An undeclared War

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Just a little of the background to the ‘confrontation’, which was that Indonesia objected to the creation of Malaysia, and the inclusion of Malaya, Singapore, North Borneo, (which was a Crown colony), and Sarawak, which was known then as British Borneo, and is now known as East Malaysia. The pink bits on the map are the areas in question.
Borneo is the name of the large island, which is part yellow and part pink.


President Sukarno

President Sukarno argued that the country of Malaysia would be a British puppet state, a neo-colonial experiment, and that any expansion of Malaysia would increase British control over the region, with implications for Indonesia’s national security.
Similarly, the Philippines made a claim to eastern North Borneo, arguing that the Borneo colony had historic links with the Philippines through the Sulu archipelago.

In April of 1963 Indonesia used local militants, trained by the Indonesian army, to attack East Malaysia, north & south of Kuching in Sarawak . This act brought the British in to the conflict in defence of the new country. Later Indonesia committed regular troops to cross border attacks.

In 1964 Australia joined the British in defending Malaysia, and in 1965 New Zealand joined the Commonwealth forces.
Later in 1965 Indonesia sent raiders by boat in to the Malay Peninsula near Johor Bahru. They were rounded up by the Kiwis
Indonesia also dropped ninety six paratroopers using, three C130 Hercules, but due to a storm the troops were scattered over a large area. It took a month for a Gurkha regiment, and the Kiwis to capture or kill ninety of the paratroopers.

The conflict ended in August 1966 after Sukarno lost power to Suharto. Sukarno had taken his country down the path of communism, befriending China, Russia and Cuba.


I was collected as promised and taken to join my new posting as Third Mate of LST Frederick Clover – she was built as LST 3001 in 1945, and renamed as Frederick Clover in 1946.


Her displacement was between 2,140 tons and 4,820 depending on her cargo. She was flat bottomed for landing tanks and heavy vehicles on beaches. She had bow doors and a ramp as well as a secondary ramp within the enclosed deck to the main open deck, for driving lighter vehicles up to the main deck.

The drawing makes her look attractive . . .



Real life . . .

I reported to the Captain, who was around thirty years of age.

He looked at my file and seemed quite pleased that he had an RNR officer on board. He’d always wanted to see if the oerlikon 20 mm AA gun on the forecastle would work, so he put me in charge of the AA gun.
The problem was, even though I was in the RNR, I’d never been trained in the use of a ship’s gun, because I’d spent all my time at sea on Company merchant ships.

When I visited the forecastle to acquaint myself with my new responsibilities I realised that if we had to defend ourselves we would have to ask the Indonesians to return later.

gun 1

I saw something like this  . . . . on the forecastle.

The barrel of our gun was still in its wooden box bolted to the deck! I opened the box to reveal a brand new barrel covered in wax paper and grease.


This is what I expected to see, or something similar  . . . . .

I checked around and realised that we had another small problem  – we didn’t have any ammunition!
I reported back to the Captain and told him of the barrel, and the lack of ammunition and (thankfully) he told me not to bother with the AA gun!

Afterwards I wondered if, perhaps the whole exercise had been a set up for the new 3rd Mate.

Frederick Clover was ‘old’, but even so I still had to sign the Official Secrets Act. Considering that she had been involved in the Korean War, as well as the creation of the State of Israel (1948), and possibly the Suez Crisis of 1956, I doubted that there was anything left of this LST of which a potential enemy would not be aware.
She had two engines and our maximum speed was under ten knots. I have seen Chinese junks, with a following wind, over take us, but that is a secret.

The bridge was open to the elements, and the most modern piece of equipment was a standard civilian RADAR system.


Yours truly in the Captain’s chair open to the elements, and a slightly protected area of the bridge for taking bearings – see below.

3rd mate

The following day we began loading troops and equipment for Borneo.


Army land rovers driving up the inner ramp from the tank deck to the main deck. We always put the lighter vehicles on the main top deck.


Loading ammunition and other supplies.


Sorry for the poor quality but I tried to capture the loading of heavy equipment, trucks and field guns via the bow ramp.

On one trip we’d been given special instructions to dump various secret cypher machines in the deepest part of the channel between Indonesia and Singapore, where the depth was over a mile deep.



