7 06 2009

cover

ON THE SWING SHIFT 

Building Liberty Ships In Savannah

by Tony Cope

238pp., 55  b/w photos
ISBN 978-1-59114-123-5
Hardcover, $26.95

Naval Institute Press

       Savannah Native Johnny Mercer wrote a number of songs during World War II that reflected the social climate of the times both at home and among the men and women in the service overseas. The song On the Swing Shift from the film Star Spangled Rhythm included the lines;

“Life is fine with my baby on the swing shift

On the line with my baby on the swing shift”

These lyrics portrayed a romantic, if not totally accurate, picture of men and women working together – not for the first time, but for the first time in huge numbers, in defense plants across America. One of those plants built Liberty Ships in Mercer’s hometown, Savannah.

          During World War II, the 2,710 Liberty ships built in America forged the lifeline that kept our Allies and our own military forces in the fight that led to ultimate victory. Eighty-eight of those Libertys were launched at the Southeastern Shipbuilding Corporation in Savannah, Georgia. On The Swing Shift – Building Liberty Ships In Savannah tells the story of the men who built those ships; men who in many cases came from rural areas and who had never seen a ship, much less helped to build one. It’s about women who took construction jobs in a man’s world and performed as well as the men with whom they worked. The book is about African-Americans who in the days of a segregated South, were not allowed to rise above the roles of custodians and “helpers”.

          For many of these people it was not portholes, ladders, the bow, the stern, port and starboard, it was “round windows”, “the pointy end”, “upstairs and downstairs”, “right and left”. Many were taken straight out of high school, other were in their 70′s and 80′s. They lived in places called Pine Gardens, Tattnall Homes, Deptford Place and Moses Rogers Grove. They car-pooled from Clyo, Springfield, Statesboro and Brooklet. These men and women worked in the heat and mosquitoes and they worked in the bitter cold. Their work was dangerous and sometimes boring, but many worked double shifts and often seven days a week. There were more than 45,000 of them during the four years of the shipyard’s existence and in spite of all of the problems faced, they built ships and they built them well.

          Few remember the Liberty ships, even fewer in Savannah know or remember the shipyard, or that the Southeastern Shipbuilding Corporation was the largest industry ever located there. They should remember; remember the ships, the men and women who built them, and the men who sailed them. Many argue that the Battle of the Atlantic was the most critical of the war. That battle and many others might well have been lost if it had not been for the Liberty ships. Eighty-eight of them were built just off President Street in Savannah.

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13 responses

23 07 2009
ROBERT SINCLAIR

TONY, I HOPE TO SEE YOU IN SAVANNAH AT SHAVERS OR ANYPLACE ELSE. MY FATHER WORKED AT THE SHIPYARD DURING THAT TIME AND THE BOOK SOUNDS GREAT. BOB SINCLAIR

21 09 2009
Georgia Hopkins

Book looks wonderful Tony – congratulations! Looking forward to the signing – see you there, Georgia

8 10 2009
Rod Hunt

Tony,
Historical hunter, gatherer that you are, you have done a magnificent job of combing the research, historical significance with the drama from keel-laying to fated voyage. It is a great contribution to all who care and understand the importance of such writing. Fantastic.
Rod

16 10 2009
Graham Dickinson

Tony,
Swing Shift is an excellent read. Your research & organization are right on point! It brought back many great memories of Savannah. It taught me many things that I did not know!!

Graham

11 11 2009
Sandi Rushing

Tony,
I am so sorry to have missed your book signing in Savannah. I didn’t hear about it until the day after. My grandmother was a welder at the shipyard, and I wanted to surprise my mother with a signed copy of your book. Her birthday is next month, and she has not heard about your book yet. I wonder, are you doing any other signings in other cities? I would be willing to travel! It would mean SO much to her! I can’t wait to read the book, myself!
~Sandi

12 11 2009
tonycope

Hi Sandi,
Thanks for the interest in my book. Unfortunately, you would have to come to Ireland for the the next signing, but I can sign a book plate for you to stick in a book bought in Savannah ( E. Shaver or Ships of the Sea Museum) or whereever. Tell me how you want it signed nad give me a mailing address and I will get it off to you.Thanks again.

Tony

16 11 2009
Byron

My grandmother was also a welder. She worked at Higgins Boat Yard in New Orleans, helping to build the famous Higgins boats so crucial to the amphibious landings of the war. She was always proud of being the first woman certified in 7018 in the entire Southeast.

I’ll be looking your book up, Tony, since I’m in that same business myself.

16 11 2009
tonycope

Thanks Byron, I hope that others whose parents worked at Southeastern or the other defense plants during WWII will get in touch. Let me know what you think of the book.
Tony

20 11 2009
Shannon Wagoner

Tony, I enjoyed the book. Easy to read and remember- the goal for any good history.
Shannon
Clermont, Fl.

23 11 2009
S. Hopkins

Tony,

Whenever you get a chance would you drop a note to George Hodges below. He is our wonderful neighbor part time in Midway although he lives in Atlanta. He said that your book has had more impact on his mother who you interviewed than anything he has seen in a long time. He said you could have bought her a new car and she wouldn’t have been any happier than seeing her father’s pics and quotes in the book. Anyway, he has bought several copies and wants to buy more for gifts. I mentioned that you might be able to sign some of those little inserts as you did for us and mail them to him for inclusion in the books.

I think he would like to send you a list of names so drop him a note whenever you get the chance.

Thx,

Sandy

7 03 2010
Rose Adams

Hi Tony, I’m Sandi Rushing’s mother. You sent her a signed bookplate to put in “Swing Shift” which she gave me for my birthday. This was the most wonderful birthday present I ever received. My mother was the best mother anyone ever had to her children, Rose, Mary, Rebecca, Junior and Hugh. She passed away in 1995 but we still miss her so much.

In your book, on page 41 is a picture of the women welders. The woman on the far left wearing overalls and a welding mask flipped up looks for all the world like mama. Is there any earthly way to find out if in fact this is her. I wouldn’t know where to start the research. I wonder if you know who this picture belonged to that I might ask. It would mean the world and all to me and my family to actually KNOW that this is her. I’ve tried telling myself that, yes, it IS her, but knowing for sure would just make it all good.

I look forward to your reply and again, what a GREAT book this is. Kudos to you!

24 11 2010
Douglas Flanders

Tony,
My Father worked on many of the Liberty Ships at Southeastern. He was a carpenter and his work was on the Dry Dock after the ship was launches I attended several launches as in my teen years. Now that was really and experience for a country boy. I haven’t got your book yet, but I look forward to reading it.

Thanks again,

Doug

17 02 2014
Carrie Soltay

My Grandma and Grandpa met while working in the Savannah shipyard during WWII. We lost him in 1979 and she passed away on January 31st. I visited Savannah over the weekend and was hoping to visit the places that they frequented. Though saddened to discover that nothing is left of the shipyard or apartments where they lived, I was very happy to locate a couple of spots on Broughton Street where a street photographer had captured them while walking in 1944. Though the storefronts in the background have changed over the years, a visit to the Georgia Historical Society helped me find out where Grandma and Grandpa had been standing — in one photo they were just outside of W.T. Grant Company and in another she was outside of Livington’s Pharmacy. I look forward to reading your book and learning more about the Savannah in which my grandparents lived.

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