Scotland’s labour history has been the subject of many important studies, surveys, articles and books. Some of those published represent the invaluable collection of local groups and amateur historians, while others have been, and are, produced by academics and labour officials. The general expectation, even in Scotland, is that these works should be written in Standard English, regardless of the everyday speech of the workforce. For this publication, however, it seemed more important to transcribe, as recorded, the voices of folk whose vitality of language and expression gives a brighter reflection of their experiences during work and leisure.
This book has grown out of an oral history project, ‘The End of the Shift’, which aims to record the working practices and conditions of skilled workers in Scotland’s past industries. Publicity about the project caught the interest of a group of retired engineers, who had all served apprenticeships with a prestigious Kirkcaldy firm, Melville-Brodie Engineering Company. Having lived through times when Scotland seemed blighted by industrial closures, the engineers could identify with ‘the end of the shift’ as they had experienced the effect of closing down Melville-Brodie Engineering Company. The entire workforce was dispersed, and with it, the skills, expertise and wisdom of generations. Kirkcaldy also lost a company that had been the pride of Scottish engineering.
Over the years, as the retired engineers reflected on the radical changes that have taken place since their ‘second to none’ training, they began to realise the importance of recording knowledge and skills for posterity. They also wanted to remember the firm that trained them, and so they planned a memorial to be erected on the site of Melville-Brodie Engineering works. It was to be designed and made by the men themselves, and in May 2014, the group had the satisfaction of seeing the plaque unveiled by Mrs June Shanks, daughter of the celebrated engineer, Robert Burt Brodie. Standing beside her were the two oldest Melville- Brodie ‘boys’ (aged 94 and 89), Bob Thomson and Willie Black, and the Secretary of the Melville-Brodie Retired Engineers’ Club, Dougie Reid. Councillor for Kirkcaldy East, Kay Carrington, who supported the project, represented Fife Council as she addressed the audience and the media:
This is a really exciting project because it shows our past history, how we made a difference, not just in Kirkcaldy, but in the wider world. Melville-Brodie engineers did everything that we’re proud of in Scotland. We need to keep the story alive to enable us to take that forward to children and grandchildren in the future.