Monday 20 May 2024

Goole's part in building Mulberry Harbour 1944

Late in 1943 workers began arriving in Goole to work on a project in numbers one and two dry docks.  Many were simply told to report for work in Goole and were accommodated in Mariners Street in huts.  [not certain where]. Some of the men were local and there were around 500 men in total.

No one knew what they were working on but the work was under the control of Henry Boot and Son.   Workers worked back to back twelve hour shifts. Timber was provided from the yard of E P Porter on Bridge Street. Work began in January 1944 and six concrete caissons were constructed and were completed by April 2nd.

This picture shows construction of caissons at Southampton in April 1944

We now know they were to be part of the Mulberry Harbours and that in total over 400 of these caissons [they were codenamed Phoenix]  in six sizes were constructed secretly all over the country.  They were designed to act as breakwaters to protect the harbour structures. Those constructed at Goole were categorised as type C. 

This photo [from the Imperial War Museum] of a caisson being towed by a tug gives some idea of the structure.

One of the local workers was plumber George Gunnill and working with him was 15 year old apprentice Frank Agar. He later remembered that when mixing the concrete a precise amount of chemical had to be added and that George came up with the idea of using a lavatory cistern. One pull of the chain and the exact amount was dispensed into the mix.

When complete the caissons were floated out of the docks and into the river. They were long and unwieldy and moved from Goole one at a time.  Harbourmaster then was Captain Charles E Tree who  described how difficult it was first getting the caissons out in to the river and then with two tugs ahead and two alongside down river. Each journey took two tides with a break at Blacktoft.

After leaving Goole the caissons were provided with Bofors guns and shelters for the gun crews. The first four went initially to Immingham and the other two to Hull. They were then floated to the South Coast where they were briefly sunk to conceal them until they were towed across the Channel

It was only later, much later, that it was realised what the structures built in Goole in spring 1944 were.  

And of course Goole's connection is recognised  today in the name of a pub and a housing development as well as an information board on the newly constructed Normandy Way which is positioned as near as possible to where the caissons were constructed.

This picture was taken by  Clifford Frank,  assistant docks engineer in Goole in the 60s and 70s and shows the dredger Goole Bight in one of Goole's dry docks.

Incidentally in 2022  there were three Goole built caissons still existing at Mulberry B  [port Winston Churchill]  visible between Tracy sur Mer and Asnelles

Much information about Goole - and the surrounding area -  during the war is available in the three books entitled Goole at War written by Mike Marsh. A former reporter at the Goole Times he borrowed the relevant volumes of the Goole Times and went through them extracting news from home and abroad during the war. This was added to  by stories from readers who read articles he wrote  in the paper as he worked.  I have used some of the information from volume three in this blog post.

It was the day after D day June 7th 1944 that the caissons were towed across the channel.  I am writing this blog post now in the hope that maybe local people may have further information or pictures [ unlikely I know] that I could add here.


  1. I understood that many of the construction workers were Italian POWs housed in the Mariners St. and Centenery Rd camps.

  2. My Granddad Fred Caunce worked on them. He was Labourer/crane driver and in the LMS Fire Brigade on the dock during the war.

  3. My dad who had a farm at Blacktoft in the war told me that he remembered seeing the harbour sections being towed down the river from Goole, but nobody knew what they were.

  4. Until I researched this I had no idea that they tied up briefly at Blacktoft. Must have been quite a sight.