Auckland & all that . . .



We anchored off Auckland and I could see the lights of the city as I stood my watch from 8.00 pm to midnight. We finally berthed at 6.30 am and worked cargo all day.
Everyone on board knew that Maureen was flying out to see me, and they thought that she was from a very wealthy family to be able to fly around the world for a weekend.
In the end I couldn’t let my shipboard friends believe that she was anything but a normal Liverpool girl, who was fortunate to work for an airline, which allowed her to take advantage of discounted tickets.

The following day I stood my deck watch and late afternoon raced out to the airport to meet Maureen. The aircraft was an hour and a half late!
I’d booked her in to a small hotel in the city, because the ship didn’t have accommodation for visitors. The following day I introduced her to my friends and it was party time!

The day after I managed time off and Maureen & I went sightseeing around Auckland.


I don’t know what Mount Wellington looks like now, but in 1966 it was a beautiful park and with great views across Auckland from One Tree Hill.


We also visited Albert Park, plenty of time to talk as we walked. The large flower ‘clock’ that always gave the correct time.


Flower Clock Albert Park, Auckland

All too soon our short time together was over, and Maureen had to fly back to Melbourne.

At that time Auckland didn’t have aero-bridges to board the aircraft. One had to walk to the plane and hoped it wasn’t raining.


Maureen about to board her Qantas flight.

For those who are interested, the aircraft is Qantas’ first L-188C Electra (Lockheed), which arrived in Sydney in 1959 for the Qantas fleet.

After I left the sea I worked for TNT in Australia, and this aircraft was chartered by TNT to carry freight from Stansted to Cologne in 1994.
In 1998 the aircraft was sent to Coventry for a major overhaul, but was found to require too much work, which was uneconomical, so she was broken up for spares and completely scrapped in 2002.

In all Bankura was in Auckland for ten days, after which we sailed for Brisbane, followed by Singapore via the Great Barrier Reef, Port Swettenham, Penang and finally Calcutta.

In Calcutta, after discharging our cargo we went in to dry dock.


The above is a picture of Khidipore Dock, taken a few years ago – as you see there is a smallish vessel in the dock.


The above gives you a better idea of how Bankura would have looked – the ship above is not the Bankura.

We had four days in dry dock and various job were allocated by our captain – I was given the responsibility of about two hundred workers who were to scrape the ship’s hull below the waterline and remove all traces of sea life (barnacles etc) and seaweed.
The work went on twenty four hours a day, and the workers were ‘challenging’.

All our crew were Indians or Goanese, and I had great respect for them and their work ethic, but I must admit the labour supplied to clean & paint the ship were a very different type of Indian worker.
One of my biggest gripes was to make sure they didn’t steal everything that was not too heavy to move, or screwed down.
Paint brushes, tins of paint, cleaning tools and so on – I wouldn’t have minded if it wasn’t so obvious, but most of the labour only wore shorts or a small lungi (a type of sarong) and sandels, which had few places to hide a five gallon tin of paint!

It was an experience, and at the end of the four days I wasn’t really sure if I’d won or they had . . .

At least once the paint was dry we were able to flood the dock, so making sure that they didn’t steal the ship.

View_Hooghly SouthOf GardenReach1960s

We moved out in to the river (the Hooghly)  to load cargo. The two ships in the photograph are British India Steam Nav. Co vessels, the same company as Bankura.
The white one is a liner and the other a cargo ship.

As you see the river is used for everything, and along the banks there were ghats.

A ghat is a set of steps that lead down to the river allowing people to either wash themselves, their clothes, or if the steps are in front of a temple for religious purposes.


Ahilya Ghat by the Ganges.


Taken about a hundred years ago, so little had changed by the time I visited Calcutta.

