St Petersburg – First impressions

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Life can get crowded as the Arcadia arrives just behind us.

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Of course our old favourite had to join us  Sapphire Princess

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A short time later Queen Victoria arrived

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and to top it all Marco Polo slips in . . .

Fortunately we were the first to arrive, so had clearance quickly. But to be fair the Russians had a number of cruise terminals and were quite efficient, if not all that ‘smiley’ at processing visitors.

I first visited Leningrad, as it was then called in 1965, and we arrived at 6.00 am. We were alongside a large public square rather than a dock area, and we were greeted by hundreds of teenage (both sexes) athletes running around this huge square. We were only allowed ashore as part of a group tour, operated at that time by the Government tourist office.

The city was founded by Tsar Peter the Great in 1703, and later renamed Petrograd in  1914 because of WW1, they thought the original name was too Germanic.

In 1924 it was renamed again, this time to Leningrad, five days after the death of Lenin in 1924. The city was named in his honour.

After 70 years it was renamed once more to St Petersburg after the fall of the USSR.

The ship’s tours were quite expensive so after a bit of research we picked https://st-petersburg-tours.ru/  who were very easy to deal with over the internet and arranged for our tourist visa.
That’s not particularly accurate because if you visit Russia off a cruise ship, and will not be staying longer than 72 hours, and will be sleeping on board, as against a hotel – you are not required to obtain a visa.
Passing through immigration was easy, about ten minutes because they had plenty of officers on duty. All we did was produce our passport and our TJ Travel tour ticket, that I’d printed at home, and that was it – passport stamped welcome to Russia.

On the landward side of immigration we passed through stalls selling souvenirs etc. and we exited the building. Maureen & I were a little early for our tour so we thought we’d go back inside to check the stalls and wait for our friends. We approached the door, but we were not allowed to enter and were told (in Russian & sign language) to go around the side – we did so and entered through another door to be greeted by a security screen and x-ray machines. All to hard so we waited outside and a few minutes later our friends arrived and the mini-bus from T.J Travel. Our party for the two day tour had a total of twelve so exiting and entering the bus as sites of interest was quite fast.

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The area around our berth was all reclaimed land and apartments had been sold promising sea views and small beaches. Like many developments around the world it didn’t take long for the land to be rezoned and the owners of the current apartments were not all that happy about new apartments being built between their homes and the sea, so blocking the view.

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Our first stop on the bank of the River Neva, which runs through St Petersburg, was at a sphinx. I think there are fourteen sphinxes in and around the city but the sphinx on the river bank is the most famous. They are around 3500 years old and were imported from Egypt around 1832 and bought for 64,000 rubles , which today is about USD $1000.
At that time they paid in silver rubles, and one silver ruble dated 1841 sells to day for USD $500.

DSC03000c The Rostral Columns

They used to be beacons or lighthouses and the basin at the top would contain the oil.

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The beacons are only lit now for special occasions.

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The palaces and buildings across the river I found attractive – the Admiralty Building right opposite the Rostral Columns.

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The other side of the river from the Rostral. Tried to capture the grand houses etc.

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The one historic item that I was waiting for was the cruiser Auroa , launched in 1900, she took part in the  Battle of Tsushima during the Russo-Japanese war of 1905. She managed to escape and made her way to Manila where she was interned for the rest of the war by the Americans. She was handed back to Russia in 1906. In 1917 she was in St Pertersburg for repairs when she was seized by the crew. At 9.40 pm on the 25th October (local time) 1917 she fired a blank shot that signaled the start of the attack on the Winter Palace, which was the beginning of the October revolution.

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Moored in St Petersburg today.

During WW2 they removed the guns and used them in defence of the city during the 872 days it was under siege by the German / Italian army. The siege began on 8th September 1941 and went through to 27th January 1944. It is estimated the Germany lost 580,000 troops killed or wound during the siege and the Russian lost 3,436,066 killed and wounded. Many were civilians who died of starvation. Many of the historical building that we visited during our two days had been damaged through bombing, shelling and by fire. I think they have all been restored to their forma glory and during out visit to the Hermitage Museum we saw photographs of the museum after the bombing – a blackened shell of its former self. The restoration team have done a magnificent job.

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John and I were considering Auroa for the new position of HMS Conway, to be moored in the Menai Straits just off Plas Newydd, in Anglesey.