The army did such a good packing job that the crates of secret machines floated away! We had to machine gun the boxes so as to allow them to sink. I had an army SLR (self-loading rifle) and it was good fun firing at the floating cases until they sank.


My SLR was similar to the above

For target practice the troops would  blow up contraceptives and painting them any colour except blue, (due to the colour of the sea), before dropping them over the side to use them as targets.
I was also allowed to ‘have a go’ using an SLR and later a machine gun  – ‘boys own’ comics come to life, but best of all the target didn’t return fire.

Over the months we did a number of runs to Borneo dropping off and picking up various troops in Kuching, Sibu, Labuan Island, Jesselton (now called Kota Kinabalu), Tawau,and Bandar Seri Begawan, which is on the island of Borneo, but not part of Malaysia, because it is the capital of the Sultanate of Brunei.


The green markings indicate the places that we visited, and the one on the right is Tawau
Life on the LST was some times boring and sometimes quite interesting. The steering gear breaking down as we approached Tawau was a tense time, Tawau being very close to the Indonesian border.

The area controlled by Indonesia is called Kalimantan.

Sailing up the rivers to Kuching or Sibu (the two green lines on the left) was like floating back in time with the sound of the jungle animals and birds, native river craft, (see below) and a pilot who could have stepped out of Joseph Conrad’s ‘Lord Jim’.


I took this photograph in 2017, but the boats haven’t changed since I first saw one in the 1960’s. Perhaps the adverts on the roof were the only changes.

Kuching river

The main deck fully loaded with the lighter vehicles, and each vehicle had its own load.

The deck cargo of instruments of war in a peaceful Sarawak river as we headed up river to Kuching. We were ‘dressed overall’ as this would be our last trip because the Frederick Clover was to be decommissioned and sold on our return to Singapore.

Army craft

The army had their own small landing craft – I took the above when in Singapore Harbour.


Alongside in Kuching discharging the army’s supplies.

During my time in the Frederick Clover I was required to visit the seamen’s ‘pool’ in Singapore to replace crew members who had paid off and gone home. The seamen’s pool is where unemployed sailors registered their availability for work to the port authority. In today’s world there are a number of companies that specialise in the supply of seamen skilled in various duties. In the mid 60’s it was up to a particular ship to pick a crew from a ‘pool’ of sailors.

On this day I was sent to find four qualified sailors for our next run to Borneo. From memory I was presented with four lots of twelve men and was expected to be able to find the required number from these four groups. The four groups were a jumble of races; Europeans, Indians, Arabs, Chinese, Africans etc.  Obviously I wanted English speaking men, but their race was immaterial.

Some were young, perhaps first or second trippers, others were quite old, and very experienced, but would they be fit enough in an emergency considering we would be in a ‘confrontation’ zone.

I found it to be a hard job to pick the right people consider that many had been looking for a berth for some months. Some had their discharge book, which gave me their history and previous captains’ comments. Others didn’t have any papers, but were very persuasive playing on my sympathy as they had been out of work for so long. I’d only just turned twenty two, and I wondered what the older men thought of one so young with the power to influence their lives.

If a seaman is discharged with DR in their discharge book (DR = Decline to report) this will guarantee they will not work again. I was looking for VG (Very Good) or G (Good), and a record of the ships and voyages. Those with DR would destroy their discharge books if they were unable to obtain a paper discharge.
A paper discharge was in place of their discharge book and of course they would destroy the paper discharge to keep themselves ‘clean’. I checked the time gaps between their signing on various ships allowing for leave time, but a long spell between one ship and another could indicate a DR, unless they had a very good reason for such a long gap.

I spoke to as many as I was allowed (I was followed by someone from the port authority) and eventually picked four and took them back to the ship, where they were signed on as sailors.

We did not supply uniforms on the LST, unlike the Company’s cargo vessels where a full crew could well have come from one village, and in this case the Company supplied them all with uniforms. For the villagers, it was considered a great honour to work for the Company and many spent their whole working life in the Company’s employ. I don’t know of  anyone visiting a seaman’s pool looking for replacements on the Company’s vessels.

We never sailed in convoy, but independently as a normal merchant ship. Being the junior deck officer I was allocated the mid night to four am watch, and the midday to four pm watch – known as the graveyard watch.

