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Middle-aged, Free and Single


Supernumerary in the South Pacific – Fiji

Posted by 58ANDCOUNTING on SEPTEMBER 15, 2019




WE’D SAILED FROM Hull, stopped off at the European ports and headed for Panama, then we spent time in Tahiti

We left Tahiti at six in the morning, having seen diddly squat of the island – but just sailing around it was amazing. Sunrise in the South Pacific. 

I liked to be on deck when we sailed. There would be a change in the engine noise, then almost imperceptibly the ship would start to move. There was something about leaving the land behind and watching it disappear over the horizon – a sense of perspective, a sense of just how small we are. 

Next stop was Fiji, and the port of Suva. We arrived during daylight, there was money on board. We could go up the road!! Yay!! 

A quick word about money – the guys had their salaries paid in two amounts. An amount went into their bank accounts in the normal way, and another amount was paid onto the ship to cover day-to-day expenses. But every country has its own currency, so the Shipping Agent in each port would bring cash on board which could then be taken as required, like a mini bank.

We had money, and we had daylight, and I was determined to make the most of it.

After discharging and loading cargo in Suva, the ship was going to sail around the island to the second port of Lautoka. We had passengers on board, and they’d found out that they could get a bus across the island (a 6 hour journey), arriving in Lautoka at the same time as the ship. It sounded like a great idea – and I’d arranged to go with them. 

In the end, they decided not to do it, which left me with a dilemma. Should I just go back to the ship with them, like a good girl – or should I take the bus anyway? I was aware, even at the time, that this was truly, probably, a once-in-a-lifetime thing. 

I decided to do it, and I asked them to tell my husband what I was doing. 

I’d like to say it felt like an adventure – but really, to begin with, it just felt like a bus ride. It was a normal service bus, full of people who take the trip across the island all the time. A few more chickens than on a normal service bus in the UK, but other than that, nothing out of the ordinary. Well, not until we got out of the town anyway. Then the metalled road ended and we were on a dirt track, surrounded by rainforest. Small villages, trees I’d never seen before, birds I’d never seen before. And one particularly narrow bridge, where even the locals sat up and took notice.

I got chatting to a student from the States who was on a gap year and heading for the airport. He was studying botany, so I asked him what all the trees were that we could see. ‘I’m not that sort of botanist’, he said. 

We stopped at the market in Sigatoka (pronounced Singatoka), where there was the opportunity for a hole-in-the-ground break. I bought some Ugli fruit to eat (like a grapefruit, but sweeter). 

My friend, the wrong-sort-of-botanist, disembarked at Nadi (pronounced Nandi – I don’t know why they do that). Then next stop was Lautoka. It was dark by the time we arrived. Darkness happens quickly, and early, in the tropics. 

When I arrived, the ship was standing off – I could see her in the distance, lit up. It was the first time I’d seen her properly. In port, you only really see half a ship – a bit like trains if you only ever see them from the platform. 

I chatted to the dockers while I waited, and politely declined their offer of betel nut to pass the time while the ship came alongside.

It was only when I got back on board that I discovered that the message that I would meet the ship in Lautoka hadn’t got through to my husband, or anyone else. This was 1980 – no mobile phones. The ship had had to sail without me… 

There was a fair amount of explaining to do.

Regardless of the fact that I’d effectively jumped ship, should I have gone on my own? Had I taken a huge risk? I don’t know. It certainly never felt like a risk. 

But I do know that if I hadn’t done it, if I’d just meekly gone back to the ship, I would have regretted it then and I would still be regretting it now. 

You only regret the things you don’t do.

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Supernumerary in the South Pacific – TahitiIn “Middle-aged memories”

A Supernumerary at SeaIn “Middle-aged memories”

Physically fit at 58In “Middle-aged me”Merchant NavySouth PacificTahitiFijiSuvaLautokaSigatokaNadi

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4 CommentsADD YOURS

  1. JOAN MUDD says:September 15, 2019 at 12:08 pm Fabulous!LikeReply
    1. 58ANDCOUNTING says:September 15, 2019 at 5:31 pm Thanks hun!!LikeReply
  2. OLDHOWIE says:September 15, 2019 at 6:37 pm Lovely story did… but… you missed the ship so what happened next? On the edge of my seat here lolLikeReply
    1. 58ANDCOUNTING says:September 15, 2019 at 6:43 pm Haha – I crossed the island from Suva to Lautoka, and the shipped sailed round the island from Suva to Lautoka, and came alongside – and I got back on board. Then there was hell to pay. Hey ho.LikeReply

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A Loaded Marabank

Excerpt from the book “TRAMP SHIPS AND FERRY VOYAGES” by Alan Rawlinson

“A handsome pair of larger ships were ordered in 1962 from the new Swan Hunter yard. They were the Speybank and the Marabank, each 486 ft long and around 6000 tons gross, quickly followed by an 11 ship order, 6 of which went to William Doxford in Sunderland, and 5 built by Harland and Wolff in Belfast.  These were bigger 15,900 ton dwt ships of over 500 ft in length, and fitted out with deeptanks and a 50 ton derrick, giving them versatility. The names were,Taybank, Tweedbank, Beechbank, Ernebank, Shirrbank, Teviotbank, Hazelbank, Irisbank, Nairnbank, Maplebank and Gowenbank.        The latter ship had the dubious honour of being the last Bank Line ship to be built at Belfast, ending a spectacular long run of highly successful additions to the fleet.      Then came a 12 ship order in 1972, again from Doxford. Looking at the ever growing need to lift containers, these orders then began to reflect this demand.    The ships got bigger and modified as part container ship, with a modest 192 teu container capacity.  Tonnage was up again to 16,900 dwt. The ships carried the traditional names of  Fleetbank, Cloverbank, Birchbank, Beaverbank, Cedarbank, Firbank, Streambank, Riverbank, Nessbank, Laganbank, Crestbank, and Fenbank. A new design allowed for 4 hatches on the forepart with the accommodation moved aft so only number 5 hatch was at the after end.  The builder provided 6 cylinder oil engines.  They mostly had uneventful lives and were sold on after only a relatively short   stay in the Bank Line fleet, the Laganbank going after only 3 years.     

Swan Hunter Shipbuilders Ltd, South Shields, then got a valuable 6 ship order in 1973.  Called the Corabank class after the lead ship, they were designed to carry 240 teu’s.  and had 11 oil tanks for the Pacific trade. Tonnage was 15,500 dwt, and the names were Corabank, Meadowbank, Forthbank, Moraybank, Ivybank, and Clydebank.    These were relatively successful ships, designed as they were for the growing importance of the Pacific Islands trade”.  

A Liberty Ship voyage on the SANDSEND, by Geoff Walker, author of ” A Tramp for all the Oceans” and ex Bank Line apprentice.

The Last “Samboat” under the Red Ensign

“SS. Sandsend” (ex “Samandora”) 


I had not long completed my apprenticeship with Bank Line and I had not yet turned 20 years of age, so I did a trip as uncertified 3rd Mate with a Hong Kong shipping concern, but trading around Asia was not conducive to saving money, or devoting time for study, especially as a young man.  Hence, I required top-up to my finances so that I could consider going to college somewhere in the UK. Being a permanen Hong Kong resident attending college in the UK for a few months would prove quite expensive for me.

My time of arrival in the UK was unfortunate because the “Seaman’s Strike” was in progress so jobs were not that plentiful. Nevertheless I went to the London Shipping Pool and was offered a short 3 month voyage as 3rd Mate. Little did I know what I was letting myself in for?

The ship was supposed to do a single voyage to Argentina for a cargo of bulk grains back to the UK. She was owned by a company called “Headlams” whose headquarters were in Whitby. A short 3 month trip suited me well and fitted with my future plans, however things were not to be.

I was provided with a ferry ticket to Rotterdam where I was supposed to locate and join a ship called the “Sandsend”. Having arrived in Holland, with no Agent to meet me, I jumped in a Taxi and headed off in search of the ship. The Pool officials in London had informed me that that they had not much information about the ship, so I had no notion of what to look for, but after an hour touring the docks and having almost exhausted my Dutch Guilders, I was no closer, and on the verge of telling the Taxi driver to take me back to the Ferry Terminal. Suddenly, the stern of a rust bucket appeared from behind a dockside warehouse. I could just make out a faded “END” and below “BY” painted on her stern. I had found the elusive ship – “Sandsend”, Port of Registry, Whitby. She was a “Sam Boat” and the only clean thing about her was her Red Ensign fluttering in the breeze.