ConwayHMS Conway moored off Plas Newydd
We both joined Conway on the same day in 1960.
John remained working at sea until he retired last year after many years as a Master Mariner.DSC03019rThe Peter & Paul fortress – Peter the Great had this built for defense against the Swedish forces during the Great Northern War (1700-1721), it was designed as a star fortress.

 

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The above was copied from the internet – on the main river side it has a small beach.

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When we were in St Petersburg it was warm enough to sit on the beach, but I bet they have the shortest of seasons. The above is from the internet.

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Taken from a boat on the river – we were quite a distance away but with cropping and zooming it gives you an idea.

There were many statues & monuments that we were shown, but I was interested in the people, and a visit to a local farmers’ market called, I think,  Kuznechnyy Pereulok, I found interesting.

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Couldn’t resist the tram, which we didn’t use.

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On the left counters full of cheese and on the right fresh vegetables.

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For the carnivores  . . .

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Garlic of sorts, not long after they had opened –
the assistant is either asleep or on Facebook..

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In the centre a colourful display of fruit and veg. If looks could kill!

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If you like fresh bread, don’t buy the above, because they are all made of cheese – none of the items contain flour.

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Perhaps a chocolate to finish the meal.

The stall holders have to pay for the space of course, but outside the station along the pavements edge are others selling food cheaper, but risking prosecution if the police arrive.

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We start our way down to the rail-metro network, one of the deepest, if not the deepest network in the world. Built to be used as a bomb shelter in case of a nuclear attack, as well as move people around the city. The deepest part is 86 mtrs (282 feet) and the system handled 740 million passengers in 2016.

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It is so deep the escalators take over two and a half minutes to get to the bottom. For an average a Russian worker using the metro everyday, five days a week, fifty weeks a year, he /she would spend about two days (48 hours) a year on one of these escalators.
Notice the lack of advertising, we saw plenty of people reading books or messing with their phone, during the transit to/from the trains.
Extrapolating the figures for 2016 the citizens of St Petersburg spent over four million years riding the escalators – and I allowed each one to have two weeks off :- o)

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We’ve reached the bottom.

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Our train has arrived – they run about every two and a half minutes. Note the lack of rubbish or graffiti.

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The only underground memorial statue in St Petersburg, it is a statue of Alexander Pushkin.

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 Beam me up Scotty! (which was never actually said in Star Treck)
Perhaps it is a stairway to heaven
At the bottom of each escalator a person sat in a small hut and watched what was going on in case of an accident. I’ve no idea how long they were expected to sit and watch . . .I couldn’t think of a more boring job, but still an important job, someone had to shut off the power in an emergency.rc

Daylight again and on to the next place of interest.

Initial impressions

DSC08510rOur cabin (or to be PC our stateroom)

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The balcony was a decent size, with a table, two chairs and two foot stools.

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The Atrium or Piazza as it is called in this class of ship, covered three decks in the centre of the vessel.

Each early evening a female string quartet,

DSC08809ror a small jazz band

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or a piano player

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would supply background music.

One afternoon we had four players from the Chinese National Orchestra, who played a short piece to advertise their evening performances.

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On our second evening, while sailing between Naples and Santorini it was the first of four formal nights anticipated for the twenty-eight day cruise. This first formal evening was the evening when the Master and his senior staff were presented to the passengers, over drinks of course!

DSC08580rThe Italian Master had been in command for the past seven months during the fitting out procedure and the first few weeks cruising around the Mediterranean. He left the ship for home leave when we arrived in Dubai, and was replaced by a British Master.

DSC08574rThe Staff Captain was British, but he did not take over command in Dubai.
All the senior people, which included engineers, doctor, hotel staff, chefs, were presented to the passengers.

DSC08571rThe Champaign fountain had been built during the afternoon and I was pleased that the sea was calm . . .

DSC08581rThe maître d’ using two more bottles of Champaign for the trickle down fountain. Free welcome aboard drinks for all . . . . . . .
Most people dressed accordingly for a formal evening – dinner or dark suits, and the ladies in evening dresses.

