Elephant walk

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During our holiday in Chiang Mai in Thailand we decided to have a ride on an elephant –  to be honest the tour that we paid for was a for water rafting, which included a ride on an elephant.
Having ridden on an elephant at Chester zoo, when I was a child, I expected something similar – a slow walk around a large circle, or something similar. Wrong!

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Each elephant carried two people, plus the handler who sat across the animal’s neck. For the record ours was called Jennifer, and whenever Jennifer felt hungry she would stop and help herself to a bunch of leaves or large twigs to chew on, during her walk around the area.

The elephant handlers had four animals, the above photograph is of one of them ahead of us as we approached the river.

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Jennifer caught up with the lead animal and wanted it to get a move on – there must have been something on TV that she wanted to see. Maureen and I are the couple at the back – Jennifer’s handler is the guy with the orange shirt.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAJennifer was quite happy now that she was out of the river.

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We crashed through the undergrowth – and we went where ever Jennifer wanted to go . .

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Follow the leader . . .

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She wanted a snack . .

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Bon appétit, Jennifer.

We had to dodge the larger branches as she ripped them from bushes, waved them around her head, as we ducked, and she chewed on the best bits.

When we returned to our starting point we were encouraged to feed Jennifer with bananas. The trip on the elephant was about 40 minutes  – we realised later that we’d crossed this river on Jennifer as we rafted our way down stream.

IMGP2011rdon’t bother peeling them I like green bananas . . .

IMGP2014rMaureen talking to Jennifer, while offering bananas, the problem was Jennifer didn’t understand English – she was tongue Thai’d . . . (they get worse as I get older).

Baby elephant walk

Birkenhead and all that . .

500px-BirkenheWhere there is faith there is light and strength

The translation of the moto is above.

My father’s family have lived in Birkenhead since around 1870, after moving from St Albans in Hertford via Derby. My mother’s family were relatively new comers having moved from Caernarvon in North Wales in 1921. I was born in the same terrace house in Lower Tranmere, Birkenhead in which my father was born. The house was built around 1870.

Birkenhead was an amalgamation of four boroughs in 1877 – Birkenhead, Tranmere, Oxten and Claughton-cum-Grange and the seal of Birkenhead was created from the four seals of the original towns.

The single lion and the crosier is from the Massey family of Birkenhead who founded a monastery in 1150. The oak tree is from Tranmere, and the dual lions from Oxten, and I think the blue ‘star’ symbol is from Claughton-cum- Grange.
On the top you will see a blue lion with his front paw on an anchor, which symbolises how Birkenhead depends on the sea and shipping.

Odd facts about Birkenhead – particularly with connections to the United States of America.

In 1847 Birkenhead opened the first public funded civic park in the world. It was designed by Joseph Paxton. The idea of a public park came about in 1841 when the town bought 226 acres of land, which was marshy and grazing land on the edge of the town.

1280px-Birkenhead_Park_-_The_Grand_EntranceMain entrance to the park.

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Lakes

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Lake house

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Quiet spots

The above park pictures have been taken from the internet – all of mine are black & white!

Frederick Law Olmsted, an American landscape architect,  arrived in Liverpool in 1850 to stay in the north west of England. During his time in England he visited a number of parks, including Birkenhead Park.
In 1858 he and Calvert Vaux won a competition to design a new park for New York, which was to be called Central Park. He was very impressed with Joseph Paxton’s design of Birkenhead Park, and this influenced his over all design of Central Park.
Birkenhead Park was also the template in 1872, for the design of Sefton Park in Liverpool

Central-Park-New-York-CityCentral Park NY

conservatory-waterBoat lake Central Park

Central park is nearly four times the size of Birkenhead Park.

In 1860 an American, George Francis Train, visited Liverpool to try and persuade them to build a tram network – Liverpool did not respond to his idea, so Mr Train crossed the river to Birkenhead and they listened, and opened the first tramway in Europe, which was from Woodside (which is on the river bank) to Birkenhead Park. It was horse drawn.

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The above two pictures are to illustrate the horse drawn tram – both were taken by me in Victor Harbor, South Australia, this Australian service began in 1894.

Mr Train told Birkenhead council that if the service was not a success he would return the streets to their original state, at his own cost. He didn’t have to spend any money.

In 1828 William Laird and his son John started a ship building company on the banks of the River Mersey at Birkenhead.

In 1839 he built the first screw propelled steamer, the Robert F Stockton, which was a tug for use on the North American Waterways.

