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Article: My Eagerness to Travel

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    My Eagerness to Travel

    4 Comments by Doc Vernon Published on 26th November 2019 08:47 PM
    Posted on behalf of Spencer Lewis with Thanks

    My Eagerness to Travel,



    Early Days before joiningMerchant Navy.
    Prelude to this was while atTruro secondary Modern, we had a Recruitment team give a presentationfor the Royal Navy/ Royal Marines.
    I liked the idea of travel, uniformsetc., so I filled in an Application form and though no more about it,after all it was still summer Holidays, I knew I would not bereturning to school and had not thought about a Job, Though my Fatherwanted to place me at Falmouth Docks as an Engineer apprentice, learna trade.
    All of a sudden, life was becomingserious, to my rescue came a letter from the Royal Navy asking me tofill in a second application and attend Devonport Military hospitalin order to undergo a full medical. Rail Warrant included plus 10shillings for travel.
    So duly arrived at the Hospital,along with another 20 guys, we got separated into groups and sent todifferent parts of the hospital for, Tests, X Rays, Eyesight testsand dental checks. About 4.15 we were all finished and told to gohome.
    In those days Plymouth to Truro wasa long way to travel, I think it was 3.5 hours by Train, (A steamTrain stopped at all stations) finally arrived Home. I still had nottold my Mum the reason for me going To Plymouth; I forget what excuseI gave her.
    Again the episode was forgotten, Iwas back to sailing and rowing, with no overheads.
    Then Came an Official letter in anOHMS Envelope, which my Mum Saw, so she said open it!
    The letter said I had passed all mymedicals and was deemed fit to Join the Royal Marines, Great I couldjoin at 16 years old as a ‘Boy Bugler in the Band” and work myway through. I only need a signature from my parents!!! Dad was stillin the Army and Based in Germany, so I said, here Mum, just signthis, Oh! Not so easy, she read it threw it at me and said NO WAYwith a few rosy words attached, Your Dad has spent all his life inthe Army and you are not doing the same. With Mums temper at itspeak, no point in arguing.
    At the same time in 1960 was aSeaman’s un-official Strike. The Merchant Navy were short ofpersonnel.
    So Off to Falmouth to try my hand atbecoming a seaman, I was steered to the Local shipping FederationOffice, “The Pool” filled in an application form, went for aMedical, Nothing in comparison to the Royal Navy. I was then passedto The National Union of Seaman office (next door) here it wasexplained that I could only join the Merchant navy if I was a UnionMan, I was asked to pay ten shillings joining fee plus two monthsdues in Advance which in all came to about fifteen shillings, onDoing this I was Issued with my Union Book, which I took back to theShipping Federation.
    I was told I would be joining as aboy rating, being just 16; I was then given my Seaman’s Number, onethat I will never forget R732359. My Seaman’s Book and ID cardwould be issued before joining my first ship, I had to pay twelveshillings for my seaman’s book, and two shillings for the photos,The ID Card would be free of Charge.
    I was told to come back thefollowing week.
    On My return not sure what wouldhappen, I was given my Seaman’s book and told to Join my first shipas a catering Boy, I did a little protest as I wanted to be on Deck.After all it was only ‘Queers in the Catering Dept.’ (DeckDepartment) I was told join this ship I could transfer departments ata later date.
    So back home to pack my suitcase,Mum could not stop me, as I did not need a parental signature, Backto Falmouth to join the weekly stores punt that delivered to theRiver Fal Ships.
    At that time BP had sixteen shipslaid up, in rafts of four tied side by side, My Ship was the BritishKnight, a Tanker built in 1948, 12,000 tons.
    Each Raft had one ship fired up, tosupply power to the others, also accommodation for the crews and ofcourse Food.
    Having climbed my first shipsgangway, I was signed on by the 2nd Mate, a grand salaryof GBP 13, twelve shillings and six pence, per month! Then taken aftto the Galley, to be introduced to the chief cook, who was fromGreenock, so it took me a while to work out his language and what hewas telling me.
    Another Cabin Boy and second stewardcame to show me my room, as the ship was not fully crewed there wasplenty of rooms, so I Started as a single occupant and a four-berthroom. The ship Had generators and other auxiliary gear working in theengine room, the noise you quickly become accustomed too.
    I was shown how to make my Bunk andmaking a Sea Bed, looks smart and once inside you cannot fall out,(today it is all duvets and quilts)
    I should say that all this was veryexciting for me and would start work the next morning for real, 5.30call for a 6 am ‘Turn To’ I had no Uniform or Galley shoes, so Istarted with jeans, Whit T shirts and a pair of “Sneakers” thecook gave me a couple of old Aprons.
    Then started my learning curb, theMN words used for different things:
    Suegy , was to wash-down paintwork.