As my taxi drew alongside the gangway my heart sank and I immediately knew I had been sold a “pup”. The ship was of old WW11 vintage, dirty and very rundown in appearance compared to the type of ships I had been used to sailing on previously. There was little I could do about it so I paid off the Taxi, collected my gear and strode up the gangway. By this time it was about 9pm and try as I may, I could not locate anyone on board. Eventually, I found an empty Pilot’s cabin with an unlocked door so decided to park myself there for the night. With no bedding and cold conditions my first night aboard is best forgotten!

Early next morning, I woke with the sun and set about finding the Master or Chief Mate. I started at the top and knocked on the Master’s cabin door. The Master appeared, half asleep, a big man and dressed in his Pajamas. He seemed not to be expecting me but was not the least bothered when I explained I had joined the previous evening and was unable to find anyone on board. I later discovered he had been Master of the ship since her building in 1944 as “Samandora”.

From the outset the ship was a disaster. The accommodation was of typical WW11 standard; bare steel bulkheads and deck heads, all in need of a good soogieing and paint. My cabin was like a box, quite large but empty except for a small bunk, desk and chair. There was also a locker but the hinges needed replacing so the doors could close properly. The only redeeming feature was the cabin had a large porthole. I stood in the middle of the room, my heart somewhere down by my feet and feeling like a “Shag on a Rock”. I was very depressed to say the least, and hungry to boot.

There was no wash basin, or toilet facilities in the cabin. The Deck Officer’s ablutions were a communal affair just down the passageway from my cabin. The toilets were in a row with half height swinging doors rather like a saloon of the old west days. One looked under the door to find a cubicle with no feet in view. There were a few wash basins with cracked mirrors and 2 Showers, both of which produced little if any water pressure. The pale blue paint scheme added to the triggering and onset of a bad headache.

Having signed the ship’s articles; which incidentally I was very hesitant to do right up until the last moment. This was mainly due to them being of the Two Year variety, contrary to me having been guaranteed only a three month trip. However, because of the Captain’s sincere assurances of a single voyage to the River Plate, and because of the prevailing Seaman’s Strike in the UK, I reluctantly agreed to sign. 

The Master had been quick to get the sign on completed (probably in case I changed my mind) and assured me what a solid ship the “Sandsend” was  and that he had been Master of her for the past 22 years (from which you can estimate his age) and that the Owners were a very fine traditional shipping company. I was later to learn that not only was he a big man in stature but  also a man of great integrity with a big heart, as well as being a very fine seaman.

My first stop was the dining saloon. After much questioning by the Chief Steward as to whom I was, I eventually got something to eat. The eggs floated in oil and the bacon was one of lean and two of fat variety, not the least appetizing. I gave it a miss and stayed with the toast and marmalade. This was another good start and an indication of things to come, I pondered to myself.

 The Mate turned up for breakfast, reeking of last night’s alcohol and still exhaling strong fumes over everybody. He was from somewhere in Scotland and in his late fifties. The 2nd Mate was a nice guy from London, seventy two years of age, an ex King Line man so he said. Our Chief engineer wore glasses with lenses like the bottom of beer bottles and was well into his seventies. The second and third engineers were Geordies and in mid forties, seemingly quite decent types. I was instantly on my guard with the 4th Engineer, also a Gordy, but right out of the RN. He gave the impression of being very self opinionated and what he didn’t know wasn’t worth knowing anyway. He sported longish sideburns and a quaffed hair style, rather Spivey in my personal opinion. The “Sparks” was Irish and of late middle age, he spoke with a strong Irish accent making him hard to understand.  

Above, the “Sandsend” pictured circa late 1965

The entire deck and engine crew were of West Africa origin, but all residents of Cardiff. Since in the past I had always sailed with Asian crew this was a completely new learning curve for me. 

The crew was very argumentative, often over the most minor of issues, as I discovered during the course of the voyage. They always appeared to do everything unwillingly and as if doing a favor. They appeared an unhappy lot and on the verge of conflict, although no such events ever took place. Nevertheless, I was always on my guard, especially during my night watches and never really felt comfortable when they were around.

I was informed by the Captain our first leg of the voyage would be to Safi, in Morocco, to load a cargo of Phosphate for Cape Town. This would be via a bunkering stop at Las Palmas in the Canary Islands. I therefore immediately knew it would be very unlikely that the voyage would be of 3 months duration, despite various assurances I had received. It was becoming clear that I had been “Shanghaied”.

We departed Rotterdam and headed off down the English Channel. The weather was rough. My first sea watch was an education. The ship’s original wheelhouse was next to the Master’s cabin but was not used. Instead it was designated as a laundry for the Master (clothes lines strung everywhere) and storage for a large collection of Junk that the Master had collected during his many years of tenure on board. Such items as reels of Fencing wire, bundles of Tomato Plant Bamboo stakes, and the like. The Magnetic compass and Radar had been removed as had the steering pedestal and Engine Telegraph.

Instead, a timber “Chicken Coop” had been constructed on the Monkey Island at some previous time, by the ship’s carpenter. I was told by the 2nd Mate the Master had supervised the construction. The “shed” was quite rough and every time the ship rolled, so the structure moved about 6 inches port and starboard. The windows were ill fitting and frequently,  the windows would drop out and make a loud clatter. The deckhead leaked like a sieve during rain showers. The 2nd Mate went on to say that the windows were taken from derelict WW11 Italian Lorries, reportedly the Master having procured them years earlier when transiting or anchored in the Suez Canal or the like. 


The “Sandsend” at anchor, pictured loaded with Army Lories on deck. Photographed when requisitioned by the MOT, during the 1956 Suez Canal crisis. She reportedly did play some sort of an active role in the emergency.

 The Radar had been connected professionally as had the manual steering arrangement, ship’s telegraph and magnetic compass. There was no Gyro or automatic steering of any description; steering was therefore continuously by hand. There were no intercom or phone connections with the Master’s cabin, only to the Engine Room. In the event it was necessary to call the Master one used a small cowl ventilator, situated outside of the “Chicken Coop” wheelhouse, and yelled in a loud voice.

The “Chicken Coop” was a nightmare, as it was so cramped it only allowed for a small folding chart table, but also because it was so hot. Being a steamship the funnel was immediately behind the structure causing much heat to be generated. Also, if our illustrious engineers failed to inform the bridge when about to blow tubes, (thus allowing time for the duty Mate to take the ship out of wind), one would instantly be choked by the smoke and soot which penetrated everywhere. There was no room to swing a cat, when a duty mate and helmsman were on watch together. It was reported in earlier days, there had been cabs on each wing of the Monkey Island deck but these had been partially removed by the time I joined the vessel.

Loading a full cargo of Phosphate at Safi was uneventful but dusty, and completed in a few days. We then headed off southwards towards Las Palmas for bunkers. By the time we reached the latitudes of Las Palmas the weather had become very tranquil and pleasant. Although my disappointment in the vessel remained, a routine was established, the best average speed the ship achieved for a day’s run was 9.5 knots during the passage to the Canary Islands.

The night after following our departure from Las Palmas, I was woken by the quartermaster about 6.30am asking that I quickly go to the bridge. The dawn was just breaking. I arrived out of breather to find a large Russian ship crossing our bows from port to starboard. Our unsupervised helmsman had started to turn our ship to Port, entirely the wrong thing to do. I still had enough sea room to counter this and alter course to starboard to go full circle and pass the stern of the renegade crossing vessel. It was a close encounter because had the Russian ship obeyed the Anti-Collision Regulations by correctly decided to make a late alteration of course to starboard in order to give way to us, a very serious situation may have arisen.

I asked the helmsman as to the whereabouts of the Chief Mate and was informed he had left the bridge about 15 minutes after having taken over the watch from the 2nd Mate and never returned. I went looking for him, fearing he may have met with some sort of accident. Upon entering his cabin through an alcoholic haze I found him somewhat intoxicated, so I let him be and returned to the bridge to stand the remaining hours of his watch.

I discussed the problem privately with the 2nd Mate and we reached the decision that we should report the matter to the Master since it involved ship’s safety. As it turned out we did not need to because about 9am the Master went to visit the Mate about something and found him in his cabin in exactly the same state as when I had last seen him. The Mate more or less drifted in and out of an intoxicated condition until we arrived in Cape Town.

The Master requested I accompany him to search the Mate’s cabin for hidden booze, but it was fruitless as there was no additional alcohol to be found. A couple of months later we were  informed by one of the quarter masters; whilst in Las Palmas the Mate had purchased a significant amount of duty free “Dry Sack Sherry”, which he had given the crew for safe keeping and which could be supplied to him as he requested. He did attempt to shower, shave and sort himself out for our arrival at Cape Town, but unfortunately for him he tripped over a deck “Ring Bolt” in the vicinity of number 2 hatch, causing him to fall and badly injure his face. He was significantly concussed and out of action again for more than a week.