They were very successful at building iron ships and one of the best customers was the East India Company. Relations with China began to deteriorate so the Company wanted war ships to protect their China trade.  Laird built the Nemesis, which was 184 foot long, 29 foot beam, 6 foot draft and 660 tons. She was armed with two pivoted mounted 32 pounders, four six pounders and rocket launchers. She had 120 hp steam engine as was the first iron ship to round the Cape of Good Hope. She was a paddle steamer.

The 'Nemesis'   Nemesis, (Goddess of retribution).

HEICo_steamer_Nemesis Nemesis wreaked havoc amongst the wooden junks of the Chinese navy during the First Opium War. The first rocket that she fired hit a large junk and caused it to blow up with a huge explosion. The Chinese didn’t stand a chance against such modern weapons.

In 1848 they built the 1400 ton paddle frigate HMS Birkenhead for the navy. She became famous when she was being used as a troop ship and was wrecked off South Africa in 1852.

The_Birkenhead-TroopshipHMS Birkenhead

She didn’t have enough lifeboats for all of the passengers so the troops stood in their regimental lines so as to allow the women and children to get away in the lifeboats.

Only 193 of the 643 people on board survived and the soldier’s bravery gave birth to the call ‘ women and children first’ when abandoning any ship. This became known as the Birkenhead Drill. All the women and children survived.

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Rudyard Kipling wrote a poem in their honour and part of it is below

‘To stand and be still
to the Birken’ead Drill
is a damn tough bullet to chew’.

Some years later the Confederate States of America ordered an iron clad ship from the same ship yard in Birkenhead –

CSSAlabamaCSS Alabama

1050 tons, 222 foot long, 31 foot 8 inch beam, 17 foot 8 inch draft, single screw, with 6 x 32 pounders, 1 x 100 lb cannon and 1 x 68 lb cannon, BUT none of her armaments were on the vessel when she was handed over to the Confederates because of the British neutrality Act. Lairds were legally able to build, and sell the ship without arms. She sailed to the Azores where she was handed over and then rigged with her armaments. Her decks had been built with reinforcements to take the cannon.

QaYtGJwHer moto was – ‘God helps those who help themselves.’

She burned 65 union ships (mainly merchant ships) but didn’t harm the crews, but put them on neutral ships.   Eventually she was sunk by a Union vessel off the coast of France. In 1984 the French navy found the resting place of the Alabama in 200 feet of water off  Cherbourg, France.

Birkenhead was not always building ships because sometimes ships were run aground to be broken up.

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SS Great Eastern

Brunel’s Great Eastern, launched in 1858 and was the largest ship ever built. 18,915 grt, 692 feet long, 82 feet wide with four decks bult to carry 4000 passengers non-stop to Australia from the UK. The world had to wait until 1899 before a longer ship, RMS Oceanic was built, and 1901 before a heavier ship was built RMS Celtic, 21,035 grt.

 The Great Eastern never carried passengers to Australia, but did carry them to America, before becoming a cable laying ship.

later she was used as an advertising ‘hoarding’ and sailed up and down the River Mersey advertising Lewis’ Department store. I suppose it was ‘fortunate’ that Brunel died in 1959 and never saw what happened to his world class ship.

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The Great Eastern was beached between Rock Ferry and New Ferry not far from the Laird’s ship yard.

Great_Eastern_SLV_AllanGreen  Her stern is towards Rock Ferry and her bow points to New Ferry, although many comments state that she was broken up at New Ferry.

Behind the Great Eastern’s stern (which is not shown in this photograph) is HMS Conway.

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It took eighteen month to break up the Great Eastern, it was far larger and stronger than the breakers had imagined and it is thought that they made a big loss on the job.

Finally to end on the park again –

War_memorial_BirkenheadThe Birkenhead war memorial in Hamilton Square has my uncle’s name inscribed up on it – he is buried a short distance outside Ypres in Belgium, having been killed in action in 1917 – he was nineteen.

DSC00214r  Albert Edward01He signed up at seventeen, and just before he left he and his parents visited a show for the troops. It was held at a theater across the road from the main entrance to Birkenhead Park. I believe my father would have been with them – he would have been six years old at the time.

aaki_wmOpening day for the park in 1847.

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I found the program the other day amongst some old papers of my father’s. As you see the theater is reopening on Good Friday, 2nd April 1915, only a hundred and two years ago tomorrow (Good Friday).

The theater was later renamed as the Park Cinema, before being pulled down in 1938 and replaced with a more modern building called the Gaumont Cinema.

Llangollen, music and boats

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Llangollen to me means two things, beyond the beauty of the town of course, – the international music eisteddfod and the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct, so when we visited the UK for our self drive, self catering holiday with our Australian friends, Llangollen was on the list.

In 1943 the British Council organised for members of governments in exile (remember WW2 was in to its fourth year) to attend the 1943 National Eisteddfod, which was held in Bangor, North Wales.

