The last voyage of the Pundua – part one

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Chulia St (now known as Lebuh Chulia)

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

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Old Penang

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All my yesterdays :- o)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

All my yesterdays . . .

I heard on the grapevine that a certain bar that I used to frequent in the 1960’s, in Georgetown, Penang, was still in existence.

My wife and I and two other couples were passing through Penang, so I had to try and find my piece of yesterday. The bar was (is) called The Hong Kong Bar and it was favourite watering hole for many a service man based in Malaya and later Malaysia. My first visit would have been in 1963 when I sailed in a cargo ship.

As I turned in to the street I recognised the area and at once became the boring old guy bending my two male colleagues’ ears about life well before PC and the Nanny State of today.

The street in which the Hong Kong Bar is located.

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As I walked in a realised that someone else was on a memory trip. An Australian serviceman and his wife. He was here to do the same thing that I was about to do – lean on the bar and drink in the atmosphere over a glass of Tiger beer.

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The reason I thought the bar had closed is that I’d heard of the fire in the early 1970’s, but the owner had rescued the regimental shields, ships’ crests and air force insignia after the fire and remounted them in their old places around the refurbished bar.

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The column of paper consisted of cash notes from many countries around the world. The bar owner must have been able to rescue this part of the bar decoration from the fire, because I saw old English money that went of of circulation in the early sixties.

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Fresh memorabilia obvious donated since the fire.

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A lady, (in purple) who can just be seen in an earlier photo served me my beer, and soon afterwards the gentleman in yellow came out of the back area and I had the feeling of deja vue, because I thought I recognised him from the 60’s. After a short conversation I realised that this gentleman was the son of the man that I knew, the original owner.

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The same family had owned the bar since the mid fifties and they used to collect photographs of their customers. When I asked if they still had the photographs several large albums where placed on the bar. As I scrolled through them looking for a familiar face I realised that the pictures from the mid 50’s through my period in the 60’s had been lost in the fire.

My recent visit took place in the late morning, which was a first considering that we used to be going back to the ship around breakfast time.

But at nineteen one had stamina  :-o)