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Article: My time on norse lines “betwa”

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    My time on norse lines “betwa”

    13 Comments by Jim Procter Published on 5th November 2019 01:31 PM
    MY TIME ON NORSE LINES “BETWA”
    I would start by saying that this was all a very long time ago, my first sailing as a young boy so I apologise for any technical mistakes and any inaccuracies in dates as this is all being written from memory. I had lots of photos and even 8mm cine film converted to video but they were lost in the mist of time (or really they are now in someone else’s loft where I have no access to any more!!!)
    I joined MV Betwa in West India Dock on a very cold and wet early January in 1954. I had recently finished my education at a Nautical College and was not yet 17 and yes wet behind the ears! As they say. I had had the various jabs before I left home but was dismayed to find that as they were not Board of Trade approved I had to have them all again(my arm hadn’t recovered from the first lot!!) The ship was almost finished discharging sugar and a couple of days later we set sail for Liverpool. We set sail down the Thames during the night and as the only apprentice on board at the time found myself on the bridge taking notes of engine movements and bouys when abeam. I very quickly found out that the Nautical College learning and the practical night time sailing were rather poles apart however it was exciting and I enjoyed that first experience.
    After docking in Liverpool a huge floating crane called “The Mammoth” moored alongside us and the next day was used to load four 96 ton castings one each in the bottom of hold 1,2 4 & 5. They were bound for Port Kembla in Australia as half of 8 that were going into one huge press to stamp out car bodies for the newly built Holden Car Factory. We then began to load a huge mix of general cargo and ended up in Swansea where we loaded huge rolls of tin plate again most likely for the car plant. Finally 2 huge steam locos were loaded on to the deck one each side of holds 4 & 5 completely filling the deck each side. On the foredeck on each side of 1 & 2 holds were 2 Underground type trains destined for the railway from Freemantle to Perth. I do have a photo of the ship arriving in Sydney without the Freemantle trains which had already been discharged.(I will attempt to add the picture with this post.
    We travelled through the Suez Canal which had recently been foolishly given to the Egyptians by Anthony Eden and the rules had been tightened. Everything had to be recorded. A new anchor added on the Stb. Side had been replaced but no one had got the number from under the shank. Fortunately for me 2 other apprentices had joined before we left both smaller than me so in turn we had to go over the bow as we steamed full ahead and chip away the rust to read the number. The first one didn’t get the number the second one did (I heaved a huge sigh of relief as my turn was next) After mooring at the head of the Suez Canal we had all the exacting inspections from the new owners after which the usual bum boats came along side with the wares. After we sailed on the Casap...or Bosun as we carried a crew of around 40 Indian crew had a big smile on his face and told me he had done a great deal for some Red Lead Paint about a month later I was assigned to check all the paint and when we opened his big deal Red Lead Paint on putting a stick in it only went about 6 inches in......the rest turned out to be sand!! (Very angry Casap) However...somehow there always seems to be a however....over a year later when we passed through the Suez again the guy sold it back to the same bloke who sold it to him and not only that but made a profit!! Back to the first Suez passage....we travelled in convoy to Great Bitter Lake where we anchored in order to allow the northbound convoy to pass, but when the pilot asked to drop the starboard anchor which we duly did....it just went...not shackled on to the main anchor chain (obviously not attached in London) the other 2 apprentices were rather pale as they had been under it banging away with chipping hammers. We eventually moved south down the rest of the canal and were soon away again in the Red Sea.
    Australia after the war was still experiencing lots of worker unrest and while we were there we ended up in lots of strike action which was fine for us as we had lots of great shore time. Eventually we ened up in Melbourne where we were to be dunaged out to carry grain. The day we arrive the carpenters went on strike for nearly 8 weeks...again great for us except when it was time to go we felt rather comfortably settled in as we had all made some good friends there. We moved on to Geelong where we loaded 10,000 tons of grain as a free charity offer to Ceylon (now Sri Lanka). When we arrived in Colombo the grain was all in bags and as it was relief food it was just of loaded onto the dock to be used straight away..... Yes you may have guessed it I was back there over a year later and apart from what had been stolen the rest was rat infested and rotten and still where it had been unloaded.....So much for Free Aid!!!
    We moved on to Calcutta where our regular business was of transporting Jute(Gunny) Sacks from India to the West Indies. We used to mostly sail from Calcutta to Trinidad non stop without sight of land....8 weeks rather sole destroying. Once in the West Indies however things rapidly improved as we used to go to all the islands delivering the Gunny Bags unloading was always very slow and it took on average a month to clear the cargo, our main destination was Cuba and I think I most likely went to every port in Cuba in my time on the ship. This was before the Revolution and I have to say it was always our favourite destination (nuf said)
    We sailed to Galveston in the US where we arrived 2 days before Christmas and were adopted by a big family while we were there. From there we moved on to New Orleans and arrived the day before New Year...as a Jazz fan this was perfect for me. We loaded coal for our return to the UK which ended my first run on the Betwa after over 13 months of being away it felt strange to be home again........You have no idea how green England is after over a year away anywhere else.
    Part 2 available if neededBetwa & Sydney Bridge.jpg
    Last edited by Jim Procter; 5th November 2019 at 01:56 PM.

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    Default Re: My time on norse lines “betwa”

    Quote Originally Posted by Jim Procter View Post
    MY TIME ON NORSE LINES “BETWA”
    ......You have no idea how green England is after over a year away anywhere else.
    ]
    !3 months was a Ropner short trip Jim, I was away 22 months, keep the stories coming, we have all sailed the same seas but have different stories to tell.

