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Article: My Days in the Merchant Navy

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    My Days in the Merchant Navy

    26 Comments by Dave Francis Published on 17th January 2019 02:43 PM
    My days in the British merchant Navy are long gone, but I often dream of my time in the Royal Navy on a auxiliary vessel and after a bad accident, I took employment on the great passenger and then Cruise Ships? After living in the Northern Territories of Queensland, Australia I eventually ended up marry a United States citizen, as she didn't want to live in England?

    At 75 years old, I still dream about the sea, the fresh, clean air and the tranquil ocean most of the time. Many vessels I sailed on from Banana boats, to the older passenger ships as the 'Orsova' of the P & O shipping Lines. Even in my time went on luxury cruises around the world. Once worked on a luxury yacht to the Galapagos Islands and always as a Steward. I left the docks in Circular key in Sydney on a German Lloyd Ship. Stood of the coast of Panama, waiting for cargo over one month on a German rust bucket. Even had the opportunity to work on a Holland American Line ship & of course the great Queen Elizabeth II

    I miss many of my friends who were in Hotel Services on Princess Cruises, such as the Pacific & the Island; where I met my future wife. Somebody will remember me from the marriage at the Ventura Club. in San Fernando Valley. I had placed a notice on the bulletin board, offering anybody who would like to join the the party and the address? Two buses turned up for the reception and some for the actual party. With my wife's family & friends and a good portion of the crew, plus the Captain, his wife, Chief radio officer, staff Captain and regular officers, purser, purserettes and a whole host of crew members was a count of 150 ships crew. It certainly was a night to remember & my Mother in Law, who is a very well known realtor, broker & property owner paid for it all.

    I had always been a utility Steward, a waiter, a cabin steward, a stateroom steward, bar manager & even an accommodation supervisor on many different ships. On the old Royal Mail Carriers I carried heavy kegs of beer to bars; painted Christmas art of Father Xmas & Reindeer's on the glass around the areas on board. Cleaned out dirty fridges on German ships for Customs & even carried dead bodies to empty fridges on storage flaps. On one ship I was crew entertainment officer and counted the money from the slot machines and spent it on tours for crew members and also arrange General Knowledge quizzes for members of the crew of which they won money prizes or a Booby prize.

    So much more of my travels, but most of all I miss the Camaraderie of the boys and girls. For a while, I was able to keep in contact with many of them, but I guess like me their up in age and many are not around anymore? Being retired is not fun, I still help out my nephew when he works on family properties, but my Mother in Law (90) & my spouse (70) forbid me to climb ladders. Cannot stand sitting at home all day, but right now I am visiting my ancestors on the Ancestry Website? I have been working on it, for over 2 years and made a bunch of mistakes. One family member was the High Sheriff of Nottinghamshire? in fact I am not a true Englishman, but a Norman?

    The dreams of the sea and all the places I have been, which I would think makes me a World traveler. Even after leaving the Merchant Navy Me and my wife honeymooned in Hawaii and went to England to see my family? Mum and StepDad are gone now; my real Dad died in World War 2.

    Even in the remaining years of my life, I still dream of leaving Southampton and the rumble of the engines. The early years of 10 stewards in in bunks on the 'Reina Del Mar' of locating a quiet space under the bridge, to read a book and sunbath. Sitting in our cabins drinking tea or paying the Night Steward to make us Steak & Chips?

    But most of all I miss all my friends.

    Dave Francis.

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  3. #2
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    Default Re: My Days in the Merchant Navy

    I know exactly your thoughts and what you are missing, we were lucky as at least we have done it. As your remarks about not being true English, that would apply to almost all of us, we are mostly mongrels !!!, lol kt
    R689823

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    Default Re: My Days in the Merchant Navy

    You should enjoy your retirement Dave,
    If I had known retirement was so good I would have retired 50 years ago.
    Enjoy it.
    Cheers
    Brian

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    Default Re: My Days in the Merchant Navy

    Great article Dave, thank you for posting it. Memories of the sea are very precious to many of us and they serve to give us great pleasure of many happy days in our life. Although there will no doubt be a few bad memories, in the main I think we all look back with pleasure and nostalgia of a time gone by and which will never be seen again, a real life at sea.
    When one door closes another one shuts, it must be the wind

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    Default Re: My Days in the Merchant Navy

    Well done mate, now time to enjoy your retirement.
    We do ours now by taking as many cruises as we can, now with Princess Cruises.
    Happy daze John in Oz.