    Wash Down, was how to use a longhandled scrubbing brush the correct way, with the bristles facinginto the deck, not as you would normally use a brush, this was sothat the bristles got under the dirt and lifted it, sweeping fromside to side.
    To Make soap suds: this was using ahard bar of Brown caustic Soap, Grated with a cheese grater, into atin which had holes punched into it, sides and bottom. This then hada wire handle inserted, so to hold it under Hot water tap, run thehot Steam water through this and you had a nice soapy solution, forwash Pots and pans, plates, for washing down and for sugeying. Forthe sugey solution we used a small handful of soda crystals, whichmade it softer, but after long use with your hands in the water, itwrinkled your skin.
    The Sugey solution was used to washdown the Galley Bulkheads and deck heads.
    The old ships had Two large steamCopper Boilers fitted in the galley, all the ships auxiliaries weresteam driven, including our galley boilers, so two valves on theunderside, one to open and one for exhaust, these could boil waterfaster than an electric kettle, It was an Art to have the boileralways on the boil, as we used to say ‘Just cracked open’ thiscould be monitored my having a small wisp of steam, whispering outunder the Lid.
    If you got it wrong, too much steamand the Boiler erupts like a water Volcano, Then you have a problemas you cannot turn off the steam as the valves are under the boiler,That part of the Galley became a Fog of steam, So you have to waituntil the water boils out, before you can reach the valves.
    The copper boilers had to be keptclean and shiny, this was achieved by using a solution of Sugar andVinegar, which would remove the Calcium stains and make it lookclean, especially for Inspections.
    Wood chopping block for meats, wouldbe cleaned down with a little sand (from the fire Bucket) a smallcupful of “Board of Trade Lime” (Neat Lime Juice,) “this was agovernment require on all Merchant Ships to prevent Scurvy”scrubbed into the block then washed off and left in the sun, it wouldturn white.
    One of my jobs every morning was tolight the Stoves! Oil Burning stoves, controlled by Oil Nozzles andcompressed air, once it was alight easy to control. The big problemwas to get them started from cold in the mornings, I had two weeks ofinstructions, before I took over this job, and could be highlydangerous!!!
    Two ways of getting a fire into thepit, was some old newspaper if we had any, or take some cotton waste,soak it in Kerosene light it and drop into the pit lifting a smallcircular plug plate to get the access.
    Turn on the compressor for the air,low speed, turn on the oil valve, let a little oil into the pit, Liftthe galley stove open Hole, you need a special key for this, thewhole of the galley range was cast iron so heavy.
    With the oil dripping into the pit,you drop your lighted paper or Cotton waste inside, too much Air ortoo much Oil the flame goes out. So you start again, Air off, OilOff, more paper drop it in which may or may not catch.
    You may ask how you observe this,all done through and open spy hole just above the oil Nozzle.
    The Nozzle is just a smaller versionof the ships main boilers, they have different tips that can allow alarger flow of oil, or change to a smaller tip.
    In the galley the nozzle isconnected on a block at the front of the stove, this has two pipesrunning into it, One for Compressed air, and one for the oil. Oncethe fire in the pit is established, you turn on the Compressed air,and then start to control the fuel and air so that you get a spray ofburning oil into your pit.
    One of the dangers at the openstage, is that the oil does not ignite, you don’t turn the oil offin time, you get a build up !!!, This you cannot see very well as itget absorbed in the Fire Brick dust, When you add more burning paper,it will ignite with an explosion, Which normally results in a flashof flame that shoots across the galley from the spy hole a biggerexplosion will also lift the Cooking Plates, ¾ inch Cast iron, thistype of explosion, goes up the Galley Exhaust pipe into the mainShips Funnel, and results in a big Black cloud of smoke, which makeit look like the ship is under way and scare the **** out of anyEngineers who may be watching.
    So the moral to the story is don’tlook through the spy hole at any of these moments, even standing tothe side and adjusting the Burners, I have had blow backs that takethe hairs off your arm.
    When I think back to That first shipand start to think of the HSE implications of today, yes we wereNaïve, and lucky!!!
    British Knight 1960, Laid up on theriver Fal, lovely In the summer, but quite boring in the Winter, NOTV Only a Radio, Though at this stage I did not have a Radio, so itwas sitting listen to older seamen tell their stories, Reading books,but really pleased that I was working on a ship, though it was notgoing to any exotic ports, Ah that time will come, Dream on.
    In the meantime I was learning aboutcooking, The Chief Cook was called Donald Phillips, A Really nice guyif you listened carefully to him, if not he would reach out and grabme by my collar and shouted “Di Ye ney hear Me laddie”