One cloudy night around three in the morning I picked up a target on the radar and tried to find the target’s steaming lights so as to work out where she was and her course. We were showing our normal navigation lights, so why was this other ship blacked out? I watched it on the radar, and quickly worked out that she was closing fast, so I called the Captain and told him of the darkened vessel coming towards us.

The Captain checked the radar and tried to find the target, it was quite close, but still undefined.

Muttering to himself about children of the unmarried being on the blacked out vessel, he climbed to the monkey island above the bridge where we had powerful search lights. He aimed one of the search lights at where he thought the target was, and flicked it on – the beam lit up a war ship. I think it was British, but it could have been Australian, and it suddenly started high speed Morse via Aldis lamp.
Of course it was far too fast for me (they’d not heard of my 2nd Mate’s exam efforts) and I kept sending, ‘Please repeat’.
Being a navy ship they had spare hands on the bridge and their signals crew member would have been experts. On the LST we had a helmsman to keep the officer of the watch company. As we were technically merchant navy the military would not be able to enact any punishment i.e court martial etc. I asked the Captain if lighting up the war ship was risky, because it might have been an Indonesian gun boat. His comments were quite derogatory about the Indonesian navy, because they had not left port in the previous several months.

During my time in the Frederick Clover we carried several famous regiments, including the Ghurkhas, with their sixteen inch kukri knives.

Larger soldier


The statue of the Ghurkha in the photograph is located in Horse Guards Avenue, London.

During one passage from Singapore to Borneo we experienced bad weather and the ship’s movement was very uncomfortable.
The Gurkhas were out each morning doing their exercise and as soon as one felt ill he would run to ship’s rail and be sick, but instead of lying down and wishing he was dead, as is normal for those who suffered sea sickness, he returned to his place in the ranks and carried on with his daily exercise. It was an indication of their attitude to discomfort.


While we were alongside in Kuching the ‘Auby’ moored astern of us. She was to take a Gurkha regiment back to Singapore.

The MV Auby, built in Scotland & launched in Sept 1953, was a cargo ship of about 1700 tons , with facilities for a few passengers in the for’d accommodation. She was built for the Sarawak Steamship Company, which is still trading!download

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’. My photograph is not all that clear, but the troops can be seen formed up on the quay. Each trip MV Auby could carry over 700 troops.

Generous meals, as the guest of various army units, helped to break the boredom of being located 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 finally be sold on our return to Singapore from Kuching, we decided to have a farewell dinner along with a number of army officers.
We booked tables at the local Chinese restaurant, and all the ship’s officers left the ship, leaving just a sailor as 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.
I did wonder if the watchman was one of the pool sailors that I’d picked. . . . .



All’s well that ends well – she righted herself, we were singled up and about to leave for our final voyage to Singapore and possibly the scrapyard.


The Lion City

Merlion 1

After leaving Nuddea I was asked to attend an interview in London.
I was a little apprehensive because I thought it was because of the near closing of Liverpool docks, when I asked a crane driver not to rip the bottom out of the cargo.

It wasn’t, it was to tell me that I was being hired out to the British Ministry of Defence, during the Indonesian ‘confrontation’ – it was never called a war, because this would have caused Lloyds insurance rates to sky rocket, and the Government had enough trouble on their hands. I was to join an LST as third mate.

Bright as a button I asked what was an LST, and was told that LST meant Landing Ship Tank. It was then that I found out that the Company had the contract, from the British Government, to supply officers for the LSTs in the Far East, Mediterranean (Malta), and Aden. Obviously I’d upset someone after my littler Liverpool ‘problem’.

It was early April when I left home once again for London, but this time to catch a long haul  flight to Singapore.


Merchant Navy Hotel, Lancaster Gate, London.

When I arrived in London I made my way to the Merchant Navy Hotel at Lancaster Gate. I’d stayed there a few times when transiting London for a ship or a plane. When I look back, for a sailor I did a lot of flying. It is a shame that the airlines hadn’t introduced frequent flyer points earlier.

The above hotel was sold for redevelopment in 2002, it was the last Merchant Navy hotel in the UK. There used to be a hotel for merchant seamen waiting to join a ship in most of the ports of Britain,  but they have all been closed, which sadly says something about the British merchant navy.

I departed London at 4.15 pm on a Monday flew to Zurich, followed by Rome, New Delhi, Rangoon, Kuala Lumpur, and finally Singapore arriving late Tuesday. It was a long trip and the B 747 had yet to come in to service, so it was cramped economy on a Comet, and a VC 10.


