The last voyage of the Pundua – part one

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MV Pundua – ordered by the M.O.W.T (Ministry of War for Transport) in 1945, but was delivered to British India Steam Navigation Co. when launched.
The Company had 105 ships at the outbreak of WW2, and during the war they lost 51 vessels due to enemy action.

They also managed 72 other vessels, and of these 16 were lost. In all 1083 lives were lost.

Oddly enough the town of Pundua is about 160 kms by road, from the town of Bankura, which was the name of my previous ship.

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The symbol of BI, which could be seen on the bow of the cargo ships and under the bridge on the passenger ships.

I signed on Pundua on Tuesday the 29th August. She was a joy of a ship – she didn’t have any air condition, and my cabin was a little bigger than a match box. The cabin contained a small washbasin, a bunk, a small wardrobe, a tiny desk & chair and a couch.
The temperature in the cabin never went below 32 c (90 F). I shared my domain with a few thousand insects – and just before going to sleep I’d spray the cockroaches favourite areas in the cabin, in the hope of getting to sleep before they found me, but I think they thrived on the insect repellent.

The news of the day was that we were to leave as much of our personal gear as possible in Bombay, as the ship was to be sold for scrap when we reached Japan, and everyone would be flown back to Bombay.

There were nine of us who were British, the captain first, second and third mate, chief engineer and three watch keeping engineers, and a radio operator. The deck and engine room crew and stewards were either from India, Pakistan or east Asia.

All of the officers had experienced various great plans of those who controlled our lives, but lived ashore, so I don’t think any of us left any of our gear in Bombay.

We worked cargo for the rest of the week, 6 on 6 off, (without overtime pay), and sailed on Monday 4th September for Cochin (now called Kochi) , which is south of Bombay, but on the same west coast of India.

The trip south was quiet pleasant, because our top speed was 10 kts (11.5 mph or 18.5 km/h), what ever speed you measure it in, we were SLOW.
She was a three cylinder, two stroke single acting 516 NHP , (normal horse power) and her top speed, when she was new, was 12 kts.

BI ships were known as ‘good feeders’ but Pundua fell short of this title – little things annoyed us such as the inability to toast bread, we were told not to drink the water from the tap, but only from a special water tank set aside for human consumption, the eggs tasted ‘odd’, regardless as to how they were cooked, and the potatoes also had a strange taste, and the tomatoes tasty ‘dusty’ – how can a tomato taste ‘dusty’, but they did.
Overall the food was nowhere near the normal BI high standard.

Pundua was a tramp ship of the ‘old school’and she knew it . . . .fortunately all of the officers got on well together, so she might have been a tramp, but she was a happy tramp.

We arrived off Cochin on the evening of the 6th September and anchored off and waited to go alongside
When we moved alongside the single pier on the 10 th September, we waited to work cargo.
We were told that it might be tomorrow – but the following day the whole of the State  Kerala went on strike (Cochin is in Kerala).
The strikers included all the dock workers, all the government staff, including the police & fire brigade. The political leader of the State was a communist, as were most of the union leaders. This is a fact, not my opinion.
We were advised not to go ashore, so we posted a gangway watch – and we raised our gangway just too high to reach without a ladder – we didn’t want any surprises.

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Illustration of a gangway too high to reach from the wharf, this was not uncommon in certain ports, particularly at night when cargo work had stopped.

With all the on / off problems we were stuck in Cochin until the 14th September, but we did have a small ‘drama’.

The labour had returned to work and I was duty officer when I saw some thing in the water. At first I thought it was some of our cargo that had been mishandled and fallen in to the water, until I looked closer, only to see it was a dead body, which had been in the water for sometime as it was blotted.
The body had drifted between the ship and the shore, so I called to the police on the wharf to take the body away.
The policeman stood and watched the body as it bounced off the ship and then off the pier. Eventually the corpse was lassoed around its ankle and tied to the end of the wharf so that it couldn’t float away.

This incident happened around 10.00 am, but the body was not removed from the water until later afternoon.

While we were alongside the ship was invited to play soccer against a local team, and I was roped in as part of the ship’s team.
My sum knowledge of soccer can be written on the back of a stamp, so I don’t think I was very much help to the team. I did manage to run around a bit, enough that it took me about two days to stop aching, I didn’t realise that 90 minutes could be so long.
I cannot remember if I even managed to kick the ball!