    I had deadlines to meet, I had topeel a bucket of Potatoes in 20 minutes, and then he would inspectthe peelings to make sure I was not taking off to much. The washingof the Cooking pots and trays was called a “Strap UP” I don’tknow where that name originated.
    He also showed me how to do mywashing Clothes ‘dhobi ‘No washing Machines, just a tiled deck, aBar of carbolic soap, Bare feet and in my underpants, scrubbing,rubbing and rinsing it all turned out good. No Drying Machine either,Not a problem as the Galley was right over the Boiler room, So whenwe finished our ‘Dhobi’ we would hang it over the rails in theboiler room within two hours it was dry, all be it like Cardboard.
    I had not been to pre sea schooltraining, so I was learning all the important things in a practicalway, ‘Hands On’ Donald even made sure I showered after work, Hewas like a big brother to me.
    Showers!!!! another dangerousobstacle to get by safely, each shower had a hot tap and a cold tap,the regulators were not to be trusted, as all heating was steam,times when you had steam coming out of the shower and no water, soquickly learnt to stand back run the shower at a temp which was good,but wait for a few minutes to see it was stabilized before you wentinside.
    I also learnt to walk around in‘Tanker Tartan’ that being a bath towel wrapped around the waistand knotted. We were lucky in some respects that all our linens werecleaned by laundry ashore and was sent to Falmouth every 2 weeks, soonly personal laundry to keep up with; again, Donald’s routine wasSocks, Pants. T Shirt. Apron washed every day was simple, Bit leaveit for a week and it became a mammoth job, something I alwaysremembered.
    The other area that could be adisaster, was the toilets, a System called A ‘Shanks’ Sea waterunder pressure and a foot pedal to press down, if the regulator andspring was not adjusted, you press down and you get a water explosionthat blows **** and piss all over the place and Is a bugger to cleanup.
    I have a photo of me, Donald, Bobby2nd steward and the cabin boy, I forget his name taken onthe British Knight, and I must try to find it.
    I was also learning how to useknives, how to use a carberundum stone and a knife steel. how to cutdifferent sizes of vegetables, also how to use the oil burning stoveoven, no nobs or thermostats to adjust temperatures, just the use ofthe burners and open and closing Oven doors, using your hand as athermometer quite an art.
    Donald always kept a Stock Pot onthe side of the stove, we changed this every week, from this he madeall his soups and sauces etc. something which I used to do right upuntil I left working in the galley.
    The British Knight was a typicalstyle of Tanker for those days, Officers lived ‘Amidships’ centerof the ship , crew lived aft, Stern part. The Officers Saloon andpantry were amidships, so all the food had to be carried from theGalley in the aft section, to the saloon pantry amidships.
    Because a Tankers decks wouldnormally be covered in seawater when at sea, they raised a catwalk ontankers called a “Flying Bridge” this was used, by the all thecrew to each the officers and by the Engineers to get back to theEngine room. I was later to witness this in use in very bad weather,in extreme conditions it was closed, those who were aft stayed aft,too dangerous to try to cross.
    Later on our bigger ships the flyingbridge was fitted with two bus stops, metal hopped shelters where youcould shelter, between the waves, Timing was crucial.
    River Fal, nice Cornish river OurRaft of ships was tied up just below the King Harry Ferry, Our shiphad a diesel lifeboat, that was adopted with our own Hand made Cabinto carry us ashore, so we stayed dry and out of winds, it was 10minutes from the gangway to the Jetty, as this was tidal, if youchose to ashore when the tide was out, you got dirty muddy Shoes. Ourlanding was a stone built jetty, with metal steps leading down to theshoreline at high tide no problems. But a big problem on a wintersnight and no illumination and slippery metal steps.
    I had received my wages at the endof each month, my only expenditure was a shilling a month for myunion dues. After receiving my first pay, I had a day off went toFalmouth and bought myself some new shoes for the Galley and a PYEEDDYSTONE 6 valve radio 2nd hand. Ran up my own Ariel tothe main mast and could receive the world, I was well pleased.
    After 3 months, I was going to betransferred to our furthest away Raft at Tolvern, again a group offour tankers, and the name of the operational ship was the BritishEnterprise, slightly smaller 8,000 tons. But in this case she wasstill full of Fuel oil, so no high gangways to climb, I missedDonald, but had a new experience with a Character called MauriceStout from Aberdeen, If I thought that understanding Donald was aproblem, Maurice was from another planet!!!! Actually from Peterhead!He was a Typical MN Chief Cook, liked a good drink, always woreslippers in the Galley, and always had a cigarette in the side of hismouth; he was a typical cook that you see in cartoons, with fag ashfalling into the soup.