The Comet was the first passenger jet.


BOAC VC 10 from a post card

Compared to today’s aircraft, both of the above were quite small for passengers on long haul flights.

I arrived in Singapore and was met by the agent, and taken to the Raffles Hotel.


The Raffles Hotel in 1966.

As soon as I entered I knew that I didn’t ‘fit’, and that this hotel wasn’t for me. I then made a decision that I regretted for many years – I didn’t check in and told the agent that I did not wish to stay at the Raffles, now I can’t afford to stay at the Raffles!

The agent told me to make my own arrangements, but that the cost could not be any more than the Raffles . . .  I found the Mui Fong Hotel in Chinatown.Mui Fong

It was far more relaxing for me – the room was not as ‘flash’, but it was OK, even though I had to complain that when I switched on the shower, I receive an electric shock through the water. They’d earthed something to the shower head!

I was there for a few days and met some interesting people – it took me a couple of days to realise that  it was used as a ‘short time’ hotel – it was only after I began to recognising some of the ladies that it clicked – I could be slow at times.

I didn’t have to get up early so it was very pleasant to arrive in the bar / restaurant around 11.00 am and order nasi goreng and coffee for breakfast –


Nasi Goreng

and take my time so that at about 11.30 am I could order a large Tiger beer and just sign for breakfast . . .


Yours truly outside the Mui Fong Hotel in Chinatown, after breakfast.
Life was so simple.

I loved Singapore – it was easy to get around and most people spoke English, but it still had that far east ‘foreign’ feel. I had a good idea of the layout, having passed through a few times when I was a cadet. Plus I loved the food.


Bugis Street in daylight

Having read Lord Jim by Joseph Conrad, (and seen the film staring Peter O’Toole), it didn’t take much of an imagination to feel that I was part of yesteryear when I visited certain areas of the city.


Poster from the film


The Singapore River was still used as a commercial river in 1966, not for deep sea ships, but by the lighters and barges in to which we used to discharge our cargo when we were at anchor off shore. Small junks/sampans used to come out to the ship, and for a fee, take us ashore.

Today the river is a ‘tourist’ river for sightseers, and the godowns (warehouses in to which cargo would be unloaded from the lighters & barges), are now bars, restaurants and souvenir shops. The clean up work began in 1977, and is still on going today.
In 1966 it was the smell of the river, the chatter of the people and the aroma of food cooked in the street that helped to fill ones head with images of the ‘Far East’, and feats of daring do characters, who are no longer with us.


Singapore River, our last visit was in 2017, where’s the romance of Asia?


Singapore River 2017 night scene – clean as a new pin.


I stood on the bank of the river, in front of a converted godown, when I took the above. The godown was a fancy restaurant.

I realise that time moves on, and places change, hopefully for the better, but certain cities have the ring of romance and adventure, Singapore & Hong Kong to name just two, but the modernisation and redevelopment have sterlised the old  cities in to ‘modern cities’ to such an extent that you have look in your passport to check where you are.

The plus side of today is for the people of Singapore and their standard of living, and the huge economic growth since the early 60’s, mainly due to Lee Kwan Yew who was the PM.

Prime Minister Kuan Yew Lee.

Educated in the UK, the LSE (London School of Economics) and Cambridge. He gained a double starred first class honours in law.
He guided Singapore into joining with the the federation of Malay States to create the new country of Malaysia in 1963. I was a cadet at the time and was fortunate to be in Singapore when that happened – great party.

Due to racial strife between the Malays and the Chinese and ideological differences, Singapore separated from Malaysia two years later, and became an independent city-state. Once again I was in Singapore when this happened – another great party!

Lee Kwan Yew supported multi-racialism, and a government and civil service based on ability, not on wealth, or who one knew. He also made the common language of Singapore to be English, so as to integrate all the races, and to help trade with the west.
He insisted on bilingualism in schools, to preserve students’ family language and their ethnic identity. One could say he was the ‘father’ of Singapore today, he died in 2015.

Back to Singapore of the early 1960’s  –

The place to be in the early evening was Bugis Street – not the Bugis Street of 2017, because the original Bugis Street is now a metro station!

bugis st98_sm_dining

Bugis Street early 1960’s – early evening for food & beer.

