Category Archives: Bank Line

A site for any Bank Line related material

FIRBANK – the lead ship of 21 ordered from William Doxford in Sunderland in 1957. The last ship, the SPRUCEBANK, was delivered in 1964.

Sailed the Oceans for 24 years. 1957 to 1973 for Bank Line, then as AEGIS BEAUTY under the Greek flag for 5 years. Her final 3 years were under the flag of the Maldives as MALDIVE SEAFARER. ( A nice touch given the Bank Line’s familiarity with the Islands.)

INVERDARGLE – Great photo of the loaded tanker – one of 6 built at Bremer Vulkan Schiffs, Vegesack 1938. 480 ft long. All six were WW2 casualties….

History: This beautiful vessel with a full cargo of aviation spirit from Trinidad and heading for Avonmouth hit a mine almost at her destination when off of the North Devon coast, and blew up and sank, killing 49 persons. It was only a few months into WW2 but the Bristol channel had already been mined. ( see below an extract from wrecksite).

The British motor tanker Inverdargle struck a mine laid by the U-33 on November 9, 1939 in the Bristol Channel, southwest England. All of the ship’s complement of 49 died. The 9,456 ton Inverdargle was carrying aviation fuel and was bound for Avonmouth, England.  

CONGELLA – a ship with an interesting career……

Built in 1914 by Blohm and Voss, Hamburg, as SECUNDUS for Hamburg America Line. She survived the war, but was handed to France as a prize in 1920. Twin Screw and 400 ft long. After service for French companies, she was sold to the USA Barbar U.S. Lines and became SAGAMI, then MINDORO. In 1933, Bank Line purchased her, 10 years later she met her end when in 1943 she was torpedoed by a Japanese submarine near the Maldive Islands with the loss of 28 persons.

CLYDEBANK – last trip.

The Death of A Lady

It had to come some time, but why on my tour of duty !. December 14th 1999 marked a bad day in the annals of my seafaring career and also that of all of us on board. That dreaded message from the office, ‘Please call Superintendents Department as soon as possible’.

These messages are only bad news. So, onto the phone and, ‘sorry old son’ the voice said, ‘ but I have to inform you that Clydebank has been sold to the breakers, after completion of the ship’s present employment, you should proceed to India where arrangements are being made to beach the ship at Alang breakers yard’. Silence from my end. Not much to say really. A few pleasantries, Merry Xmas and all that, 

(Redundant just before Xmas ??, who knows), and off to break the good news to all.

At this point it is worth mentioning that the ship had a full complement of passengers (8) determined to enjoy the Xmas and Millennium celebrations at sea, the ship was on charter loaded down to her marks, only three weeks out of Europe to East Africa and Indian Ocean islands and a long term rubber contract to fulfil from Indonesia to USA. Absolutely no thoughts of scrapping / sale etc. Bemusing really. Anyway, down to the officer’s bar, (where else ?), ‘got some bad news chaps’, and proceeded to inform all of the decision to scrap the ship. Of course the questions and speculations were rife. The officers took all in their stride as was to be expected but the passengers were, for the most, by degrees, angry, upset, philosophical and disappointed. Who could blame them really.

Sailing from each of the ports after the news had leaked out was to prove very emotional and not a little upsetting. Leaving Mombassa, Spica, a company contracted to prevent stowaways boarding lined the quay with all their employees to wave a sad farewell. Of course, being a founder member of the cynics club, I could also say they were saying farewell to a regular and lucrative source of income !!.

Departing Reunion was equally emotional. The ship had been dressed overall with all hands on deck. Wives, officials and stevedores on the quay to bid a fond farewell. Now just seven more days and the end of the line. 

Next an urgent message from the local agents dealing with the ship’s entry into India. ‘ Gujurat is a dry state, please declare a nil bond and ensure there is no alcohol on board on arrival’. What no booze !! tut tut. Here then follows the most bizarre experience of my seagoing career. 100 litres of Gin, 80 litres of Vodka 120 cases of Beer plus much more, all deposited into the Indian ocean. Lots of sad faces. But hark, do I hear the Psst of a can ?, surely not  especially after explicit instructions from yours truly. 

Needless to say, Uncle George the electrician, being a canny ,or is that mean, Scot had sequestered an emergency supply and a jolly good job to as on arrival the first demand from the boarding Authorities was for a Xmas ‘gift’. 

Arrival Bhagnavar, the port of entry for Alang, produced a ten strong boarding party comprising Customs Officials, Agents and Surveyors, together their respective carrywalas  all determined to relieve the ship of a many moveable objects as possible in the shortest space of time. It all ended up, after a five hour battle, with honours even. I was granted permission to proceed, and promptly moved the ship down to the holding area. There were six other ships waiting their turn to beach but ships, like house transactions, require the moneys to be paid over before the final act, hence the queue. Twenty four hours later, I received word from the Owners that the moneys had, in fact, been paid and I was authorised to take any further instructions from the new owners. ( Nerd Shipping, would you believe !!).