Upon completing discharge of the Phosphate in South Africa, we thoroughly washed down our cargo holds before departure in preparation for our next destination, which we discovered was to be the River Plate, to load a cargo of bulk grain in Argentine ports for Europe. For my part I hoped “Europe” would mean the UK. However, first we were required to cross the South Atlantic during the late southern winter, light ship, which was a daunting prospect. Our ocean route would take us well South, passing close to the remote and mountainous Island of Tristan Di Cunha, located in the mid South Atlantic Ocean.

The old “Sandsend” labored continuously throughout the entire endurance of the passage. We encountered rough weather most of the way coupled with force constant force 5-6 westerly winds. The best the old lady could average was about 7-8 knots for the most part. Despite maximum seawater ballast the ship remained like cork on the sea and therefore was susceptible to making quite significant leeway, requiring constant remedial course adjustments. Our Ocean route took us well South, passing the remote and volcanic Island of Tristan Di Cunha, by some 60 miles distant. Also, the continuous overcast weather made taking sights very challenging. Our passage across the South Atlantic Ocean of some 4000 nautical miles spanned some 23 days.

Our landfall off “Isla de la Lobos” in the estuary of the Rio de la Plata was one made in dense fog, and an occasion not to be forgotten. The restricted visibility dictated our speed and progress was slow, although our Master knew these waters very well. We were almost deafened by the continuous fog signals from our steam whistle located on the funnel so close to our “Chicken Coop”. The Radar was of a very primitive variety, way before ARPA, so I was occupied with the Radar Plotting.

Nevertheless, we were almost run down by an errant Panamanian Tanker steaming at full speed. It was only because of the Master stopping our engines in good time, that we narrowly avoided disaster. The rogue Tanker crossed our bows from Port to Starboard at high speed, and at close quarters. This implanted firmly in my brain, for the remainder of my seagoing years, the absolute importance of observing the anti-collision regulations, especially those applicable to navigating in poor visibility.

Following a three week passage across the South Atlantic and prior to our arrival time in the River Plate, our Chief Mate once again lapsed into occasional alcoholic indiscretions. This was despite receiving a serious dressing down from our Captain. Under the guidance of the Master the 2nd Mate and I loaded the ship to grain capacity, firstly at Buenos Aires then upstream at Rosario. Our passage to and from Rosario had been a real eye opener for me, especially as to the unreliability of some of the River Pilots. I was warned of this tendency by the Master, from whom I learned much during these times. 

Once loaded, the time arrived to depart from Argentina. My heart sank again when I learned our orders were to proceed in the direction of the “Straits of Gibraltar” for orders. Our destination could yet be the UK for discharge, so I could sign off, but if the UK was intended, why not stipulate “Landsend” for orders?

We had been experiencing problems with our Magnetic Compass when crossing the South Atlantic, not helped by the fact that the taking of “Azimuths” was very restricted due to the heavily overcast conditions we experienced most of the way, so before departing the coast, the Master swung the ship and drew up a completely new Deviation Card. He had obviously conducted this exercise many times beforehand, because he completed the task so quickly and expertly.

Contrary to our passage across the South Atlantic from South Africa, we experienced very good sailing conditions from the River Plate as we slowly progressed northward towards the Canary Islands and Las Palmas, were we would once again replenish Bunkers. Our Chief Mate had been warned off any repetition of his previous recklessness; otherwise he faced the risk of being replaced.

We were only about 4 or 5 days steaming from the Gibraltar Straits, when the Master received a cable instructing that the ship proceed to Civitavecchia then Livorno, in Italy, for a two port discharge. I was overcome with disappointment since my worst fears had materialized. Despite my personal grievances our stay in Italy was like a holiday with beautiful sunny days and surrounded by charming people, good food and wine. Unfortunately I met with an accident whilst working on deck which necessitated me being hospitalized for a while to undergo surgery on my knee. During my absence the good ship “Sandsend” sailed without me, working various cargoes in the direction of the Far East.

In retrospect, I can say although the “Sandsend” had long since seen better days and at the time of my departure from her, she only had a very short time remaining before meeting her demise at a Taiwanese ship breakers; I found her Master to be a superb seaman and a man of very high character and integrity. I also had no complaint about the owners whom I concluded were very decent employers.

Looking back through the mists of nostalgia, I now consider the voyage to be one worth remembering, and perhaps in retrospect, like most things when one is young, was not as bad as it appeared at the time.


GIFFORD – a ship with an interesting career…….

Built for the Bank Line in 1913 by Wm Doxford with 6 hatches. The timing was bad luck as she was impounded in Hamburg in 1914. Given a great name of SPERRBRECKER 9 and used as a blockade runner. Auctioned off at the end of WW1 and became SHEAFMOUNT. When WW2 started she was under the Italian flag and was impounded this time by the USA. She was then torpedoed and sunk by the Germans in WW2!

Ocean Island in 1956

Remains of the Kelvinbank lost jammed on the wreck of an older vessel the “Oomah’

A cricket team from the SS Maplebank playing on Ocean Island against a team from the British Phosphate Commission staff. Author 6th from the left, looking over the shoulder of the Bos’n in pads. Chief Steward extreme right. John Whiteside, the Chief Officer 5th from the right in trilby.


Built 1983 in Turku, Finland. SD15 Ship. 17kts and with a 576 teu capacity plus tanks for veggy oil. Purchased when she was 12 years old in 1995. Four double and four single berth passenger cabins. First stop was Tahiti. (Papeete).

NB: Historical note………..Looking back with the advantage of hindsight, this was a true hybrid vessel for the company, trying hard to combine the old languid ’round the islands’ lifestyle that we all loved with the kill joy modern rapid container turnrounds. It was a valient effort, but doomed to failure being neither one thing nor the other….

The Beaverbank of 1953 – A Harlands product.

The Beaverbank name became a bit of an icon in the 1950’s and near synonomous with the Copra run home from the Pacific Islands. She was the lead ship of 6 from Harlands at the start of a big fleet expansion. Had a narrow escape on this route in 1958 when she grounded at Fanning Island in the Line Islands, 1000 miles south of Hawaii. See the report and photos elsewhere on this site. ( Search Beaverbank).

Book Extract….

Extract: Ch 22, page 252.

This was a memorable visit to Singapore because one evening whilst ashore, paying my usual call at the Cellar Bar (yes to check the notice board!), I ran into a very interesting character. He just so happened to be sitting next to me on a stool at the bar and introduced himself in a casual sort of way. He was a slightlyrotund American with drawling accent, thinning sandy colored hair, mild ruddy complexion and at a guess in his mid to late 40s. He went by the name of Sandy Stimson and was allegedly an old China hand having spent many years as a nomad wandering throughout the Far East, in particular Indo China and the Philippines. His home was wherever he was at any given time, being of no fixed abode, although he alleged to have originally heralded from Amarillo, Texas. He was conspicuous by the solid gold Rolex watch and heavy gold ID bracelet he wore.He appeared a shady, complex cove and was definitely a man of many faces. Sandy claimed to be working as a flight Captain flying C-46s and C-47s for some nondescript airline operating out of Taiwan and was in Singapore on RnR. We sat drinking beer for a while during which time he drifted into a litany of stories and yarns of his past flying experiences. Initially I took this with a pinch of salt, considering it to be just bar talk; until he dropped a few names that were known to me from within Hong Kong’s aviation circles, which made me take a little more notice. After about an hour he departed and went on hisway.I quizzed the barman as to who he really was because he most certainly came across as a truly colorful character. The bar tender informed me that Sandy regularly visited the bar when in Singapore, and he had overheard him being referred to as “China Sandy” by some of his closer acquaintances that had visited thepub with him on earlier occasions. He was supposedly based somewhere in Indo China at the time and was undoubtedly the aviator’s equivalent to a sailor with a girl in every port; totally adventurous, a romantic with wonderful charisma and gift of the gab; one of those types that remained fixed in your memory.The barman pointed me to a spot on the wall upon which was posted numerous photos. Sure enough therewas a few of “China Sandy” with his C-46 together with several other dubious looking characters sporting shoulder holsters. I never did find out what actual airline he worked for but as the Indo-China conflict was rapidly developing in retrospect one could be excused for suspecting that somehow he was linked with clandestine activities in Vietnam or Laos. Our paths did not cross again but for some inexplicable reason the image of this guy remains with me. Perhaps this is because he was so deliberately evasive about most things when questioned. I often wonder what happened to him because although giving the impression of being a “China Bum” I believe he was well read and somewhat more intelligent than he cared to divulge. I am sure there was considerably more to this mysterious character than initially met the eye and his country bumpkin façade may have just been little more than a cover for other activities.

Twin Screw motor vessel ” CLYDEBANK” – 34 years circling the globe for Bank Line….

