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.
Make sure nothing is missing if you have to open someone up . . .
Does it remind you of Ikea – this goes with that, and make sure you don’t have anything left over when you’ve finished.
I 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.
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.
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 . . .
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 . . .
The wrong type of material for the tropics – the material was fine for European waters.