On completion of the cargo work we sailed for Tuticorin, which is on the southern tip of India, the land just south of Tuticorin is Ceylon, (now Sri Lanka). Once again we anchored off and worked cargo in to barges.

We sailed south around Ceylon and then headed east for Penang. I was on the ‘graveyard watch’- noon to 4 pm, and midnight to 4.00 am.
There is something magical about being on watch at 2.00 am in the tropics. Everyone is asleep (except for the helmsman and the f’xle lookout) and the only noise is the distant thump, thump of the ship’s engine and the sound of water gurgling down the side of the ship as she pushed her way across the ocean.

After one watch I’d gone to bed around 5.00 am and all was well with the world, until I woke around 7.30 am to silence. We’d broken down in the Bay of Bengal.

We estimated that the island of Sumatra was on our starboard side about 500 miles away (800 km). At that time we didn’t have the benefit of satellite navigation, and the mobile phone hadn’t been invented.
We worked our position out in much the same way as the sailors in the early 1800’s, we took a sight of the sun at noon, and this gave us our latitude, and thanks to John Harrison  (1693 – 1776) we knew our longitude.

Fortunately the breakdown only lasted an hour, after which it was full steam to Penang, well full steam for us was still ten knots.

Two days of heavy rain, leaking windows, along with leaks in the deckhead (ceiling) of my cabin soaked my bunk, so I had to sleep on the couch, with my legs hanging over the end, which guaranteed morning cramps.
Once the sun came out the bedding , mattress etc soon ‘steamed’ off before drying completely. The joys of a tramp ship.

Arrival in Penang has always been a joy for me – there is a world famous bar there called the Hong Kong Bar and they do say that it you sit there long enough you’ll meet someone you know.

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Chulia St (now known as Lebuh Chulia)

The main change in the above photograph, which I took in 2014, compared to my various visits in the 1960’s is the lack of rickshaws & tri-shaws – the cars are too modern, but the buildings are original. The Hong Kong Bar is down the road on the right.

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Old Penang

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All my yesterdays :- o)

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Plaques from various ship, army units, RAAF squadrons, lifebelts from various merchant ships, the place was a mecca for servicemen and sailors – it was purely a bar, not a pick up joint for girls.

The same Chinese family had owned the bar since the mid nineteen fifties and they used to collect photographs of their customers, sober or drunk.
When visiting this bar, if you were on your own, you would soon be in conversation with someone that knew someone that you knew – six degrees of separation well before it became popular.

Unfortunately the bar suffered a fire in the 1970’s, but they managed to save quite a few pieces of memorabilia – except for some of the photograph albums of the late fifties and through the sixties – my time.

I visited the bar in 2014 and asked if they still had the photographs – the owner was happy to drag out what he had, but unfortunately I was unable to find the 1960’s period due to the fire, nor did I recognise anyone in the hundreds of photographs that I scanned on the off chance.

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If you visit the bar today the rescued crests of the servicemen of yesterday, are still there, but damaged by fire.

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Before the fire the owner had a wall of money – currency notes from every corner of the world – all stuck on the wall by servicemen and merchant seamen, . . .he has started again, but the number of seamen is well down on what there used to be – containerisation does not require the same numbers of sailors or the same length of time in port. To be blunt, the romance of running a way to sea has faded in to history.

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When I visited the Hong Kong Bar in 2014 I was not the only one on a memory trip.
An Australian ex-serviceman and his wife, were also there to do the same thing that I was about to do – lean on the bar and drink in the atmosphere over a glass of Tiger beer.

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When I saw the gentleman in the yellow shirt I had the feeling of deja vue, because I thought I recognised him from the 60’s. After a short conversation I realised that this gentleman was the son of the man that I knew, who was the original owner.
                                                             Tempus fugit.

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When I was checking a few things on-line for this post, I came across the above, which is an advert to build a model tramp ship called Pundua, and the plans include all the pieces required to produce a radio controlled vessel.
They also have Blue Funnel ships, and other ‘old’ British cargo vessels, including  MV Uganda (another BI ship).