One would sit down at any table and you would then be asked by several ‘servers’ if you wanted a beer – each ‘server’ worked for a different outlet, and there were many outlets, so the service was first class due to the competition.
Other servers would arrive and offer plastic menus with pictures or just a list of contents contained in each dish – some had titles such as nasi goreng, laksa or wanton mee to name just three dishes. There was always a large choice of food, and it was all freshly cooked to order, and inexpensive.

Bugis Street was famous, not just for the food stalls and beer, but also for the ‘girls’, although many were not female, but males dressed as females. The ‘trans’ girls would parade up and down the street in their finery and offer to sit near or on someone’s lap while photographs were taken. For this service ‘she’ would charge a small fee.


Around mid-night the ‘girls’ would show up.

If they worked the street for a number of hours they would earn a very good living. It was known that a certain first tripper boy seamen, around fifteen or sixteen years old was caught up with the whole ambiance of Bugis St and slid off with one of the very attractive ‘attractions’. It didn’t take long for his mates to see the young first tripper running like mad towards them, as if the hounds of hell were after him. His introduction to Bugis Street nightlife was not what he expected.


Does anybody wish to take my picture?

How to tell the difference between the ‘she’ men and real women? The real women couldn’t afford to dress as well as the ‘she’ men. I was always told to check the Adams apple on the ‘women’ so as to work out whether the person was a male or female – but I never got that close!

Before anyone asks about the above two photographs, they were found on the internet – I didn’t take them!

In the 1980’s Bugis Street was closed due to the building of the MRT station. Later the Government realised that they had killed off a major Singapore ‘attraction’, so they opened ‘new’ Bugis Street, which is across the main road (Victoria Street),  and is now an open air market stall and food area. Regardless of the promotional effort it is not Bugis Street . . .

I’d been spending the salary advance issued by the agent on arrival, and after a few days this was getting low so thought I’d better dip in to the cash that I carried from the UK rather than draw down from my salary.
The main place to change money at that time was of course Change Alley across the road from Clifford Pier at Collyer Quay.


The above shows Clifford Pier at Collyer Quay – as you see the cargo ships worked cargo using their own equipment, loading and discharging in to lighters & barges.

06 singapore 1970s change alley

In 1966 the powerful UK pound was worth $8.58 Singapore dollars, (compared to today which is $1.71 to the GBP) and in Change Alley one would bargain with Chinese, Indian, Armenians, Malays and many other nationalities, all wishing to take your pound note.


It was not air-conditioner, and when it rained you got wet.


Life in the East


Change Alley today – are you in London, Sydney, Bangkok or Singapore?

On returning to the hotel I had a message from the agent – they would pick me up in the morning and take me to sign on the LST.


Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles, who founded modern Singapore,
the Lion City, 29th January 1819.


Second Mate’s Ticket

I’d been released by the Company to attend Liverpool Technical College to study and to take my Second Mates Foreign Going ticket. This was when I would find out if my shipboard studying, via correspondence course, had been successful.


I think this is the old building that I attended on Hunter St. Liverpool, but If I’m wrong perhaps someone will help me out.

How times have changed, because we were all ‘adults’ taking the cramming course, we were allowed to smoke in the lecture halls & corridors.
Considering the tragic fire at the Henderson’s Department store in June 1960 one would have thought smoking in such confined areas would have been forbidden.


Eleven people died in the Henderson’s fire. It was the type tragedy that everyone on Merseyside knew where they were that day. The fire changed the law in the UK with regard to fire safety laws. The Office Shops and Railway Premises Act was amended to be brought in to line with the Factories Act, which gave fire brigades the power to inspect for fire safety and to make requirements for means of escape, and provisions for fighting fires and structural fire separation.

It was the worst fire in Liverpool since the bombing during WW2.


Henderson’s was an ‘up market’ department store – the above shows the original building. The building was rebuilt and re-opened in 1962, but finally closed in 1983.

The course for 2nd Mates consisted of several papers – ship construction, navigation, chart work, seamanship, cargo stowage, ship stability, mathematics, English, plus an oral examination given by a real ‘old’ sea captain who might have completed his time in sail. We also had to pass a first aide course, firefighting course, radar course, to name just a few extras. All of us would already have our helmsman certificate & lifeboat certificate.