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    Default Re: My time on norse lines “betwa”

    Thanks I will

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    Default Re: My time on norse lines “betwa”

    Hi Jim.
    Brought back some memories as I did the same trip four times on the Trevose in the 50s, except for the Gunny sack run. The strikes in Aus were great, in Melbourne we discharged all our cars but the railways were on strike so couldn't quite finish, I went night watchman for five weeks, took in a full test match between Aus and England, then like you went to Geelong to load grain. The next three trips one included carrying two trains to Freemantle, we loaded wheat in Wyalla, then twice for sugar in Queensland. Great days.
    Des

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    Default Re: My time on norse lines “betwa”

    Des mate, move forward to the 60's and the strikes were still an ongoing event.
    It was so bad then that some shipping companies would not enter an Australian port for fear of being locked in for weeks, as was often the case.
    We were set for six weeks on the coast but ended up her fort almost 13.
    Happy daze John in Oz.

    Life is too short to blend in.

    John Strange R737787
    World Traveller

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    Default Re: My time on norse lines “betwa”

    Hi Des
    We had a dock strike first in Port Kembla and I was able to work as a docker for 4 weeks, great pay then when we went to Melbourne the Chpies went on strike for 2 months...began to feel as though I lived there!!

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    Default Re: My time on norse lines “betwa”

    Quote Originally Posted by Jim Procter View Post
    Hi Des
    We had a dock strike first in Port Kembla and I was able to work as a docker for 4 weeks, great pay then when we went to Melbourne the Chpies went on strike for 2 months...began to feel as though I lived there!!
    Was not so much the time they were out for but the reasons.
    No clean clothes to go into the chilled holds was enough for one strike.
    Happy daze John in Oz.

    Life is too short to blend in.

    John Strange R737787
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    Default Re: My time on norse lines “betwa”

    Hello Jim; lovely to read your piece. I hear so little of Jimmy Nourse ships. I see Betwa was built 1950 . I was r/o on an older Nourse tramp the 'Hughli' in 1956 (built 1943).
    The day I joined her from the Seaman's Mission in Cardiff touched on the classic:*After breakfast, I dial for a taxi to bear me and my gear to the Cardiff shipping office to sign aboard the new, but unknown, ship. I lug my bags outside and wait on the pavement for the taxi. The rough crowd from last night is also on the pavement, with their motley array of bags. Their taxi pulls into the gutter. They load up and drive off.
    My taxi is next in line – but my bags have vanished! The rough crowd has taken them. I jump into the taxi and shout, 'Follow that cab!'
    We pursue it into Cardiff dockland, past coal wharves and warehouses. We lose them once when a long coal train trundles through and we must halt at a level-crossing. But my driver does an intuitive three-point turn over more railway lines, dodges between some sheds, and spots our quarry in the distance. It's pulling away from a filthy old ship.
    Her white superstructure is yellowed and chipped. The plates of her black hull carry vertical streaks of rust. She sports a buff funnel, with black top and a red Neptune's crown just below. She has a list and leans against the dock like an old whore at a bar.
    I run up the gangway to discover a pile of bags stacked on the empty deck. I rummage among them until I retrieve my own.
    There are footfalls on the rust-flaked steel plates. 'Now then! What are you up to?'
    It's a huge man. He reminds me of the mate of the Dunera. A sense of grievance and injustice hits me. 'You clowns went off with my gear back at the Mission. I've had to chase you all the way through Cardiff bloody docks.' My protest becomes louder. 'I don't suppose you buggers will pay the extra taxi fare!'
    He says nothing, but steps forward with menace. I grab my bags and scurry down the gangway.
    *
    We weave our way to Cardiff Shipping Office, where I put my signature to ship's articles for a berth on the motor vessel Hughli, presently in Cardiff. We return through the cobbled streets of Cardiff's famous Tiger Bay area – me watching the taxi meter – and onto the docks. We dodge more coal trains and wind our way between sheds and cranes until we draw up alongside the MV Hughli. Horror fills me when I realise it's the same noxious tramp on which I'd recently had that altercation.
    The big man is on deck again. He glowers down at me as I creep up the gangway. He looks even bigger than before. 'You again! What the bloody hell do you want this time?'
    'I'm your new radio officer,' I mutter.
    'And I'm first mate,' he growls. 'I can see we're in for an interesting trip!'
    I shrink back, but catch a twinkle in the man's blue eyes and note how his lips fight back a touch of mirth.


    Six weeks later I paid off and was sent to North Shields to join a Tyne collier. Such rich lives we lived!
    *
    Last edited by Harry Nicholson; 8th November 2019 at 04:18 PM.
    Harry Nicholson

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    Default Re: My time on norse lines “betwa”

    Hi Harry.
    Like you I joined my first ship in Cardiff and you describe the place to a tee, I was fifteen and a half, feeling more like the half when i was going through the docks in a taxi wondering what the hell I was doing there, at the same time thrilled at being man enough to be there.
    Des

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    Default Re: My time on norse lines “betwa”

    Great to read your post. I agree with all you said about the Hougli. I was on her for 6 to 8 weeks also inn Cardiff in mid summer 1966 when she was there for a 12 year survey. It sounds as though we may have been there at around the same time. It was certainly a very unfriendly ship. I was there before I was to take my 2nd Mates Exam but the whole time I was there I hardly ever saw anyone as we had nothing to do so most people kept of the ship as much as possible. The only job I had was to go to the agents office just up the road from the dock each day & collect any mail or info for the ship from the agents....that was it so spent lots of afternoons at Porthcall on the beach. I agree the ship was in a bad state partly due to the survey as I think the powers that be had decided there was not much point doing anything with it until the survey was done as they were taking plates of the hull etc As with you I was glad not to sail on her. The Betwa however was a good ship well looked after and rather 5* after having been on the Hougli!!!

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