DSC08573rMaureen (my wife) on the left – Will Wood from New Zealand, his wife Mei has yet to arrive, John & Fiona Cuthbert on the right. Both Will & John have recently retired after a life time at sea – both held command.
The badge on John’s cummerbund was presented to him by the officers of HMS Northumberland, during his and HMS Northumberland’s time in the Falkland Islands. John came from the Newcastle area in the UK.
I booked Maureen & I on the cruise and mentioned this to Will, who asked if he and his wife Mei, could come along, which pleased me greatly. We then ‘ganged’ up and persuaded John, who still lives in the UK to also join us.
The three of us joined HMS Conway together in September 1960, and have kept in touch off and on during the last fifty-seven years, so it was really great to meet up once again for the cruise to Singapore. A bit of a busman’s holiday for Will & John.

Knowing that we would have four ‘formal’ evenings I splashed out and bought a new suit – the original man in black. It was an ordinary suit because I no longer attend functions that require a dinner suit (not since the early 1980’s),

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On unpacking the suit in our hotel in Civitavecchia, to hang it and avoid creases, I found out that I had only packed the jacket. The suit was in a special carry bag and I’d forgotten that the pants had been sent away for a small alteration, and on their return I had left them on their own hanger instead of under the jacket . . . .
I visited every possible shop in Civitavecchia looking for a pair of black pants. They had black pants, but not my size.
Fortunately during our ‘walk about’ in Naples we passed a clothing store and I was able to buy a pair that matched the black of the jacket. . . . an expensive mistake, but I now have an extra pair of pants that matches the suit.

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A small shop near the above location saved the day for me.

Quit ye like men and they did . . .

 

From the beginning the ship attracted a certain type of boy.

1860 Mathew Webb captain_matthew_webbwent on to be the first man to swim the English Channel.

1861 Warrington Baden Powell  later in life was the founder of the Sea Scouts.

1868 Admiral Sir  Sackville Carden Carden KCMG RN sir_sackville_carden was asked by Churchill, who was First Lord of the Admiralty, to produce a strategy to knock Turkey out of the First World War. His plan was accepted and he was in charge of the initial landings, which were successful. He was replaced when he became ill and his plan was altered, which included landing troops further south than the original plan – this alteration became the Gallipoli failure.

1871 Sir Hamilton Gould Adams hamilton_goold-adams commanded the troops that defeated the Matabele 1893 and was in command of Mafeking through out the siege. As Governor of Queensland he laid the foundation stone for Brisbane town hall in 1917.

In 1889 The Cadet was started – I had the whole magazine in 1960.I can not remember what happened the-cadet-frontback-cover

to the innards. Above is the front & back of the same edition.

herbert-haddockOn a different note Capt. Herbert Haddock (Conway 1875- 77) was the first Captain of the Titanic. He delivered the vessel to the White Star Line, (from the builders) at which time, even though he was one of the Company’s most experienced captains, he was removed and posted to the Olympic as commander, and Captain Smith of the Olympic was given command of the Titanic.

james-moodyJames Moody (1902-03) was the sixth officer on the Titanic and had only been at sea for six years. He stayed with the ship making sure the lifeboats got away until the end, he didn’t survive the sinking. There is memorial to him Woodland Cemetery Scarborough.

capt-_arthur_h-_rostron_r-d-_r-n-r 1885 Sir Arthur Henry Rostron – he was thirteen when he joined Conway and in 1895 he joined Cunard Line. He was Captain of the Carpathia in 1912, and rescued nearly 700 survivors of the Titanic. Later he commanded the Mauritania and was Commodore of the Cunard Line.

philip_bent1912 Lt Colonel Philip Bent VC, DSO gained his 2nd Mates ticket after leaving Conway, but volunteered for the army in 1914 as a private solider, and was posted to the Leicestershire Regiment. His regiment was sent to the Western Front.
Losses were so great that within three year this 23 year old had been promoted from the ranks through various positions to become Lt Colonel of his regiment. His battalion attacked Polygon Wood in Belgium. The attack was unsuccessful and the Germans counter attacked the British lines. The situation became critical, so Colonel Bent collected a platoon that was in reserve and a number of other soldiers and lead them in to a counter attack. He lead from the front shouting ‘Come on Tigers’ – unfortunately he was killed, but the attack was successful. For his bravery he was awarded the VC.