These further instructions came shortly after and I took the ship down to ‘Death Row’. This is an area a couple of miles off the beaching area, to wait for high water thus ensuring the ship went as far up the beach as possible. You see, the method is to stand off the beach a couple of miles, wind the engine up to full speed and see how far it is possible to get the ship up the beach before grinding to a halt. You can imagine ten thousand tonnes, travelling at some twenty miles per hour takes a lot of stopping. It doesn’t quite work out like this, but the basics are correct.

So, the word comes down, ‘sorry captain, there’s no Pilot available tonight, just follow my instructions, weigh anchor, and let me know when you are ready’. 

At this point I would point out that it is 4 am, there are some 170 breakers facilities within a three mile stretch of the beach and from some two miles out all I can see are lights, lots of them !!. More bleats on the radio, ‘are you ready Captain ?’. ‘OK’ said I, just where do you want me to point the ship at ?’. There follows lots of directions from the Beaching Master in the form of courses to steer and the only other question, ‘is your engine up to full speed yet ?’. 

Now, you have to remember that all my professional life I have been trained to avoid the beach like the plague. Owners tend to take a dim view of any  groundings, which usually result in ‘Termination of Employment’ unless a suitable con job can be dreamed up by the offending party. Well here I am, 4 in the morning, pitch black, eighteen knots plus and headed for the beach. At the mile mark I can make out the silhouettes of many ships in various stages of deconstruction. The ship to beach before me was a 150.000 tonnes tanker. Have to go up alongside her. Can’t miss really. Out of the gloom she appears and as my ship touches the bottom, she takes a big shear to starboard, straight towards the tanker.

Didn’t quite panic, not that sort of chap really, a quick wheel over,  straighten up and,…… strangely, no fuss, no drama,  just a gentle slide to a  stop. Main engine trips out of its own accord on overload but as the after end of the ship and generator sea suctions are still in the water at least we have electrical power. 

‘Abandon Ship !!. All hands to the boats’, all very dramatic but the only way I and the crew can leave the ship in safety. Thirty seven men and one woman. Some of the men having been on board for a year or more can accumulate a lot of gear. ( Just go take a look in your garage !) The boats are duly loaded, the senior engineers go down the engine room and shut the ship down, all the lights go out, the fans stop, all those noises that have become familiar over the months, all stopped, very strange. The emergency generator, air cooled suddenly cuts in automatically but provides only emergency lighting. This will trundle on until the fuel runs out.

As the forepart is the only part of the  ship in the water we have to leave by lifeboat. ‘lower away’ is the cry, both lifeboats down to the water without incident, on towards the beach, past the bow towering high above us, proud even now. Boats now beached and lots of help to unload into waiting transport.

A final look back, 27 years of trading, countless ports, myriad of personalities involved with her, both on board and ashore. Many hundreds of thousands of miles travelled. Seen all the emotions, joy, sorrow, fear, despair. Seen all that nature can throw at her and survived them all.

But this, the final cargo, the final port, the final voyage, the final ignominy. so very, very sad,

The Death of a Lady.

Clydebank.   R.I.P.

Alang, 

Gujarat Province,

India.  

6th January 2000   22.53 hrs GMT.

Kindly contributed by Captain John Millar

1924 BIRCHBANK – Bombed in 1944

The Birchbank shown here was one of 18 twin screw vessels delivered by Harland and Wolff Ltd in 1924. This order was one of the largest ever in the UK at this time. She was a casualty in WW2 being bombed and sunk in1943 when fully loaded with military cargo from the UK. Location: Mostaganem, Algeria. Exactly half of the 18 vessels were lost in WW2, 9 out of the total. The survivors put in around 35 years each before going to scrap.

CONGELLA – 10 years in the Bank Line from 1933 to 1943 when she was sunk by a Japanese torpedo which killed 28 people on board.

History of this ship: Built by Blohm and Voss in Hamburg in 1914. She was the SECUNDUS sailing with Hamburg/America line. Taken by France after WW1. In 1927 sold to Barber S.S.Lines in the USA and named SAGAMI. sold on and given the name MINDORO, before the Bank Line purchase in 1933.

Solafric – built in 1909 and a ship with a history…

Built in 1909 by Barclay Curle in Glasgow and 3487 tons gross. 330ft long. for the East Asiatic Co with the name BANDON. Originally a steamer, the propulsion was changed and she became one of three that had first UK diesel engines fitted in 1914. In 1916 she was sold to a Norway Co and became the FOLKVARD. IN 1927 BANK LINE purchased her and renamed her SOLAFRIC. She then ran for a further 8 years and was broken up in Ghent around 1935.

