Belfast Telegraph

Back then: Factory girls' Stirling war effort

Women in slacks played a riveting role in building planes that won victory

By Eddie McIlwaine

If it hadn't been for the women in overalls working tirelessly beside the planemakers at the Short and Harland plants in Lisburn, we might never have won World War II.

Now, I agree that statement is a bit of an exaggeration, but it is a fact that the input of the female staff at the Altona and Long Kesh bases was vital to the war effort.

"We worked mainly on the tails," recalled one girl who is mentioned in a new book published by Colourpoint called Aircraft And Aerospace Manufacturing In Northern Ireland, put together, pictures and all, by Guy Warner and Ernie Cromie, who have a passion for planes old and new.

So one summer evening in wartime 1944, as a reward for all their hard work and devotion to duty, Shorts took some of the girls from Altona and Long Kesh down to the main factory in the city to see aircraft at an advanced stage.

Which is how my picture today came about, as they all lined up in the shadow of a Stirling bomber.

The picture, of course, is just one of those absorbing shots in a book that every aircraft buff in the province and beyond will want for Christmas or a birthday.

I'm certain some of those ladies are still around and Guy and Ernie would like to hear from them when they get round to the second edition. The Altona and Long Kesh sites were out in the country, well away from the Shorts headquarters, which was a target for German bombs during the Blitz.

Years ago a woman who worked in the Altona plant recalled one aspect of working there like this: "All the managers and foremen were men and each foreman had a girl working with him. But we picked up as much as them. We worked on the tail and the fuselage of the planes and we all wore slacks."

And she added firmly: "There were some men who wouldn't have got through if there hadn't been a good girl working with them. Some of them didn't know their knee from their elbow, but I loved the work I did."

The different parts were assembled at Long Kesh before being transported to Shorts in the city.

In their book, Guy and Ernie also tell the story of a Sealand amphibian aircraft, built for Abboud Pasha.

"The plane was lavishly fitted out," write the authors. "One of the items specially commissioned for the passenger cabin was a gold clock."

Alas, for security reasons, the clock wasn't screwed into place until just before the Sealand was due to take off on delivery. And the timepiece was stolen during that time.

I wonder where that clock is today?

Egyptian tycoon didn’t call time on Shorts despite theft of gold clock

In case you are wondering about Muhammad Ahmad Abbud Pasha to give him his full name, who died in 1963, I can tell you he was an Egyptian entrepreneur and one of the 10 richest men in the world. So the theft of his clock wouldn't have hurt his pocket.

He set up a construction firm in the 20s which was one of Egypt's success stories and by the 40s he owned the Sugar Company, the Khedival Mail Line as well as the Egyptian General Omnibus Company. He was also the first Egyptian director of the Suez Canal Company, which was then owned by foreigners.

Apparently he bought several aircraft from Shorts and didn't let the theft of that gold clock upset his relationship with the planemakers.

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