    Maurice was also Lazy!! He paid me10 shillings a week to clean his cabin, for me that was good, but ona weekend he used to go ashore get pissed and bring some bottles backto the ship, on these occasions, I had to cook the breakfast andprepare the lunch.
    He would be bad for a couple ofdays, and then right as rain and sober for the next time, One nighton the way back he fell out of the boat and had to be rescued fromthe river, next episode saw Maurice leaving us, he came back drunkmisjudged the tide and the dangerous metal ladder he fell into theboat breaking his leg.
    My early training with Donald kickedin, I was asked by or Chief officer if I could manage the galley onmy own for a couple of days until they could get a cook up to us.
    No Problem, they also sent the 2ndsteward Bobby to come and help, surprisingly enough our crew liked mysoups, so next step was Irish Stews and fried Fish, Sausage etc.,nobody went hungry. I even made some steam puddings, Spotted dick,Victoria Sponges etc.
    We eventually got our new cook ayoung guy, just got his chief cooks certificate, but a bit of a setback by being assigned to this old ship, however he was not long withus, as he was transferred deep sea, ship waiting to sail did not havea chief cook , so he was whisked away.
    When we got a replacement it was nota Chief cook, but a senior 2nd Steward, who had been withthe Company for a while, nice guy called Ken Stivey, we got on verywell, he told me stay with BP best Company to gain promotion with,(Well, he was right on that)
    We had some activity at the time,the Fuel oil was required elsewhere, so the British Enterprise.Started to get into an operational, extra crew joined ready to go toSea, The question now was what ship we should move to for bestaccommodation; in our raft, we had the British Isles, British Successand the British Earl. We would move to the British Isles, she was thebest of the three, But a lot of work to be done cleaningrefrigerators, stores, Galley and accommodations, Plus the
    Engineers had to check that allelectrics were working and we had water and heat.
    Problem was she was an inside ship,so we had to cross over one ship’s deck every time we went ashoreor loading stores. Anyway we moved across.
    At 16, I was game for anythingworking late was not a problem, overtime was not a question.
    The Enterprise sailed, four tugs toguide her out and down the river.
    After a week we had news that afourth ship was coming to join us taking the Berth of the Enterprise,this Tanker was coming from lay up in the River Blackwater, she wasalso loaded with Fuel Oil, Finally she came into view, she lookedgood loaded, the name was the British Piper, slightly bigger at11,000 tons, came alongside and hooked up.
    A quick decision was made to shutdown the Isles and we would move to the Piper, She also came with twocooks, I was back to being a Galley boy again.
    The Piper was a god ship, build atthe end of the war and was an Ex Empire Ship. The name will come tome later. She was built with a reinforced stern mounting to take a4-inch Naval Gun. All the accommodations had escape port holes, whichwere larger than standard portholes, such was the War Design.
    Now back to normal, a short gangwayand access close to all our stores close to hand, much easier toload. Catring staff was reduced again, which left a cook and me inthe Galley.
    The officers decided and crew tochip in and Buy a TV set, in the 1960’s Reception was not alwaysgood, we had additional problems, the River Fal is guarded on bothsides by small hills and woods. Our Ariel was lashed to a lifeboatOar that in turn was lashed to a rail on the Monkey Island, highestpoint on the ship, where the Radars are.
    But to get a good picture, oneperson had to hangout of the porthole in the smoke room and shoutinstructions, while two men on the monkey Island moved the antenna,until a good picture was received, Then lash the whole thing inplace, any time we have a strong wind the picture would be lostagain, so back to the shouted instructions from the smoke room. Atthis time we were receiving the Black & White Minstrel shows andother good programs.
    Because our raft was the furthestaway, we used to travel by our lifeboat in a different directiontowards Truro, a small place called Malpas, good when the tide wasin, but impossible when the tide was out. Had a nice Pub “MalpasArms”, only locals go to this Pub.
    We had formed our own darts team andon one trip challenged the pub to a darts match. It was good and muchto our surprise we beat them, so we had an invite for a return game,we had to plan our trips to suit the tides, We had to arrive twohours before high water and we must leave two hours after high water,if we missed the tide we were stuck for 10 hours till the next tide.
    Even on the ebbing tide we had to becareful, if we strayed out of the channel you were stuck on a mudbank and the tide Ebbs quickly in this spot, but as we get furtherdown the river down, it is easy to keep away from the banks.
    At this spot on the Fal, at SpringTides, when they come at the highest, they also ebb to their Lowest!!Our two inside ships though empty used to ground on the bottom, thePiper also due to the fact she was loaded.
    The Fal was chosen as a safe andcheap place to lay up ships, even today. In the lower reaches it is‘V’ shaped in depth and can take large ships.
    I also learned from different seamancruel things you can do to Seagulls.
    Take a piece of Raw Dough, roll itout and fill the center with Baking powder, throw it up Into the air,they swoop and swallow in one bite, once the powder interacts withthe fluid in their stomachs they explode or fly away with severediarrhea.
    Another nasty trick was to KneadBread into a dough, the insert broken razor blades, the gull woulddisappear and we would not see it again, then we would tie two piecesof fat bacon together, through them in the air and watch a midairfight over the bacon, often resulting in both Gulls falling into thewater . Not nice, but young and naieve.
    As this was a flowing river we alsohad fish, Mainly Sea Bass who were difficult to catch due to theirsmall mouths, in the seasons we would catch Pollack, and summer timewe could catch Mackerel.
    While on the British Knight, we wereanchored over a deep pit, and commonly caught Conger ells, I don’tknow why as nobody ever ate them, I think most of us were scaredtrying to get them off the Hook, evil looking teeth.
    All together I completed nine happymonths of learning, but not going to sea, That all changed in 1961, Iwas told in the morning that a Taxi from the shipping Federationwould come to pick me up at King Harrys Ferry and take me to Falmouthto Join a ‘Super Tanker’ The British Industry, a steam turbineship of 32,000 tons and a speed of 18 knots, she had just completed adry docking and was crewing up ready to sail. End of single berthCabins. A full crew of 75.
    I had to report to the Cateringofficer. Another Scotsman I was beginning to think that MN cateringstaff was all Scotsman. I remember his name as well, Billy Reid, fromInverness, but at least I could understand him.
    Here I wasgiven the job as amidships pantry Boy. Later got I into the galley,four boys to a room and I was left with a top bunk. If I remembercorrectly we had four deck boys, four Catering Boys and four Engineroom boys, all in three rooms. We each took turns to clean the roomfor inspections. (I never Saw any Engine room Boys after that Trip)
    Had my faithful PYE radio linked up,I now had some sort of Uniform and for once in my life I had money inmy pocket. So looking forward to the adventures ahead. Time to gohome and say good bye to Mum and my Grandfather and Grannie, Dad wasin Germany. I don’t think the fact that I was due to leave grandold British shores had dawned on me, for I don’t know how long Iwould be away. In the early sixties, we all signed on two yeararticles, which meant we had to stay on the ship for two years if itdid not come back to the UK.
    It was common for crews to spendnine months to a year away.
    So the start of the voyage and thetrip is another story.
    Senior Member and Friend of this Website