The first aid course was with the St John Ambulance, and it was required because a British ship with less than 99 people aboard was not required to carry a doctor. If you became sick or injured it was usually the First Mate who would deal with you and he would expect you to hold the manual while he looked at your wound and compared it to the photograph in the book. I still have a copy of The Ship Captain’s Medical Guide, which I bought ‘just in case’ – published by Ministry of War Transport in 1946, at a cost of 3/6d. I bought it second hand, but can’t remember how much I paid.


Front page

Pic 01

Make sure nothing is missing if you have to open someone up . . .

Pic02Does it remind you of Ikea – this goes with that, and make sure you don’t have anything left over when you’ve finished.

St JohnI also still have my St John Ambulance First Aid book, 1961 edition, which cost of 4/- and a revised edition dated 1964, another 4/- worth of medical knowledge, which fortunately I have never had to use.

After three months of ‘cramming’ we sat our paper examination, because the orals were at the end, and we had to pass both main sections.

It was late on a Friday afternoon when I had my oral exam. Not a good time considering that the examining captain might have been examining prospective candidates all week, and might be tired.

During the exam I was checked for my knowledge of ship handling, ship stability, and what I would do in certain circumstances.
Unfortunately my weak spot was Morse code. I had a model Morse tapper at home and had practiced using it, but I was not very good at all.


My hand was shaking so much with nerves, that when I grasped the key-tapper I found it hard to tap out the actual letters and not add extra dots or dashes. I grabbed it and banged out the message in front of me, the light, for the examiner to read my message, was behind me and above my head.
When I finished the examiner looked at me and said ‘ Whenever you are ready.’ I thought I’d finished, but he’d not been looking at the light! – but at my file.
Eventually he stopped my examination and told me to go home and practice my Morse code, and to come back on Monday.
If he failed me on Monday, I would have to go back to sea as a cadet for a minimum of three months, on cadet’s wages. I was not happy.

The weekend was spent banging out Morse messages, and on Monday I showed up bright and early.
As I walked in the examination room, he showed me an array of flags and asked for their meaning. Flags I loved, and knew them all, and I was good at semaphore  – he then asked a few other questions and told me that I’d passed!
I looked blank, and he asked, ‘How was your weekend’, and in the same breath stated that he bet I spent the whole weekend practicing Morse.
I agreed that I did, and as he shook my hand, he said ‘Thought you would’ and smiled.

I think this captain’s name was Captain Rose, and he had one glass eye due to a war wound. I’d heard stories of students looking at the wrong eye (they should have looked at the real eye) , which caused the students problems – I don’t know if this is true or not.

There is an old story of one cadet at his oral’s examination who was told to imagine that he’d lost power and his ship was closing on a rocky shore. He was asked what he would do . . .

“Drop my starboard anchor, Sir.’.

The examiner said that the wind was so strong that he was dragging his anchor – what would you do?

‘Drop my port anchor, Sir’

The wind and storm were still driving him ashore.

In the end the cadet dropped seven anchors, at which time the examiner asked where he was getting all his anchors.

The cadet replied – the same place you are getting your wind.

He was sent back to sea for three months on cadet’s wages.

I managed to spin the study time out so much that I had Christmas at home. Besides passing my second mates ticket, I also met my future wife Maureen, which was another reason that I managed to spin the time out to have Christmas at home.

During study time I was not paid by the company because technically I was no longer an employee. We were expected to have put money aside while at sea, which was virtually impossible on our low wages.
So I had to go on the dole . . .which was an experience, because I was not available for work due to being at college, yet I’d paid in to the system since I was sixteen and was not in work . . . . so every Friday at 11.00 am (I think it was 11.00 am) I queued with others who were also studying at the college, to draw the dole.

I, and many others, were paid £4.00 a week, and a class mate, who was from Nigeria, was also in the queue, and on our first ‘pay day’ he was paid £6.00 a week. So as we all walked to the pub for lunch, we asked the Nigerian why did he receive £6.00, and we only received £4.00.
His answer was that he received the £4.00 as we did, plus £1.00 Commonwealth allowance for being away from his home country, and £1.00 because he was black.
By this time we were in the pub for lunch, and his comments brought the house down with laughter, because we never expected his particular answer about the final pound.
From then on the ‘black’ £ always bought the first round as we toasted Harold Wilson, with our thanks for lunch, he was the Prime Minister at the time.  skyphotos_east_africa

By mid-January 1966, I’d completed interviews in London for a position as 3rd Mate with BISNC, after which I was appointed to the passenger ship ‘Uganda’. This ship, with her sister ship, SS Kenya, operated a regular passenger service between the UK and East Africa.