Kelvinbank – purchased by the Bank Line in 1934. Torpedoed in 1943 by U510 off the coast of Brazil

3/2009 KELVINBANK MV was a British Cargo Motor Vessel of 3,872 tons built in 1921 by William Hamilton & Co, Port Glasgow. She was built as Malia MV for Thos & Jno Brocklebank, Liverpool. In 1927 British & Burmese Sn Co. and Burmah SS Co. (P.Henderson), Glasgow acquired the vessel and she was renamed Daga Mv. Finally she was sold in 1934 to Bank Line Ltd. (Andrew Weir) and renamed KELVINBANK. On the 9th March 1943 when on route from Alexandria , Table Bay & Bahia for Trinidad & Macoris in ballast she was torpedoed by German submarine U-510 and sunk. 28 crew lost from a total of 59. Read more at wrecksite: https://www.wrecksite.eu/wreck.aspx?17499

Four Men in a Boat – Chapter 11 by “Shipmate”

11 ELEVEN (Freetown frolics))

 The shipping company was owned and operated by Unilever who had sighted their head office in Knightsbridge overlooking Regents Park.

Freshly qualified and wanting a change from the ‘Tramp ships’ where he had ‘served his time’, the recently qualified Deck Officer was on his way for an interview with the Marine Superintendent.

The plush reception was extremely modern consisting of a highly polished stainless steel staircase with dome topped balustrades starting at the glass surrounded mezzanine floor and ending in the center of the large reception area.

.  The rope railings gave a nautical feel to the area, as did a wall clocks, displaying the local time of the world’s major cities.  Huge glass windows overlooked Hyde Park and soft leather settees with matching armchairs were arranged in several groups around smoked glass coffee tables strewn with glossy magazines.  The large pale shiny marble tiles reflected the ornate earthenware plant pots and their colourful contents.

Two attractive receptionists dealt with visitors by announcing them and directing them to where they had to go.  In between they also dispensed coffee and advice as well as operating the discreet switchboard. 

Shortly before eleven, which was his appointed time, a petite brunette descended the stairs.  She was wearing a smart business suit, a crisp white blouse and had her hair tied back in a ‘pony-tail’.  She exchanged a few words with one of the receptionists and approached the waiting sailor.

‘Please follow me,’ she said, and was almost halfway up the stairs before he realized that she had been speaking to him.  He quickly caught up and as they entered the lift, he was delighted by the fragrance he noticed that she was wearing.  She seemed to sense his interest and avoided eye contact.  The lift stopped on the fifth floor and he followed her to the left along a passageway with doors leading off of each side.  They carried on until the end of the corridor and entered through glass double doors directly facing them.  The girl seated herself at a desk and picked up the ‘intercom,’ announcing the arrival of the prospective candidate.

‘You may go in.  Captain Henderson will see you now.’

Suddenly her cool demeanor changed and she glanced up with a brief smile.

Captain Henderson had risen at his large glass topped desk and shook hands with the arrival.  His other arm pointed to a chair indicating where his visitor should sit.  He opened a file and spent a few moments silently studying it.  After what seemed an age, he spoke.

“I have all of your details in here and they appear quite satisfactory.  I see you are used to long trips so as most of ours are three months, four maximum, it should present little problem.  So tell me why you chose us as a prospective employer?”

‘Well Sir, first and foremost, apart from a change, I want to continue with a company needing seamanship and cargo handling skills.  That combined with more frequent returns to the United Kingdom and top class ships and pay is what I’m looking for.  In return I pledge a hundred per cent loyalty and diligence.  Having served my time on tramp ships I feel that I can offer a wide range of experience both at sea and in port.  Tankers, passenger ships and bulk carriers are not really for me.”

The Superintendent wrote a few notes in the file before looking up.

“I see you’ve always been with lascar crews.  How do you think you would get on with white crew?  We have quite a mixture, Scots, Scousers, Geordies and the Irish.”

“My elder brother is an A.B. and we get on well.  I’ve never had any problem with ethnics of any kind and am sure that at the end of the day, the crew are just people after all.  If there is ever a problem, like all new experiences, I’ll have to learn to cope.”” 

Further notes were added to the file that was then closed with a flourish; Captain Henderson sat back in his chair that tilted backwards.  He formed a steeple with his hands and said,

“As you know our trade is mainly with West Africa.  There are two main issues.  The oppressive humid heat and the people.  They are very different to those from India and their recent independence causes us to be very careful and co-operative.  Sometimes it’s like walking about barefoot around broken glass.”