In WW1 Conway cadets were awarded 3 VC,(Victoria Cross, the highest award for bravery in the British military, it has only been award to 1358 times since 1856) 42 DSO, (awarded to officers in the army above Captain – it was considered that the individual had just missed out on a VC), 48 DSC (a navy medal), 21 MC, (Military Cross usually given for bravery on land), 2 AFC, 4 DFC (the AFC stands for Air Force Cross and the DFC is Distinguished Flying Cross) unusual awards for cadets of a naval college.

During WW2 the Commander (2nd in charge) of HMS Ajax at the battle of the River Plate was Douglas Everett 1911-13. Rear Admiral Everett, as he was to become, was Chief Staff Officer for the planning of the invasion of Sicily, and later Commander in Chief Hong Kong amongst other senior appointments.

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Ian Fraser 1936 – 38 – commanded a midget submarine against the Japanese. During his approach to the Japanese cruiser Takao, he deliberately left the safe channel and entered a minefield to avoid being detected by hydrophones. The target was in very low water and only the midship section was where the water was deep enough for him to place his mines. After forty minutes approaching the cruiser he forced his own craft under the centre of the target. He placed limpet mines and dropped his main charges, which were attached to his midget sub. He had great difficulty in extracting his midget sub from under the cruiser, but eventually he was clear and made his way out to sea through mined waters. he was awarded the VC and the Legion of Merit by the USA. When the mines exploded they blew a hole in the cruiser 20 x 10 mt (66 ft x 33 ft)

Beneath the waves – lionel_crabbBuster Crabb  1922 – 23 – in WW2 he volunteered for mine and bomb disposal and was posted to Gibraltar in 1942. The Italians, using human torpedoes, attacked Gibraltar from Algeciras in neutral Spain. Crabb scouted the harbour at night looking for unexploded under water bombs. For his work and courage he was awarded the George medal, which is the second highest award for a civilian. In 1948 he spent time checking the hulls of ships for mines in Haifa in Israel.In 1956 he disappeared while diving near a Russian warship in Portsmouth harbour. Officially he was reported drowned, but rumors have it that he was working for MI6 Some say he was captured and taken aboard the Russian vessel. A corpse was found later that year, but it was badly decomposed and its head was missing along with its hands  . . . . .

On the literary side for Conway we havejohn_masefield John Masefield (1891-94) the poet laureate, who wrote many poems linked to the sea. Sea Fever being one of his most popular along with  Cargos

This short poem was found after his ashes had ben interned in the poet’s corner in Westminster Abbey.

 

Let no religious rite be done or read
In any place for me when I am dead,
But burn my body into ash, and scatter
The ash in secret into running water,
Or on the windy down, and let none see;
And then thank God that there’s an end of me.

duffdoug Douglas V Duff  (1914 – 15) – author of over one hundred novels after an exciting ‘Boys Own’ real life. His ship was torpedoed in 1917 (he was sixteen at the time)  and was one of only two survivors. He went back to sea and was torpedoed again when he was eighteen. After the war he joined the Royal Ulster Constabulary and tried to arrest Michael Collins, who told him not to be daft because he was surrounded by body guards and they would shoot him. Later he joined the Palestine Police Force. The photo is of him in the Palestine Police uniform. In WW2 he joined the Dover patrol, set submarine nets in the Suez Canal and sailed a schooner called ‘Eskimo Nell’ through the German blockade in to Tobruk. He later became involved in broadcasting and TV work until his death in 1978.

In more modern times we have

cyril_abrahamCyril Abrahams (1928 -30) author of the Onedin Line.

There are a large number of Conway authors, some writing text books, others biographies and yet others novels.

In the sporting field we had Sir clive_woodwardClive Woodward Coach / Manager of the British rugby team that won the World Cup 2003.

D.G Chapman represented Great Britain in the Amsterdam Olympics 1928

John Bligh – rugby for England – Walter Elliot Rugby for England – E.A Hamilton-Hill Rugby for England

Jay ‘Birdie’ Hooper – represented Bermuda in the 1964 Tokyo Olympics.

Back to the sea for one family –

The Warwick family –

bil_warwickCaptain Bil Warwick 1926 – 28, Master of the Queen Elizabeth & Queen Mary and he was the first Master of Queen Elizabeth II, and later became the fourth Conway to be come Commodore of the Cunard Line.

His brother was also an old Conway 1948 – 49 and went to sea, and his son Eldon John 1955-56 followed the family to sea and ended up in command of his own ship.