I enjoyed my time in India, having visited several cities including Calcutta, (now Kolkata) Bombay, (now Mumbai), Madras, (now Chennai), Cochin (now Kochi), Goa, Tuticorin and Bhavnagar (not sure if it was this name in the 60’s) in the State of Gujarat, and have always found the locals to be polite and friendly.
As a memory of India I have four original paintings of Cochin scenes hanging on my dining room wall. I watched the painter create them, which has added the pleasure of owning them.

Of course when I say I enjoyed India, I do not include my four days at the bottom of a dry dock in Calcutta as enjoyable :- o)

We moored in the river and loaded cargo and sailed for Chalna in East Pakistan.

We hove to so as to pick up the pilot for the passage up the Pussur River, but the pilot refused to come aboard unless he was met by an officer when stepping on to the deck.
Usually pilots were met by a cadet or a Sukunni (helmsman or senior crew member).
All pilots were shown to the bridge, but in many cases they made their own way because they knew the ship and the captain, and didn’t require an escort.
But this particular pilot had obviously remembered the days of the Raj and wanted a ‘piece’ of the old traditions.
He knew he would get his own way because time was money, and we had to cross the bar at high tide, so I was to meet and greet the great man.

Of course, we always tried to make our pilots welcome. Tea, sandwiches and cake would be waiting for him on the bridge.
Later a small present, in the form of a bottle, would be given to warm his evenings at the end of his piloting duties, just to show our gratitude for a safe trip. Everything was always very civilised and friendly, so to be held over a barrel on a point of etiquette was not the best way to make our Captain a friend of this pilot.

After loading cargo we sailed back down river, but this time with a different pilot and the atmosphere on the bridge was a lot warmer. It was to be Colombo in Ceylon, for Christmas.


Paddle steamer Chinsura  on the Pussur River, in 1966. (Picture off the internet)




Southbound from Calcutta

On our return to Singapore I received a letter from head office informing me that I was to fly to Calcutta to join an Australian bound ship.
More frequent flyer points lost . . .

Great Eastern Hotel - Calcutta (Kolkata) 1930's

I flew to Calcutta and stayed at the Great Eastern Hotel, which had been a hotel since 1840 and it still had the Raj feeling. It has been called the Jewel of the East, also The Savoy of the East, and carried various names until 1915 when it was renamed The Great Eastern.

Its original name was Auckland Hotel, so named after George Eden who was the 1st Earl of Auckland, the then Governor of India. Originally it had a department store under the hotel, and it is said that  “a man could walk in at one end, buy a complete outfit, a wedding present, or seeds for the garden, have an excellent meal, a burra peg (double gin) and if the barmaid was agreeable, walk out at the other end engaged to be married”

It was the hotel where ‘everyone’ stayed when visiting Calcutta – Nikita Khrushchev,  Queen Elizabeth II, Mark Twain, Dave Brubeck (I wish he’d been there when I was there), and many others

The above picture is from a Great Eastern 1930 post card – it hadn’t changed much when I stayed there in 1966. The Government took over the running of the hotel in the 1970’s and sold it to a private company in 2005.

Until it closed in 2005 for extensive renovations,  it was the longest continuous operating hotel in Asia. It was partly reopened in 2013 and is still being renovated.

From memory I think I stayed in the hotel for two nights before joining MV Bankura.




Launched in 1959, so she was ‘new’ as far as I was concerned being only seven years old. She was 6793 gross tonnes, with deck cranes rather than derricks, and she was fully air-conditioned.
She was one of five ships in her class and one of the first UK built ships to have AC current for all deck purposes.  Her trading route was to be Calcutta to Australia and New Zealand, thousands of miles away from the Persian Gulf – I couldn’t wait!

All of British India Navigation Co vessels were named after places that ended in ‘a’. Uganda, Kenya and of course Bankura, which is a town in West Bengal, India, and is not all that far from Calcutta, only about 168 km.

The Company began in 1856 and the first route was Calcutta to Rangoon, which at that time the Company’s name was the ‘Calcutta & Burmah Steam Navigation Co Ltd.’ It was not until 1862 that the name changed to become British India Steam Navigation Co.