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The finished model  & the web link https://www.vintagemodelplans.com/

 

 

 

FI – FO

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I’d been out East for just over a year sailing in the waters of the Far East and down to Australia & New Zealand, and in the last month or so my sore throat had been getting worse.
Originally I thought it was a standard sore throat and that it would ‘go away’ in due course – it didn’t. Apparently I had a boil at the back of my throat, and I couldn’t swallow and the infection had spread to my teeth & ears

I saw a doctor in Singapore and he considered that I had a problem with my tonsils, and that I should have them out.
It seemed a good idea, until I asked a few more questions (Dr Google didn’t exist) and realised that I would be in hospital for a few days, as this type of operation for an adult is more serious than for a child.

I reported back on board as the mooring lines were singled up, and we were sailing, so the operation would not take place in Singapore.

Our next port of call was Calcutta, and through radio chatter I was offered hospitalisation in Calcutta to have the operation.
To be honest I didn’t fancy this at all, considering what I’d been told in Singapore about the seriousness of the operation, and having limited personal support if anything went wrong, so I refused, and the Company then offered to fly me to the UK!

I think it took me about a second and a half to think about this before I said YES!

I signed off the Bankura in Calcutta, in April 1967, and boarded BA 719 at Dum Dum Airport, which was the name of Calcutta’s air port at that time, now it is called Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose International Airport. The airport was renamed in 1995.

I am certain the aircraft was a B 707 (see the photograph at the top of the blog), rather than a VC 10, which were being phased out by BOAC around that time. Just on the off chance that I am wrong, the flight was BA 719, 20th April 1967, CCU to LHR, someone might have an old timetable. . .

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The above picture from British Airways web site, gives you an idea of the difference between yesterday and today.
In 1967 we didn’t have headphones, nor TV screens, and we used to speak to our neighbour, or read a book (which is an old fashioned iPad). The airline would supply various magazines. What we were allowed to do was smoke, if we wished.
Once again I regret not collecting any frequent flyer points . . .

A telegram was sent to Maureen, and because she worked for BOAC in ticketing in the Liverpool office she was able to’see’ me coming via BOAC’s in-house computer system.

Maureen flew down from Liverpool to meet me at Heathrow, and we both returned to Liverpool by train.

Silver Fox

It wasn’t the Silver Fox, unfortunately (excuse the pun).

The end of standard gauge schedule service for steam trains in the UK came about in August 1968. After that it was diesel or electric.
Today people speak of ‘high speed’ trains as if it is something new, but a ‘sister’ engine (the Mallard) of the above Silver Fox reached 126 miles (202 km) per hour in 1938 . . . .
The Mallard is now in the railway museum York.
If you are ‘in to’ steam trains click on this link to see what she looked like. Mallard was withdrawn from service in April 1963.

Of course once in Liverpool Maureen & I were keen to tell the family that it was now official, and that we were going to get married.
This required quite a number of trips to relatives on both sides to meet each others extended family.
I say ‘extended’ as if we had numerous brothers and sisters, but we are both only children, but there still appeared to be quite a few relatives and friends to visit and not just on Merseyside.

I also visited our family doctor to see how soon I could see a specialist, in the meantime I was on medication.

It was late April when I met with the doctor and the earliest appointment for the specialist was 06th June!
The Company was not happy, because I was due to return to the Far East in mid- May.

When I met with the specialist he told me that it would be three months before there would be an available bed in the local hospital. This would mean that I was unavailable until at least late September.

The Company were definitely not happy.

The specialist was aware of my circumstances, and suddenly a bed became available on the 13th June (lucky 13!).
I was admitted in to hospital as planned, and the operation was scheduled for the 15th June.

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This is the hospital, Birkenhead General Hospital, which was built in 1862 . . perhaps Calcutta would have been better . . . the above hospital has since been demolished.

All went as planned, and I was in hospital for a week.

Early August and the expected telegram from the Company arrived. I was to fly to Bombay (more frequent flyer points missed), to join MV Pundua as third mate.

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MV Pundua, launched in 1945, 7295 gt,

This time I flew Alitalia (known in the industry as Always Late In Transit And Late In Arrival), why the Company picked Alitalia instead of BOAC I don’t have any idea, other than they must have been cheaper.

The aircraft was leaving London at 7.30 pm so Maureen & I took the morning train to London, arriving later morning. It was not going to be

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A Brief Encounter parting.

I was obliged to attend the Company’s head office to pick up my airline tickets. This visit at least gave Maureen and idea of the Company.

