Floating school – HMTS Dunera

ehs-Dunera-postcard

M/S Dunera in Malta

After a four month voyage in MV Chilka to East Africa, I was allowed ten days leave before the telegram arrived that I as to join MS Dunera in Venice.

Alitalia

Three days later I flew with Alitalia from London to Venice, via Milan.

Fortunately, ALITALIA didn’t live up to her acronym Always Late In Transit and Late In Arriving – we arrived on time, and I was met by the Company’s agent and taken to Dunera – she was moored alongside St Mark’s Square.

Big-cruise-ships-no-longer-allowed-in-Venice

Large passenger vessels are no longer allowed to berth alongside St Mark’s Square.

The above shows MSC Fantasia, at 137,936 gt, with 3,300 passengers –
MS Dunera was 12,620 gt with 834 students, in dormitories, and 194 first class cabins.
Is it any wonder the authorities put a stop to large cruise ships berthing alongside St Mark’s Square.
I think that berthing at St Mark’s Square was stopped in 2014, when the new cruise terminal opened. Now they are talking of banning large vessels in the Venice lagoon altogether, because of the vessel’s wash, even when moving very slowly, is causing damage to the buildings.

MS Dunera was a troop ship for the British Government, having been launched in 1937. She trooped to the Middle East, South Africa, Singapore and Australia between 1939 and 1941. In 1942 she took part in the Madagascar landings during Operation Ironbark, which has a link to me. During this operation my father was involved in the landings as a sailor aboard another Company troop ship named Karanja. It was only many years later that I found out about this long link of six degrees of separation.
MS Dunera was also the headquarter vessel for the US 7th Army during the invasion of Southern France in April 1944.

Dunera_Troop

HMT Dunera, as a troop ship.

In 1961/2 the British Government decided to suspend all sea going trooping and only to use air, which left several troop ships unemployed.

B.I.S.N.C had experienced operating school ships in the 1930’s, so they thought that they would reintroduce the concept in the early 60’s, and convert their troop ships to becoming ‘school ships’ – ships that specialised in taking school children on educational cruises.
In its first year as a school ship, Dunera carried over 10,000 school children around Europe to famous historical sites.

Once I’d stowed my gear in a cabin that I shared with three other cadets, I spent some time familiarising myself with the ship.

We sailed the following evening with a full compliment of British school children who had been flown out by chartered aircraft from the UK.

Our first day at sea was instructing the students about lifeboat drill, and how to put on a life jacket, which were different, but similar to today’s jackets. The main purpose in the ’60’s was to force ones head above water,. The current jackets do the same thing, but in a more ‘friendly’ fashion.

Muster1

1965

MusterDrill2

2018

Just a  little bit of trivia – the first life jacket was created in 1854 by Captain Ward who was  a British Royal National Life Boat inspector. He created it so that his lifeboat crews would have a better chance of surviving, considering that most of the time they only put to sea in bad weather, to rescue crews of stranded vessels.

The next job for the cadets was not as pleasant as chatting to the passengers and showing  them how to wear a life jacket – it was to chlorinate the swimming pool, before it could be used.

Pool

Picture thanks to John Coulthard, who also sailed in MS Dunera as Staff Second Officer in 1965. He joined MS Dunera the day I left.
As you see the pool was nothing like the fancy pools on offer by today’s cruise ships. I never heard of any complaints though, particularly when it was hot.

Our first port of call was Corfu – the photograph below was taken in 1965.

Corfu

dunera_corfu_ws

MS Dunera anchored off Corfu, or Keykyra in Greek.

The island didn’t have the facilities even for such a small (in comparison to today), cruise ships, so we anchored off and the motorised lifeboats were lowered, and it was the cadets job of coxing a lifeboat each full of passengers, and take them ashore. There was a small pier that we used to discharge the passengers safely. The ferrying began at 9.30 am and it wasn’t long before all of the passengers were ashore.

reg4r

Once again I am indebted to John Coulthard for the above two photographs.

As you see the ‘tender’ boat, (lifeboat) taking passengers ashore was nothing like the tender boat (lifeboat) of today, see below during our cruise earlier this year.

tender

A Diamond Princess tender ferrying passengers ashore in Nha Trang,  Vietnam.

At each port that we visited coaches were waiting for the students, with an English speaking guide, and the students were shown around the main sites, and had talks on the history and culture of each place visited.
The students knew that they had to pay attention, because they had essays to write, either during ‘lesson’ time on-board, or when they returned to their schools.
The big plus for the cadets was that we could board one of the coaches and visit the location for free. I took advantage of this facility in each port, because I knew I wouldn’t pay to return.
I was wrong, because fifty years later in 2015, I did return to some of the places that I’d visited while in Dunera.

When ever we took advantage of the free tour we had to make sure we were back in time to man the lifeboats for the return trip to the ship. The return trips in Corfu began at 3.30 pm the last boat from the shore was 5.45 pm and we sailed at 6.00 pm, for Itea.

Itea

Itea and once again the passengers were ferried ashore.
Today they have a jetty that can take larger cruise ships.

port-of-itea-kassoutsa-aegency

Both of the above were found on the internet – royalty free.

Cruise

Life on board to follow . . .

Ice Cold in Aden.