He paused to sip from his cup.  “Is there anything you wish to ask or say?”

“I’ve been involved in a bit of diplomacy, indirectly on Unilever’s behalf.”  Volunteered the interviewee.  “We were loading copra in Tonga when the ten-year contract came to an end.  Queen Salote’ in Nukualofa was invited on board to a party resulting in a new period being signed by her, the other signatory was Unilever.  The copra was destined for your factory in ‘Silvertown’.  It was pretty hot in the Pacific Islands and could be very wet too, in the rainy seasons.”

“Well, I think that perhaps concludes the interview – you’ll hear from us in a few days after we’ve seen the others.”

  Captain Henderson stood a smiled offering his hand.  He had buzzed his secretary to show the candidate out and was surprised when the young man confronted him.

“Sir, I’m sorry to appear pushy, but I want a job with you.  I believe I would ‘fit the bill’ and give you no cause for regret.  From my point of view, the job would be ideal.  Is there any chance you could let me know sooner?  I could ring in.  It would save a couple of days waiting for the post.

‘Very well, call my secretary on Friday around noon.  Good luck”

When his guest and secretary left, the Marine Superintendent lit a cigarette and opened the file on his desk.  A rubber stamp mark had been added at the bottom of the application form and contained three boxes.  One said passed, one said failed and the box underneath said signature.

He took a gold fountain pen from his desk set removed the cap and signed the signature box in ebony ink.  He pondered a few moments and finally ticked the box marked passed.

The first thing he noticed when arriving at the berth in the ‘Royal Albert Docks,’ was the huge green palm tree on the funnel and the unusual green hull colour.  The ship was moored near Silvertown, close to where her imported cargo had been destined.  She had already been discharged and was taking on general cargo.  From the look of her draft she was nearly fully loaded.  A number of vehicles were adjacent to the loading area including two heavy locomotives and the new third officer presumed correctly that these would go on last as deck cargo.  The ships own heavy lifting gear, remained secured to the foremast from which he deduced that the shore cranes would be deployed in loading the railway engines that had been covered in grease to protect them from the ravages of the sea.  Four ‘ring plates’ had been strategically welded to the engines to facilitate handling.

The obligatory ship’s watchman manned the top on the gangplank.  Unlike any he had experienced previously, this one was white.  He descended the boarding steps and greeted the Officer by rank.

“Leave your bags Third, I’ll get them sent to your cabin.”

The ‘walkie – talkie’ burst into life and an unseen person responded to the watchman’s instructions.

‘That’s all arranged Sir.  Top of the gangway, head for the bow, fist entrance to port, one fight up, third cabin down the corridor.  Plaque on door will confirm.

“Thank you sailor, you’ve been most helpful.  What’s your name?”  The new Officer asked.

“People call me ‘Scouse’ but my proper name is Hubbard.  George Hubbard.”

“Very good George.  I’ll see you around.”

The Officer had no idea of the protocol but it had seemed only natural to address an experienced and older person in a civil manner.  He ascended the steps and followed the directions.

His cabin was a big improvement from those of any other ship he had seen, from the plush fitted carpet on the deck, to the polished wooden furniture and paneling.  Another door revealed his own private shower and toilet that was tiled all over.  The shower tray was over a half a meter deep that presumably doubled as a  ‘bijou bath,’ and he was surprised to find that all the bathroom fittings were ceramic and not some sort of plastic.

His cabin comprised of a larger than normal bunk with the rest of the cabin being laid out like a day room or comfortable office.  An ample desk complete fronted by a swivel chair with armrests, was sighted along one bulkhead and benefitted from natural light through a gleaming brass porthole.  The desk even displayed a coloured telephone and an ‘angle-poise’ reading lamp.

There was a knock on his door but when he opened it there was nobody to be seen.  However his luggage stood in the companionway so he took it in and began unpacking.

He was stowing his suitcase in the bottom of his wardrobe when there was another knock on the door.

“Hold on I’ll be with you in a moment,” he called.

A short while later he opened his door and an unusually tall figure announced himself as the Chief officer. 

Hello there third, I’m Charles.  Welcome aboard.  If you’re free I’d be honoured to buy you a drink.”

“Sounds good, “exclaimed John, “Lead the way.”

He followed his senior along the corridor and up one flight of stairs that lead to the boat deck where the dining saloon and lounge bar were situated.

The lounge was very comfortably furnished and in addition to armchairs and leather sofa’s a number of oval tables, flanked with chairs, filled the area in front of the bar itself which occupied the whole of the aft end of the room.  As in most ships, the tables and chairs were secured to the deck allowing sufficient room to maneuver.  The concealed lighting, served to enhance the ambience and the thick carpet displaying the company logo contributed to the rather lavish surroundings.