In 1947 India was ‘partitioned’, and the partition was based on two main religions – Muslim & Hindu.

The Muslim majority in the west became the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, and the Muslim in the east became East Pakistan. The Province of Bengal (which was in the east) was split between India and Pakistan . The western areas were allocated to India and the Eastern areas to Pakistan.


The green area near Burma is Eastern Bengal, soon to become East Pakistan.
(Map from the internet)

West Pakistan, was 1600 km to the west, on the other side of India.

Political upheaval in in West Pakistan in the late 1950’s and through the 1960’s caused unrest in both West & East Pakistan.
After the 1970 general election the Eastern politicians had 167 seats out of 300, but the military junta in the west dragged their feet to transfer power.

Civil disobedience broke out in East Pakistan and they advocated Independence from Pakistan.  In 1971, on Pakistan’s Republic Day many households in East Pakistan flew the Bangladeshi flag.
The Pakistani army cracked down on the dissidents and civil war broke out – certain West Pakistan military units based in East Pakistan, went over to the Bangladeshis.

The war lasted nine months, but in the end the Pakistanis in East Pakistan surrendered to the joint forces of the Indian Army and the Bangladeshi guerrilla forces. The new independent State of Bangladesh came in to existence in December 1971.


Bangladeshi flag in 1971


The current flag of Bangladesh.

The history of the partition of India makes interesting reading, as well as being a very sad episode in the history of that country, because millions were displaced as they moved either to Pakistan or India, depending on their religion, and it is estimated that well over half a million died during the Indian / Pakistani exodus.


We worked cargo around the clock for the next eight days – my shift was 6 am to 6 pm. It was hard work in the humidity of Calcutta, and left little time for pleasure.

We sailed on the eighth day for Chalna in East Pakistan (as it was called then).

To reach Chalna it required us to sail up the Pasur River for around six hours. This river is a tributary of the Ganges.

We didn’t go alongside – I don’t think, in those days, that they had the facility for deep sea vessels to go alongside. Floating warehouses came out to us and we used our own cargo to gear to work cargo.


Jute, in the form of bales, was the main export at that time, along with tea.

After we had finished in Chalna we sailed to the mouth of the river, anchored and waited for the tide so as to pass over the sand bars, and then set course for Chittagong.

We had three days in Chittagong before our next port which was Trincomalee in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka).

Trinco, for me, meant water skiing, but this time things didn’t quite work out as planned.


On previous visits to Trinco I’d been shown how to ‘water ski’ by being towed on a hatch board behind a lifeboat. We may not have been a cruise ship but we had all the right gear. . . . .

This time two of us borrowed a lifeboat and motored off to a clear area for a swim and possibly to water ski, only to have the motor breakdown, and we failed to get it restarted. During our frantic efforts to get the engine going the lifeboat was drifting further and further from the ship. The only thing left for us to do was to row!
By the time we returned to the Bankura our arms were coming out of their sockets. Rowing a ship’s lifeboat, which has a capacity to carry twenty to thirty men is very hard work for two.

We spent two days loading tea, after which we sailed for Port Swettenham in Malaysia.

As we approached the port, our radio contact was to Klang exchange on the Klang River, which was the old port before the railway arrived from Kuala Lumpur in 1890.

The port was named after Sir Frank Swettenham, who became Selangor’s Resident in 1882, and he initiated the start of the rail track between Kuala Lumpur and the main port of Klang, which was twenty four miles from the capital KL.

Once we were alongside at 6.00 pm, a few of us made a bee line for KL. The evening was not a particularly memorable night. The drive took a lot longer than we expected and the return, after a few beers and a meal, took the edge of the whole evening. The roads in the mid-60’s were not to the standard of today.

The following evening, after work had stopped, I decided to visit the Hollywood Bowl Massage Parlour, because I’d never had a massage.