Bill’s youngest son

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Ron Warwick 1956 -57, after a number of years at sea became chief officer of Queen Elizabeth II when she was requisitioned for the Falkland war. In 1990 he was appointed Captain of the Queen Elizabeth II and later became the first Captain of Queen Mary II and in 2003 became the Commodore of Cunard.

Falkland War

The invasion was reported by the British Antarctic Survey Base commander Steve Martin 1970-73.

Later Brian Lockwood 1972-74 reported that the Argentinians had landed on South Georgia.

When the decision to retake the Falkland Islands had been made the Assistant Chief of Defence, Vice Admiral David Brown 1941 – 45, got to work.

He had the help from other Conway cadets – Deputy Chief of Fleet Support Rear Admiral Edwards 1941 – 44.

Preparing the Royal Fleet Auxiliary Captain Butterworth 1941 – 43

Chief of Staff to the Joint Service Commander of the task force Vice Admiral Peter Woodhead 1954 – 57

Passenger ship ‘Queen Elizabeth II’ Chief Officer R. W. Warwick 1956 -57

Chief Officer of the Norland (which was a North Sea ferry fitted out as a troop ship) R. B. Lough 1961 – 63

Geesport a forward support ship – Captian G de Ferry Foster 1954 – 56

Europic Ferry – carrying troops, helicopters and equipment – Master W. Clarke 1959 -62, Chief officer Norman Bamford 1961 – 63, Second officer Alan Burns 1948 – 50 and one of the Staff Sergeants being ferried to war R.L Peacock 1969 – 71

Baltic Ferry – Master E. Harrison 1954 – 56 Second officer Bill Langton 1967 – 69

RFA Fort George Master DGM Averill 1941 – 43

RFA Sir Tristram master Captain G Green 1949 – 51

There were eight other old Conway’s involved  – I don’t think the Argentinians realised what was about to happen to them now that HMS Conway was involved.   :-o)

What ever your politics in the UK Ian Duncan Smith 1969 – 74 used to be the leader of the Tory party in the UK. Currently an MP in the British Parliament.

capt-hewittCaptain Eric Hewitt 1919 – 21 – he joined the RNR (Royal Navy Reserves) on leaving Conway and completed his sea time for 2nd Mates in the merchant navy. On the outbreak of war in 1939 he was called up for the RNR, and having served over the years in the RNR held the rank of Lt Commander.

He served in the Indian Ocean, Persian Gulf and took part in the invasion of Sicily. He was mentioned in dispatches for protecting a Mediterranean convoy. He was involved with the Normandy landings and when promoted to Captain he was the youngest serving Captain in the RNR.

He was on Earl Mountbatten’s staff in Singapore responsible for the movement of all ships in the Far East. He followed Mountbatten to India to supervise the withdrawal of British forces from India by sea.

In 1948 he accepted the position of Staff Captain at HMS Conway and the following year he was Captain Superintendent. It was Captain Hewitt who interviewed me when I applied to join the Conway.

In 1956 Captain Hewitt was ADC to HM The Queen and later became High Sheriff of Anglesey.

Captain Hewitt was a fine example for hundreds of Conway cadets over the years. He died in 1995 at the age of 91.

The above list of old Conway boys is just a very small sample of the 11,000 cadets that experienced life as a young teenager at HMS Conway between 1859 and 1974.

Conway closed in 1974, so it’ll not be long before we can no longer say ‘You’ll find on the bridge a Conway boy.’

Ship ahoy!

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1 Corinthians 16 : 13 – stand firm in the faith an apt moto.

In a number of my blogs I have mentioned HMS Conway Nautical College, and some of my readers have asked various questions, so I thought I’d do a more detailed blog of ‘The Conway’.

In the mid 1800’s Great Britain had the largest merchant fleet in the world – in fact the British fleet was larger than the combined fleets of all other nations.

Because the British requirement was so large it caused problems of lack of seamen and officers. The British Government at that time produced a report in 1848 because safety standards were so low. At that time there wasn’t any formal training of officers in the merchant navy.

The Government passed the Mercantile Marine Act of 1850, which established a system of examining masters and mates who wished to sail deep sea. A further Act of 1854 set the system that British vessels had to have certificated officers, who had been properly trained, in command.