 Only two other customers occupied the bar and both being apprentices who were seated on barstools, stood out of respect for their peers.  The Chief Officer made the introductions and the senior apprentice signaled to the barman to put the round of drinks on his tab.  It was explained that no money exchanged hands and the Officers purchased drinks by signing a chit.  The chits were totaled weekly and the final sum deducted at the end of the voyage.

The barman, who was Maltese, had overheard the conversation and volunteered that it was the least busy bar he had ever experienced.  John politely assured the barman of his regular custom, and the apprentices said they would attend more frequently if there were less lemonade in the shandy.  

The ship left the docks the following afternoon, dropping the Thames pilot off close to Margate before turning to starboard and heading down the English Channel.

Whilst at sea the regular watch keepers limited their use of the bar whose main customers’ were the senior officers and less frequently the Captain.  There turned out to be another reason for the lack of activity that the Maltese barman had complained about.  The new third mate was later to discover the reason when they anchored off of Freetown the capital of Sierra Leone, the first port of their arrival on the West African coast.

Prior to his four-hour evening stint on anchor watch, he decided to down a pint after dinner.  He left the dining saloon and went down to his cabin for a packet of cigarettes.  As he came out again, he literally bumped into the senior apprentice.

“Your in a bit of a hurry,” he said.

“Sorry Sir, just on my way for a wet.” replied the lad.

“Thought you’ve been aboard long enough to know your way around.  You’re going the wrong way!”

“There’s a party in the fourth engineer’s cabin – follow me Sir.”

They both made for the portside corridor and about hallway down they came to the engineers cabin.  From the noise coming from inside, it certainly seemed like there was a bit of a party going on.  As they entered someone thrust a glass into their hands, together with a cold can of beer.

“Top ups are as usual,” said the fourth, passing his cigarettes around even though the air was blue with smoke.

The third mate found a seat on the settee next to the purser and the apprentice squeezed onto the bunk that was already occupied by the radio operator and one of the two fitters.  Jokes were doing the rounds and although most had been heard before, it didn’t seem to diminish the laughter.

After half an hour or so, the third mate became aware that when people had finished their drink they went to the wardrobe for another.  He decided to have one more before his anchor watch and followed the apparently normal practice by opening the wardrobe door.  Like ‘old mother Hubbard’s cupboard,’ it was empty.

“Looks like your out of beer!’ he exclaimed.

It was like someone had switched the sound off as everyone stopped speaking.  A little while later, led by the fourth engineer, everyone started to chuckle.

“Look again third,” he said.

Closer examination explained the popularity of the fourth’s cabin and the reason for the poor attendance in the lounge bar. 

A copper pipe leading from the kegs in the cellar, passed through the wardrobe before ending up in the ships bar directly above.  Nobody knows who was responsible, but a brass tap had been brazed in the line.

His companions convinced the newcomer that due to a reasonable use of the ships bar by those in the know, the tap had remained undiscovered. 

They had only stopped at Freetown to take on bunkers, which due to the low taxes and duty made the port very popular with vessels of all nations.  From his vantage point on the bridge the third officer wondered what it was like and thought it a pity that he wasn’t able to go ashore.

Little did he know that the next time he visited the port it would be under very different circumstances indeed.

He didn’t know the reason but they were unable to go alongside in Takoradi and had to discharge the cargo onto lighters.  Luckily they were moored to large buoys that had been permanently secured to the seabed.

Disaster struck on the morning after their arrival.  The crew had been busy rigging the heavy lift in readiness for discharging the locomotives.  It had been tested and found to be in perfect order.

The condition, however, did not compensate for an inexperienced winch man.

Chains were secured with steel shackles into the purpose built rings that had been deliberately placed to ensure horizontal balance.

As the heavy railway engine was lowered over the side, the engineers flooded tanks on the opposite side to compensate.  All was going well with the ships crew assisting by easing or tightening the guys as appropriate.

All it took was for one of the two winch men to get it wrong.  Instead of continuing to pull the lift over the side to clear the combing, one of the local stevedores started to prematurely lower.  The wheels on the bogey caught in part on the ships railing that buckled on impact but not before interfering with the balance.  Suddenly freed from the obstruction, the engine fell heavily and the momentum was too much for the restraints, which tore out from their anchor points.  The safety wire strop slipped down the body and fell ineffectively over the end and failed to arrest the falling locomotive.  People were running in all directions and a loud cheer went up as the engine hit the water with an almighty splash.

The new deck Officer remained dumbstruck for a few moments and then made a few notes in his deck log.  He instructed the bosun to get a written statement from any crewmembers who had witnessed the catastrophe.

Finally he called the senior apprentice to temporarily take over the cargo watch while he reported the accident to the Chief Officer and made an entry into the logbook.