I hadn’t a clue what to expect. I had a basic idea of massages, but when I was covered in talcum powder during the massage I couldn’t stop sneezing and called it quits, and went back to the ship for a shower and a beer.

It would be thirty eight years later before I would try a massage again, when I was on holiday in KL in 2005.
We were a party of four couples who were staying at the Renaissance Hotel, and the hotel recommended a particular parlour to visit. Three of us men decided to give it a go, and the difference was like chalk and cheese, and I didn’t have a sneezing fit.

From Klang / Port Swettenham our next port was Singapore. After two days of working cargo we were off to Australia!


As we approached Northern Australia (Torres Straits) we picked up a Torres Strait pilot who piloted us through the Straits and the Great Barrier Reef to Townsville in northern Queensland.



We had less than 24 hours in Townsville after which we were off to New Zealand. The one thing I remember about Townsville was that some of the pubs had bat wing doors – all very old west, but very real.


Picture found on the internet – it was taken in 1958, but it had hardly changed when I visited in 1966

The Bankura had cargo tanks as part of her cargo space, and from Townsville we loaded molasses, which wasn’t much different from the Ellenga’s crude oil that we loaded in the Gulf, both had to be kept in a liquid state to assist discharge.


If you grew up in the UK not long after the end of the war this might bring back a memory or two. Besides spooning it on your cereal it can also be the basis for rum!

The voyage to Auckland was a rolling down to Rio type voyage that took some getting used to, but after five and a half days we entered Auckland harbour.
I’m glad that I was the junior officer, because it took me a few ‘noons’ to get the noon site correct due to the rolling.
It was all very well doing it in a classroom or when the sea was calm, but matching the roll of the ship and managing to record the exact time of noon when the sun kissed the horizon was a skill I had to quickly learn.


Picture from the internet


Auckland in the mid-sixties was very different than the Auckland of today. I do remember that at main street junctions when the all the lights turned red and the traffic stopped to allow the pedestrians to walk diagonally across the junction if they wished. This system was introduced in 1958 in New Zealand, but not in the UK until 2009.


At that time the population of Auckland was about half a million, and the streets didn’t feel as packed as those in Liverpool, but the idea of stopping all the traffic for pedestrians seemed a great idea to me.
Even the single decked trolley buses had to stop. It was years later before I saw this road crossing system elsewhere.


I took the above picture in 1966 at a ‘busy’ road junction in Auckland, how things have changed.

Television in NZ was only six years old in 1966, so the standard of outside broadcasting was well below what we were used to in the UK.
The job of the junior cadet was to stand on the monkey island (which was above the bridge), to slowly turn the aerial until we were all satisfied with the picture. The one thing I noticed about the news at that time was the poor standard of camera shots. I can still remember watching a news item of a building that was on fire, and the camera zoomed so fast to concentrate on the flames of a burning beam that it made me feel slightly sick. The camera would focus on pieces of burning wood and then zoom out at great speed, adding to my discomfort. I stopped watching NZ TV news after this experience.

In 1966 there were around 300,000 homes across New Zealand with TV, so the whole industry was in a huge learning curve.

Broadcasting didn’t start until late afternoon, and they only broadcast for a total of fifty hours a week, which helped to keep the pubs full in the evenings.

As we sailed down the coast to our next port of call, the poor cadet spent most of his evenings tweaking the aerial to pick up a stronger signal.

We pumped our molasses ashore, which took longer than planned, because our pump kept stopping, and we had to wait for the engineers to fix the problem. The failure of the pump put us behind our schedule, which put the Captain in a very poor mood, so most of us stayed well clear of him. On the plus side the delay allowed us time ashore in the evening.

Our visit to New Zealand was what we would call today as a ‘quite time’ – we worked cargo, sailed sedately from port to port with little excitement.

Our next port of call was Dunedin. The scenic trip from the sea to the city, via Otago harbour, was beautiful, and reminded me of the fjords of Norway.


