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Midland Shipyard Heroes: Don Denise (6 photos)

Originally from the Channel Islands, Denise worked in the yards for over 50 years.

What makes for a hero? Is it a sudden and courageous act or a lifetime of diligence and application, unsung?

All of November we might find ourselves reflecting about what sacrifice means. Are there heroes to be found in Midland’s shipyards? Yes.

Denise was a well-known name in Midland, less well-known is the road travelled by the patriarch of the name, Donald Philip Denise. He hailed from Jersey in the Channel Islands - Saint Helier, in fact. A long way from Midland - where he settled after hostilities ended in 1918.

He was just eighteen. A small notebook found amongst his effects tells us much about those days.

Here is what he says: “May 20th (1918) started work at Playfairs”, reads the entry. Donald made $42.00 for 105 hours of work at the Coal Dock. It is a ten hour day.

August of 1918 he lists ships he is working on such as the S.S. Marquette, Glenlivet and Brazil. October his entries read: “Smelter.”  He is repairing ships in 1919 as well as working in the “Drying Plant.”

Apart from the shipyard and smelter, Mr. Denise worked for Playfair with entries of May 19 and 21 at Norman Playfair’s house. June 5th and 9th of 1919 entry is most interesting: “Golf Links.” Perhaps, he assisted in the opening of the new Midland Club.

November 3rd, the entry reads, “Put Down,” followed by at least ten days of no work and then he starts at Dobsons November 11, 1919. His work at Dobsons was on the Wahnapitae, Laird Macauley and the Reginald during the twenties.

Between long days at work are entries such as that of July 12, 1920: “Orange Celebration” and  “Dobsons Picnic to Big Chute.”

Burke's Towing and Salvage thanked him for raising the Midland City in 1928.

Donald Denise worked in the yards for over 50 years. Married in  1926 at the old Baptist church on Midland Avenue, Mr. and Mrs.  Denise celebrated their 50th Anniversary in 1976.

When Rick Tomlinson, Roger Stockman and Jim Worts started the Boatworks in 1986, they turned to Don Denise for all that knowledge accrued in more than  fifty years of being there.

Is this heroic? I think so.

René Hackstetter

November 24, 2021.