It was such a success that the following year an international music festival was held, and again it was successful. In 1945 it was suggested that an international choral festival be added to the 1947 Welsh National Eisteddfod, but this was rejected because arranging the National Eisteddfod was a big enough job on its own.

W.S. Gwynn Williams – a well known Welsh composer, click on his name the for one of his most famous works, who was born in Llangollen, along with George Northing, the chairman of Llangollen town council, drummed up enough support from the local people that planning for an International Eisteddford would take place in Llangollen in 1947.

In June 1947 things looked like there were not going to work out as planned because the French rail workers had gone on strike, and the organisors were worried that many of the European musicians would not be able to attend.

The first to arrive was the ladies’ choir from Oporto, they arrived by bus. The Hungarian workers’ choir completed their journey by hitch hiking from Basle, because of rail strikes.

The eisteddford was brought to a close with a concert on the Sunday evening featuring Sir John Barbirolli and the Hallé Orchestra.

In 1949 the first German choir took part and the organisors were worried about the reception that the Germans would receive only four years after the end of the war. When the train carrying the German choir arrived at Llangollen station the town’s people welcomed them with tea and cakes. The railway station can be seen on the right hand side of the above picture.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe river in both pictures is the River Dee that flows, via Chester, in to the Irish Sea.

I have a personal link with the National Eisteddfod because my mother was a member of the Birkenhead Welsh Choral Society, and they sang at one of the eisteddfods, and I believe won.

BWCSThe badge of my mother’s ‘uniform’ for the completion.

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The badge used to pin the cloth badge to her blouse.

Mum

The shield and certificates can be seen, but I am unable to read them even after ‘blowing up’ the picture. When I was younger I am sure I was shown her medal or some commemorative item, but for the life of me I cannot find it, which isn’t surprising after moving to Australia!

My mother is front row, fourth from the left. She was born in 1909 and moved to England when she was twelve (she didn’t speak English until she moved to England). In 1925 she would have been sixteen and the competition was held in Pwllheli. I mention this because of the cost of getting there from Birkenhead, very few had cars. The other thought is that in 1929 the eisteddfod was held in Liverpool, which is a ferry ride across the River Mersey from Birkenhead.

The Welsh National Eisteddfod has been held in each of the traditional Welsh counties, as well as most of the major Welsh cities, except for St Asaph – don’t ask me why . . .

As a foot note – when I was about thirteen or fourteen I was in my school choir (in Birkenhead) and we used to sing in concerts and the occasional  international competitions.
One year my choir was asked to host a German choir, and I had a German boy, of similar age to me, staying in my home for about a week. It was an interesting week because he couldn’t speak English and I couldn’t speak German, and the only other language left was Welsh (Mum), which was of little help.
I can remember him now; we wrote to each other as pen pals, but at that age writing letters was a pain, and it eventually stopped. I often wondered how his life panned out.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe other interesting point about Llangollen is that it is not all that far to Pontcysyllte Aqueduct, which is down river from the town.

Pontcysyllte Aquaduct
Llangollen Canal
North
Aerial
Canals
Water
TransportIt is not a railway bridge but a canal on piers to carry the water and the canal boats over the River Dee. There are 18 arches, the canal is cast iron, it took ten years to build, it was opened in 1805, and it is 126 ft (38 mtrs) high, which makes it the highest navigable aqueduct canal in the world. The above picture is off the internet.

2008-06-10 183r.jpgFrom the beginning of the ‘bridge canal’.

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The above two pics show the ‘pool’ where the canal boats wait for their turn to cross.

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A canal boat on its way through.

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Don’t look down to the River Dee.

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Keep going, and hope the canal doesn’t spring a leak . . .

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Get moving . . . . . . . .

A number of the above pictures are thanks to KI, one of our traveling companions.

 

 

Plas Newydd x two

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Plas Newydd (or New Hall in English) overlooking the Menai Straits, Anglesey, where I lived for three months when training at HMS Conway.

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The site was originally occupied in the 13th century and was known as Llwyn-y-Moel, but by 1470 it was owned by the Griffith family, and they created a hall-house. Over the centuries through marriages, it became the home of the Marquis of Anglesey.

In 1533 Ellen Griffin married and she and her husband lived in Llwyn-y-Moel and their grand daughter married Lewis Bayly, and it was Lewis Bayly who renamed the property as Plas Newydd during renovations. Lewis Bayly’s grandson gained an Irish Baronetcy and became Baron of Plas Newydd and also Lord Lieutenant of Anglesey in 1761.

