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Article: Better Times

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    Better Times

    28 Comments by John T Morgan Published on 26th September 2018 01:34 PM
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    It was September 1951 when I left Esso Tankers and in October joined the “City of Hereford” as a Quartermaster/Able Seaman. Her main trade was the UK to and from various ports in India. General cargo outwards and raw material homeward. She was an old ship, built in 1927 and basic in the navigation department, no gyro compass, no automatic steering and 1951 was long before the days when radar was fitted to Merchant ships. She was a coal burner with a steam ‘up and down’ engine but nevertheless capable of twelve knots. She was owned by the Ellerman group which had a massive fleet of ships trading mainly to India, and of course they all carried Indian crews, with British Officers, Engineers and Quartermasters. The “City of Hereford” was no exception.

    The Captain was the epitome of an English gentleman and was nearing retirement, as was his ship, he was frail but always very pleasant, even under the discomfort of the heat of Bombay where he wore his white tropical uniform as though it was a personal air conditioner, he also reeked of Germolene. His demeanor was the same even when muffled up and on the bridge during the stress and cold of transiting the English Channel in thick fog.

    There were two cadets, both about my age, who had the same ambition as me but had the advantage of a far better education and were products of excellent pre-sea training schools such as the “Conway”. We had a mutual respect, but it was at arms length, after all, they were better educated and were expected to become officers, while I was ‘clawing my way up the hawsepipe’. Oh, how we British loved and protected our class distinctions!

    There were six QMs, two to a watch, and our duties were steering and other general duties around the Bridge. Quartermasters were generally older ABs who could no longer face the rigours of general ship work, at my age of eighteen I was considerably younger and so was know as ‘the young QM’ a title which I retained until I passed my Second Mate’s Certificate two years later. We had our own cabin and a mess room which was quite spacious with plenty of table surfaces for me to use while studying. We also had the services of Indian stewards. The Indian crew did all the other ship work under the directions of the Chief officer and second engineer who were ably abetted by the senior Indian, a fearsome looking character called the ‘Sarang’.

    This was my first experience of Indian crews and I was impressed by their numbers, at least twice as many as a European crew, but after a while I learned that there were reasons for this. There were very many unemployed in India and the authorities wanted to see as many employed as possible, and their pay was far less. The Indian cast system controlled what job a man could do, for instance a low cast man could only do menial jobs such as sweeping decks and cleaning toilets, woe betide him if he handled a rope. There was strict segregation between Indian crew and the Europeans, mainly due to religion. Our crew had to have their own eating and cooking facilities, as did the Europeans; so, there were two galleys. This made for a lot of crew but all in all it worked very well. Communication with the crew was expected to be in Hindustani although some could speak good English, this led to my purchase of another book called ‘The Malim Sahib’s Hindustani’.

    The cooks were good and could prepare excellent European food as well as the inevitable variety of Indian curries, I hadn’t tasted curry before and at first was not impressed but soon acquired a taste for it. A taste which I still have.

    Taking bunkers (coal) in India was an interesting sight. A rickety set of steps made from bamboo and planks lashed together with rope yarn was constructed leading up the side of the ship from dockside to the deck. A group of women known as ’Coal Bibbis’ with baskets of coal on their heads formed a single file, carried the full baskets up to the deck, dumped the coal and then climbed down for a refill. A sort of continuous human conveyor belt. A similar system was used to transport the coal from deck to bunker hold, all in all a dusty, hot and arduous system which required a great deal of sweeping and washing down afterwards.

    The ‘City of Hereford’ being a coal burner required a great amount of coal shoveled into the furnaces beneath the boilers, this was accomplished by stokers who had to remove he resultant ashes, so, at the end of each watch, every four hours, the ashes were transported to the deck and dumped overboard. This was accomplished using a bucket and lift system up a chute which passed by the QM’s accommodation. The system was hand manipulated, so the yelling up and down of the chute together with the rattle and bang of the bucket caused a great deal of noise. Unfortunate for us but the only times when the serenity of our noiseless cabin was disturbed.

    When navigating in fog regulations required the sounding of a prolonged blast on the ship’s whistle every two minutes, this to warn other ships of our closeness and visa versa; the ship’s speed through the water was measured by a log which consisted of a rotor attached to a line which was towed through the sea and which in turn was attached to a clock which indicated the speed. Our log clock was attached to the wing of the bridge where we QMs kept a lookout. It was a source of amusement to me to see the ship’s speed reduce from, say seven knots to five after each blast and then to slowly return to seven. I realised that the use of steam to sound the whistle took pressure of the engine, and so we sort of hiccupped our way through the water.

    I spent five months on the “City of Hereford” and then transferred to the Bibby line, again Indian crew, where I spent the rest of my time as a QM.

