Uncle Henry, my Granny’s older brother, seemed to strike everyone he met as impossibly urbane, and it was easy to see why my mom, and her mom, adored him so. Unlike all of my other relatives, Henry Dadson and his wife Patricia lived in Vancouver. Like, actually in Vancouver (this recollection is from the mind of an eight-year-old, but I would guess the build maybe as some sort of gabled vernacular situation). Every other supposedly Vancouver visit took us deep up inside Surrey and Delta. Not the same thing. I remember all the males in the family I met. It took no great feat. There were so very few of them. Henry would have stood out, to me, anyway, because he was an alarmingly tall and lanky fellow and I am certain I sensed in that instant what my future looked like. I experienced ambivalence for the first ever time. His aquiline nose, hairline and head-shape—all harbingers of the thing to come.
Henry was also deeply tanned. I’d never seen a Canadian so tanned. He was also home during the middle of the work day, and he seemed happy and relaxed. Henry had quit the rat race when the quitting was good and he was still a reasonably young man. After a short career in insurance, he and Patricia decided hey howzabout sailing? So they did. They took a decade off, sailing the world, sail-boat style.
Henry was no rookie with the boats. During the Second World War, Henry Dadson served as Lieutenant R.C.N.V.R. aboard two Destroyers--HMCS Athabaskan and HMCS Qu'Appelle. The Athabaskan (pictured above) was laid down in Newcastle-upon-Tyne by Vickers-Armstrong. Listening to q with Tom Power the other week I learned that Sting is starring in a Broadway musical, that he wrote, about growing up in England in the shadows of a massive shipbuilding works. Sting grew up in Wallsend. The shipyard of Sting’s musical--The Last Ship—is The Wigham Richard Shipyard (pictured below). It closed in 2007. The second shipyard referenced by Sting is Swan Hunter, a shipyard in Newcastle-upon-Tyne. Swan Hunter, which closed is 1993, is the rebranded Vickers Armstrong shipyard. It is where the HMCS Athabaskan was built in 1940.
Sting was saying how growing up in the shadow of huge and enormous warships was depressing. Thinking that his life was going to be inside that dark, loud and really quite dangerous place was the motivation that got him out of that town. At the same time, Sting recognizes the value and dignity of labour. For a lot of people, those jobs were everything. People were proud of their work.
The British House of Commons had vigorous debate about Swan Hunter’s closing. How could the sitting conservative government simply, accidentally--sorry most honourable brah, my bad!—fail to get a single building contract for one of the nation’s few surviving shipyards for so long that now thousands upon thousands of people—the entire town—had lost their only source of income? Excerpted below is part of that debate:
Mr. Cook (Robin Cook, Labour MP)
"Will the Minister confirm that last November he was warned by the constituency Members that Swan Hunter would be at risk of closure if it lost the naval contract? Are we to understand from the measures that he has just announced that the Government have not a single proposal to try to keep open the last remaining shipbuilding yard on Tyneside? Does he appreciate that, if they intend to do anything to save the yard, the situation is now urgent, and that even as we discuss the matter the directors of the company are meeting the bankers? Surely the Government can announce something that they will do to continue shipbuilding at this yard, a yard which has already secured two export orders which could be lost if it were to close?
Does not the crisis at Swan Hunter provide a clear example of why we must plan ahead for conversion of defence industries that are losing defence orders?
Already in the shipbuilding yards on both banks of the Tyne one in three men is out of work. If Swan Hunter closes, one in two could be on the dole. It is not just Tyneside, but the nation, that will have its eyes on the Government to see whether they can rise to the gravity of the crisis and match it now with help on the same scale as the blow they have just delivered to the local community."
The shipyard shutdown. Sting’s musical opened in Toronto this year. The Athabaskan had a super short career. Commissioned into the Royal Canadian Navy in 1943, the Athabaskan was sunk by a German Torpedo Boat after only nine months of service, off the coast of France. One hundred and twenty-eight people died, 44 were rescued by a sister ship, and 83 were rescued from the water and taken prisoners-of-war by three German boats. I’m assuming Uncle Henry had got his second assignment, on the Qu’Apelle by then. Either that or dude had really good luck.