I thought it a little odd that I would be posted to such a prestige vessel after just passing my 2nd Mates. Passenger ship positions were not normally offered to brand new 2nd Mate ticket holders.

I joined her in London dry dock, and was told that I would not be sailing with her, but that I was more of a caretaker 3rd Mate as she finalised her time in dry dock and moved to a wharf to load cargo for her outbound voyage to East Africa. I stayed with her for ten days before being sent home to wait until called – at least I was being paid!

Just a little about SS Uganda

SS Uganda was converted from being a liner, to becoming a school ship in 1967, I think she replaced my old friend SS Dunera.

In 1982 Uganda was requisitioned for service to the Falklands during the what we now know as the Falkland war. She was requisitioned half way through a cruise, so all the students and teachers were disembarked in Naples.

She then steamed to Gibraltar to be fitted out as a hospital ship.    image005

During her time in the Falklands she was known as ‘Mother hen’, and treated 730 casualties, including 150 Argentinian soldiers who were prisoners.

On her return to the UK she was laid up in the River Fal . . .9a3c3255f7856ddcd4bacd6ddc032445 (1)

She sat rotting for a year, and in 1986 P & O, the owners of Uganda, decided that she should be scrapped, and they sold her for this purpose, which took place in Taiwan.

I was at home three weeks waiting for another ship, and finally I was called to London to join Nuddea.


SS Nuddea – launched in 1954 for the UK to Australia run, 8,596 gt.

We didn’t go ‘foreign’, but coastal work around the UK. There was a little bit of excitement while in London docks when a fire broke out in number six hold. It was soon put out, after which we went to the pub – any excuse.

The coastal work was constant – working cargo then on to the next port and so on and so on.


Eventually we arrived in Liverpool, so I was able to see Maureen again.

The Nuddea had been to Australia and had a cargo of milk powder for Liverpool. The shore gangs came on board and started to unload. Working in the hold the shore labour would load bags of milk powder in to slings.


                                                    This picture is to illustrate what I mean.

At a signal the winch driver would haul the loaded slings out of the hold to deck level. He then dragged the full slings to the ship’s side and the bags were deposited on the wharf. By dragging the bags along the deck he ripped the bottom layer of bags and the contents were spilling all over the deck, down the side of the ship and on to the wharf. As officer of the watch I remonstrated with the winch driver that he had to pick the cargo up higher, so as to avoid ripping the bags. The winch driver objected to me telling him what to do and walked off the job. Work on the ship came to a halt!

I waited in the ship’s office for work to recommence. It didn’t. The union rep came on board and wanted to see the First Mate.
The First Mate entered the office to speak to me after the union rep had left and asked me to apologise to the winch driver for asking him to lift the bags higher.

‘What happens if I refuse to apologies?’ I asked, because I considered that the dock worker was not doing his job correctly, and he was damaging our Australian cargo.

‘Liverpool will close, and every ship in port will stop work’, was the answer.

At that time containerisation was in its infancy and many cargo ships used either their own derricks to load / unload cargo or they used shore side cranes.

I didn’t have a choice, so I apologised and the labour returned to work.

Shortly after this incident, I paid off the Nuddea, because I’d been given a little leave prior to flying out East to begin my two and half year ‘Eastern Service’.

BISNC had about half their ships based out east (Bombay, Calcutta or Singapore) and the other half based in London. The London based vessels were referred to as the Home Line service. The Home Line ships would sail from the UK to East Africa or India / Persian Gulf.
The Eastern Line ships would sail anywhere from the Persian Gulf to New Zealand or China, without returning to European waters.
Eastern Line ships had a very different feel to the Home Line based vessels. Eastern Line were more relaxed, and we never had to worry about an unscheduled visit from anyone from Head Office.
Many of us replaced our off the peg British uniforms with tailor made shirts & shorts, which were made in Bombay or Singapore.
The shorts & shirts were made for the tropics, and worked very well in the humidity. I still have a pair of shorts made in Singapore in 1966, and before you ask, I can still get in them . . .

UK sweat

The wrong type of material for the tropics – the material was fine for European waters.

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