In mid November of 1964 I received a telegram that ‘my services were required’ in London, because I was to join the Chilka – she was launched 1950 so she wasn’t too old.
I enjoyed my time in Chilka, because she was a very happy ship, and when I joined she was loading cargo for the East African coast.
I signed on late in the afternoon, and after unpacking I visited the ship’s bar for pre-dinner drinks. In the bar I met friends from HMS Conway – one was the first tripper who was with me on my first ship, the tanker, and another who was also in my term during my time at Conway. We had a very pleasant evening of ‘remember when’?
During the next eleven days, the ship worked cargo and I was on general duties depending on what the First Mate required. It was mainly day work, so I had the evenings free, which gave me time to visit London, rather than just the dock area.
Being cadets we did managed to visit a couple of very famous London dockland pubs near where the Chilka was berthed at KGV (King George 5th docks).
These docks were opened in 1921 and reached their peak during the late 1950’s early 1960’s just as containerisation began to grow. The docks eventually became uneconomical and closed in 1981, after which the London City Airport was built. Part of the dock was filled in to create the runway and passenger terminal.
King George V docks in the 1960’s, as you see, the dock was huge.
Loading cargo in the 1960’s was very labour intensive, and the introduction of containerisation put a lot of stevedores out of work.
All our yesterdays, times change, and after the heartache at the time, I think the locals today are better off than their predecessors in the 1960’s.
We sailed on the last Friday in November, in a rain squall. It was a dirty afternoon that turned in to an early cold and wet night as we made our way down the River Thames, to the open sea and the English Channel.
My watch was the graveyard watch – midnight to four am. As I climbed the ladder to the bridge, for the start of my watch, I remembered a line of poetry from John Masefield’s poem ‘Cargoes’ – ‘Butting through the Channel in the mad March days,’ but for us it was November, but butting down the Channel was exactly what we were doing that dark and wet Friday night. It’s funny how the smallest things come back to you years later.
The last verse of Masefield’s poem.
Dirty British coaster with a salt-caked smoke stack,
Butting through the Channel in the mad March days,
With a cargo of Tyne coal,
Firewood, iron-ware, and cheap tin trays.
I took this photograph when I was 3rd Mate on another BI ship a couple of years later, I’ve included it in this blog as an illustration of butting down the Channel.