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Thread: The Albion Star. April1943-Feb1944)

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    Default The Albion Star. April1943-Feb1944)

    In April 1943 the Shipping Pool sent me to the Albion Star and I signed on as Assistant Steward. My mate, Bill Elston, also signed on with me. We had been crewmates on a previous vessel and I had spent a week of my leave with him at his home in Bolton.
    His boyhood ambition in life was to be a lorry driver and he had worked for a road transport firm since leaving school a couple of years before. He was always known as ‘Lorry’ Elston.
    The Albion Star was an old coal burning steamship and the deck crew were mainly scousers. The engine room crew, (the black gang), were nearly all from the West Coast of Africa Very few of them had any sort of education and could barely write their own name, but their wages were very high by West African standards and they could live like lords whenever they got back to Nigeria or the Gold Coast. Several of them had 'wives' in Liverpool, which made them very princely and respected among their peers. Actually, the wives were some of Liverpool’s hardest street 'ladies' who would 'marry' several Africans, and get a weekly allotment of wages paid directly to them from the shipping companies!. I used to wonder what would happen when more than one husband arrived in port at the same time!
    On my first trip in her we loaded up with coal at Birkenhead for delivery to Buenos Aires.
    That was a filthy process. The dock cranes would grab a load in their jaws, hoist it high over the hatches and let go. The coal dust got everywhere and it took weeks of cleaning and scrubbing to get the accommodation clean again.
    Among the catering staff was Jorge Armstrong (George) of English parentage, but born in Argentina.. The ships butcher, “Lofty”, was about 6 foot 8 tall, born in the U.K. but had lived in Argentina for most of his life and been a “gaucho” on the ranches.
    The second engineer was also an Argentine and the three of them had crewed the ship back to the U.K on its previous voyage, after it had a lengthy stay in B.A. for major repairs. Lofty had visited his family in the south of England, the first time he had seen them for many years. He said they were all taller then he, even his sister!
    In Buenos Aires, Jorge showed us all the high (and low) spots. We became very familiar with a street, officially named “Veinte Cinco de Mayo” but known to seamen as “The Arches”. It was lined with bars all filled with ‘hostesses’ who got a commission on the glasses of champagne (lemonade) that they could coax you into buying for them. George had a good mate called Jorge Brescia, who had been the Argentine heavyweight champion boxer and had once fought Joe Louis for the world title. Unfortunately, Jorge had lost once or twice too often and was a bit punch drunk as a result, but he was still very popular and respected around town. With the two Jorge’s and Lofty in our company, nobody ever gave us any trouble! I was still well below the official drinking age and the vigilantes (police) used to do the rounds of the bars quite frequently. As soon as they appeared on the street I would be rushed out of the bar and into the kitchen, and would be busy washing a stack of dishes if the police looked in.
    When our money ran out we would go to the Missions to Seamen, a worldwide charitable organisation that does a very good job of looking after merchant seamen. George’s girlfriend Cecilia and his mother used to help out there occasionally.
    We discharged our cargo of coal and cleaned the holds in readiness for our return cargo of frozen meat. Then we sailed up the River Plate for quite a long way to a port called Fray Bentos in Uruguay. On the way we ran aground on a sand bank and had an anxious wait of four or five days for an extra high tide to help us off. On her previous voyage, the Albion Star had broken her back in the dock in B.A. due to over loading and had been there for about six months getting repaired. We were worried that history was going to repeat itself, but we pulled clear without any damage.We whiled away the time by fishing, with hand lines, for catfish. Some were quite big but they were no good for eating.
    Fray Bentos was a real Wild West cow town, with baked mud streets and open ditch drainage. The town came alive at the weekends when the gauchos came in from the neighbouring ranches.and let off steam! I was introduced to a lady who was married to the manager of the local meat works. She was originally from my home town and was pleased to talk to a fellow towny and catch up with the news first hand. She gave me some plugs of tobacco and a carton of black, foul tasting South American cigarettes to take back to her father, which I duly delivered.
    Someone organised a football match between the deck and engine crew. It was played on a field adjacent to the wharf and was going OK until somebody got fouled. Then it became an all in brawl. The fighting got so bad that the local police force (both of them), arrived on the scene. However, they weren’t able to cope and it finished up with one of the policemen getting rather badly hurt. That cost the captain quite a lot in reparations before we were allowed to leave.
    After half loading, we sailed back to B.A. to top up and berthed in Dock Sud alongside the meat works. We were given a guided tour of the abattoir and I was a bit sickened to see the way the cattle were slaughtered. They were driven down a chute at the end of which was a blank wall which stopped them going any further. The slaughter-man was straddled above the chute and used a sledgehammer to poleaxe the animal. As it collapsed, the side of the chute opened and the beast fell into the yard. A hook was then put into the hind legs, and as it was hoisted up into the air, another slaughter-man slit its throat. The smell and the mess was sickening although not quite enough to turn me vegetarian! I believe that the abattoir was owned by the Vestey family who also owned the Blue Star Line and a chain of butchers shops in the U.K. A very sizeable monopoly!
    On my second trip in her we had a new galley boy who was making his first trip. A big part of a galley boy's job consists of peeling the spuds for the crew meals and washing up the pots and pans used by the cook. With a crew of fifty or so, that's a lot of potatoes and the job tends to become a bit monotonous. The spuds were kept in an iron locker on the boat deck and were replenished at intervals as supplies became available in the next port. After the first week at sea, the boy was so sick of the sight of potatoes that he dumped the whole lot over the side. He told the cook that they had all gone bad, (which was only about half true, and no excuse anyway.) For the next couple of weeks we lived on rice, which peeved the crew no end. I was nearby one day when a particularly hard case A.B. picked the galley boy up by the collar and dangled him over the side. "Throw the spuds overboard would you, you little *"******, well now you can join them". The poor kid thought that he was done for and was absolutely terrified.

    My Ships -001.001 3-31-2009 5-29-04 PM 1747x1052.jpg

    Albion Star
    My Ships -001.Jorge,Lorry.jpg
    With Jorge Armstrong and Lorry Elston..Lunch break in B.A.!

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    Default Re: The Albion Star. April1943-Feb1944)

    Thanks Charles nice Story and one of which i see you have kept in you for all these Years. Its good to recall such memories.
    Cheers
    Senior Member and Friend of this Website

    R697530

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    Default Re: The Albion Star. April1943-Feb1944)

    Appreciated, cannot thankyou enough for sharing this with us.

    Regards, Keith.
    "Our veterans did not forget about us .... Let's not forget about them." From Michael Levesque

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    Default Re: The Albion Star. April1943-Feb1944)

    Hi Doc. These stories are all from my autobiography which I wrote many years ago for the enlightenment of my offspring. I've edited them a bit to make them suitable for publication but otherwise they are all authentic. Regards.

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