One of the Bank Line’s true ” workhorses” sailing on from new in 1925 through to April 1959. How many cylinder liners were changed in this time! She went through WW2 and must have carried between 100 and 150 full cargoes….The author remembers her well, winches chugging away in the middle of Colombo Harbour 1951.


« « Back

NameOfficial numberFlagIMO
Year builtDate launchedDate completed
1926 13/04/1926 26/05/1926 
Vessel typeVessel description 
Cargo General  Steel Motor Vessel  
BuilderYardYard no
Harland & Wolff Ltd., Govan 687 
5155 grt / 3153 nrt / 420.3 ft 53.9 ft 26.5 ft  
Engine builderHarland & Wolff Ltd., Govan
Engine detail
M 2 x 6cyl 4SCSA (630x960mm), 717nhp, 2 screws 
First ownerFirst port of registerRegistration date
Bank Line Ltd. – A. Weir & Co., Glasgow Glasgow  
Other names
Subsequent owner and registration history 
11/1939 Admiralty by requisition 
Vessel history
11/1939 converted to auxiliary fighter catapult ship 
End yearFate / Status
1941 Torpedoed 27/09/1941 
Disposal Detail
Torpedoed by U.201 in the North Atlantic, 49.10N – 20.05W and finished by gunfire from escort HMS JASMINE the next day as a danger to shipping. 


BIRCHBANK MV was a British Cargo Motor Vessel of 5,151 tons built in 1924 by Harland & Wolff Ltd, Govan, Yard No 656 for the Bank Line Ltd. (A.Weir & Co.), Glasgow as the Foreric. She was completed as the BIRCHBANK MV and powered by a diesl of 717nhp. Engines by Harland & Wolff Ltd, Govan. On the 11th November 1943 she was bombed and set alight by German aircraft off Nostaganem, Algeria where she blew up and sank. Read more at wrecksite: https://www.wrecksite.eu/wreck.aspx?58335

Weybank – A first ship…

Below is a short extract from a book written by Geoffrey Walker. It relates to a time living in Hong Kong. The M.V. Weybank above was his first vessel.


The above text is an extract from the new book by Geoffrey Walker titled – ” A Tramp for all the Oceans” Available from    www.united-pc-publishing.com  or Amazon Books

Bank Line Liberty ship – Marabank..

In the fleet from purchase in 1947. (Cunard had been the managers) Launched in 1944 in Baltimore in the USA as ‘Samouse’. Sold to an Italian owner in 1960, and became ‘Ruscin’ for a brief 2 year period. The another 7 years under the Liberian flag as ”Whitehorse’ before going to the breakers at Split.

A Tielbank Saga….

The following account is a true one involving the sad loss of the second mate at sea in 1958. It gives his interesting background, including his role on King Faisal of Iraq’s yacht where he had been Master. He was the second mate of the Tielbank on this fateful voyage.

The narrative is written in the style of a novel extract, but it contains only factual information.