The Chief Officer commented that it wasn’t the first such incident of its kind and told the watch keeper to write up a full report for insurance purposes.

‘It’s very significant to clearly indicate whether the engine was over the ship or over the side because from what you have told me and as far as the insurance people are concerned, the liability will be determined by this information.”  

The third Officer barely noticed the wink when the Chief Officer emphasised ‘over the side.’

They left unloading the other locomotive until later when the swell had reduced by which time it was no longer the third mate’s watch and all went well as the second railway engine was discharged without incident.

The journey to Lagos was uneventful and they anchored outside while awaiting a berth in the harbor.  Anchor watches were kept but other than periodic bearings being taken to ensure that the anchor wasn’t dragging, there was little to do other than catch up with the post.

Darkness came swiftly in the lower latitudes and it had been dark for all of the third mate’s watch.  He was three hours into his duty when he saw a signal light flashing from ashore.  The international call sign was easy to recognize being the letter ‘A’ repeated several times.

 He was baffled at what followed.

 The shore signalers did very little else but Morse code and as a consequence tended to be very rapid.  Try as he might he was unable to make sense of the speedy transmission especially as he was out of practice with his Morse.  All he was able to decipher was a series of ‘AP’s which he thought related to a code.  There were three large volumes of codebooks in the chart room but after perusing them for a long while he gave up and called ‘Sparks’. 

The radio officer came up onto the bridge smoking a cigarette.

“Hello third,” he said, “ What can I do for you?”

“Thanks for coming up ‘Sparks.’  Wonder if you could decode the shore signal for me.  My Morse is a bit rusty!”

“Sure is rusty,” said ‘Sparks,’ glancing casually at the shore side signal station, 

“It’s not a code.  It says we are docking in Apapa.  Pilot due at seven in the morning.  Do you want me to send affirmative?”

“Great.  I’ll owe you a beer,” said the watch keeper.

Sparks picked up the ‘Aldis’ lamp and replied.

The shore station responded causing ‘Sparks’ to chuckle that denigrated into a coughing fit due to his cigarette habit.  When he had sufficiently recovered he told the Third Officer that the reply from ashore said…’Show off!’

Nigeria was the start of intensive work schedules that consisted of cargo watches during the day with frequent early starts and late finishes.  Often the ship would leave soon after completion of cargo and travel to the next port during the night.  Sometimes it took two or three days between ports but long periods of stand-by contributed to the exhaustion though the main culprit was the extreme heat and humidity.

Once all the cargo had been discharged they headed back the way they had come loading as they went.

The main cargo consisted of ground nuts in sacks, several types of tree trunks, mainly hardwood, weighing up to two tons a piece and other timber products, ranging from plywood to sawn and planed planks.  The latter was a recent innovation from newly erected factories that machined the wood more or less at source and were even capable to producing adhesive backed, parquet flooring.

The heavy trunks were floated down rivers and collected in great rafts before weighing and marking.  Some woods didn’t float and had to be supported by lighter trunks lashed on either side.

Loading the huge trunks could be a dangerous job, particularly in the tween decks where they had to be ‘bulled’ into the corners using snatch blocks and steel hawsers.  Sometimes the hooks slipped or a wire parted with a whiplash crack and wound itself around the nearest obstacle.  Woe betides anyone in the way.

During loading one afternoon the hatches were about to be secured to the lower hold that was fully loaded, when one of the ‘bull’ lines parted.  The steel cable sprang back viciously and severed the hand of one of the native stevedores who was assisting in the tween decks.  He was quickly brought up and the injured arm attended to by the ships Officers before an ambulance arrived.

The severed hand had fallen down the lower hold and after much discussion it was decided to leave it for two reasons.  First and foremost, no facilities existed to unite the missing hand and secondly it would take almost two days to recover it and involve moving several hundred tons of logs.

The normal sea-going routine resumed once all the homeward bound cargo had been loaded.

Everyone welcomed the relief at putting to sea once more and the regular relief of watch keeping coupled with the fresh sea air. 

The new Third Officer felt well integrated and a true member of the ship.

 He had coped with the issue of hardened white seaman reasonably well, particularly in regards to the twenty-two stone ‘Geordie’ who was one of the duty lookouts while under way.

On the way across the Bay of Biscay he had seen a reflection in the bridge windows of the lookout, furtively smoking, on the lee bridge wing.

 How he was to deal with and maintain a certain respect was a quandary.

He went out onto the wing of the bridge but the lookout had hidden the burning cigarette behind his back.  He spent the next ten minutes giving the lookout a lesson about all the stars and planets that they could see.  As he returned to the bridge to check the position, the lookout thanked him being genuinely interested.