Liverpool ship owners realised that they needed to set up a system to train officers for their own future. They created the Mercantile Marine Services Association and one their first acts was to create a school for the training of boys to become officers in the merchant navy.

The MMSA (as it became known) asked the Government for help in the form of a Royal Navy ship to use as a training school. The vessel offered was quite large and would have cost too much money to refit as a school, so they asked for a smaller ship, and the Government offered a sixth rate frigate, called HMS Conway. She was 26 guns and 652 tons.

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HMS Conway 1859

She was fitted out in Devonport, which is in the UK, and sailed to the River Mersey to be moored off Rock Ferry, on the Birkenhead side of the Mersey, which is across the river from Liverpool.

The school opened for ‘business’ on the 1st August, 1859, after an extensive conversion from a man of war to a ‘school’ ship.

The Conway was so successful that by 1861 they had outgrown the sixth rate ship, and a larger vessel was obtained from the Government, HMS Winchester, which was a fourth rate frigate. She  was renamed Conway and the ‘old’ Conway was renamed Winchester.

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HMS Conway – nee Winchester 1861

In 1864 Queen Victoria recognised Conway’s success in training boys for the merchant navy by granting £50 a year to be distributed in prizes and a gold medal. In the Conway Chapel in Birkenhead there is a medal board with the names of every winner of the Queen’s Gold Medal. Later the medal became known as the King’s medal and when I was on the Conway 1960 – 62 it had reverted to the Queen’s medal.

By 1875, due to Royal patronage, they’d outgrown the old ‘Winchester’, so they had to find a larger ship – this time the Government offered HMS Nile, a second rate frigate. She was, 2,622 tons and designed for a crew of 850.

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HMS Conway – nee Nile 1875

The conversion took over a year, but by 1876 HMS Nile had become HMS Conway and the old ‘Winchester’ sailed away as HMS Nile.

A thirteen year old boy attending HMS Conway for two years and passing the examinations at the end of his time, would only have to do three instead of four years as an apprentice sailing deep sea. Shipping companies realised the value of hiring a Conway cadet, because they used to donate various prizes (binoculars, sextant, tankard, books, gold / silver watches) for those cadets who achieved the best passes in various subjects.

During the air raids in WW2 the cadets had a ring side seat of the bombing of Liverpool and Birkenhead. The Germans used to drop magnetic mines by parachute in to the river so as to explode when close to a ship. One fell close to the Conway and only the drag of the parachute kept it from hitting the ship. Although much of her was wood she still had a lot of metal on and around her. It was this incident that caused the authorities to decide to move the Conway to a less exposed site.

From a personal aspect during one of the raids my grand mother’s home, which was not far from Birkenhead docks, was hit, and in the language of the time ‘they were bombed out,’ which meant that they had lost their home. Fortunately they were in an air raid shelter when the bomb hit the house.

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The above photograph is of the local underground railway station near my grandmother’s home, which was bombed.

At that time my mother was living with my father’s mother, who was a widow, while Dad was at sea in the Royal Navy. The house was near Cammell Lairds ship yard, and they were fortunate that their house was spared amongst so many lost in the area. Much of the bombing was against the ship yard.

HMS Conway was moved to a safe location off Bangor in North Wales, where she stayed from 1941 to 1949.

The demand for qualified sea going staff in both the Royal and Merchant navy had cause an over crowding problem on the Conway so she was moved to a mooring in the Menai Straits off the Marquis of Anglesey’s home Plas Newydd. The Marquis had agreed that certain land based facilities could be created on his estate, which eased the over crowded ship board life.

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By 1953 it was evident that HMS Conway required a Dry Dock – the last one being in 1937 and she was after all 114 years old having been launched in 1839 as HMS Nile, and there were very few wooden walled ships left.

Arrangements were made and tugs allocated to take the old ship through the Swillies, which is a stretch of water between the two bridges that link the mainland of Wales and the Isle of Anglesey. It is a dangerous area with the northern tide meeting the same tide from the south. Ther area has shoals, sandbanks and rocks.

The journey started well, but during the time she was in the Swillies the tide became too strong for the tugs, and the Conway ran aground on a rock shelf.

conway_agroundAs the tide dropped it was realised that only the forward part was on the rock shelf and the stern area was overhanging the end of the rock – she broke her back.

brokenbackYou can see how the line of the ship has changed

framedTaken from ashore at the bow some time later.

