St Mary's Island History Group


1919 to 1938

The 1918 Armistice brought serious economic depression to Chatham. At the end of the War there were in excess of 15,000 workers in the yard and many of these workers were to lose their jobs.


The Admiralty cancelled all orders for new ships and indeed was reducing the size of the Royal Navy. The Medway and its creeks were full of Royal Navy ships either mothballed or awaiting the breakers’ yards.


“Over 100 women war workers are being discharged from Chatham Dockyard, including

St Mary’s Island, this week. Also several hundred men have received notice of discharge from the Dockyard/St Mary’s Island. The Admiralty have given instructions that men who served in the firing line during the war, and have since resumed or taken up employment at the Dockyard should have priority for retention over men who were engaged after the outbreak of war. During the week there have been protest meetings at Rochester, Chatham and Gillingham. It was stated that the reduction will total 4,000 men but this statement is not official.”


“The whole of the women WRNS employed at the Royal Naval Barracks, Chatham will be demobilised on 1st October, 1919. Not all of them however are leaving the Port as many of those employed in the various offices are being re-engaged as civilian clerks.”


The dockyard workers did not join the General Strike in 1926 and there is evidence that indeed they did help to break the strike. Coal, used to power the ships, stockpiled in the yard, was loaded on to many trains for delivery to Power Stations.


This year saw the building of HMS Kent at nearly 10,000 tons. She was the largest Cruiser to be built in the dockyard.


With the start of the Great Depression in 1930 and Chatham relying upon the Dockyard for employment and no orders coming in for ships, redundancies occurred. This hit the town particularly hard. The labour force fell to 7,000.


There were ongoing rumours about the closure of the dockyard but it was not until 1935 with the fear of another conflict in Europe, with Germany re-arming and making threatening noises that orders for new ships were made.


The thousands of workers arriving and leaving each day needed a fleet of buses, (with the destination signs still on the Dock Road walls) and through to 1930 there were trams as well. Many workers went to and fro home for their lunch each day using the public transport.

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Womens' Royal Naval Service

Secret submarine HMS X1

HMS Kent

Last tram to Dock Road 1930