I don’t know if John Omir ever saw this poster, but if he had, his broad smile and inflated chest would hint that he knew something about its message.
Patriotic broadsheets like this one from World War Two, were posted throughout British shipyards. They served as a reminder to the workers that they too were a powerful military force.
John was a veteran of the shipyards. He served almost twenty years earlier, during the First World War, in the Belfast yards of Workman and Clark. Here John, and his fellow riveters proved their mettle, beating glowing hot bolts into almost inch thick sheets of steel.
During his war, German leaders strung a nautical noose around Great Britain with the unleashing of their submarine ‘wolf packs’ with orders to aggressively sink any ship trying to get into, or out of, British waters. They hoped cutting off the delivery of desperately needed material and food, would force this island nation to withdraw from the war.
The attempt to starve Great Britain into submission was met by the fierce bulldog determination of its people. Their powerful response was simple – they would build more ships, and build them faster, than they could be sunk. Workers challenged themselves to perform at the highest production levels. Weekly, their output set new records as they tried to best one another.
You may have guessed this is where John plays a role. And what a role it was. John’s lionhearted patriotism drove him to set production benchmarks that have not been duplicated. Incredibly, in a nine hour shift, John pounded 12,209 rivets into place. And on two occasions his production soared to 1400 rivets an hour!*
Slamming metal into metal – hour after hour, day after day, week after week – the physical toll on his body must have been extreme. I can imagine his muscles rippling as he ignored the eye blurring sweat as it pooled on his face. Even through his off hours, the ringing echoes in his ears would barely have time to soften before he was back at the yards to continue his assault on the Kaiser.
Rifleman, tank commander, nor fighter pilot have exclusive sway over physical sacrifice and heroics. The battlefield has more opportunities for such things, but if looked for, gallantry can be found anywhere from wartime factories to domestic kitchens, and John Omir’s story is just one among the thousands.
*History of the World War (vol. 5 page 35) by Francis A. March. Published 1918 Leslie-Judge Company