His son, Henry Bayly, born 1744, inherited the title of the 9th Baron Paget from a distant cousin, and later changed his name to Paget, because the title could not pass through the female line. He took over various estates in Staffordshire, and on his father’s death in 1782 he acquired a third Baronetcy and Plas Newydd and the Anglesey estate. He was made the Earle of Uxbridge and also became Lord Lieutenant of Anglesey in 1784.

Henry Bayly died in 1812 and his son Henry William took over and he became the Second Earl of Uxbridge. Henry William had raised a regiment in the 1790’s and was commissioned in the army in 1795. He fought in several campaigns and distinguished himself and became a Major General in 1802. In 1815 he was in command of the army’s cavalry and lead a charge during the battle of Waterloo.

Scotts Greys

Cavalry charge

The film ‘Waterloo’ concentrates on the Scotts Greys, rather than the whole of the heavy brigade. If you click on the above link and scroll down you’ll gain a better understanding of the heavy brigade.

As a reward for his skill and courage he was made Marquis of Anglesey. Unfortunately one of the last cannon balls fired by the French shattered his leg which necessitated amputation. He had a false leg created, which was the world’s first articulated prosthetic leg made from wood – he had several for different functions -walking, dancing, riding etc – well you would wouldn’t you . . . .

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The original prosthetic leg – photo from the internet.

Henry William died in 1841.

During the 1930’s Rex Whistler was a frequent visitor to Plas Newydd where he painted the large mural in the dining room. Well worth a visit.

Rex_Whistler_-_Dining_Room_Mural_-_Capriccio_-_Plas_Newydd It is painted trompe-l’oeil, which means that the scene changes as you walk the length of the painting.
I first saw this painting at a cost of 6d in 1960, when I was a Conway cadet, and I have never forgotten the thrill of seeing such a painting.
In the centre of the picture are steps leading down to the water and it is up these steps that Neptune is supposed to have climbed, and if you are on the left of the picture the wet footprints come towards you from the top of the steps – move to the right side of the picture you will see the footprints still coming towards you, although you would expect them to point to the left, away from you.

Rex Whistler volunteered for service at the outbreak of WW2, but was killed on the  18th July, 1944, in Normandy – he was an officer and tank commander in the Welsh Guards.

Don’t get Plas Newydd Anglesey mixed up with Plas Newydd, Llangollen.

Plas_Newydd,_near_Llangollen_-_the_seat_of_the_late_Lady_Eleanor_Butler_and_Miss_Ponsonby_(1132208)Plas Newydd, Llangollen, about 1840
In the picture the house retained the Gothic features that the two ladies introduced.

The home is famous for two ladies of Llangollen, Lady Eleanor Butler and Miss Sarah Ponsonby, who lived there from 1780 – 1829. They became celebrated throughout the country as the story of their friendship spread through Regency Society. They were known as the most celebrated virgins in Europe.

Sarah_Ponsonby_and_Lady_Eleanor_Butler,_recluses_known_as_the_Ladies_of_Llangollen_Wellcome_V0007358

They both met in Kilkenny, Ireland, in 1768 – Sarah was an orphan, whilst Eleanor was the daughter of Walter Butler, owner of Kilkenny Castle. Eleanor was clever and bookish, but she was 39 and had passed the point of getting married. Her father was trying to get her to join a convent, which would keep everything tidy for the family, because her brother had married well, as had her sister.

In the meantime twenty three year old Sarah was receiving the unwanted amorous attentions of her guardian, Sir William Fownes. Sir William’s wife Betty was still alive, but not in the best of health. Sarah could see that Sir William was waiting his time out to make Sarah the second Lady Fownes, only she didn’t want to have anything to do with Sir William.

The two single women turned to one another for support, and hatched a plan to escape from Ireland. It was all very cloak and dagger, with Eleanor and Sarah dressing in men’s clothing, and armed with a pistol, and Sarah’s dog, climbed through a window to flee Ireland, via the Waterford ferry to England. Two days later, both women were caught.

Eventually the Fownes family gave in and allowed Sarah to join Eleanor and they both left for Wales.

While they were searching for the right place for them both to retire, so as to paint and write, they heard that Sir William had become ill and died of ‘strangulation of the stomach’ followed by a stroke.

They lived together at Plas Newydd, Llangollen, for fifty years and became the centre of a fashionable place to visit.

Some of the more famous people who came to stay –

Duke of wellingtonDuke of Wellington

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Lady Caroline Lamb – the novelist and lover of Byron, even though she was married to another man.

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 Josiah Wedgwood – potter and anti-slaver Official_medallion_of_the_British_Anti-Slavery_Society_(1795)

Wedgwood produced the medallion ‘Am I not a man’ in support of William Wilberforce’s campaign against slavery.