He turned and said,

“ We’ll carry on tomorrow night if you like but hopefully there will not be any more things that glow in the night.”  He wondered afterwards, if the poor man had burnt his fingers. 

The message seemed to have got through although nothing was ever said.

But thereafter he looked forward to a dish of hot potato chips that was surreptitiously left in the chartroom whenever the big Geordie who had been on standby, relieved the look out.

One night his pacing backwards and forwards was interrupted by the other lookout that asked,

“Excuse me Sir, is it okay if I see where my relief has got to?  He is twenty minutes late.  Probably dozed off!”

Being reminded that his sustenance was overdue, the Officer agreed to the request.

After a few minutes had passed, the man returned.  He appeared quite agitated and said,

 “I think you’d better come quickly.  There’s blood all over the place.”

What to do?  It could well be a false alarm, as he knew that the crew were not past playing practical jokes especially in retaliation for the cigarette incident.  On the other hand, what if it were true?

He picked up the telephone and dialed the senior apprentice.

“Report to the bridge immediately.  Don’t worry about a uniform.”

After quickly explain the situation to the sleepy apprentice, he followed the seaman to his quarters.

A bank of three shower cubicles contained the bloody body of the Geordie.  He immediately sent for the Chief Officer and gave instructions for a stretcher and medicine kit.

The big man had slashed his wrists and lost a great deal of blood.  There were some white towels in a locker and using these he was able to stem the flow.

A short time later the Chief Officer arrived and with the help of the bosun who had also been alerted, heaved the patient onto the stretcher.  Onlookers became compulsory volunteers and with great difficulty, carried the stretcher to the hospital where the injuries could receive more appropriate treatment.

It was in the early hours of next morning before the Third Officer finally turned in.  He had to make entries into the log, write a report, and fill in the accident book.  The Captain had been in touch with the nearest port, which was about ten hours away.

“I don’t want to pay docking fees so we will just anchor while he’s taken ashore.  Funny isn’t it?  It happened on your watch and it’ll be your watch again when he goes ashore!”

Overcome by tiredness, the Third Officer soon drifted off to sleep blissfully unaware of what was in store for him the next day.

It was important to be dead on time for ones watch when effectively the responsibility for the ship was passed over.  Although the overall responsibility remained with the Master his Officers acted as deputies.

The main information imparted was the course and speed, the latest position, the traffic and the weather.  A pencil line on the chart indicated their destination in Sierra Leonne and happened to be the place that the Third Officer had been curious about on the way down- Freetown. 

They had no trouble finding a suitable anchorage and a tender left the docks and headed their way as soon as the anchor was secured.  The gangway was lowered but it was decided that due to the swell, the stretcher would be lowered using a boom.

On the bridge the Captain was in radio contact with the shore and instructed the duty Officer to accompany the patient to the hospital.

“You’d better take four men to carry him.  He’s a big fellow.”

In hindsight that was where the trouble began.

The bosun appointed his strongest sailors to carry the stretcher.  It just happened that they were the most unruly. 

 Straps bound their shipmate, as stretchers on ships are reinforced with willow stakes and double up as straight jackets.  His bare feet poked out at one end and his head with a strap across his forehead to stop movement, protruded from the other.  He was conscious but drowsy.

The four sailors and the Officer clattered down the gangway and boarded the launch.  As the stretcher was lowered, the sailors guided their friend onto the launch that was cast off at once and headed for the jetty where an ambulance awaited.

Liverpool is renowned for its comedians and two of the party were no exception.  It started when they kidded their friend that they would take his slippers and gradually proceeded from the verbal stage to tickling his feet.

It was hilarious and the patient who was unable to resist was in hysterics’.  Ashore, the ambulance crew that consisted of the driver and a diminutive nurse were unable to move the heavy patient so they all assisted in loading the stretcher and piled in afterwards.

The hospital was situated at the highest point of the town and was once a mission that had been adapted and served both as a morgue and a general hospital.  On arrival, the nurse led the way into a room with a high vaulted ceiling that doubled as an operating theatre and a forensic investigation laboratory.

 At its center was a dark marble platform used as a mortuary slab as well as an operating table.  As a consequence it was chest high but benefited from modern illumination immediately above the table.

Even the fit sailors were unable to lift their burden so high so their spokesman said,

“On the count of three!”

They had positioned themselves at the narrow end of the table and commenced swinging the recumbent man strapped to the stretcher.

With a mighty heave when they reached three they let go as one.  The stretcher complete with its occupant swung into the air and landed on the table.

Unfortunately the momentum and the polished surface, caused it to carry on and in a sort of slow motion it slithered along the table and came to a halt with the stretcher half on and half in mid air.  The onlookers watched in horror as it teetered on the edge and then toppled over the end, crashing onto the tiled floor.  They were amazed that not a peep came from the patient that is until they realized that he had been cleanly knocked unconscious. 