As we approached our berth in Dunedin I could hear music from a radio in one of the of the officers’ cabins. At the end of the music an advert for the local cinema began, and at the end of the short advert they named the film (movie) that was to be shown that evening, it was African Queen, with Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn, which had been released fifteen years earlier.

I don’t know if the cinema was advertising a retro evening or if the film had just arrived in Dunedin, but in 1966 Dunedin was pleasant quiet back water after Singapore, Hong Kong and a dry Bombay, and I had the feeling that the film had just arrived.

Dunedin is the location of the only castle in New Zealand, built in 1871 by William Larnach for his wife. At least it was built for love, rather than war, as many castles in Europe.

Our next port was north of Dunedin, Timaru. We spent two days in this small town with its pastel coloured buildings. Unfortunately I don’t remember much of my visit to Timaru.

Next stop was Lyttelton, which is the seaport for Christchurch. Lyttelton is a deep water harbour created by the collapse of the seaward side of an extinct volcano, as you see in the picture.


Picture from an old post card – 1965

We were in Lyttelton for six days and worked cargo constantly so we had little time for sightseeing. I did manage to visit Christchurch for a short time and found myself impressed with the wide clean streets. Fortunately the road tunnel through the hills was only two years old, so the journey didn’t take long by bus.

Next stop Wellington for freezer cargo, Bankura was a multi-faceted vessel with the ability to carry dry cargo, freezer cargo, chilled cargo and liquid cargo in tanks.

I managed time off on the Sunday and two of us caught the ferry to Picton, which is northern end of the South island. The trip was uneventful, but the scenery, as we sailed up Queen Charlotte Sound was spectacular.


Queen Charlotte Sound

During our time in Wellington I was on ‘pins’, because Maureen was due to fly out to Melbourne with her parents.
Maureen worked for BOAC  (now British Airways) and she was able to buy discounted tickets, and she had planned an Australian holiday for herself and her parents before she met me.
Once I knew our itinerary from Calcutta to New Zealand I realised that Maureen would be in Australia during the Bankura’s NZ coastal trip.
It was suggested that perhaps she might be able to fly from Melbourne to Auckland for weekend, if she could get discounted tickets.
Being resourceful Maureen did manage to get a discounted ticket from Air New Zealand, so now all we both wanted was to be in Auckland at the same time.


The new airport at Auckland began services in 1965, but was not opened officially until January 1966, just in time, I hoped, for Maureen !

The above shows a 1960’s  DC8 of Air New Zealand, and if you are wondering what the TEAL means on the tail – Tasman Empire Airways Ltd, which was the original name of Air New Zealand.



An undeclared War

asia_general (1)

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.

The Lighthouse


That house so tall and stark and bare,

Stands for all of them out there,

Without that house and friendly light

Would mean a ship is lost this night.

To see the light flash thro the rain,

Means Old Lucifer has lost again.


The wind it howls along the shore

To freeze them all, both rich and poor,

No amount of wealth will pay

The price those men will give today,

Without that light they will be

Lost at night upon the sea.


The rocks just wait to grab a hold

Of any ship that is too bold,

For many ships must have been

Along that coast and had not seen

The flash of warning in the night

From that lofty house with its great light.

Homeward bounder.

Thirty six hours after disembarking our first Baltic cruise students we embarked another full complement for our second cruise to the Baltic.

For this cruise our first port of call was Stockholm; what a beautiful interesting city.

AB Stocklholm

We arrived off the coast of Stockholm during the night, and picked up our pilot and sailed quietly through the archipelago of the many islands that stretches 80 km offshore.

By sacrificing some of my night’s sleep I was able to make out, what I believe was the distant northerly lights of the Aurora Borealis. We hadn’t reached the man made lights of Stockholm and the night was free of light pollution. When it is full summer, which means hardly any ‘night’, it is very unusual to see the Aurora Boreslais.

