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Article: 16 and off to sea

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    16 and off to sea

    20 Comments by Ken Elvy Published on 19th February 2020 11:31 AM
    After 4 months pre sea training at the Prince of Wales Sea Training School, Dover in 1957, I joined SS Oronsay in Tilbury as a sixteen year old deck boy.
    This was when the Suez crises was on so we proceeded to Australia via the Canary Islands and Cape Town, South Africa. 4 ports in Australia, 2 in New Zealand then across the Pacific to the Fiji Islands, Honolulu, San Francisco and finally Vancouver. A great trip for a first timer. Coming back the Suez canal had reopened so we came via Singapore, Ceylon as it then was, Aden, Suez, Naples, Athens, Gibraltar and Lisbon then back to Tilbury. Couple of weeks at home then rejoined for a similar voyage which also incorporated a Christmas cruise around New Zealand. This time upon arriving home there was a letter waiting offering me an apprenticeship with Common Brothers, Lowland Tanker Company. What a different experience that turned out to be! Travelling up to their offices in Newcastle I signed indentures and was taken to Wallsend shipyard to join the Border Fusilier, a 15 thousand ton tanker which was in dry dock having repairs carried out.
    We eventually sailed and I soon realised that in those days Apprentice was just another word for slave! Working on deck all day, occasionally on the bridge, no study time other than in the evenings if not on watch. Down in the tanks after they had been washed out digging out the sludge then more or less washing in white spirit to get clean before putting on uniform to eat in the dining saloon. 12 hour watches when loading/off loading. One of the worst parts of this trip was a few months loading in Abadan then discharging in Aden and Djibouti. Four times in all back and forth and of course there was no air conditioning then. Eventually returned to the Tyne after an 11 month voyage and had to have a spell at home as I needed most of my teeth extracted. Joined the Border Ministrel as Shellhaven, sailed to Port Said where we spent some time having the tanks deep cleaned as we were converting to load clean oil, petrol, aviation spirit etc. This voyage lasted 14 months. I had become an acting 3rd Mate but decided I had had enough and was shall we say 'persuaded' to stay ashore. Have regretted that decision many times since but that's another story.
    Some time ago I wrote a poem, (with some poetic licence about bottoming out), which I include below. Now almost 80 really enjoy the site and the tales.

    The Open Sea
    'Single up fore and aft, let go the spring there Mr Mate, the tides a turning we can't be late, or on the bottom we shall be. 12 hours more just tied up here would rile the Company I fear. We slipped the wharf and headed off. Once more we're free, out upon the open sea.
    Our tanks are full of liquid gold, black oil pumped from the soil to keep some nation on it's feet, providing fuel and power and heat. The wind is hot as we sail on, down the Gulf to some land beyond. It feels so good, once more we're free out upon the open sea.
    Out through the coins and orders come, La Plata, that's to be our run. Down the coast of Africa. Stop at Cape Town to refuel, then we start on that long haul, across the South Atlantic Ocean, a storm brews up, just feel the motion! But it's so good to be free, out upon the open sea.
    La Plata port looms into view, a run ashore for some of the crew. Alongside then we start discharge, fresh water taken from a barge. Our tanks are emptied, ballast pumped in, some letters posted to our kin.
    Then off again, once more we're free - for we are sailormen you see, the land is alien to we, who spend our life on the open sea.
    Best wishes to all.
    Ken Elvy

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    Default Re: 16 and off to sea

    Happy memories Ken, I joined Common Bros. Border Regiment, on the Clyde as a first trip apprentice 1953, she was newly built and we loaded white spirit in Swansea for Calcutta ( Budge Budge ) and Bombay. 18 months later I payed off in Falmouth. I did the Argentina run in 1954 and 1955 when La Plata was Eva Peron, again in 1958.Tank cleaning was great fun!! But we used to get a good tot of rum from the Mate afterwards which made it worthwhile. We used to dump all that oily sludge overboard via a specially made wooden shute, couldn't get away with that now! I finished up in 1960 as 3rd Mate on the Kazimah, a Kuwati flagged tanker managed and crewed by Commons. I am 83 now and after leaving the sea finished up working for She'll ashore. Cursed the years I thought I had wasted at sea when trying to get a job ashore, but look back on it now as wonderful formative time in my life. All the best, John Swan.

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    #2... John Swan , did you attend South Shields pre apprenticeship course at the old Youth Hostel in Westoe ? If so I was probably there at the same time. If you did the following student names might cause you to remember, Atkinson, Atkins, Walwyn, Robinson, we all lived on the north side of the river, plus many more which at moment struggle to remember. Cheers JWS for Robinson read Davidson . JWS.
    Last edited by j.sabourn; 27th February 2020 at 10:29 AM.