S.S. Tielbank………………On leaving China, no final destination was available so the Captain was instructed by the London Office to head for European waters.  With a full cargo of rice the ship seemed to enjoy the prospect of heading home and was coping with the heavy seas with ease.  Everyone aboard was affected at the prospect of returning to Britain and although several weeks remained until they arrived back home, a general feeling of euphoria prevailed.
During the night, the ship turned into the Malacca Straits and just after four in the morning the Chief Officer sent for the senior Apprentice.
“I want you to wake the ‘Serang’ and your two buddies and do a thorough search of the ship from stem to stern.” 
 He restlessly paced the bridge and pulled deeply on his ever-present cigarette.
“ When I came onto the bridge at the start of my watch, the Second Officer was nowhere to be seen.  We are now on a reciprocal course and I’ve doubled the lookouts and reduced speed.”
It was over two hours before they returned to the Bridge to report that they felt certain that the Second Officer was no longer on board. The ‘Serang’ likewise, reported that his efforts had also been unsuccessful. 
 As daylight came it was hoped that something would be seen but nothing was spotted.  Searches were continued and radio contact had been made with the Singapore Coastguard who had alerted all ships in the area.
After a further two hours of cruising at slow speed, the lookouts had nothing to report,
The Captain ordered the return to the original course. 
Searching was continued until they reached the last known position where the Second Officer had taken over the watch from the Third Officer at midnight.
The Captain, his face haggard with grave concern and lack of sleep, finally gave orders for the extra lookouts to be stood down before the ship to continued on it’s passage. 
The Third Officer was the last person known to have seen the missing man, so as a consequence, he had to make a written report to that effect including comments about the Second Officer’s state of mind amongst other things.
The morale was affected but life had to go on and nobody relished entering the Second Officers cabin to deal with his belongings, although his desk had been searched in case some sort of letter had been left.
The immediate effect did have some rather paradoxical benefits, which, in the circumstances were hardly welcomed.  The Third Officer was promoted to Second Officer and the senior apprentice became the acting Third Officer.
The least junior apprentice became the senior apprentice.
It is probably for Insurance purposes that most Officers sail at a rank below their Certification thus promotion is made easy and served to satisfy the Company’s Insurance requirements.
Later in the passage the personal effects of the missing Officer were packed up. 
 The packing was duly carried out by the Chief Steward with one of the deck Officers present, to recorded the contents in a logbook as they were packed.  Once the packing was completed the cabin was sealed and the luggage was put into storage until a homeport was reached. 
The new Third Officer was very much aware of his elevated status and carried out his duties in a most conscientious manner.  He was able to put into practice a lot of the theory that he had learned at pre-sea training school.  He was to find however, that most of the four hour on and eight hours off watches at sea, consisted of endless scanning of the horizons.  As a consequence he had plenty of time to recall his erstwhile friend and shipmate.
He had first met Jenk’s, as the late Second Officer had become known, when he joined his previous ship in Rotterdam.  They had both been transferred from Newcastle in New South Wales to a ship called the Tealbank, but at slightly different times.
On first meeting Mr. Jenkins appeared unusual in many ways.  He was extremely well bred, refined and courteous but quite elderly for a Second Officer though he had once confided that he had once been Captain of King Faisal’s Yacht.  This bit of information however, was taken with a pinch of salt.
He seemed reserved and didn’t drink but spent much of his spare time listening to classical music; particularly to the violin that he proudly explained was played expertly by his daughter. 
Their previous Captain had been a great friend with his Second Officer, which though unusual, was put down to their similar ages and status.
He recalled the previous day when as duty Officer he had been through the late Navigator’s belongings for recording in the log,
 The newly appointed Third Officer felt that some of hidden history surrounding his former shipmate was now much clearer. The answers to questions about certain gaps in ‘Jenk’s’ previous life had been revealed. 
On their earlier ship and quite out of character, the Second Officer had joined the Radio Officer for a “Jolly” whilst in South America, which resulted in the unfortunate Irish Sparks being replaced.  The then middle apprentice wondered how the Second Officer had avoided a similar fate, a question whose answer became obvious. 
A single lapse by the former Second Officer undoubtedly indicated that had been suffering from some sort of alcoholic denial.  His previous misconduct, now seemed to have been because not only was their Captain a good friend of his gentle navigator but also, that they were both Freemasons.
  Unable to receive similar sympathetic treatment from the new Captain and faced with the prospect of some sort of enquiry back in England, he had apparently taken what he thought was the easy way out.
His lifetime’s personal belongings had been listed and packed away. They included his uniforms and other clothing, and a pristine uniform jacket wrapped in polythene sheeting, complete with Masters insignia.  A trunk contained his collection of classical tapes, an old violin, a bundle of letters tied in a yellow ribbon and the clandestine regalia required for Freemasons.  Among the classical music was a tape of a violin concerto that had been known to reduce the departed gentleman to tears.
In his Journal were three recent letters.  The first, a single page from his ex wife.  The second letter was a much longer letter from his daughter, whose return address suggested that she was a senior violinist on tour with the London Philharmonic Orchestra.
The final letter was dated July 1958 and remained unopened.  It was post marked as originating in Baghdad.
The Chief Steward had placed the unopened letter on the Chief Officers Desk.
“The Third Officer and I, have been through all of the possessions except this Sir,” he said.
The Chief Officer took the letter and examined the envelope noting its origin as Iraq.  He saw it was addressed to,
 Captain.  D. Jenkins. 
 C/O Merchant Navy Officers Club,
 Pall Mall London W.C.1.                                ‘Kindly forward Urgent.’
“Anything else Chief?” asked the Chief Officer.
The Steward replied,
 “ We went through everything as much as possible and read extracts from other random letters.  Apart from what we already know there was nothing to indicate any reason for a deliberate action on his part.”
“Thanks Chief,   ” the Captain’s deputy replied, “leave it with me.”
The Chief Officer was aware that many freelance Officers left details of their whereabouts at the Officers club for forwarding and noticed a scribble in pencil directing the letter to the Company’s Head Office in London.
He vaguely wondered why it hadn’t been opened and left it to one side until later.
The ship made good time to Suez and once through the canal the Chief Officer felt much closer to home and his wife and children. ‘Only two legs left,’ he said to himself, the Mediterranean and into the Atlantic before the Channel and home.
‘I’d better finish the paperwork before Gib.’ He thought.
He had already attended to the stores requisitions, the crew reports and the tedious hand-over forms and reluctantly turned to the remaining task about his late navigation Officer, that he had long been avoiding 
There were forms to fill in and a report to write and whilst he had to stick to the facts, in the rare instances he had to deal with such matters, he tended to hint at misadventure rather than suicide because of insurance and pension provisions but mainly with the feelings of the relatives in mind.
It took nearly three hours to complete the report in spite of having his Third Officers account as a reference. The other forms also required the Captains signature.
He picked up his internal phone and dialed number Zero.
“Captain here,” came the reply.
“I’ve got some forms for your signature Sir.”
‘Okay bring them up,” the Captain replied before putting the phone down.
The Captain was seated at his desk in his ‘day’ cabin and waived the Chief Officer to a chair.
“No thanks Sir, I’ve just had a Scotch.”
“Good man,” smiled the Captain from the Outer Hebrides.
‘I’ll get you another.’
The Captain signed the documents and reports without reading them.
He had once been a Chief Officer and knew what it was like at the end of a voyage getting all the paperwork done.
“Sad business about Mr. Jenkins,” he offered.
‘Yes Sir,” was the reply, “I’m posting letters to the wife and daughter at Gib. I’ll let you have copies so there’s no conflict. I know yours will be mainly the facts for Head Office. The Marine Superintendent will have been in touch with the family using details taken from your radio contact. There’s nothing really to add,” the Chief Officer responded finishing his drink.
 “How are the junior Officers taking it?”
“Well they were very upset to start with as we all were, but being young and keen, their promotions would have taken their minds off of things.”
“That’s good,” said the Captain. “ I’ll see you at dinner then.”
Returning to his cabin, he finished writing a letter to the late Second Officers daughter and a more difficult letter to his wife who was still listed as his next of kin. 
He poured himself another Scotch and eyed the unopened letter taken from the belongings. Several minutes passed before he decided to open it.  It was dated 13th July 1958.
It began, 
                                                                         Royal Palace
Dear Captain Jenkins, 
I’m sure you know that the situation in the Middle East has become very volatile since President Nasser came to power in Egypt and commandeered the Suez Canal.  The resulting turmoil worldwide is affecting all Arab Countries and I am forever looking over my shoulder. 
The ‘Aliye’ should now be waiting in Turkey and I have been persuaded by my cousin King Hussein of Jordan to take temporary refuge aboard until the present unrest dies down.
I have been meaning to write to you since your departure as ‘Captain’ of the Royal Yacht early in 1957 but firstly and more importantly the purpose of this letter is to request that you once again take command of the Yacht.  On receipt of this letter, wherever you are, telephone the Embassy in London who will arrange First Class Air tickets.  Your salary and conditions will be as before plus half as much again and this of course also applies to your leave and pension entitlements.
The unfortunate incident that led to your departure has now been clarified and you are completely exonerated.  Had I have been aboard at the time, matters would have been very different but those responsible could be excused at their unbending interpretation of Sharia Law when considering alcohol.
You will, without doubt, remember those wonderful times when we both enjoyed wine, women and song, ashore as well as on board the Yacht. These memories are etched on my memory and mean a great deal to me.
There has been a string of Officers since you left but none have really suited, mainly because unlike you they did not speak the language and had little control over the crew.
My dear friend (yes I must call you that) I look forward again to sharing the relaxing evenings especially listening to your violin.
  With the hopes that it may ‘swing the balance,’ and help you make a positive decision, I have arranged for a very special present that awaits you and is locked in the safe of your suite on the “Aliye’. 
 I’ll give you one clue before closing.  It was purchased in Lombardy in Italy at a place called ‘Cremona.’
Your humble and respectful friend,
Faisal.11 Ghazi
The Chief Officer sat in contemplation and topped up his glass.  He remembered the headline well.  He had spent some time on oil tankers before being flown out to join the ship in Freemantle.  Just before he left, the item about Iraq had particularly interested him, as it was a place he regularly visited.
The headline in the ‘Times’ newspaper was in bold letters had proclaimed one word.  Massacre.  The whole Iraqi Royal family and their servants had been slaughtered in a military coupe on July 14th 1958.
After a while he picked up his letter to Jenk’s daughter and placed it together with the letter from Iraq into another envelope which he addressed to Katherine Jenkins care of: –
London Philharmonic Orchestra
Royal Festival Hall
89 Albert Embankment
London SE 7 TP
The ship docked in Gibraltar, late in the evening so that any business had to wait until next day.  On his way back from the Post Office next morning, the Chief Officer passed the Library and on an impulse entered its quiet and cool interior.
The staff obligingly set about to retrieve the journals and newspapers he had asked for.
Lloyds lists is a journal, published in London, that records the whereabouts of most of the World’s shipping especially those insured through Lloyds.  The Chief Officer was intrigued as to what had happened to the Aliye and had decided to carry out investigations as soon as they reached port.  He had intended to wait until they were back in England but his spontaneous decision to enter the library was partly out of burning curiosity and partly to avoid the stifling midday sun.  He also wanted to confirm her location on the 15th July 1958 and the yacht’s latest known position including under whose flag she was now registered.
His researches revealed fairly sparse information as though the World’s press had agreed to restrict detailed particulars.
The best account that he had been able to discover was published in the Unites States in the ‘Sarasota Herald Tribune’ dated July 20th 1958 under the heading: –
Istanbul (AP).
 After a reported fight amongst the Iraq crew, Turkey took protective custody, Sunday, of a yacht, which belonged to the late King Faisal 11 of Iraq.
Two navy gunboats moved alongside the luxurious vessel, the ‘ALIYE’, anchored in the Bosporus and kept all other craft from approaching.
The ‘ALIYE’ had been anchored here several weeks, awaiting the ill fated King and his Uncle Crown Prince Abdul Ilah who intended to board last week for a Mediterranean cruise.
Reported scuffles among the crew were scanty and unconfirmed but crews of vessels anchored nearby, said there had been some disturbance.
The Chief Officer looked up at the library clock and saw it was approaching one o’clock in the afternoon. He had missed the customary changing of the guard, a practice that dated back to 1728 and was one of Gibraltar’s main attractions.
He still had some time before he needed to get back to the ship so he continued with his investigations.  He desperately needed a cigarette but decided to leave it for the moment as he was enjoying the cool breeze from the large overhead fan, it was one of those lattice types often found in the tropics and its large blades made up for its slow rotation.
He had to wait ages before the librarian returned from the archives with a copy of the Washington Post dated July 18th 1958.  He felt flattered that she was helping him so much and thought it a shame that she looked like a stereotype of her profession, right down to having her hair in a bun and wearing thick framed glasses.
He spread the newspaper out on the table.
The headline was in bold letters right across the whole front page: –
The UN Security Council is to convene members of the General Assembly to discuss the crisis throughout the Middle East and the effects it is likely to have on oil supplies.
The troubles started in Iraq with an armed take over of the Government that saw the brutal murders of the complete Royal family.
A BBC reporter sent the following dispatch before taking refuge at the British Embassy in Baghdad.
An armed insurrection took place just after dawn and all strategic government buildings including the media were taken over.
Forces were sent to the Palace where they met with little resistance and during the assault King Faisal 11 was shot dead.  His uncle Crowned Prince Abdul Ilah was wounded and then towed behind an army vehicle before being hanged in public from a prominent building.
During the unrest a serving British Army Colonel was shot dead outside the British Embassy.
Prime Minister Nuri, who had just past his seventieth birthday, was caught while trying to escape, dressed as a woman.  The new ruling party executed him without trial.
John Snow Baghdad.
Out in the sunshine and fresh air, the Chief Officer lit a cigarette and deeply inhaled.  He reflected that fate, luck, or whatever you called it was unpredictable.
One minute you’re a King and own Palaces and a magnificent yacht, and the next minute your dead.  Thank goodness, he thought to himself that these things didn’t seem to happen to ordinary people.  He truly hoped that both the King and Jenk’s had had some great times aboard the yacht and were now enjoying each other’s company elsewhere.
P.S This is a true account of the fate of a merchant Naval Officer known as Jenkins.

Personal account of life as a wife in the Bank Line – a wistful look back……..