    R697530

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  3. #2
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    Default Re: My Eagerness to Travel

    Great Story Spencer
    I am sure there are more to come so bring them on please!
    I enjoy reading
    Cheers
    Senior Member and Friend of this Website

    R697530

  4. Likes happy daze john in oz liked this post
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    Default Re: My Eagerness to Travel

    I joined the British Enterprise in Abadan in 1950 as Chief Cook, soon found that I had to make custard with water,no sugar no milk, crew had to put their own in. There was a bottle of tomato sauce on each table in the saloon and the Captain ordered one one bottle put back in store. Could fill a page with other similar stories. Unloaded in Ghent, looked out and saw Chief Officer checking tanks with a cigarette in his mouth, Captain must have seen it as well as the CO went ashore ten minutes later carry his cases.
    Terry Sullivan R340406

  6. Thanks Doc Vernon thanked for this post
  7. #4
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    Default Re: My Eagerness to Travel

    I have Hitler to hank for my yearning to travel, his mates bombed me out three times in three different cities, so travelling became second nature to me.

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    Default Re: My Eagerness to Travel

    I think for some of us the desire to travel is part of our DNA.
    It always was and still is one of my passions.
    Happy daze John in Oz.

    Life is too short to blend in.

    John Strange R737787
    World Traveller

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