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 Lime Street station, Liverpool as it was in 1967 – the trip to London was just under three hours.

 

Caravelle

AZ 279 London to Rome – the aircraft is a Caravelle. The captain had two goes at taking off – first one aborted due to the radio failure, but after we returned to the bay it was fixed, and we took off an hour late.
The one thing that sticks in my mind during the transit time in Rome (late evening) was that all the shops were shut, as well as the bar . . . .

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AZ 764 Rome to Bombay via Tehran – the aircraft was a DC8.

We arrived at in Santa Cruz airport, Bombay, at Noon the next day. The airport was originally RAF Santa Cruz, having been built in the 1930’s and was converted to civilian traffic after WW2 in 1946, and began to grow as such, after independence in 1947.

Once the aircraft door was opened the aroma of India flooded in, which brought back many memories. We climbed down the stairs and walked across to the terminal – this was before the aero-bridge with wheeled gangways, became common.

After immigration and customs I boarded the airport bus for the trip to the city terminus where I would be met by the agent.
The trip in to town was an experience, the whole area around the airport was what a westerner would call ‘slum like’, and the streets were packed with people and animals. It was a thirty minute sight seeing tour for me, because I was the only passenger. The driver only seemed to use the middle of the road so as to avoid the mass of people and animals.

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The above is a recent photograph of how people live close to a motorway in today’s Bombay (Mumbai)  – when I arrived 52 years ago I saw similar slums near the airport, but I don’t remember any motorway – is that the only difference?

Once in the terminal I was met by the agent and told that the Pundua was due in to port in a few days. A rush across the world for nothing. . . .

I was taken to the Seaman Mission, which was also known as the Prince of Wales Seamen’s Club, because they offered accommodation and the agent had booked me a room.

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Seamans club

The Seaman’s Club above – the photograph is off the internet

The problem was that I’d been booked in to a room that was already occupied by another British India officer – an engineer – it was sharing time.

A-Sharing

The layout of the room was something like the above picture, which is a recent photograph  – of course we didn’t have a TV in our room then, but they did have a good free library.
TV in India only began daily broadcasting in 1965, so I doubt that the Seamen’s building had a TV at all, never mind in a guest room.

The current occupant had already been in residence for five weeks waiting for a ship.

There were quite a few BI officers waiting for various ships and we soon got on well together. Bombay was the capital of Maharashtra State and that State was ‘dry’.

In the later afternoon I entered the bar of the Club to see people drinking beer, so I asked the barman for a cold beer.
‘Chitty, Sahib’
On the ship one didn’t use money, but signed a chit for a case of beer or a carton of cigarettes, the books were balanced at the end of the voyage.
‘Chitty?’ I asked.
‘From the police, Sahib’
At this point a fellow officer took pity on the new boy and explained the system. I had to report to the police and fill in a form stating that I was an alcoholic, and I would be given a chit allowing me to buy a limited number of beers at the Officers’ Club.

Maharashtra State, in which Bombay was located, was a ‘dry’ State! (It isn’t now). So it was pure panic to get to the police station before the senior officer went home for the night. I managed it! I wonder if I am still listed as an alcoholic in this part of India.
The cost of a large bottle of beer (bigger than the UK bottles at that time) was 5/6d (£4.95 in today’s money).

It was forbidden to take alcohol in to the Club. It was available if one knew where to go.

Club 2

As you can see breakfast was 2.5 rupees and at the exchange rate for 1967 = 2/6d which is about £2.16 in today’s money.

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As you see the Club was quite close to the docks.

I’d arrived in Bombay on the 18th August and expected to be staying in the Club for a day or so, but it ended up as eleven days (my stay was much better then my room companion, who was in to his sixth week).

To help pass the time we visited ships of the Company that regularly called at Bombay, and surprisingly I met quite a few old friends with whom I’d sailed with over the years.

We also managed to obtain passes to Breach Candy Club.

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It hasn’t changed all that much since my last visit – a beautiful spot right on the ocean. I think it was opened to the locals in the 1960’s previously it had been Europeans only. It was built by the British in 1926.
During WW2 my father visited India (he was in the Royal Navy) and he used to tell me about Breach Candy, so it was a nice feeling for me to visit the same places as Dad.

I eventually joined the Pundua on the 29th August

By the way FI-FO = Fly in – fly out, it is not a modern system, it was around in the 1960’s.