I feel like I’m reclaiming my past. This was a happy time for me, 1980, newly married and travelling the world. Really nothing to be unhappy about. Later, when that marriage was over and I was with my second husband, well, you can’t keep talking about ‘that time when I was happy with my first husband’. So I didn’t. But it was part of my life, and a privilege to be part of that world if only for a short time. It’s one of the things that’s made me who I am, and it’s nice to talk about it.

But thinking about it has also made me a little sad. Wistful, I guess. It’s all so long ago, and so, so far away. We were all so young, and the world literally was our oyster. Everyone on board had been everywhere (granted they’d mostly only been to the bars). It became normal. There was no urgency – you didn’t need to rush around like a tourist – you’d be back, another time, sometime soon. Until you finally paid off your last ship and realised you wouldn’t be.

My last blog post about being at sea saw us leaving Hull and the European coast and heading Deep Sea. We were heading for the Panama Canal. 

That post was three weeks ago, and that’s about how long it took to cross the Atlantic. Every day a little warmer, the sea a little bluer. After nearly three weeks at sea we sailed through the Caribbean and began the approach to Panama. In those three weeks I’d suffered from seasickness, recovered from seasickness, honed my table tennis skills, learnt to play cribbage and discovered that I liked curry.

It was odd to be within sight of other ships, to see islands in the distance, and to realise that the world wasn’t just made of water. You could smell the land – this land smelt of moistness, a watery smell, rain forest.

From Colon to Balboa, north to south cutting through the country of Panama, through the Gatun Lake and out the other side. From the Atlantic to the Pacific in the time it takes to feed a mule. (Ships are guided through the canal by locomotives, called mules. It’s a trick that’s been played on generations of first trippers, to tell them to get carrots from the galley to feed the mules… Ha!!) 

And then off, across the Pacific. We sailed quite close to the Galapagos Islands (you could, back then – there’s an exclusion zone these days and rightly so.) 

Our first South Pacific Island was Tahiti, and the port of Papeete. Again, after a couple of weeks at sea, you could smell the land. Tahiti smells of coconut, like the inside of a Bounty Bar.

I’d done my research –  I knew about Captain Cook and the transit of Venus, I knew about Gauguin. I’d read ‘The Moon and Sixpence’.

So, what did she do – the young wide-eyed traveller, keen to see the world, six weeks out from Hull and arriving in her first South Pacific island??


Nothing at all. 

We docked at 8 in the evening, and we sailed at 6 the next morning. The agent brought no money on board, and they worked cargo all night. 

Never mind, plenty more islands ahead of us. And we’ll be back, sometime soon.

Next stop – Fiji.

Thursobank launch in 1940 – a bad time… Torpedoed and sunk 17 months later. 30 dead.


Ships hit by U-boats


British Motor merchant

Type:Motor merchant
Tonnage5,575 tons
Completed1940 – J. Readhead & Sons Ltd, South Shields 
OwnerAndrew Weir & Co, London 
Date of attack22 Mar 1942Nationality:      British
FateSunk by U-373 (Paul-Karl Loeser)
Position38° 05’N, 68° 30’W – Grid CA 6593
Complement64 (30 dead and 34 survivors).
RouteNew York (20 Mar) – Capetown – Alexandria 
Cargo7839 tons of general cargo 
HistoryCompleted in October 1940 
Notes on eventAt 05.09 hours on 22 March 1942 the unescorted Thursobank (Master Ralph Bryan Ellis) was hit on port side amidships by one G7e torpedo from U-373 about 200 miles south-southeast of Nantucket and sank by the bow five minutes after being struck by a second G7e torpedo, which was fired as coup de grâce from the stern torpedo tube at 05.35 hours. The master, 22 crew members and seven gunners were lost. 29 crew members and five gunners were picked up after three days by the Havsten and landed at Halifax on 28 March. Upon arrival, the surviving Chinese crewmen were arrested for mutiny, having placed the few British survivors in front of the lifeboat, throwing the oars away and refusing to share the food and warm clothing with them. 
On boardWe have details of 64 people who were on board



Tielbank Liberty in 1956

Although standard ships, they were all different in many details, and owners modified them as time passed. Here there are no gun bays on the foreside of the bridge, and the upper wheelhouse is open, unlike many that had a makeshift structure around the wheel and telegraph. A common modifiction was the removal of the t’gallant mast, (not shown here) which was a distinctive feature of the famous Liberty vessels, 2,710 of which were built.

They played a huge part in overcoming the U boat menace in WW2 simply by dint of the numbers launched.

Bank Line Association newsletter

Newsletter No 63 – August 2019



Former Bank Line Marine Superintendent in New Orleans.

Grimsby-native, Michael Ward,, was Apprenticed to Andrew Weir Shipping & Trading Company in December, 1955 after sea-school in Grimsby and Hull Trinity House. His first ship was m.v. “Foylebank”  a new ship recently delivered from Belfast and returning from her maiden voyage. Joining in early January 1956, he was still aboard this fine ship in December of the same year when he celebrated his first Bank Line Christmas along with such Company luminaries as Captain J. Stewart as Master; F.F. (Freddy) Feint as First Mate; and S,J. (Stan) Sweeney as Third Engineer. This was assuredly a ‘star cast’ for a 17-year-old to observe.

Progressing up the ranks and obtaining his ‘Tickets’ as soon as he had sufficient sea-time, Mike was serving as First Mate aboard “Gowanbank” when news came of his first command, the “Streambank” which he joined in the May of 1969 while still in his 30th year. Altogether, his steady disposition and good character had been noted because just three years later he was appointed to the important position of Assistant Marine Superintendent in New Orleans in July 1972.

1972 was to become a banner year for Captain Ward. First of all, he was assigned to the Company’s principal USA office in New York to temporarily cover the Marine Superintendent’s position of Captain Alistair Macnab to permit him to take home leave. But it was during this time that he first met his wife-to-be Dorothy Gavin whom he married back in New Orleans in November, 1974, setting up house in Metairie, a pleasant suburb of New Orleans. 

Captain Ward continued with superintending cargo stowage aboard the Company’s Gulf-Australia Line; Gulf-New Zealand Line; and inbound bulk sugar charters, all of which added up to five ships a month, and in due course was joined by Engineer Superintendent, Roddie MacLeod who was eventually replaced by “Jiggs” Braun when he was transferred to Head Office in London to become Chief Superintendent Engineer.

Becoming a US citizen in 1994, Ward carried out his duties, attending to the Company ships’ affairs and looking after the Company’s marine terminals, first at Harmony Street and eventually at Governor Nicholls Wharf as containers became more common. The resumption of the Bank Line South Africa Line in 1979 and the amalgamation with Safmarine as SafBank in 1988 was a new responsibility to which was added technical visits throughout Louisiana and to out-of-state manufacturing centres to discuss how existing breakbulk shipments could be containerised given Australia, South Africa, and New Zealand’s preference at the time for 20 ft boxes and US exporters preference for 40 ft units. 

This problem was still ongoing as the Bank and Savill Line was introduced in 1980. But after 19 years of managing the transition of ocean transport into containers the change-over was still presenting problems in Gulf ports. The Bank and Savill service eventually succeeded the conventional ship sailings to Australasia in 1981 although a couple of the newest Bank Line ships of the new “Fleetbank Class”were integrated into the containerised service to accommodate remaining breakbulk cargoes in a bid to maintain schedules. Unfortunately, the mix of full container- and breakbulk-capable ships on an irregular basis proved unwelcome to shippers and cargo support drifted away.

Captain Ward was made redundant at the end of 1981 and general management of all USA operations was invested in London through local agents and the appointment of new Cargo Loading Superintendents along the U.S, East Coast responsible to the various Line Managers in Head Office.

Ward joined the National Cargo Bureau (NCB) in 1982 and was a Marine Surveyor at that organisation until 1987 when as a result of previous good relationships with the International Paper Company and the care and attention Mike had given IPCo’s woodpulp and newsprint shipments when with Bank Line, he was offered the new job of their Marine Surveyor, a position he held until his retirement in 2001.

A full and constantly busy life with Dorothy beside him every step of the way for 44 years based in Metairie. During retirement the Captain remained active in his favourite activities of hiking, swimming, gardening, and golfing, but it was in 2012 that he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease. As Dorothy has said, “Mike never met a mountain he didn’t want to climb” so it was especially distressing as his body succumbed to the disease. He died in New Orleans on June 24th 2019.

