Model Ship from Jack Webster

Model Ship from Jack Webster

Social History Curator Ellen Pesci with the model of a Tribal Class destroyer.

A recent donation to the Orkney Museum has a hidden story that we would like to try to find out more about. Bill Webster has donated a model of a Tribal Class destroyer, which his father, Jack Webster, had bought while stationed in Orkney during World War II.

Jack was born in Scarborough on the 10th October, 1909. When war came he was called up in January 1940, but it was decided that he was better employed on essential war work in Yorkshire. In the first year he installed tank traps, pill boxes and gun emplacements along the Yorkshire coast. Some of the gun emplacements were dummy ones, with telegraph poles painted to look like gun barrels. The second year saw him working on the building of a listening station at Scarborough and a radar station on the Yorkshire coast. He was then sent to Redesdale in Northumberland, where he continued to install defences.

In 1942 Jack was again called up and sent to the Royal Marine Engineers, doing exactly the same work as he had been doing as a civilian. After his training he was sent first to Iceland to construct defences before being stationed in Orkney in 1943.

Jack was stationed at ‘Scapa Camp, Scapa Flow’, which was at Scapa Beach, just south of Kirkwall. He was a joiner to trade. An officer asked him if he had any experience of fitting greenheart wooden piles to a pier. The pier at Scapa, he was informed, was damaging ships that tied up alongside it as it was bare stone. Jack said that he did have experience in fitting such piles, but that he needed specialised tools to do the job. He drew up a list of the tools that he needed and set to work with two other men. They worked from a raft, which could rise and fall with the tide.

The model Tribal Class destroyer, bought by Jack for his baby son, Bill.

It was when he was working on the pier that Jack met an old man who had been a boat builder, but was now too infirm to work. Instead, he made models of the ships that frequented Scapa Flow and sold them to sailors who were stationed there. He was also on the lookout for scraps of wood to build his models with, which the soldiers provided. When Jack’s son, Bill, was born on the 2nd January 1944 Jack bought a model of a Tribal Class destroyer from the old man, as a toy for his baby boy.

The other side of the model destroyer.

How much the model cost, Bill has no idea, but he thought that it couldn’t have been very expensive. Jack sent most of his army wages home to his wife and just kept a small amount as ‘pocket money’. He returned home after the war, where he lived until his death in 2000.

After having a clear-out it was decided to donate the ship model to the Orkney Museum, as Bill’s son and grandsons didn’t want it. Ellen Pesci, the museum’s new Social History Curator, is keen to find out who the mystery model builder was. He was an old man in early 1944, a former boat builder who was no longer fit to carry out his trade. He must have been active in the Scapa district, probably living in the vicinity of the camp. Do you have any idea who this man might have been? If you have any information, please contact Ellen Pesci at the Orkney Museum, 01856 873535 ext 2524, e-mail

Ellen with the model ship.

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