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William Wordsworth

and many other well known people.

After the ladies died the house was owned by several different people including a General John Yorke who altered it somewhat, to what it looks like today.

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In 1932 the house was taken over by Llangollen Council.

Llandudno, Cymru (Wales)

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A few years ago Maureen & I and three other couples had a seven week holiday of self catering, self drive around the UK. We hired a mini-bus and stayed in farms and apartments – all self catering. We were a mix of three ex Poms, three Australians, a New Zealander and a Russo – German. One of the places that I wanted them to see was Llandudno.

Llandudno has a Great Orme & a Little Orme.

P5152254rLittle Orme – picture taken from the Great Orme.

Both headlands are of limestone and the names are said to be linked to old Norse, rather than Welsh, and in English mean sea serpent. The word ‘orm’ is thought to be translated in to English as ‘worm’  – serpent??

The headlands are now mainly nature reserves. On top of the Great Orme is the Summit Complex,

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which is a pub, restaurant, amusements centre etc. It used to be the Telegraph Inn from where messages would be relayed from Holyhead to Liverpool of the arrival of sailing ships. It was rebuilt to become a hotel in 1939, and then taken over by the RAF during the war and became a radar station.

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The old lamp for the lighthouse.

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In 1952 Randolph Turpin (the boxer who beat Sugar Ray Robinson in 1951 for the World Middleweight title) bought it, and when he was in financial difficulties with the taxman, the Llandudno council stepped in and took over the building.

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The above five pictures were taken by KI one of our Australian companions.

Funny how things come back to you, but I can remember the huge interest in boxing at that time when Randolph Turpin won – I was seven, and the Festival of Britain was in full swing.

Festival_of_BritainEveryone seemed to know Turpin’s name even the people who didn’t have any interest in boxing.

In the Summit Complex they remember Turpin by naming a bar after him – Randy’s Bar – see above photograph. Sadly, Randolph Turpin shot himself in 1966.

Tramway

To get to the summit without walking, you have to use The Great Orme Tramway.

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Single track for most of the way, with ‘passing sections’.

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Near the top.

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Coming down gave us some great views of Llandudno with all the B&Bs and hotels along the sea front.

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A wide ‘prom’ could accommodate many walkers without getting in each others way.

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The town is also famous for its pier. It is 2,295 feet of cast iron lacework. The original pier was built in 1858, but was damaged in a storm in 1859. It was repaired and used for sixteen years before being upgraded to the present pier. I can remember as a child passenger ships sailing from Liverpool to Llandudno packed with holidaymakers. The ships would berth at the end of the pier, as there is deep water.

FerryLlandudno pier is at the bottom of the picture.

Pier

It was pleasant to walk to the end for the fresh air.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAEntrance to the pier.

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The inclusion of slot machines as amusements (see pic below) did devalue the experience. A sign of age on our part I suppose.

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We did find something that we were sure we wouldn’t have found in Australia . .

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A touch of yesterday for many of us – during the 40’s I had two stuffed dolls on my bed, a sailor doll and a gollywog doll and never for one minute thought either of them as un-pc. For the record I also had a lion doll, in to which I would stuff my pajamas each morning. No animals were injured in the operation, because he didn’t come from a zoo.

Trivia linked to Llandudno – for my Australian readers.

Billy Hughes, Australia’s 7th PM,

Hughes15-16his parents were Welsh, although he was born in London. He was seven when his mother died and he was sent to live with his Aunt in Llandudno until he was 14, after which he moved back to London. He emigrated to Austraia in 1884 at the age of twenty two.
Marconi (of morse code fame) lived in Anglesey between 1900 & 1918 and it was from Anglesey that the first wireless morse message flashed around the world to Australia. The first message, in morse, was to the PM of Australia, William (Billy) Morris Hughes. There are suggestions that Billy Hughes and

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Lloyd George (British PM during WW1, who was also Welsh – above picture) sent messages to each other, in morse, but also in Welsh, so as to keep them secret during the 1st WW.

200px-Alice_LiddellAlice Liddell.

She and her family holidayed in Llandudno in 1861.

Her father liked the place so much that he bought a house for his family’s use during the holidays. It was called Penmorfa,

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and the family often had guests staying. A close friend of the family, Charles Dodgson, is said to have stayed with them, and he often used to tell Alice stories. He told one where he used the daughter of the house as the heroine of one of his stories. Later the story was written down and published.
Charles Dodgson didn’t wish his name to be used as the author, so he used another – Lewis Carroll. Alice, of Alice in Wonderland was based on Alice Liddell, while she was in Llandudno.