This writer, was especially fond of Mike and Dorothy Ward. I was Best Man at their wedding in 1974.  Throughout our long and busy partnership in the USA, we had striven mightily to overcome the container problem only to observe it becoming the instrument of the destruction of all our efforts. Bank Line will not see the likes of Captain D.Michael Ward again. His sure-handedness, careful analysis, and sober judgement stood out as testament to this fine man. Head Office’s decision to appoint Mike ashore to New Orleans in 1972 to take care of cargo proved to be a master-stroke with far-reaching beneficial consequences.

Our sympathies extend to Mike’s widow, Dorothy. She is constantly in our thoughts and prayers. God bless her.

Alistair Macnab,

Brooklyn NY 11209

29th July 2019.

Our next Reunion at the Holiday Inn Bromsgrove on 3rd October 2020

I know it is very early but because of the hotel having become a member of the IHG Group making a booking is proving to be complicated by IHG’s procedures and bookings having to be made through a central office and not direct with the hotel.

It would therefore be most helpful if at least those members reading this online could please drop me an email (please note new email address geoff@solomongm.co.uk ) stating provisionally whether or not you are intending to attend, just so that I can get an idea of roughly how many rooms I will need to ask them to reserve for us.

Also, in view of the very positive comments made regarding the meal last year unless there are any strong objections, we intend to have the buffet menu to be very similar to that of last year.

Annual Subscriptions  

You will recall from previous newsletters that the Annual Subscription for membership of the Association has been reduced from £25 to £5 – so on checking the records it is somewhat disappointing to see that only approximately 50 % of the membership have actually paid up so far. 

As £5 is such a small sum why don’t those Members who have not paid yet please transfer £10 to our Bank Account to cover this year and next year’s subscriptions.

Bank Lloyds Bank

Account number 23181468

Sort code 30-95-96

The following from Geoffrey Walker who served his apprenticeship with Bank Line (1961-1964 ).

Introducing a new book:-

A Tramp for all Oceans  

by Geoffrey Walker

Published : 2019

A nostalgic chronicle of ships and the sea told by the Author from his experiences sailing around Asia and Oceania during the golden years of shipping throughout the 1960s and 1970s. The narrative encapsulates this fascinating bygone period of charm, mystery, and wonder. From many decades based in Asia, the Author tells his sailors anecdotes of the adventurous years he spent tramping the sea routes of Africa, India, the Far East, and Oceania, under the Red Duster, from Apprentice to Captain. Calling at large and small Ports alike, some little more than clearings in the jungle, up barely navigable rivers or not even marked on an Admiralty Chart. 

The book captivates the last of an era when ships all possessed their own “heart and character, when crewed by what may be described as a“different breed” of seafarer, and  now only lives on in maritime nostalgia.

Available from    www.united-pc-publishing.com  or Amazon Books

The book is not intended to be a technical narrative in any way whatsoever, but rather, it is written in a very personalized way to appeal to a wider readership and those who may have a nautical interest, whilst not necessarily having a maritime background.

Please see below another of Alan Rawlinson’s interesting articles which has been reproduced with his kind permission,

A Liberty Ship Apprentice

(The picture is at Ocean Island – author and Jim Haig at ‘ Smoko’.The wreck of the Kelvinbank – another Liberty ship behind)

 In 1954, the Liberty ship Maplebank set off around the world in an unforgettable trip of somewhat drunken revelry, punctuated by routine calm at sea between ports.  In port where drink was available, there were crises after crises as the crew went missing or appeared on deck drunk and unable to work. 

 The Maplebank was one of a dozen so called Sam Boats or Liberty ships bought into Andrew  Weir’s Bank Line after WW2.  Previously named Samwash, she was in the fleet for 10 years to 1957 before being sold on to Liberian registry and named ” African Lord” where she had another 12 years before going to the breakers.  She had also been at the Sicily landings in WW2.  

The author joined her as a 19 year old senior apprentice, in 1954, one of four, later to be three, as one, a Geordie Apprentice, deserted in New Zealand.    

The previous trip had also been an eventful one, with the Master sadly disappearing at sea.  Also, a  fire whilst in the Mississippi River delta was extinguished after she had been beached to enable firefighters to put out the  the blaze. 

On board, it was quickly realised that standards on the American built war time ships was higher than we were used to.  There were no frills, but there was a solid feel to everything, and the most noticeable difference to our usual ships, was in the accommodation. Bunks were wider and better furnished, and the heating was heavy duty.   On the bridge, it was functional and a bit spartan, but again, all fittings seemed clunkier.   The Maplebank still had the gun Bays on the bridge front to remind of the real purpose of their existence.   Down below, a three-cylinder steam engine seemed simple and robust, as indeed, they were.   It is probably true to say that those who sailed on Liberty’s enjoyed the experience, and the memory of these ships is regarded fondly by many. 

It was to be an interesting round the world voyage that would end in Bremen with only one of the original deck crew remaining.     Signing off with a bad discharge, a DR (decline to report) he was the Bosun, but had started the trip as an EDH (efficient deck hand) and found rapid promotion as his shipmates deserted around the Australian and New Zealand ports that we visited.   It was a bit rough that he was made a scapegoat for the misdeeds of his colleagues, but the Master had been frustrated for 15 months by the antics of them all, and probably felt justified.    To my mind it was ironic, and a bit unfair, as he was the only member of the deck crew that had stayed loyal. 

We joined on a cold snowy January day in Bromboro dock, where the Maplebank was discharging Copra and heated coconut oil into road tankers, and the pungent and distinctive smell permeated everything.  Steam winches were clattering away.  To the author it was like home, with a welcoming and familiar smell, but once on board it was immediately apparent that this was no ordinary Bank Boat.     In the apprentices cabin a weighted rubber cosh dangled on the radiator, and the companionway up to the officer’s accommodation had a hinged thick steel door which set us all wondering.  However, we soon settled in, and started to meet our shipmates. It was mid-winter in Birkenhead and the heating was off due to repairs below, so we trooped ashore to eat in the Lever Bros canteen.

Unlike the Asian crews on most of company’s ships, the Liberty’s had so called ‘white’ crews from the Seaman’s pool, and they were Liverpudlians on this voyage with a rich sense of humour.  Many were great seamen. We were to discover that their brand of humour sustained them through all situations, good or bad.   They were irreverent fun to work with, tipsy or not, although the fun wore a but thin when we apprentices had to cover for them, either steering, or covering hatches and working long hours. 


We loaded in the Gulf Ports of Texas and Louisiana after a ballast voyage from Liverpool.   Bulk rock sulphur went into the lower holds, and after levelling, heavy plant like tractors and harvesters were lashed down on top.  General cargo of all sorts, barrels, cartons, and bundles filled the tweendecks.   It was long before containerisation hid nearly all cargo inside ubiquitous steel boxes.   On deck we carried a refinery pressure tank loaded from a floating barge and associated heavy lift crane.  The big thick steel tube took up all of the starboard side of the afterdeck and the deck crew quickly decorated it with painted slogans, Kon Tiki, being the most prominent.       No thought was given to any views the consignees might have!     Amazingly, there was yet no major signs of the boozy mayhem ahead in New Zealand. 

We sailed for the Panama Canal, and arriving at Cristobal in the evening, anchored to complete formalities before an early transit the next day.    It was magical with coloured lights twinkling ashore, and the cooler air after a tropical day.  The crew then disappeared unnoticed after hitching a ride on one of the launches alongside.    In the morning, with no sign of the crew,  a decision had to be made how to proceed and it was decided that with 4 apprentices, a transit could be made without the majority of the deck and engine room staff.     The author spent a few hours at the wheel, spelled by one of the other apprentices, and the pilot, strolling up and down the bridge wing kept up a running commentary with the police ashore as they attempted to find and round up the missing crew members.    One of the engineers has also had a night in Cristobal and unfortunately had been stabbed in a fracas, ending up in hospital.        

The Liberty ships had an upper wheelhouse, a glorified box on stilts which contained a steering console, with a compass, telegraph, whistle lanyard, and a clock.      As it was a small area, it was possible for a nimble helmsman to control all three devices, and the author took a great delight in steering, ringing the telegraph, and blowing the whistle when required by the Canal pilot.      It was shades of Para Handy on his Clyde Puffer but on a larger scale!     The crackly walky talky radio kept us informed as we transited through the Lakes whenever another member of the crew had been located.  After we exited we anchored in Balboa Bay, awaiting developments.  Finally, the rounded up members were sent out on a police launch.       Still feisty, they were handcuffed and released one by one to climb the Pilot ladder on to the deck, where they flung wedges and anything lying around back down on the police boat, which sped away.    The police had had enough.    Fined by the Master the next day, they claimed triumphantly to us apprentices to have nominated the ” Destitute Master Mariners Fund” as their choice for the deducted wages. 

