I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky
In October 2022 it will be sixty years since I first went to sea.
I had eight days to pack and join my first ship, did I have everything . . .
I had only been to Woodside station once before when I was a lot younger, and we were visiting relatives in Stafford. Most of my train travel had been from Liverpool Lime Street, so Woodside was a new experience.
The station had been opened in 1878 and thanks to the Beeching Report in 1963 the station would close in 1967.
When I arrived at the station in October 1962 it was it was busy with trains arriving and leaving all the time.
My trunk was packed with my uniform for the tropics and for a European winter, along with civilian clothes if I wished to go ashore.
Mum & Dad took me to the station, and I was glad of Dad’s help to drag my sea chest to the guard’s van. The type of sea chest that I picked was invented before the wheel!
My passport and my brand new red British Seaman’s Card, and my new blue Seaman’s Record Book and Certificate of Discharge were stowed in a safe place in my jacket pocket.
Must not forget my collection of International Certificates of Vaccination, which over the next few years I collected details of varies ‘jabs’ starting with HMS Conway when I was about to leave in the summer of 1962 , followed by Liverpool (five times over the following years), Dubai (twice), Singapore, New Zealand (three times), Karachi (at least once, but could be twice – a blunt needle comes to mind) and even received a jab from the doctor on the Dunera, which saved me a trip ashore.
The Company was very strict that our various vaccination records were kept up to date.
Photo thanks to Bevan Price (picture taken in 1967).
In 1962 Woodside was busy and bustling with people travelling.
Picture thanks to Alan Murray-Rust ([Picture taken in 1967)
The smell of steam and hot oil remains a memory of happy train journeys because the engine was a living machine unlike the current rolling stock.
There are many pictures of Woodside Station that were taken just before the station was closed, but little had changed from when I boarded the train to Falmouth in 1962.
Falmouth Docks Station (the only station in Falmouth at the time) picture taken in 1966 – copyright Patrick English.
A quick phone call to the agent and I was soon in a launch because Ellenga was moored in the Fal River.
Ellenga – 37,420 dwt
Launched in 1960 and was named after a village in the Tangail district of East Bengal, which at that time was known as East Pakistan and today is Bangladesh.
I was eighteen when I stepped aboard Ellenga and I was paid the grand sum of £16-10-0 a month (about £200 / month in today’s value).
It was hard work, (we were not paid overtime) but she was a happy ship and I began to learn Hindi as most of the crew were from India.
The book was recommended by the Company, so I purchased The Malim Sahibs Hindustani as a guide to learn Hindi. I still have this book, and even now I can remember certain words and phrases.
Once we arrived in the Persian Gulf we carried out what was known as the ‘Mina- Aden- ferry’ – which meant that we loaded crude oil in Mina El Hammani in Kuwait and five days later we discharged the cargo at a refinery in Little Aden, which is across the bay from Aden (which is now part of Yemen).
Once we had completed our discharge we sailed for Kuwait and the next five days we tank cleaned.
I was one of four cadets and we were worked in pairs – six hour on six hour off – each pair of cadets had three crew members working with them.
H&S was in the future as we manhandled large flexible hoses with a three legged Butterworth pump on the end of the hoses to blast the oil from the sides of each tank.
Each tank was just over fifty feet deep, and we blasted sea water at three levels – we had a total of thirty three tanks, but we only used twenty seven for oil, the others were used for sea water as ballast for when we were empty.
I am second from the left and as you see tank cleaning was a dirty job. At the end of the process for each tank one of us would climb down the fifty-foot ladder into the oil sludge at the bottom. We had a large rubber brush to brush the sludge to the pumps to maximise the amount to be sucked out of the tank. The action of brushing caused fumes to rise, and these fumes made you feel drunk so climbing the fifty foot vertical ladder could be dangerous due to everything, including the ladder, being slippery due to the oil residue. Welcome to life at sea in tankers in 1962.
The ship carried breathing apparatus, and it was available for us to wear, but in the heat of the Persian Gulf wearing it was out of the question, it was far too hot.
Plus it was heavy and trying to climb out of the oil tank via a vertical slippery ladder wearing the full gear was unacceptable.
Tank cleaning went on day and night, and at night when cleaning the forward tanks, we had to use shielded torches so as not to ruin the night vision of the those on the bridge.
The water used to clean the tanks was pumped overboard when we were more than 100 miles off land – the oil slick followed us for days because we had to have the tanks cleaned before we arrived in Kuwait for a fresh cargo.
I sailed in Ellenga for just under nine months and besides the Mina -Aden ferry we also carried oil to Europe, and we did do one trip in mid-winter from Kuwait to Philadelphia in the US, 28 days without touching land, after which we sailed to Venezuela for a cargo of oil for Germany.
Our destination was LEFO, but even after checking the ship’s large atlas I could not find where LEFO was, until the 2nd mate mentioned Lands’ End For Orders – in case the oil had been on sold and was not destined for Germany.
In our case we discharged in Wilhelmshaven as planned and sailed in ballast back to the Persian Gulf, tank cleaning of course.
While I was in Ellenga I was taught how to steer, it was not as easy as it looked, but eventually I mastered how to do it correctly (my certificate below).
Not long after I had started to learn to steer the captain commented to me that as the war was over, I did not have to keep zig zagging to avoid submarines. Steering such a large vessel one gets a ‘feel’ for her, and once this happens you no longer zig zag.
During the Mina-Aden ferry we had a bit of luck – we sailed from Kuwait fully loaded so tank cleaning was not required over Christmas.
Breakfast on Christmas Day 1962, and all cadets were off duty!
Lunch on Christmas Day 1962
Dinner Christmas Day 1962
The one thing about British India Steam Nav. Co, most of the vessels in which I sailed were all good ‘feeders.’
It was hard work but it was interesting and after nearly nine months I paid off Ellenga at The Isle of Grain, which is at the mouth of the Thames, and I was given another rail voucher, this time to Birkenhead and sent home on leave.
2 thoughts on “Farewell Birkenhead”
Interesting reading, likewise after leaving Conway my first ship was a tanker “Scottish Hawk” I remember the tank cleaning.
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Morning Mike, thanks for the feedback – when BI created Trident Tankers we were offered the chance to move over, but I’d had enough of crude oil and wanted to see a bit of the world -I turned their generous offer down . . :- o)