Alice_in_Wonderland,_cover_1865                      AliceWonderland2.1

The original cover and a later cover.

alice-in-wonderland-ladybird-book-disney-first-edition-gloss-hardback-1987-3211-pThe cover that we all know from the Disney studios.

In November of 2008 a developer demolished Penmorfa House to make way for apartments – locals tried to save the old building, but . . . .

To quote Alice . . .

 It would be so nice if something made sense for a change.

The White Rajah

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James Brooke (29th April 1803 – 11 June 1868)

The picture is from a painting by Sir Francis Grant in 1847

Sarawak, the name brings forth ideas of head hunters and ‘daring do’ from comics that I read in the 1950’s.

Little did I know that one day I would sail up the Sarawak River to the town of Kuching on the island of Borneo.

Sarawak had been James Brooke’s & his descendants fiefdom since about 1841 – until . .

In April 1942 the Japanese captured Sarawak, and for three years they ran the place as part of the Empire of Japan.

The Japanese surrender to the Australians in 1945, and Sarawak became a British Colony.

In May 1961 the PM of Malaysia, Tunku Abdul Rahman, put forward a plan for a greater Malaysia, which included Singapore, Sarawak,  Sabah & Brunei. In 1962 eighty percent of the population of Sarawak & Sabah voted to join Malaya to create Malaysia, along with Singapore.

Indonesia and the Philippines didn’t like the creation of Malaysia. So Indonesia  encouraged discontent with the communists of Sarawak and trained them in military tactics, and also supplied armed ‘volunteers’ to causes problems for Sarawak and the newly created country of Malaysia.

The fighting began in 1963 with infiltration forces from Indonesia in to Sarawak. By this time the British were involved in support of Malaysia, who had only gained independence from Britain a few years earlier in 1957.

Later Australia & New Zealand became involved in support of Malaysia.

Knowing little of the details that I know now, I flew in to Singapore to join LST (Landing ship tank) Frederick Clover in April 1966. The company, British India Steam Navigation Co, held the contract to man various LSTs based in Singapore, Malta, Aden etc and I’d drawn the straw for Frederick Clover, based in Singapore.

If you wish to see other photographs of the LST and why I fired a machine gun click on the highlighted letters.

CloverFrederick Clover, alongside in Singapore, her bows open to accept military cargo for Borneo. The photo is old and not very clear.

meAs you see she was an old ship, built in 1945. The captain’s chair had to be lashed down to make sure we didn’t lose it in a strong wind. My hair isn’t moving because our top speed was 10 knots . . . .

3rd mateAt least we had a compass. Although we could have found our way to Borneo using the echo sounder by following the empty beer cans from our previous trips. At that time being Green meant you were sea sick, not environmentally aware.

TroopsWhile we were alongside in Kuching the ‘Auby’ moored astern of us. She was to take a Gurkha regiment back to Singapore. The Auby was a cargo ship of about 1700 tons , with facilities for a few passengers in the for’d accommodation. I can only assume the soldiers traveled as ‘deck cargo’. The Auby carried about 31,000 troops in and out of Singapore during the ‘confrontation’. The picture is not all that clear but the troops can be seen formed up on the quay.

In 2011, Maureen & I attended a reunion in Singapore of cadets from HMS Conway Training College, so after the reunion I thought it would be an ideal time to take Maureen to Kuching and a spot of ‘I remember when’ for me.

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While in Kuching we did a river cruise in a small boat, which allowed me to photograph the quay, (see above), which I think is the same one in the photographs showing the Gurkha troops.

IMGP3782r  Our boatman and his boat that we used.

We stayed at the Pullman Hotel, which overlooked the town.

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IMGP3766rThis one shows the Sarawak River

Kuching is also known as Cat City – there are a number of anecdotes as to why Kuching got its name. It used to be called Sarawak until James Brooke arrived by sea and asked his guide the name of the place, while pointing to the small town. The local guide thinking that James was pointing at a cat, answered ‘Kuching’, which is the Malay word for cat i.e ‘kucing’.  Against this story being true is that the local Malays who live in Kuching call a cat a ‘pusak’

Another story is that the town is named after a river called Sungai Kuching, which means Cat River. Another idea is that it is named after mata kucing, which is a fruit grown in Malaysia, Indonesia and the northern parts of Australia. The name means Cats Eye.

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The mata kucing fruit looks like a lychee.

So with a name like ‘Cat’, Kuching turned itself in to a tourist attraction by becoming the Cat City.

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe above cat statues are outside our favourite restaurant.

IMGP3786rcThe James Brooke on the water front.

IMGP3955rIt is also a bar, and you do not have to order food.

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Of course we ordered lunch – Laksa – beautiful, and for me a cold beer helped it down.