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    I was at South Shields Marine College 1952/53,joined Border Regiment 1st trip 24th. March 1953. I remember a Robinson, used to travel on the train Necastle to Shields with him. I think there was a Camish, and the head cadet was Ken Langton, with whom I worked at She'll when I came ashore, small world. Whilst everyone took the wire out of their caps Ken contrived to keep his in although bent to form the cap into a shape resembling that of a Nazi officer. I served on about 10 ships with Commons until having married and had a son in 1960 proved to be a game changer.

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    Default Re: 16 and off to sea

    good to see your name back on the site JWS

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    #4. Knew Ken Langton he lived in Tynemouth. He went with blue flu or one of the other bigger companies. I was there exactly the same time as you. When they used to have the runs to Marsden Rock we used to get the bus and get off the stop before and arrive at the finish line panting like old men. I wrote out more article nines and 16s Instead of lines as punishment, I had no problem when repeating the full 32 at that time to the examiner when up for 2nd. Mate. A good friend of mine much older than me went with Common Bros. On their ore carriers in the early 60s aGerry Screen a long time dead now did you ever come across him. He was in his fourties then and was mate.
    There is a memorial on this site also put there by a friend of his , a John Egbertson who was also there in 1952. Of. course got christened by the usual slow learners as Egbert. A very quite lad. He also lived on the north side. captain Moore was the head of the school he died later with all things chicken pox, after going all through the war years , doesn’t seem fair, cheers JWS. PS myself in those days weighed about 8.5 stone and had ginger hair , tactfully called auburn in discharge book. Today is white and I keep off the scales. JS.
    Last edited by j.sabourn; 29th February 2020 at 02:32 AM.

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    To John Swan ...further to previous as regards john egglestone which I spelt wrong. He is in the Forum Condolences put there by John Whelan he is on page 3 at the bottom. You may remember him also. Regards JWS.
    Last edited by j.sabourn; 1st March 2020 at 02:55 AM.

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    #1. Very interesting and so reminiscent of so many youngsters leaving home for as said before amply said by John Masefield , for those who left home and comfort for a glorified bleeding hell. We never saw it like that it was a challenge probably the biggest of our lives. We left home green and hopefully came back sunburned . As apprentices our teachers. Were sailormen and had to educate ourselves if wanted to go further . To this day I admire the wire splicers who made it look so easy but were so necessary to the running of a ship.and only too pleased that lived in those times. Today if you asked someone to put a splice in a 3 inch wire they would look at you as being simple, and just quote the book, dont you know it is illegal today. All the skills of old as we knew have gone or soon will be.
    Shipping today is mainly a place of computers and wire Ferrules and someone ashore on the other end of an email correspondence telling you what to do. When things go wrong he or she. Steps back and is blameless so one gets paid for carrying the can also. Progress is good but too much can be just that too good and is bad. People today are becoming zombies and not thinking like they used to at sea. We today depending on age live on nostalgia. cheers JWS.
    I remember 1 seaman being sent to me on the NW shelf on a supply vessel. Working in the oil fields. He was totally out of his depth as his previous experience was on the Spirit of Tasmania.the ferry running between Melbourne and Tasmania. Further to the fiasco his girlfriend was a stewardess on the same vessel and he couldnít bear to be parted for 6 weeks. He was like a moon starved cow, every moment up seeing me and wanting off. A supply vessel has 9 of a crew and one of them has to do the cooking in their turn. Every man is required and there is no room for ballast. So I didnít wait for some dimwit ashore to try and make a decision , I paid him off and arranged for his flight back to Melbourne for which he was grateful. Then told the office for the usual roasting. Seamen were always trained to make decisions and not wait for some idiot stuck in an office to decide who didnít know one end of a ship to the other. I received a replacement within 24 hours plus of course the roasting . Cheers JWS
    Last edited by j.sabourn; 1st March 2020 at 08:17 AM.

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    Default Re: 16 and off to sea

    Hi,
    No pre apprenticeship course, straight from JOS on Oronsay to apprentice on Border Fusilier, some change!

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    Did you lose any money on the change Ken. Chances are it was conducive to the company’s finances. As an apprentice and depending on your seatime you would have come under the official manning scale. If you had a jos discharge you would have carried that at least to make up the Manning for that particular vessel . It was all in the maritime year book of whatever year you are referring to. A third and 4 th. Year apprentice was for manning purposes considered an AB. To most trampship owners it was good business and kept the overheads down. Hence the story that got around that apprentices were cheap labour. On completion of indentures I was told and maybe others the same was come back when you or if you get your 2nd. Mates certificate. The time you started at sea the minimum age was 16, and pre sea school was time that had to be filled in between laving school at 15 for most. Some of us also had part time jobs during that waiting period, also if you were fortuanate enough to complete 12 months at a recognised sea school you got 6 months remission of sea time, however most of us were champing at the bit , so had to do the full term of 4 years. If on the other hand you were a cadet that was a different kettle of fish. Cheers JWS.
    Last edited by j.sabourn; 1st March 2020 at 02:33 PM.

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