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  3. #21
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    Default Re: Better Times

    ,John #20 don't remember 0755 as the criteria for a S a S , all I can remember was when entering FWE into the movement book at 1205 it was then altered to 1155 by the Master to avoid paying a Sunday at Sea which saved the Company quite a considerable amount of money, especially on the passenger ships. On the coast we used to flog it the other way, if arriving at 1155 it was flogged to 1205. 0755 may have been the criteria for half a S a S.

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    As an apprentice (65 -70) we got 4 days leave per month (not even your weekends back). We were supposed to have 1 day per week study time, that was never adhered to, we worked the same hours as the watchkeeper.
    Coming out of my time in April 70, I went onto 9 days a month, which was roughly about your weekends back.

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    #21.. your probably right Ivan it may have been 12 hours at sea to claim a days leave. As I didn’t get didn’t take too much notice, I do remember however one master crossing the date line tried to Lose the Sunday caused a lot of aggro on board. My statement should have read FWE 1155. I was always on A Agreement on British ships after finishing my time, purely to get the 12 weeks certificate leave.except for 2 Mate where only got the 30/- a week dole for 12 weeks. Even then the company wanted me to claim dole for mate and master and they would make the wage up. I told them to get stuffed , the Agreement was they paid the cert. leave and not the dole. I may have been completely brainwashed as onetime was extra mate for cargo duties on a ship discharging round the coast. I was doing most of the nights on board to let others off. If you remember you got 1 pound a night for such. The company said that did not apply to a port relief officer , I was not a port relief officer, the definition of such was someone who did not go to sea, I did. Being the good company brainwashed servant I refunded the money. The mnaou did their nut and wanted to make an example of such. With age comes experience comes wiseness, today I would have their guts for garters. Cheers JS.
    Last edited by j.sabourn; 7th April 2020 at 11:11 AM.

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    Default Re: Better Times

    Paying off in Southampton with UCL we did get a cheap ticket for the rail journey, think it may have been able as return if you meant to come back for the next voyage.

    Overtime was not something all crew got, very little for wingers or BR's but as officers steward with 'Chuckles Charnley' as Chief officer we got four hours a day at sea, had to be there to service any officer that required it.
    But it had its perks as well, if we had to go to the bar for them, always the first class lounge bar, we would often get a small half pint rom Ron the head barman.

    Wages today on cruise ships varies between companies, some do get overtime but it is based on hours per month not days.
    Mainly wingers that get it when they are over their allocated hours for the month, sometimes easy to do with some guests, they are then paid at an agreed rate.
    Happy daze John in Oz.

    Life is too short to blend in.

    John Strange R737787
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    As i have posted somewhere else John although Wingers with UCL did not get too much OT, myself and my late Brother were lucky with one Ship especially as the Second was a good mate of ours and gave us a lot of OT doing the odd jobs that were going. So we could not complain at all. But generally on all the UCL Ships that i served on,it seemed that there was always OT if one wanted it,as i recall there were many Wingers who were not interested so just gave those who were a better chance. Besides that in the Period i wa with them, the Tips from the Bloods were good too,always paid of with quite a few Envelopes filled with good Notes!

    We as i recall never got any special Train discounts , but had to pay your full fare to wherever you were going. The very first Trip i wont forget is that a Guy i met on Board offered me Lodgings at his Mums House in Putney near Putney Bridge, so when going ashore for the Duration we hopped in a Black Cab (my first ride in one ) all the way to Putney. Cant remember the cost but it was a few Quid,however with my Pocket well filled with Cash who cared!

    Ah! yes those were the days!
    Senior Member and Friend of this Website

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    Default Re: Better Times

    If you were a member of the BSF John they issued the rail warrants. In the old days of a general pay off on the ship with the shipping masters etc. present there was always someone there to issue you with a warrant back to your port of engagement. If further travel was necessary they used to relax the rules and give you one all the way to your nearest at home station. Today is different as no BSF and all is done on ship by yours truly or Untruly as the case may be. JS

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    I used to get Free Rail passes when in the RAF now that i do remember!
    No matter where in the UK you wanted to travel to on your Leave it was all free there and back to Camp! More Happy Days!
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    You got free travel also if employed by a company using the BSF for manning their ships .However you only got this if completed the run of the Articles. If you were on a 6 monthly running agreement and handed your notice in before the expiry of the agreement then You were not entitled to. However if you were sacked then you were entitled to. I had 3 trouble makers put on board to cause dissent which at he time was just before the official seamans strike. They hoped to be fired to claim the travel voucher. Not to be made a fool of I asked them back as was the usual procedure on every return to the UK. They were very distraught about this and the 3 of them went away to think about it. Came back and said it was better they left ,and could I loan them the money for their train fares . I said you must be joking. They tried to cause dissent right through the ship without success. Think they belonged to some break away union at the time. They were the only 3 to go. JS

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    Default Re: Better Times

    Hi did you ever work on the dover your name rings a bell regards len friend ex ab british rail

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