The above picture is from the internet to try and illustrate what I saw, but I saw the ‘light’ well before we reached the light pollution of Stockholm.

Dawn came up before 5.00 am, which ended any further chances of seeing the Northern Lights, but instead we had the city of Stockholm waking for a new day.

During the tour of the city we visited the Vasa.


The Vasa was a sailing ship that sank in 1628 on her maiden voyage just 1400 yards in to her voyage.
Her guns were removed in the 17th century and she was left to rot until she was found again in the late 1950’s.
She was salvaged in 1961 and placed in a special building where the ship was sprayed with a chemical to stop her rotting away in the air. The mist in the above photograph is the chemical spray.
When I saw her in 1965 we were able to walk around the outside of the vessel on a special suspended catwalk.
Today, if you wish an update of the Vasa click on the link for the blog about our visit in 2018, it was a wonderful experience.
The image of the ship had been in my mind for over fifty years and in 2018 I was fortunate to revisit the Vasa.

We stayed overnight is Stockholm and sailed the following evening for Leningrad.

On arrival in Leningrad (now called St Petersburg again) at 6.00 am, we were greeted by hundreds of school students, dressed in gym wear, running around a large concrete area alongside to which we berthed. We were not in the cargo area of the port, nor where we in a cruise area, (if they had one in 1965), so I assume that because we were carrying so many students, we berthed at a special wharf to maximise the propaganda aspect of our arrival. We felt sorry for the gymnasts because it was quite cold at 6.00 am, even in May.

The athletic exhibition carried on for about an hour, after which the athletes left the area in a disciplined manner.
After about twenty minutes I think most of our students had left the viewing deck, partly because it was cold, but more likely for their breakfast.


The flag of the USSR in 1965 – one didn’t feel welcome, and the cold war was still on going.
The Cuba missile crisis with the US was only two and a half years earlier, in October 1962


The current flag, which is less threatening . . .

Later in the morning a fleet of coaches arrived to take our students on an educational visit around Leningrad.

As the students disembarked, I noticed that many had bulging pockets, but thought nothing of this as they were ‘children’ around thirteen or fourteen and many kids carried junk in their pockets. It was only later that I found out that some of the Scottish students had already completed a cruise a year earlier and had visited Leningrad. This time they had come prepared with their pockets full of ball point pens, Bic Biros we used to call them, which they sold to local Russians for a very fat profit. I don’t know if they received rubbles or dollars for the pens. Others had common cheap items, pencils, rubbers (erasers if you are from the US), bought cheaply from the likes of Woolworths in Scotland. I had a lot to learn from these Scottish ‘students.’



As an aside – in 1965 the French ministry of education approved the Bic Cristal for use in classrooms.
In 2006 the Bic Cristal was declared the best selling pen in the world after the 100 billionth was sold.
When I was at school we were not allowed to use ‘ball point’ pens on account that it would ruin in our handwriting. We could use fountain pens or the pen & nib and dip it in to an inkwell – for those who are younger than fifty years of age, you might not know what I am talking about . . .

Once again I scrounged a seat on the students bus and went ashore for the tour, and of course we all visited the Winter Palace, which was a fascinating place and the Russian guide was able to bring the whole tour to life. She did such a good job extolling the virtues of the Tsar I wondered if she really was a communist.


The Palace Square of the Winter Palace.

After we left the Palace we made our way along the river bank to the bridge called Troitskiy Bridge near Liteyny Avenue. The bridge is now called Trinity Bridge, and was opened in 1903, to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the founding of St Petersburg (Leningrad in 1965).


Trinity Bridge

The bus stopped and we exited the coach to hear more about the sites of Leningrad. Towards the end of her talk I asked if there was a toilet nearby and the guide waved her hand in the general direction of Liteyny Avenue. I crossed the road and looked for the international signs of a gent’s toilet. Not seeing one I entered what I thought was a commercial building thinking that the toilet would be on the ground floor. The existence of guards on the door was not unusual, so I just walked in as if I knew where I was going. I found the toilet and entered the gents and stood on the high step near the urinal and then noticed that due to the low separation wall and the high step all the men could see into the ladies toilets, which was a little disconcerting as many were occupied.

