A Dockyard Apprentice's Story: Hard Graft, Scrapes and Japes on the Long Road to Becoming a Trained Engineer

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The apprenticeship at Chatham Dockyard is the finest in the world - if you stick to it, the world's your oyster' Robert Smith's dad told his teenage son. When young Robert started there in 1958, the docks employed 6000 people on a two-mile- long site encompassing hundreds of workshops, offices and storehouses as well as its own police station, fire service, medical centre, technical college and telephone exchange. There were three ship-refitting basins and eight main docks. Yet less than 30 years later Chatham Dockyard had effectively closed, with catastrophic consequences to the local economy. Robert did stick to his apprenticeship, and he has never regretted it. Along with the studying and the hard work there were plenty of good times, with laughter and practical jokes, scrapes with motorbikes and cars, encounters with extraordinary characters and moments of excitement - and frustration - with the opposite sex.