    Life is too short to blend in.

    John Strange R737787
    World Traveller

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    Default Re: My Days in the Merchant Navy

    So many on this site know exactly what you mean. All our memories of the wonderful people we have sailed with and experiences that we've shared.
    We saw a wonderful and exciting world at mostly young ages during the "Golden era" of the Merchant Navy.
    Thanks for a very well written article. T.B. R811047

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    Not sure if my second episode in my life arrived by Email, but as I received some interesting replies I adding this part of my story leading up to jumping ship in Melbourne, Australia and the beginning of an 18 month + adventure. Hope the Merchant Navy Veterans who read this short synopsis of my first months on the old P & O ships, where I first whittled my days.



    'll be 76 years old & decades of my travels on a Royal Navy Auxiliary ship & and is it was yesterday had an argument with a water-tight door during a typhoon in the South China Sea? Trying to fight my way across the heaving ship & carrying a supply of coffee to the waiting officers & the stupidity on my part of trying to pass through a water tight door, without another Steward according to regulations? Another Steward found me, after wrecking my jaw and leaving my teeth in a pool of blood. Ended up in the infirmary & a helicopter rushed me to Kowloon, Hong Kong to a military hospital there? This was before the 99 year agreement, ran out & the Chinese took over. After about 2 months in the hospital and being great attention by a bunch of beautiful Eurasian, American & British Nurses I ended up on a transport to England.

    Still was healing and after a bunch of wrangling, I was let go from the Navy with an honorable discharge. My memory is not as sharp as it used to be, but I think it was 1956. I recall this, because I volunteered to give blood to the American Red Cross for the badly injured of Vietnam?

    I love my old Mum & her life was hard for her after the war, because my real Dad had been killed in Belgium, fighting the Nazi's. But she had this genetic experience she learned from my Grandmother. She still lived in the Victorian era and I learned many lessons about life? As in school, I was taught to be polite say please & thank you, clean my room; turn of my reading light at 9.00 and give up my seat to the elderly on a double Decker bus? I had a couple of jobs after my jaw, which was in pieces healed, but the sea taunted me? I had friends in West London, a bunch of chaps who lived nearby & George knocked on the door and showed me this quarter page ad? My attention was immediately drawn to P & O (Peninsula Steam and Navigational Company seeking passenger Stewards?

    We arrived at Aldgate East tube Station & headed from there to the HQ offices of P & O; or was it the Board of Trade or the Merchant Navy Establishment Pool POOL. There were 3 of us. Clive Bradly; George Cliff & me? Well I had plenty of experience of making officers beds, serving their tables and keeping their quarters in tip top shape. Well strange as it seems, only I got the offer of a job and ended up somewhere on a training ship, learning the etiquette of serving passengers? I was there for about a month, being trained by some old guy who seemed to be a permanent ornament on the ship. Although I had the value of my previous experience, this was much more refined understanding of laying a plate setup and demitasse cups for coffee?

    I have moderate 'Dementia' and my memory plays tricks on me, so I cannot be sure what ship I left Southampton on. It was however a Royal Mail Ship and we were heading for Australia and other countries. Being a newbie, my section was rather large.

    It was 2 sittings of 14, breakfast, lunch and dinner and not forgetting children's meals and afternoon teas? It was a hard slog, but I got to know the cooks and chefs and my helpers on our first voyage, stopping off in on many different countries?

    Cannot remember if it was P&O Oriana, Orsova, Oronsay, but it was bloody hard work and passengers can be as difficult as hell? I do remember balancing the peoples food under chock covers and being nearly 6'-3" seeing me coming through revolving door, many passengers fell into silence. Don't ever remember dropping a tray full of cuisine in any laps or making a mess? Usually I had a helper who assisted me with this big load, into the restaurant. Of course below deck I always seemed to have an altercation with bulkheads during bad weather.

    One of my first escapades in the many journeys across the Ocean, was my jumping ship in Australia? Now I think it was the Orsova, but I am not absolutely positive? Wherever we were going, one of the stopovers was Melbourne? At one of my tables was a cynical, upstart and bad temperament officer, surrounded by a group of families and single ladies. so he would make a point of diminishing my good nature, which I had always had? Trouble began at the dinner table when this Radio Office began giving me a hard time about--of all things demitasse spoons? Somebody, while I was away from my table sneaked the small coffee spoons away?