As I came out of the gents, I was grabbed by two security guards and frog marched to the door and thrown out, with what I assumed was great abuse, but the abuse was all in Russian and wasted on me.

On returning to the coach I commented to our guide on my experience and she went white. She immediately made sure all her passengers were on board and ordered the driver to drive quickly out of the area. It appears that I had wandered in to the ‘Big House’, which was a euphemism for the KGB building in Leningrad!
I have my doubts that it was the KGB Big House, but after she told me what she thought, I was still glad that the bus was speeding away from the area.

The wide boys of Scotland must have passed on their entrepreneurial spirit to me, because I managed to swap a ball point pen for the red metal cap badge off one of the guards on the dock gates. I’d bought a ‘fur’ hat in Philadelphia when on the tanker (Ellenga) and I’d always wanted the red badge to attach it to the front of the American hat to create a ushanka (which mean ‘ear hat’ in English) – now I had one! I still have the hat, but have miss placed (lost) the badge.

The main difference between my hat and a real ushanka is that the ear muffs on my hat clip together, rather than being tied as per the Russian picture.

Isn’t politics a stupid game  . . when I was at sea I carried three main ID documents – passport, discharge ‘book’, and a seaman’s card.

ID card

On arrival in China I used my seaman’s card and not my passport, because I knew that the American authorities were not happy to allow anyone to visit the USA with an entry visa for communist China in their passport. You’ll note that the card is red – how convenient.

Discharge book

In the USSR ( Russia) I used my Discharge book  when landing in Leningrad, because the Chinese and the Americans didn’t like a Russian entry stamp in ones passport. The blue discharge book also has a place for my ‘Christian’ name, which is very un-PC in today’s world.


I still have my discharge book with the USSR stamp for my visit in 1965.

The daft thing is that all three countries the USA, China & the USSR knew which book to stamp so as not to cause offence to the other  . . .

I used my passport when going ashore in the US, which at that time, didn’t require a visa.

We sailed at midnight for Copenhagen. I’m pleased that I saw a little of Leningrad, but can’t say I was unhappy to leave. Copenhagen was a huge difference to Leningrad with the multi-coloured buildings, Tivoli Gardens and an open and happy feel to the city.

The negative feeling of Leningrad returned in 2018 when Maureen and visited St Petersburg (Leningrad). It was something that I just can not put my finger on . . . I suppose the guide we had in 2018 said it best, that they look forward to summer for nine months of the year, and then spend three months being disappointed.

Next stop was Grangemouth on the Firth of Forth in Scotland where I paid off the Dunera  and dragged my suitcase on and off trains for the next nine hours. The suitcase didn’t have wheels in those days, so had to find a trolley & lifts at each station that I visited. . . .

My first train was from Grangemouth


Grangemouth station just a couple of years after I waited for a train.

to take me to Falkirk . . . .


so as to catch another train to Edinburgh,


followed by another to Preston . . . .


and finally another to Liverpool . . . . .


where I had to walk half a mile dragging my case to the underground metro system for the train to Birkenhead Park, which was the nearest station to my home.

BP 65

Birkenhead Park station in 1965.

All of the above trains station pictures have been taken from the internet for 1965 or ’68 for Grangemouth
Liverpool Lime Street is now part of the underground system, but it wasn’t in 1965. At least I didn’t meet Maggie Mae.

I left the ship at 7.30 am and it took me until 4.30 pm to reach home 410 km away (255 miles) which equates to an average speed of about 46 km / hour or 28.5 mph.

Today I can fly from Sydney to Bangkok (7,532 km), in the same time. . . . .


and in a lot more comfort, now that’s progress  . . . . .