the ships commissioned, launched, repaired or adapted by them during that period but, perhaps more importantly, the sacrifices made by so many of them. I was particularly moved by the revelation that by the end of 1914 some 1,000 men had joined the armed forces and that by the following year this had doubled. Some of these men were subsequently recalled from active service to the yard to help with the war effort – indeed, much gratitude was expressed for their efforts in 1915 by the First Lord of the Admiralty, Winston Churchill, the First Sea Lord, Admiral Fisher. In reading the research for this website I have learned much about the yard and, indeed, society at that time. I was particularly surprised to learn, for example, that such was the strength of feeling of those at home against men who had not “joined up” that yard workers were issued with a lapel badge to show that they were engaged in employment essential to the war effort. Different times indeed.
Our collective hope is that through this website, the 136 men’s names will not only return to the public domain but that descendants of these men may be able to find out more about their relatives and the important part they and the “Wee Yard” played in winning that far-off World War.
In closing, I wish to particularly thank all those who have made this possible – I wholeheartedly commend the research published in this website to you.
Lord Lieutenant for County Down (2012 – 2021)