They recovered from their stunned silence together.  The doctor set about stopping the bleeding from the cut caused by the fall.  The nurse helped her boss and the ship’s Officer went off to get some help to lift the injured man back onto the table.  He came back after five minutes with the porter and two gardeners.  It took all six of them to get the stretcher back onto the table. 

 The Third mate was anxious to find his crewmen but he had first to get a signature signing over the patient to the Doctor’s care.

Looking at the marble slab that doubled as an autopsy table, he said,

“At least you wont have to move him again if he croaks it.”

The look on the Doctor’s face made him immediately regret his flippant remark.

He hastily picked up his signed form and headed downhill towards the harbor, in hot pursuit of the missing bearers.

He struck lucky when he heard them holding forth in the first bar he came to.  Problem one had been accomplished but problem two, which was how to get them back on board, was much more difficult.  None of them shared his watch and consequently they had not really come across one and other. 

He felt very self-conscious when entering the bar as he was still in uniform as technically he was still on watch.  It was relatively early so there was not much activity apart from at one table by the sliding window overlooking the harbor.

The four men sat around the table smoking and drinking.  Judging by the empties they had had more than one drink.  As he approached their table they caught sight of him.

‘What have we here?” one of the sailors asked not expecting a reply.

Without a word the Officer pulled up a chair from a vacant table and sat down.  The man that had spoken appeared to be the self appointed leader. 

The officer thought that if he could get through to him that the others would follow.  Hit the ringleader and the rest would back down.  At least that’s what his father had told him.  He addressed the weather beaten seaman.

‘Its alright for you lot, I haven’t any money!”

‘We’ll get you a shandy, that right lads?”  The old sailors remarks caused his friends to laugh.

“No thanks, but I could murder a pint though.”

Two drinks and several jokes later when he judged it to be the right moment, he casually stood up and said,

“We had better be getting back otherwise I’ll be in a lot of trouble.”

After a few moments hesitation the old salt also stood up saying, “We wouldn’t like that would we lads.  Getting our drinking mate into trouble?’

They all chorused their agreement and downing the rest of there drinks followed the young Officer out of the bar and into a waiting taxi which dropped them off on the quay near the motor launch.

Within half an hour they were homeward bound for Tilbury the anchor having been safely lifted and stowed.

The fist thing to be sent ashore on their arrival was the personal effects belonging to their crewmember who had been left in Africa.

During the packing of his belongings, his correspondence was briefly scrutinised by the bosun and Officer charged with the task.  They were looking for a suicide note or any reason why the able seaman had cut his wrists.

They came across the reason early on in the form of a ‘Dear John.’

Most men, away from home in the forces, are aware of the dreaded ‘Dear John’ which usually is from an unhappy wife or sweetheart who has decided not to wait and found pastures new.

They were pleased to find out that their shipmate had made a full recovery and had beaten them home.  Having signed on to their sister ship, he was happily on the way back to West Africa minus his girl friend.

The whole crew were to take their leave at the end of the voyage which necessitated them all staying on until all the cargo had been discharged which would have been for about ten days had it not been for the Easter break and the Strike.  As a result, they didn’t ‘pay off for nearly another three weeks.

The Strike started on the Wednesday before Easter and it was rumoured that it was manufactured to enable the Dockers to get an extra holiday.

The reality was quite different.

Halfway into the discharge of the massive logs from one of the lower holds, a stevedore came across a most unusual item.  He picked it up to examine it having had his attention drawn to it by on of the numerous crabs that came aboard with the logs in West Africa.

To his horror it was a human hand.

He dropped the object of his attention that disappeared into a gap between the logs.

Having been told of the find, the trades union official called an immediate strike until the hand had been removed.

The ship’s Officers were faced with a dilemma.  They were happy with the union’s ultimatum but were in a chicken and egg situation.  They agreed that the offensive item needed removing but of course the only people who could move the cargo to get to it, were the stevedores themselves, who were on strike.

In the event it was felt that everyone off duty should take advantage of the long Easter break.

The Tuesday following Bank holiday Monday saw everyone return to work apart from the stevedores who sat around lighted braziers and chatted or played cards.

The stalemate was finally broken when the Chief Officer told the head Union man that the African was offering one Hundred Pounds for the return of his hand in any condition. 

 Unloading resumed with noticeable zeal as the stevedores competed to find the severed appendage

Later that evening in the bar, the Chief Officer admitted that he had invented the ‘hand–out’ but felt sure that the Shipping Company would cover the reward but couldn’t help wondering at their entry in the expenditure ledger.

 
To be continued………