 

chilka2M/V Chilka

The Bay of Biscay and Gibraltar behind us and Chilka heads for Almeria on the southern coats of Spain.Almaria

From memory it was a small town with few attractions for the cadets, but we loaded over 2000 barrels of grapes in to our freezer chambers destined for Mombasa, in Kenya.
Chilka was not a freezer ship, but a dry cargo vessel, with some freezer / chiller cargo space.

At the same time, we were unloading bags of cement. Each day during the passage from London we tested the bilges for water, and at each test we found that we were dry, which was unusual, because we always had some water in the bilges. On arrival in Almeria we began to discharge the bags and found that the cement had been contaminated with water and had set hard. The noise of jackhammers was soon heard as we completed the discharge of cement.

devonia_mta

Our next port was Malta where we berthed near the BISNC company school ship Devonia. This vessel had been a troop ship and had been converted to carry school children around Europe on educational cruises.
The Devonia cadets where known to all of us cadets in the Chilka, so that evening it was an ‘educational’ down the Gut as it is locally known, or as its correct name Strait Street (Strada Stretta, in Maltese) – which was a famous bar area of Malta in the 1950’s & the early 60’s. We were only in Malta for the one night and sailed the next day for Port Said to join the southbound convoy through the canal.
The British had helped Malta to be free of the French in 1800, and Malta had asked to be a sovereign nation within the British Empire – this was granted at the end of the Napoleonic war in 1815.
Malta was given complete self rule after WW2, in 1947, and she was considering the idea of being part of the UK, or have dominion status in the same way as Australia, Canada & New Zealand, but later decided on becoming an independent country, which took place in September 1964, and at the same time she joined the Commonwealth.

the_gut__valletta__malta_by_triathlonjohn

Found this on the internet which gives a good idea as to how narrow Strait Street (the GUT) is . . . .GUT

It was a popular place with the Royal Navy, and as we were dressed in ‘civvies’ we stood out some what.

Two days after clearing Port Tewfik, which is at the southern end of the Suez Canal, we were off Port Sudan, and within a short time alongside the wharf.

Port Sudan was a dusty town to say the least, but they did have a picture house, which I visited on my first evening ashore, to see ‘The Great Escape’, because it was the only English-speaking film available.

Great_escape

I’d seen it in the UK, but viewing it in Sudan was a completely different. I had the choice of ‘Stalls’ or ‘Circle’, so for the price I chose the ‘Circle’, which was just as well. Between the Stalls and the Circle area there were rolls of barbed wire to keep ‘Stalls’ patrons from cheating the system and sitting in the Circle, and I thought the barbed wire was to enhance the realty of the film. . . I should get out more.

great escape

From the internet, he was not watching the film with me.

Next day I was invited by the second officer to try out his aqualung off the reef that shielded the port. We borrowed a small boat to get to the reef.
I didn’t have any idea as to how to use an aqualung underwater, so the whole exercise was quite exciting. He explained what I had to do, and how to breathe normally under water, and the experience, for me, was out of this world to be a part of the under-sea creature environment.

port-sudan

I’d been down about ten minutes when the sun over my right shoulder ‘went out’ as if a cloud had passed in front of the sun. The problem was that I’d not seen a cloud in the last two days, so looked up to check what had caused the ‘cloud’. It was a large shark. I didn’t have any idea what type of shark it was; all I knew was that I was in his area and he was bigger and stronger than me. Fortunately, I was able to swim ‘backwards’, while watching the shark, and as soon as I touched the coral reef I felt safer. I don’t know if it is true that a shark would not get too close to a reef in case it damaged itself on the reef, but at the time I trusted this thought, and eventually made my way in to the coral reef’s shallow area, where I was picked up in the borrowed boat. After this episode I only went snorkeling near a reef.

Aden, one of my least ‘favoured’ ports of call was our next stop. We worked cargo at night because of the heat and the nature of the cargo – ice cream and cheese. I’d never seen a cargo unloaded so fast as this cargo during the night. The labour must have been on contract that any loss of ice cream would have been a penalty or perhaps they had been promised an ice cream on completion.

emergency

At the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869, Aden became an important coaling station on the route to India and also as a base against pirates. It seems that not much has changed in the area with regard to pirates since 1869.

Abdel Nasser of Egypt, in late 1963 called for a Pan Arabist cause, which partly ignited the Aden Emergency with the throwing of a grenade in late 1963 at British officials at Aden airport. The grenade killed a woman and injured fifty others. An anti-British campaign had begun using mainly grenades. The two main anti- British groups were the NLF (National Liberation Front) and FLOSY (Front for the Liberation of Occupied South Yemen).
The requirement to keep law and order brought in more and more troops, which is why we had so much ice cream to unload that night.

ICE CREAM - Lyons Ice Cream Poster

My British readers will remember this advert from the mid 60’s.

The British withdrew from Aden at the end on November 1967, the Suez Canal had been closed by Nasser on the eve of the Six Day War, (5th to 10th June 1967), and then it became the demarcation line between the Egyptians and the Israelis forces. This contributed to years of disruption to the Yemeni economy and Aden in particular.

It appears they are still fighting among themselves over fifty years later.

From Aden we set course for Mombasa, in Kenya. Unlike today we did not have to worry about pirates as we sailed down the Somalian coast.

For the movie buffs, I borrowed the title of a film for this blog, with a slight, alteration,

IMG_2787

A classic British film from 1958.