Thursday, June 05, 2014

Bill Miller lecturing on the QUEEN VICTORIA

Tuesday, June 3rd At sea: Cool breezes on the starboard side! Interesting diversion & added treat as Cmdr Rynd narrates a morning sail with the QUEEN VICTORIA hugging the Cornish coast and noting at least half a dozen lighthouses – with evocative names like Lizard, Wolf Rock and Eddystone. 
Off to sea! John Jones was a mere boy of fifteen when he walked into the huge and very grand Cunard Building in his native Liverpool. "A man that seemed to be 10 ft tall took me to a room, placed me against a wall and measured my height. Happily, I was just tall enough," recalled John. "I was soon off to training school and then assigned to the SCYTHIA, then 30 years old and sailing on the Liverpool to Quebec City run. I earned 7 pounds a month or 5p an hour. I was given a crimson uniform and pillbox hat and off I went. After that, I had to buy my own uniforms from a London tailor on Saville Row. We were said to be the youngest seamen in the British merchant navy and, as a group, we slept 10-12 to a room. We ran errands onboard, delivered telegrams and other messages, helped in the purser's office and sometimes sat and chatted with passengers, especially ladies in first class, who were traveling alone. One grand lady once had 4 bellboys sitting at her feet!"
John was soon posted to another veteran Cunarder, the FRANCONIA. "She went aground in the St Lawrence, near Quebec City [July 1950], and then needed weeks of repairs. Many of the crew took jobs in the Chateau Frontenac Hotel to stay busy, but mostly to earn extra money."
Afterward, John became what he called a "gypsy". He served with Canadian Pacific, aboard the EMPRESS OF CANADA & EMPRESS OF FRANCE, with Pacific Steam Navigation and their REINA DEL PACIFICO & REINA DEL MAR, on the troopship EMPIRE CLYDE and on the migrant ship GEORGIC. "While with Cunard, I was something of one of those 'Cunard Yanks,' bringing home clothes, food and records from New York. We'd all go to Macy's and Woolworths. We also went to the Market Diner on 12th Avenue & 52nd Street and where the third drink was always free for seamen. We had lots of colonial-type passengers on the West Coast of South America run of the REINA DEL PACIFICO & REINA DEL MAR plus lots of businessmen. It was still three-class and I recall that first class was really too quiet, even too dull, and so these rich, well-dressed passengers would often march down to more casual, fun-filled tourist class in the evenings. Aboard the Empire Clyde, we carried troops, guns and military equipment for the planned British invasion of Egypt in 1956. And as for theGeorgic, which still had damages from being bombed and set afire in the War, she was said to be the 'roughest' passenger ship in the entire British fleet. She was really not fit for regular passenger service. Regular Cunard crews did not want to sail aboard her and sometimes there were too few crew. It was said that Cunard would go to prisons in and around Liverpool and gather-up minor criminals to serve onboard. These crew members were known to cause problems such as brawls and problems with the police in ports of call. They once called a sudden strike in Cape Town and would not re-board the ship, and at another time the ship itself was actually banned from Australian ports. When I served aboard the GEORGIC, we carried 10 pound Poms, those British migrants out to Sydney. Then we sailed up to Malaya, carrying Australian troops. Then it was to Viet-Nam and a charter to the French. We carried troops and evacuees out of troubled French Indo-China. The troops were a rough lot that included wounded, diseased and some hired Africans. We delivered them on a long, hot voyage to Algiers and then to Marseilles."
John was also posted to another Cunarder, the freighter ALSATIA, which was on the London-New York run. "We went, in the dark of a late night, to the rescue of the sinking American freighter FLYING ENTERPRISE. She was foundering off the British coast. We were ready with blankets, medicines and lots of hot soup."