Our deck crew were good seamen, often from families of seafarers, and skills had been learnt which included the sewing of working suits from duck canvas, complete with cap.   The young deck boys had trouble reading however, so the apprentices sometimes read out their letters when asked to do so.           Crossing the line with this Liverpool crew was quite an elaborate affair, a pool being assembled on one of the hatches, and the court of King Neptune suitably dressed in crown and with a gold trident, presiding over the prisoners.  

In New Zealand we discharged around the coast, starting in Auckland and Wellington, and then moving on to Lyttleton and Dunedin in the South Island.   The last port was New Plymouth, back on the North Island, where the sulphur was grabbed out into lorries.    This was also the port where one of the apprentices decided to leave the ship, and he did so successfully, leaving behind all his possessions.   There was a big fuss, being quite unusual to lose an apprentice, and it was made worse because a pact of silence had been agreed among the remaining apprentices in exchange for a few items.  This had given him a valuable head start.     (Some years later there was a report that his parents had visited New Zealand to get him home again.)

We spent time discharging in the pretty port of Lyttleton in the South Island.   Things got bad with  the deck crew drinking heavily and being unable to turn to for work.     They were having fun ashore, and one morning a battered piano appeared on board, commandeered from a shoreside pub, and slung aboard late at night.     It had been wheeled down onto the quay in a prank.    At sailing time no one other than the officers and apprentices were available to cover hatches, lower the derricks, and cast off.    This was duly done, aided by one or two sober crew members, but once outside of port, a rota had to be drawn up for steering and lookout duties until sufficient members of the crew were available for work. The first man collapsed in a heap beneath the wheel after  relieving the exhausted  apprentice.   Desertions had also started, and in these cases, the agent and the police made up the complement by providing seamen who had been rounded up and caught usually from previous ships.   It was a sort of merry go round.      The men took jobs, readily available in those 50’s days, of taxi driving, bar work, or labouring in the building trade.    Both Australia and New  Zealand were much more accommodating than today in how they viewed and treated unexpected arrivals. 

Eagerly awaiting news of our next destination, we were told that the Maplebank had been nominated for the ‘phosphate run’.      This was grim news, as it was well known that ships loading phosphate in Ocean Island and neighbouring Nauru usually stayed on this run for several voyages.    The Bank Line carried phosphate rock for the British Phosphate Commission to supplement the regular carriers, and it went to Australian and New Zealand discharge ports where it was a valuable  fertiliser, after treatment.   So we commenced running up and down from the islands which are near the Equator, and made several voyages through the Tasman sea in all weathers.   It could be very rough. In Ocean Island loading was from barges but Nauru sported a big custom built loading arm which poured the phosphate into the holds, covering everything in dust in the process.  

Christmas 1954 came and went, and it was marked at sea in the usual way, but minus any great quantities of drink.   We knew where that might lead!     In the dining saloon, the stewards went to great lengths to create a festive air.   They blew up a box of condoms in lieu of balloons, and we all ate surrounded by a circle of them, suitably painted, but still obviously condoms.  

Life on board was routine, and we apprentices shared watches on the bridge, steering and keeping lookout.  There was no automatic pilot to take over the boredom of steering which only became interesting for us lads in heavy weather.   In the Tasman sea, fully loaded with phosphate we experienced very heavy weather.       The Captain had his wife on board, and it so happened that she was well up in her husband’s duties, much to our amusement.   The Captain’s first name was Billy, which also happened to be the name of the author’s pet cat, living on the bridge deck.       When we heard the Captain’s wife calling Billy, Billy, come here, it was a bit uncertain which Billy she meant.   Standing more or less silently behind the wheel, hour upon hour, many incidents amused.      On one occasion in heavy weather, the wife summonsed the Captain and said, “. It’s quite bad, Billy, I think we ought to heave to!”     Much hilarity by those within earshot.

The stays in Australia were the highlight on this otherwise monotonous service, and our Liverpool lads made up for lost drinking time – as you do.        On our final run, they exceeded themselves and stowed away lady friends, ( and a male friend), for what was  expected to be a routine round trip.      They stayed more or less hidden in the accommodation, but It was an open secret and seemed to work with our guests staying discreetly in the crews quarters.    The Liberty ship design had all the accomm odation in a central block with the galley handy for all.   It was useful for the apprentices and others on night watches to snack when the need arose.   Disaster struck however, when we were redirected to New Zealand on one particular voyage, and the Customs rummagers there discovered the extra hands.          More fines.   Regular fining was a double edged sword for the company, as the crew had little incentive to stay onboard if their cash account was nearly always empty. 

Ocean Island had a resident population and a club for the benefit of the British Phosphate  company staff, and they challenged visiting ships to both cricket and football.     We arranged teams, and for cricket a mixture of odd looking whites were worn to conform to as near as possible to traditional cricket garb.    One oddity at Ocean Island was the outfield which consisted of very deep ravines where Phosphate had been mined earlier.  Any ball crossing the boundary was likely to be permanently lost. 

Eventually, we were relieved of our phosphate duties, and proceeded to the Spencer Gulf in South Australia to load bulk grain for India.     In Port Lincoln more crew deserted.   In these ports like Wallaroo, Port Pirie, and Port Lincoln, it was the often the author’s job to go around the nearest pubs to persuade the crew to return to the ship.   It was not unusual to see them working, serving drinks from behind the bar.  The success rate was close to zero, and a few choice but humorous words were often added.  The Bosun, a good natured man and a true seaman, also decided to try his luck ashore in Australia during this visit, and left us for good.  

Meanwhile, some of the apprentices and the Maltese carpenter together built a sailing dinghy, and sewed a set of sails.  It was a bit basic but gave hours of fun, being slung over by derrick on the after deck, and sailed in the sheltered waters of the Gulf.    Eventually, it was lost on a trip that proved to be a tad too adventurous.

The run up to India was uneventful, and we made the usual tortuous passage up the Hooghly river to Calcutta.    After discharge, we went onto the buoys in Calcutta, and moored alongside another company’s vessel with an Indian crew.   Looking down on them, some of the Liverpool wags were heard to say, “. Look at them savages, not like us white savages! “

Having Discharged in Calcutta, we then loaded for Buenos Aires in Argentina, and everyone decided we had hit the jackpot at last!        Jubilation all round, with the old hands describing the delights of this notorious haven for seamen, still under Juan Peron when we visited.   He was to be deposed later in the year in a coup d’etat.

Loading bales of gunnies in Calcutta and in Chittagong took some time but eventually we set off for the Cape of Good Hope and onwards to South America without any major incidents.  

Down in the BA docks, there was a notorious area at the time, known as the ‘Arches’ where cafes and bars, dance halls and clubs were flourishing, and it was a magnet for visiting seamen.   On our visit, the atmosphere on shore visits was charged up, especially for us young apprentices, ignorant but game as we were.     Expectations were high as we set out to taste all the delights on offer, and there was a distinctive musical background with orchestras belting out tangos and the loud piano bars wherever we went.    There was a fascination which has lasted to this day. The Argentinians only got going late on into the night, and it was quite usual to see families with young children dining in the city around midnight or later.        As a result of the late hours, some of us took a rest in the evening,  and went ashore better prepared for an all night foray.   

There were many highlights of this visit, or possibly low points, depending on your viewpoint.      On one occasion in an upstairs dance hall, there was the usual music, drinking, and dancing, and some of our crew were seen hanging on to girls on the dance floor and generally having a good time.   Some of them however, the worse for wear, were also spotted urinating in the corner of the room creating damp patches in the ceiling below!

Our discharge alongside took two riotous weeks, and near the last night, shots were heard from the shore in the early hours.     It turned out that some of the returning crew had been fired on by the port police, after they had kicked over bins, and generally created mayhem as they staggered back on board.       There was a breathless discussion in the mess room afterwards as they re-lived what had happened.    It had been a memorable port stay that had fully lived up to expectations. 

Next stop was Vitoria in Brazil to load iron ore for a homeward run.    This was completed without further incident, the loading going very quickly, and giving no time for high jinx ashore.  Only the rhythmic music flooding the radio waves told us what we were missing. 

In Bremen, we all left the ship to travel home in the ferry from the Hook of Holland to Harwich.    Our crew at the end of the voyage were a mixed bag of seamen that had been recruited or obtained in various ports around the world. They were replacements for those that had signed on in Liverpool.    Some were hard cases, with a story to tell, and there were more incidents on the ferry as drink and freedom took hold.      The author’s last recollection of this trip, was an AB with a bird in a cage covered by a cloth.     We were boarding the train in Harwich.  Responding to requests to see the bird, the owner lifted the cloth only to see the parrot laying flat on it’s back in the bottom of the cage with it’s feet in the air.   It was somehow symbolic of the whole unforgettable trip. 

Alan A Rawlinson

Author of ” Merchant Navy Apprentice 1951-1955″