Only a handful of cadets where onboard when the loss occurred, because it was during a holiday period.

Some fast thinking had to be done to arrange accommodation for nearly 200 cadets when they returned from leave and realised that the ship was a total loss. The Marquis of Anglesey was very generous in allowing the Captain of the Conway to take over some fields and build a tent ‘town’ to accommodate everyone. The Marquis also promised land on which a new college could be built, after everything had been sorted out.

When the cadets returned for the winter term they found that the tents had been removed and barrack style camp had been created.

conway_camp_aerialThe large house at the top of the picture is Plas Newydd – the Marquis’ home.

Each hut could sleep twenty cadets with a small bedroom at one end for the cadet captain.

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I took this photograph in 1961 of the hut (as it was called) where I lived at the time and designated Starboard Main. The hut had one toilet, and outside was a small drinking fountain. But for showers and other facilities we had to run quite a long way. We were never allowed to walk, unless we were in a squad. See below.

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I took this photograph in 2004 from approximately the position of my hut to the building that contained the showers, and you can see how far it was for us to run at 6.00 am on a winter’s morning in North Wales. It was COLD!

In 1956 a company from South Wales was given the task of dismantling the ship. On the night of the 30th October the ship caught fire. It was built out of wood that had been polished and scrubbed for over a hundred years with wax and polish – the fire grew and grew. The local fire brigade fought it for three hours, and it looked like they where winning until the wind changed and they had to retreat. The fire burned for eighteen hours and could be seen for miles.

It was August 1961 when the foundation stone was laid for the new college. One hundred and two years to the day that the first cadet had joined Conway in the Mersey.
In 1963 as the cadets left for summer leave they didn’t know what to expect on their return. None could remember the move from the tents to the camp area and now the camp would be demolished during leave and the next chapter for HMS Conway was in the new buildings.

new-collegeThe official opening was performed by HRH the Duke of Edinburgh on the  6th May 1964.

Although I wasn’t at the opening I have read one comment made by the Duke during his opening presentation – ‘Education is not a system for accumulating facts, it must prepare people to meet the responsibilities and challenges of civilised life.’

A handy comment in today’s shattered world of terrorism.

By 1973 the world had changed and British shipping was in decline – partly due to containerisation.

The demand for cadets had fallen and the cost of maintaining the college grew and grew. Cheshire County Council took over management and eventually the shipping industry changed and some shipping companies wanted to train their own cadets as long as they had ‘A’ level passes in national exams. This drained the application numbers from Conway, because if a cadet was taken by a shipping company he was paid, whereas his family had to pay for him to attend Conway.

I left the sea because it was believed that one large container ship would put six standard ships out of work – and the thought of competing for jobs against more experienced merchant navy officers helped me make up my mind to leave the sea. The fact that I wanted to marry also helped me to make this decision – so I joined an airline.

During its life of 115 years HMS Conway trained over 11,000 cadets – and Britain from having a merchant fleet larger than the combined fleets of all other nations, has now the tenth largest fleet in the world. (as at 2006).

They used to say ‘and you’ll find on the bridge a Conway boy . . . . ‘ not many left – a few lines below of the Conway song called – ‘Carry On’

From every distant sea and shore,
You’ll hear the cry
“Ship ahoy! Ship ahoy!”
And you’ll find on the bridge a Conway Boy,

If you wish to know more you can buy the latest history of   HMS Conway from Amazon. A very good read by Alfie Windsor ex Conway 1964 – 68.

The picture at the top of my blog shows part of the Swellies and one of the bridges linking mainland Wales and Anglesey.

The great affair is to move

 

According to Robert Louis Stevenson –

‘I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel’s sake.

The great affair is to move.’

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I visited the UK to take part in a reunion – it had been fifty years since I left the nautical college HMS Conway to go to sea – once at sea my great affair was to keep moving.

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My time in the Conway was when she was a shore based establishment in the grounds of Plas Newydd, the Marquis of Anglesey’s home and estate on the isle of Anglesey, which is off the north coast of Wales.

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My first three months were spent in the Marquis’ house, and you see can that the views across to Snowdon, which is on the mainland of Wales, are spectacular.

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The Snowdon range can be seen in the background – this picture was taken from the front of Plas Newydd.