John was soon back to passenger ships by the mid 1950s, however. He continued to be that "gypsy" and sailed aboard Shaw Savill Line, Union-Castle, New Zealand Shipping Company and the exotic Booth Line. At Shaw Savill, he sailed in two of the Company's oldest if smaller liners. "The MATAROA & TAMAROA, used on the long New Zealand run, were two of the oldest and slowest passenger ships in the British fleet by then," he recalled. "It took six weeks to go from London to Auckland via Curacao and the Panama Canal. Occasionally, we'd stop at Pitcairn Island to land supplies and mail. The locals, who were expert rowers, would come out to the anchored ship in open boats. They were very spiritual people. Once, these open boats were caught in a fierce, tropical storm. They all continued to row as they sang hymns. After arriving in New Zealand, we'd stay in local ports for six weeks, mostly loading lamb to be brought back to England. I made extra money by working as a temporary docker. But once I missed the ship and was taken to jail as a deserter. The jail for 2 nights was awful – a straw mattress for a bed and meager rations for food. After I was freed, I was flown – and under police guard -- to the South Island to rejoin the MATAROA. I was taken aboard, brought before the captain and fined a week's pay plus the cost for the jail, police and plane ride. I returned to London with no money – not a penny!"
John also served aboard Union-Castle's BLOEMFONTEIN CASTLE, an all-tourist class ship designed purposely for immigrants and low-fare travelers. "We carried lots of British migrants going out to Rhodesia, but also stopped in Rotterdam and collected Dutch & German migrants as well. Often, they were very poor people. When we'd reach Africa, on their last day onboard, they'd steal food from the dining room. They had no money for food for even their first days ashore."
Aboard London-based New Zealand Shipping Company, John served on the 21,000-ton RANGITOTO, which carried over 400 passengers in all one-class quarters. "NZ Shipping, as it was called, was said to be a cut above Shaw Savill," he remembered. "Their ships were faster and more comfortable."
The Booth Line, also British, maintained an unusual service – across the mid Atlantic from Liverpool to the Caribbean and then 1,000 miles up to the Amazon River to Manaus. He sailed aboard that Company's passenger ships: the HILARY, HILDEBRAND & HUBERT. "These voyages along the Amazon were hot, steamy, thickly humid. The crew would often sleep on deck. Below, if you opened a porthole, insects of all sizes and types would come flooding in! The ships' navigating officers had to be very careful because of submerged rocks and floating logs in the River. Once, we bent the ship's only screw and then limped to Manaus. There was no shipyard in such a remote place and so two Brazilian divers were hired to make repairs. They carved away some of the twisted steel but which actually made the ship faster than before. The chief engineer was more than surprised – and pleased! We carried businessmen, traders and sometimes even a few tourists in first class and missionaries, medical people and teachers in tourist class. The crew often bought parrots and birds in Manaus and then brought them home to Liverpool. Myself, I bought a little Cayman, kept it in my cabin, but then discovered it didn't like colder climates. Soon after landing in Liverpool, I gave it to the Chester Zoo. Liverpool customs were easy in those days. Give them a few pounds and almost anything could be brought in!"
By the early 1960s, John was to go to another passenger ship, the APAPA of Elder Dempster Lines and serving on the Liverpool-West Africa run, but was hired – and almost at the last minute – by Lockheed Aircraft's Liverpool plant. "I was sent for training and became a skilled craftsman – making precision aircraft parts. My life as a seamen – of working 10 hours a day and 90 hours a week – was wonderful, a great education in itself, but it was then over."
Pass the salt! Dinner tonight with Ronnie Keir, a longtime Cunard friend & Chief Engineer of the QUEEN VICTORIA. Expectedly, he has huge knowledge about liners & has a great regard and interest in ships of the past. And being from Scotland, he has special interest in ships & shipbuilding on the historic River Clyde.
Photo: The RANGITOTO, one of New Zealand Shipping's big, 21,000-ton combo passenger-cargo liners, seen at Melbourne.
Texto e imagens /Text and images copyright Bill Miller (Edited by L.M.Correia). Favor não piratear. Respeite o meu trabalho / No piracy, please. For other posts and images, check our archive at the right column of the main page. Click on the photos to see them enlarged. Thanks for your visit and comments. Luís Miguel Correia
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