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The following year we returned to Kuching with two other couples, and it wasn’t a hardship to revisit many places again.
During one evening in the James Brooke restaurant I overheard an accent that I recognised – it was a Liverpool accent. The four men having their evening meal worked as contactors for an aircraft company and flew around the world fixing problems. Because Maureen originated in Liverpool it didn’t take long for us to get chatting.

I asked one fellow where he lived on Merseyside and he told me Birkenhead. I mentioned that I came from Lower Tranmere in Birkenhead, and we then swapped details of the exact area. It turned out that he knew where my childhood street was, because he lived quite close.

The following night we met him again and he said that he had phoned his father in the UK, who was retired and still living in Lower Tranmere, and told him of meeting me. It turns out that his father was our milkman, and he used to deliver milk to my home when I was a child. Talk about a small world.

During my remember when holiday I couldn’t understand why the river never dropped as the tide turned.

FrederickCloverDressed overall for the last voyage to Singapore before the ship would be sold.

Generous meals, as the guest of various army units, helped to break the boredom of being in an out of the way port. We were not there to make a profit through trade, but in support of our own troops, a huge difference.

When we heard that the ship was to be sold on our return to Singapore, we decided to have a farewell dinner along with a number of army officers. Tables were booked at the local Chinese restaurant and all the ship’s officers left the ship, leaving just a watchman. It was a quiet night with little river traffic so we felt a single watchman was enough. The majority of the crew were allowed shore leave, because they would soon be out of work once we reached Singapore.
The evening went well until we returned to the ship and found her lying at a strange angle. What had happened was that the tide had gone out and the river had dropped causing the ship to settle in the mud. Being flat bottomed she would have settled upright if the watchman had slackened off the mooring lines – he’d not done so, and Frederick Clover was lying with a very large list away from the wharf – her mooring lines were bar tight with the strain.
There was little that we could do but wait for the tide to turn and raise her back to normal, which fortunately is what happened.

So during our holiday I asked why I hadn’t seen the river drop as the tide went out – it was all down to a barrage that had been built at the mouth of the river in the late 90’s, which controlled the flow of the river. The gates would be opened each Friday afternoon to flush out any rubbish etc.

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They do have the facility to allow small fishing boats to enter the river – which means that they must have a lock system.

At least I wasn’t going mad, because I was sure that the river would drop as the tide changed.

WhiteIf you are interested in Sarawak and the island of Borneo, but don’t wish to read a great tome, try the above book, which is an easy and interesting read.

The wife of the third Rajah, Sylvia Brooke,  who wrote her own autobiography in 1970, also wrote a synopsis of the life of James Brooke, which was bought by Warner Brothers film studio.
Errol Flynn wanted to play James Brooke, but in the script that he wrote, after reading the synopsis, he had James Brooke arriving in Borneo with a young woman dressed as a boy.
Sylvia Brooke refused to allow Flynn’s story to go any further, because there wasn’t any ‘love interest’ when Brooke arrived in Borneo. According to Sylvia Brooke James Brooke was the first white man to set foot in Borneo – which I find hard to believe.

Finally when Somerset Maugham visited Sarawak, it was suggested that James Brooke’s life would make a good film, but Somerset Maugham said, no it wouldn’t, because there wasn’t any love interest.

James Brooke’s life was full of love, he inspired love and felt love, so perhaps it is time for the right actor to take up the challenge and recreate The White Rajah.

Calcutta & Burmah Steam Nav Co

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The Calcutta & Burmah Steam Navigation Company was registered in Glasgow in 1856. One of the first ships of the company  was Cape of Good Hope, built in 1853, (420 gross tons). She was a steamer, but also rigged as a brig. At 190 feet long, she still managed ninety days from Southampton to Calcutta to begin her carrier as a mail ship.

The Company had the contract from the Indian Government (nominally the East India Company, which governed India & Burmah) to run a schedule mail service between Calcutta and Rangoon. It became a success and the following year the Company was called upon to carry troops from Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) in support of the Government during the Indian Mutiny.

The Company could see a future in the carrying of troops, supplies and horses on behalf of the Government, so additional ships where bought.
In 1862 they changed the name of the Company to British India Steam Navigation Company.

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Over the following years the BI, as it became to be known, grew to be one of the largest shipping companies in the world. By 1922 it had grown to 158 ships, which at that time was the largest merchant fleet in the world.

At the outbreak of WW2 they had 105 ships, and lost 51 during the war including one in which my father sailed (fortunately he survived). The Company also managed a further 71 vessels, and sixteen of those were lost.