Every cadet was expected to be able to be able to swim, and each year we had to take part in a swimming race across the Menai Straits and back again. The race was from Plas Newydd to the house that can be seen on the other side. We had rescue boats floating around just in case anyone was in trouble, but fortunately they were seldom required.During one swim the worst time for me was on the return when we had to swim through a smack of jelly fish – I was told that they were Portuguese men of war. It slowed us down as we waved the jellyfish away and hoped that the tentacles were not too long.

I was at Conway for two years and it took me that long to learn how to pronounce Llanfair PG, which was the closest railway station to Plas Newydd.

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The meaning in English is below

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Of course during the reunion we had to visit Snowdon, a mountain full of memories, because we used to climb this area and have to take part in initiative challenges.
Those of us who took part were in teams of three cadets.
One test that comes to mind was when the team that I was in came to a small lake and the waiting officer told us that at the bottom of the lake was a sunken submarine and that our job was to raise this vessel.
The sub was a large tank with a hole in it, which we had to secure before we could pump the water out so that the ‘sub’ would float. The water was freezing and of course we didn’t have any swimming trunks or towels, so we had to take it in turns to dive in and swim to the bottom to screw the plate back on to make the sub waterproof. The outside temperature was cold enough to discourage tourist  so there wasn’t any fear of us being charged as ‘flashers’. This was well before the PC brigade had been invented and well before the requirement of the current H & S regulations.
We were all between sixteen and seventeen years old, and it was expected of us to look after each other, to use our initiative, and common sense.

In all of the tests there was a requirement to workout certain maths, physics or navigational problems relating to the test, it was not all physical activity, but it was always cold.

My favorite memory of the climbing and hiking was that I used to carry Kendal Mint  cake for instant energy – it wasn’t ‘cake’, but a bar of whiteish chocolate, but not a chocolate taste. It worked wonders to keep me going.

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During the reunion and being fifty years older, we were taking the easy way to the top.

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Quite pleasant as we left the station

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 The scenery was just as dramatic as long ago and

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the summer weather was just as fickle.

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and some of us managed to climb to the top of Snowdon 1085 mtrs (3,560 ft) above sea level. I had to hold on to my glasses as the wind was very strong – check the two on the right trying to come down.

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My glasses, hands and everything else which was lose was in my pockets.

Sea Fever

I was fortunate to attend HMS Conway, which was a training ship (see picture below) to supply officers for the merchant and Royal Navy – most us went in to the merchant service.

The college began in 1859, and I attended ‘Conway’ between 1960 and 1962. During my time we lived in barracks because the old ship had run aground and broken her back in 1953 while being towed through the Swillies, which is a very dangerous stretch of water  between the North Wales coast and the Isle on Anglesey. She was on her way to dry dock in Birkenhead, but never made it.  . . .

Conway-01After leaving Conway in 1962, I went to sea, and my first ship was a tanker, the Ellenga, with a gross tonnage of 24,246 gt. At that time she was quite a large vessel.

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Tomorrow we sail from Sydney harbour aboard the Diamond Princess, which is just under 116,000 dwt and nearly five times the size of my first ship.

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The above was taken last September, (2015), and the small yellow / green ship is a Sydney harbour ferry. The black vessel is a tanker bunkering the Diamond Princess moored alongside the Sydney Cruise Terminal, where she will be tomorrow when we join her.

For many of us who went to sea as young men (I was eighteen on my first trip) never lose the love of the ocean. One old Conway, John Masefield, captured the feeling of the sea when he wrote Sea Fever.

Sea Fever

By John Masefield.  HMS Conway 1891-94.

I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by;
And the wheel’s kick and the wind’s song and the white sail’s shaking,
And a grey mist on the sea’s face, and a grey dawn breaking.

I must go down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;
And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,
And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.

I must go down to the seas again, to the vagrant gypsy life,
To the gull’s way and the whale’s way where the wind’s like a whetted knife;
And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover,
And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick’s over.

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South China Sea in 1967 at the start of a typhoon.
Cargo ship ‘Pundua’, built 1945, 7,295 gt
I think I prefer
Diamond Princess, built 2004, 116,000 gt
Tomorrow, thanks to our daughter & son-in-law, a hire limo will transport us for the expected hour’s run to the cruise terminal. Our check-in is 11.30 am, so all being well we will have lunch on board.