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.

 

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.

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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.

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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.

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Bangladeshi flag in 1971

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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.

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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.

Chalna

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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

Black

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.

Two_ship's_officers_'shoot'_in_one_morning_with_the_sextant,_the_sun_altitude

Picture from the internet

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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.

Queen_Street,_Auckland

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

TEAL

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.

 

 

Birkenhead and all that . .

500px-BirkenheWhere there is faith there is light and strength

The translation of the moto is above.

My father’s family have lived in Birkenhead since around 1870, after moving from St Albans in Hertford via Derby. My mother’s family were relatively new comers having moved from Caernarvon in North Wales in 1921. I was born in the same terrace house in Lower Tranmere, Birkenhead in which my father was born. The house was built around 1870.

Birkenhead was an amalgamation of four boroughs in 1877 – Birkenhead, Tranmere, Oxten and Claughton-cum-Grange and the seal of Birkenhead was created from the four seals of the original towns.

The single lion and the crosier is from the Massey family of Birkenhead who founded a monastery in 1150. The oak tree is from Tranmere, and the dual lions from Oxten, and I think the blue ‘star’ symbol is from Claughton-cum- Grange.
On the top you will see a blue lion with his front paw on an anchor, which symbolises how Birkenhead depends on the sea and shipping.

Odd facts about Birkenhead – particularly with connections to the United States of America.

In 1847 Birkenhead opened the first public funded civic park in the world. It was designed by Joseph Paxton. The idea of a public park came about in 1841 when the town bought 226 acres of land, which was marshy and grazing land on the edge of the town.

1280px-Birkenhead_Park_-_The_Grand_EntranceMain entrance to the park.

Birkenhead_Park

Lakes

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Lake house

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Quiet spots

The above park pictures have been taken from the internet – all of mine are black & white!

Frederick Law Olmsted, an American landscape architect,  arrived in Liverpool in 1850 to stay in the north west of England. During his time in England he visited a number of parks, including Birkenhead Park.
In 1858 he and Calvert Vaux won a competition to design a new park for New York, which was to be called Central Park. He was very impressed with Joseph Paxton’s design of Birkenhead Park, and this influenced his over all design of Central Park.
Birkenhead Park was also the template in 1872, for the design of Sefton Park in Liverpool

Central-Park-New-York-CityCentral Park NY

conservatory-waterBoat lake Central Park

Central park is nearly four times the size of Birkenhead Park.

In 1860 an American, George Francis Train, visited Liverpool to try and persuade them to build a tram network – Liverpool did not respond to his idea, so Mr Train crossed the river to Birkenhead and they listened, and opened the first tramway in Europe, which was from Woodside (which is on the river bank) to Birkenhead Park. It was horse drawn.

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The above two pictures are to illustrate the horse drawn tram – both were taken by me in Victor Harbor, South Australia, this Australian service began in 1894.

Mr Train told Birkenhead council that if the service was not a success he would return the streets to their original state, at his own cost. He didn’t have to spend any money.

In 1828 William Laird and his son John started a ship building company on the banks of the River Mersey at Birkenhead.

In 1839 he built the first screw propelled steamer, the Robert F Stockton, which was a tug for use on the North American Waterways.

They were very successful at building iron ships and one of the best customers was the East India Company. Relations with China began to deteriorate so the Company wanted war ships to protect their China trade.  Laird built the Nemesis, which was 184 foot long, 29 foot beam, 6 foot draft and 660 tons. She was armed with two pivoted mounted 32 pounders, four six pounders and rocket launchers. She had 120 hp steam engine as was the first iron ship to round the Cape of Good Hope. She was a paddle steamer.

The 'Nemesis'   Nemesis, (Goddess of retribution).

HEICo_steamer_Nemesis Nemesis wreaked havoc amongst the wooden junks of the Chinese navy during the First Opium War. The first rocket that she fired hit a large junk and caused it to blow up with a huge explosion. The Chinese didn’t stand a chance against such modern weapons.

In 1848 they built the 1400 ton paddle frigate HMS Birkenhead for the navy. She became famous when she was being used as a troop ship and was wrecked off South Africa in 1852.

The_Birkenhead-TroopshipHMS Birkenhead

She didn’t have enough lifeboats for all of the passengers so the troops stood in their regimental lines so as to allow the women and children to get away in the lifeboats.

Only 193 of the 643 people on board survived and the soldier’s bravery gave birth to the call ‘ women and children first’ when abandoning any ship. This became known as the Birkenhead Drill. All the women and children survived.

Wreck_of_the_Birkenhead

Rudyard Kipling wrote a poem in their honour and part of it is below

‘To stand and be still
to the Birken’ead Drill
is a damn tough bullet to chew’.

Some years later the Confederate States of America ordered an iron clad ship from the same ship yard in Birkenhead –

CSSAlabamaCSS Alabama

1050 tons, 222 foot long, 31 foot 8 inch beam, 17 foot 8 inch draft, single screw, with 6 x 32 pounders, 1 x 100 lb cannon and 1 x 68 lb cannon, BUT none of her armaments were on the vessel when she was handed over to the Confederates because of the British neutrality Act. Lairds were legally able to build, and sell the ship without arms. She sailed to the Azores where she was handed over and then rigged with her armaments. Her decks had been built with reinforcements to take the cannon.

QaYtGJwHer moto was – ‘God helps those who help themselves.’

She burned 65 union ships (mainly merchant ships) but didn’t harm the crews, but put them on neutral ships.   Eventually she was sunk by a Union vessel off the coast of France. In 1984 the French navy found the resting place of the Alabama in 200 feet of water off  Cherbourg, France.

Birkenhead was not always building ships because sometimes ships were run aground to be broken up.

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SS Great Eastern

Brunel’s Great Eastern, launched in 1858 and was the largest ship ever built. 18,915 grt, 692 feet long, 82 feet wide with four decks bult to carry 4000 passengers non-stop to Australia from the UK. The world had to wait until 1899 before a longer ship, RMS Oceanic was built, and 1901 before a heavier ship was built RMS Celtic, 21,035 grt.

 The Great Eastern never carried passengers to Australia, but did carry them to America, before becoming a cable laying ship.

later she was used as an advertising ‘hoarding’ and sailed up and down the River Mersey advertising Lewis’ Department store. I suppose it was ‘fortunate’ that Brunel died in 1959 and never saw what happened to his world class ship.

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The Great Eastern was beached between Rock Ferry and New Ferry not far from the Laird’s ship yard.

Great_Eastern_SLV_AllanGreen  Her stern is towards Rock Ferry and her bow points to New Ferry, although many comments state that she was broken up at New Ferry.

Behind the Great Eastern’s stern (which is not shown in this photograph) is HMS Conway.

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It took eighteen month to break up the Great Eastern, it was far larger and stronger than the breakers had imagined and it is thought that they made a big loss on the job.

Finally to end on the park again –

War_memorial_BirkenheadThe Birkenhead war memorial in Hamilton Square has my uncle’s name inscribed up on it – he is buried a short distance outside Ypres in Belgium, having been killed in action in 1917 – he was nineteen.

DSC00214r  Albert Edward01He signed up at seventeen, and just before he left he and his parents visited a show for the troops. It was held at a theater across the road from the main entrance to Birkenhead Park. I believe my father would have been with them – he would have been six years old at the time.

aaki_wmOpening day for the park in 1847.

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I found the program the other day among some old papers of my father’s. As you see the theater is reopening on Good Friday, 2nd April 1915, only a hundred and two years ago tomorrow (Good Friday).

The theater was later renamed as the Park Cinema, before being pulled down in 1938 and replaced with a more modern building called the Gaumont Cinema.