With the onset of war in 1939, there was an increasing demand for metal fabricating and engineering in Australia. G.H. Varley rolled up its sleeves to do its bit for the war effort, adding extra staff to the payroll and purchasing a variety of new machinery.
The Port of Newcastle was becoming an increasingly busy and lively place as the war grew in magnitude. The highly reputable and well-located Novocastrian ship repair industry provided a major amount of the naval maintenance work for the Australian military. Sailors, dockworkers, businessmen and traders all jostled for a quota of the incoming work, and G.H. Varley was awarded a significant share thanks to its high quality work and new machinery.
Many of Newcastle’s young men were either sent or put their own hand up to head overseas and fight for the cause. Varley men, however, were prevented from doing so, as the business was classed as a ‘Priority I’ military supplier during the war – the same level as munitions factories – because of its vital role in servicing the Australian navy fleet. Varley employees often worked around the clock to repair extensive damage and return ships back to service, and many humbly viewed this effort as simply ‘doing their bit’ for the war.
At 47 years of age, Varley chairman Clement York Varley volunteered to serve in the RAAF, having flown with distinction as a pilot in the Australian Flying Corps during World War I. He was posted as an instructor at the nearby Williamtown air force base, training recruits on military flight tactics.
It is uncertain exactly how Company management viewed Clem’s choice to volunteer for the war during one of the business’ busiest times. Regardless of this, the ever-reliable James Colgan continued running the Company with ongoing stability and strength. G.H. Varley continued to prosper, albeit under heavy strain, as a result of the Navy’s continued reliance upon the firm’s services. Before long, however, Japan entered the War, and the demand of the military upon the Company’s services would increase even further, pushing Varley to breaking point…
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