    Well--when I served coffee to the officers at the table, Mr Smart-ass decided to play me. I was tired after a long day and I wanted my bunk? Getting the attention of the passengers, especially the well dressed ladies, he demanded a demitasse spoon? Afraid, I lost it & dumped the tray and empty tiny cups in his lap and walked out. I had already served coffee and so nothing was hot, just a few cups with little drops of coffee.

    I knew I was in trouble and searched out the Union Convener, but was unable to find him. That night we were ready to dock in Melbourne and has it happened I had in different sailings met many nice Australians and even Americans? Cannot go into the story but this family of a mother, two girls and their grandfather, was on their way to a property of land, North of Cairns. It was a huge package of land, that took half a day to drive from one side to the other. It was a very dysfunctional family as on my times of duty, the wife explained to her ex husband had brought this land for half-a-Crown an acre. Said, if I ever wanted a job, to find my way up to the Atherton table lands and live with the family, then go back with them to Santa Cruz, California.

    Margaret, the Mum took a liking to me, because she would contact me on the ship to get things she wanted, as her Stateroom Steward was slow and it took him forever to bring things she needed. This was just one of the high end passengers and her grandfather was extremely wealthy as I would find out later. The house in Santa Cruz overlooked 'The Hook' a famous surfing place. The family had left the ship at Circular Quay and was taking their good time, by taking a train--North! Of course I missed the family and the old boy, who turned out to own stocks and shares in the Ford manufacturing company. It was several ships later that I ended up at their huge house and spread? Not the house where the family lived, but the ranch-house, with stables and all, with a frontage of Arizona Fossil stone. A huge driveway and indoor swimming pool, but that part of my early life is later.

    So inwards we go with my story. At this point I had not been to America, but at night talking to a bunch of Stewards who became my friends, the USA always come into the conversation? I had already been in trouble with the ship, or you can call it that? Too much exposure to the sun, ended my up in the ships hospital? Never realized at the time, how to much sun could cause problems? For that I got fined 2 days pay, when standing in front of the Staff Captain and other officers after going back to work?

    Felt the punishment for the squabble with the Radio Officer would be even worse, so I decided to evacuate the ship, if I could get past the Custom authorities. So I told my good friend co-worker and giving excuse that things wouldn't go well from me, my co-worker gave up and said he would help me. What I did was put several pairs of pants on; Levi's and same with shirts, a coat and several pairs of shoes. The old ships didn't pay that much, so I gathered what cash I had and vanished from the ship? I got stopped by the Customs and immigration agents, but all they were interested in, if I was English and what were the pills I carried in my satchel? They didn't seem they were that interested, after I told them they were just vitamins, herbs and other supplements?

    So many years ago, but it was a time when the British flag meant something and there were no terrorists and seeing my black British passport was enough to let me pass? If I had known at the time I could have brought my suitcases with me, that contained 35 MM film and camera; more clothes and other things.
    The dock offices let me exit & I looked back, as they sat drinking tea and talking. So now I was on the way and out of the shipping terminal.

    Thanks my friends from this old Merchant Navy and all those who have sailed the seven seas. My past history is not over, as these are the early days on the great ships.

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    Default Re: My Days in the Merchant Navy

    Great post Dave, very refreshing, and hope you continue the story. Guess it ties in with a lot of us at the time, many adventures. Some of what you say brings on memories for me, stuff buried in the depths of my mind, regards kt
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    Default Re: My Days in the Merchant Navy

    Hi Dave .
    Though I was on deck I was with you every step of the way on your adventures, There will never be a time like that again which is so sad for the youth of today.
    I am looking forward with anticipation to the rest of your tale.
    Cheers Des

    flag.gif Go you good thing

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    Default Re: My Days in the Merchant Navy

    Dave, like a number on site I did my time as a winger.
    Yes tables of ten and two sittings, bloody hard work when we look back. But would we have it any other way, not on your life mate.

    Memories that can never be taken away from us no matter how hard any one may try.
    Happy daze John in Oz.

    Life is too short to blend in.

    John Strange R737787
    World Traveller

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