The Company celebrated its hundredth anniversary in 1956 by launching their latest troop ship Nevasa.(20,527 gt)

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Nevasa – from the painting by Robert Lloyd

In 1962 I joined the Company, and after the appropriate sea time and passing my exams I was appointed Third Mate in the Bankura (6,793 gt)

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In 1967, while serving in the Bankura we sailed from Calcutta to Rangoon – as the port was still called then, in the country of Burma (the ‘h’ had been dropped). The picture below is the front cover of the ID card issued by the Burmese authorities at that time, and at the bottom is the inside.

Burma ID card

ID Burma 2We were alongside for two days, one hundred and eleven years after the first BI ship, the Cape of Good Hope, called in to Rangoon.

I liked Rangoon, but it would be forty five years before I returned – but this time on holiday in 2012, just before the country changed and became more democratic.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe stayed at the Traders Hotel – the white building on the right. On the left is Scott’s Market, now called Bogyoke Market but everyone we spoke to referred to it as Scott’s.

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IMGP4392rInside the market – gold, jade, silver what ever you wished. Ground floor.

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Higher up the less expensive items were for sale.

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Near Scott’s Market is Holy Trinity Anglican Cathedral, built in 1894, which is the oldest colonial cathedral in Myanmar (Burma).

Our hotel was inexpensive, so we stayed on the Club Floor – I was surprised at how ‘cheap’ it was. I did check the rates recently (the hotel has changed its name) and there is no way that we could afford to stay there – never mind staying on the Club Floor!

When we came to pay they had the facility to accept credit cards, but not in the normal way – the details had to go through Singapore – I think because the Government of the time wouldn’t allow the normal procedure.

IMGP4400rThe tea room in the main foyer (ground level not the Club Floor).

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View from the Club Floor.

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Club Floor dining room.

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We asked one of the staff where could we go to experience Burmese food with the locals.

Just round the corner and the food was delicious and cheap (cheap for us). We changed money on the street as well as the banks – the bank insisted on ‘clean’ unfolded notes. At that time the Australian dollar was higher in value than the US, so we were obtaining about 876 local Kyat for one Australian dollar. Handing over $50 note we then stood there counting 43,800 Kyat . . . . . the space in my pocket was too small so it took two pockets to stow the cash!

We did go to a bank near Scott’s Market to change money – the rate was similar to the street value – a guard on the door eyed us as we entered. I did notice that he was not wearing any shoes, just flops flops .

220px-ThongsI considered that all I had to do was stamp on his toe and I would be able to rob the place. EXCEPT that when I walked in I saw the rear wall behind the tellers was a solid wall of money, and at the exchange rate that we were offered, to make a robbery worth while, I’d need a forklift to carry more than a few thousand dollars worth of Kyat!

IMGP4419rWhen I took the above picture I had my back to the bank’s main doorway, so attempting a fast get away, using a fork lift, didn’t seem all that practical.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASmall street always attracted me  – you didn’t know what you’d find.

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Local take-away.

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We wondered down near the river as I wanted to see if the Strand Hotel was still standing. On the way I had to take a photograph of the coloured buildings, because I recognized the area !

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This is what the Strand looks like today, but in 2012 it was tired and not a patch on its glory days. It was built in 1901 and acquired by the Starkies brothers of Raffles, Singapore & Eastern & Oriental in Penang fame. In 2016 it was refurbished to be once again one of the finest hotels East of Suez.

4m6bcnd5-1404183075In 2012 we had a drink in this bar, and sat at the far end – the staff were indifferent to us, and the service extremely slow, I only hope they have lifted their game since the refurbishment.

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The Strand Café today – the above three photographs have been downloaded off the net.

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The Irrawaddy River or as Kipling said The Road to Mandalay – the Road to Mandalay for Kipling, was the river – listen to the words.

I stood on the river bank and remembered my first visit, while breathing in the smells of salt water, the river and the ever present smell of Asia, something of which  I never get tired. To complete the memories, we decided to cross the river by ferry.

IMGP4426The ferry terminal and the ferry on the river approaching.

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One or two other people had the same idea.

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Hot & cold food sellers spend all day floating back and forth trying to sell their wares.

IMGP4435Looking back at the ferry terminal

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A houseboat, not a bit like the modern holiday river cruisers.

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Memories . . . .

IMGP4443rApproaching the other side of the river.

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Once ashore we each hired a tri-Shaw, which also had room for a ‘pusher’ – if the trishaw was bogged or on a hill the pusher jumped off and pushed the bike & passenger.

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IMGP4456rA touch of the old Raj . . .for Rangoon railway station.

While I was in Burma – in 1967 and 2012 I never felt afraid or threatened. I found the Burmese to very friendly people, and perhaps one day I’ll return.