Belfast Telegraph

Rosemary retraces wartime career with workplace visit

By Allan Preston

Eighty years after she started her first job as a tracer in the Harland & Wolff Shipyards, a 105-year-old former employee still remembers the exact spot she worked.

Accompanied by her son, daughter, grandchildren and great grandson, Dunmurry centenarian Rosemary Graham (nee Howard) celebrated her latest birthday in style on Saturday at the newly opened Titanic Hotel, Belfast.

After finishing art college she began her first job as a tracer in 1936, leaving briefly in 1939 before being asked back to help with the war effort.

Among the blueprints Mrs Graham worked on were those for HMS Belfast - ship number 1,000 built by Harland & Wolff and launched on March 17, 1938.

HMS Belfast served the Navy for more than 20 years in the Second World War, the Korean War and a series of overseas commissions.

Mrs Graham's daughter Patricia Effard (60), who now lives in the Midlands in England, said her mother was a remarkable woman.

"She thoroughly enjoyed her birthday and even remembered the drawing office," she said.

"As we took her in she just looked around and knew where her desk was. Looking at old photos, I know mum's desk was very near the old one they have on exhibition."

Ms Effard said her mother "caused a bit of a stir" when she first joined.

"I know there was a very long apprenticeship to become a tracer and she didn't have to do it, as she was the first one from art college to join," she said. "She told me that when women worked in Harland & Wolff they had to leave earlier than the men. That was because some women got hassled by dock workers."

After marrying her husband George in 1939, she was required to leave her job. The advent of the war meant this 'retirement' was short lived with an old colleague asking her back. At the time the tracing offices were moved from the city centre to Finaghy, to avoid the German bombers.

"She didn't ever say much about that time, it was difficult," her daughter said. "She was married, setting up a new home with my dad George with the war going on. She just did her bit."

Patricia now flies over from England to visit her mother several times a year, she said the family connection meant seeing the Belfast shipyards has always had special meaning.

"When I fly in I see Samson and Goliath. I think 'I'm home' - that's what it means to me and I'm just so proud of it," she said.

"My mum is just fantastic. She brought me and my brother Howard (64) up on her own as my dad died when I was only 18 months old. We lived with my gran and she gave us the best start. She taught us, 'If you haven't anything nice to say, don't say anything'."

She added: "But these days she's getting cheeky and will say whatever's on her mind. She tells us, 'If I can't say it now, when can I say it?' The staff at Faith House in Finaghy where she lives now (as the eldest resident) absolutely love her."

Belfast Telegraph

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