Back to Frames

If there's no menu on the left click on the dog to take you back to frames.


David Dickinson's Memories

The early life of an Orient Line Cadet Purser!
By David Dickinson

Where do I begin? I was born in June 1936 at Woodford Green, Essex where we lived for the next few years until a nasty man dropped a bomb not far away and ruined our front windows! That required a hasty move with my mother and sister, first to Mansfield and then Worcester, with my father staying at home. These years were fairly uneventful, starting primary school and watching the Yanks going through with their convoys before D Day. A shout of 'any gum chum' usually resulted in sweets, biscuits etc. being thrown down to us hungry children!

After the war I returned to Woodford Primary School then high school until 1950 when we were sent to boarding school, which I hated! The only consolation was I was very good at sports, maths, French and German. I left school in 1953 with no job thoughts except I wanted to travel. At this stage we moved to Highams Park, London E4 where we had a guest house which had permanent guests. One of these worked for Woodhall Duckham and I got a job in the site office. After about three months the chief engineer offered me an engineering apprenticeship. It sounded interesting but I told him that I had written to several shipping companies looking for a job! Ironically the next day a letter came from the Orient Line asking me to come in for an interview.

Fully booted and spurred I went up to London and was shown into this large boardroom with me sitting at one end of a very long table and at the other end was three, to me, very distinguished gentlemen (one of whom had an eye patch).  All very unnerving and after many questions they said they would let me know!

click to enlarge

The next day a letter arrived in the mail confirming a position of cadet purser! I had no idea what a cadet purser did but I accepted! My next move was to visit that well established merchant navy tailor, Miller, Raynor and Haysom, to be fully kitted out as per the required list of basics.

In early January 1954, fully dressed as a cadet purser, I went by train to Tilbury Docks and boarded ss Otranto and proceeded to the purserís office. The first statement said to me was ďWe don't go ashore in uniform, unless on official business so next time come in civvies and incidentally where have you been?Ē What a welcome, apparently they had been told I would be joining on their arrival. The purser, EL French, who was known as Froggy but not by cadets, officially welcomed me and introduced me all round. As it was nearly lunchtime we adjourned to his cabin for a beer before lunch. My first ever beer but obviously I must have liked it as I havenít stopped drinking it since (some 63 years later!). At lunch a second beer and I was then told I might as well go back home as they were going into dry dock that afternoon and to come back in a few days time. When I got home later that afternoon, slightly light headed, my father couldn't believe I had such a good job! All that would change of course.

Back on board I started learning the ropes and the priority was finding out what a cadet purser did, which in retrospect, was just an office boy, running here and there at the whim of the other staff, using the Banda machine which used blue sheets where the colour could run (this was a predecessor to the Roneo machine). All the passenger and crew lists were done on this plus the cargo manifests etc. Soon after the ship sailed we ran off the first passenger list, which of course had to be updated after every port. Copies had to be available for the agents and officials at each port of call.

click to enlarge

We departed from Tilbury and sailed down the Thames to the English Channel and then into the Bay of Biscay that evening. Fortunately I had been across the North Sea a couple of times and wasn't sea sick! I watched us depart and suddenly felt free! That night dinner was in the office because of the work that had to be done but I did find out that I would be dining in the forward restaurant and would have a table of passengers. As I understood it, all deck, pursers, medical and entertainment officers were allocated a table. The engineers had a wardroom but the senior ones also had a table in one of the two restaurants. Our passengers were mainly migrants coming out to 'enjoy' a new life down under, they were known as the '10 Pound Poms'. On this voyage we would also be picking up migrants at Naples and Kalamata in Greece.

My cabin was a single (although on a later voyage I would share one for part of the trip) and it backed on to the shop. Accordingly it was one of the very few that had hot water, a point not missed by my colleagues who came in the morning for hot water for a shave! Nearly all the cabins had a small tank above the basin which was filled with cold water every day by the stewards. As the most junior officer I had to ensure my cabin was always unlocked as the office key was kept on the sofa in case it was needed during the night. Also, as I found out, I was the first called when cables came in during the night. If that happened I had to go up to the office and decode them. After a time I got to know message prefaces and would not decode them until morning. One five letter code was XOKIY which meant 'please pay passenger'. The company used to accept funds for passengers at the London office and the purser would make the appropriate payment. However, when ever one was addressed to the Captain and had a special preface, it would need instant decoding (and of course the further away we got from England it was usually later in the night). When done it was enveloped and I had to go up to the bridge and deliver same to the officer of the watch whose decision it was to decide whether to wake the Captain up or not.

click to enlarge

Breakfast was at 0800 hours and here I met my first sitting table companions for the voyage. One or two were missing because of the rough seas in the Bay. The voyage to Sydney took over 30 days and the company had 30 different menus for those days although the breakfast one rarely changed except when we picked up fresh fruits etc. Lunch and dinner changed every day and had added extras depending on what had been picked up at a port of call. As this was a one class ship voyage the menu, whilst interesting, was small in comparison to those of our first class ships. Interestingly, even though we would be picking up migrants from Italy, Greece and Northern Europe they would generally have to 'enjoy' English food with a French influence.

Back to work and my first role was to go to the Captain for his signature on some letters. Although we had lady assistant pursers they were basically 'glorified' stenographers who knew shorthand and of course they answered passenger queries at the bureau. Many also had one or two European languages and were able to help with passengers needs such as wanting to change cabins, complaints and sending mail and so on (we did have a letter bureau attendant who sorted mail inwards and outwards and sold postage stamps for the next port of call). We also had an assistant purser who was a cashier and as well as cashing traveller's cheques, was able to sell foreign currencies of the various ports of call and exchange same when passengers returned from ashore.

Back to the visit to the Captain. Grabbing 'my' brand new cap, I proceeded up to the Captainís cabin.  I went out via the promenade deck and immediately lost my cap overboard. I rushed back to the office and grabbed a cap and proceed by the leeward side (only afterwards did I learn the difference between windward and leeward). On walking into the Captainís cabin, folder under one arm and cap under the other, he actually welcomed me and asked if I was settling in. When he had read and signed the letters he said he hoped I would enjoy being part of Orient Line but I should remember that officers, however lowly, must wear an officers cap! Apparently I'd grabbed the letter bureau attendantís cap, and it was then I learnt that petty officers had a different cap badge to officers! I hastily dropped his cap back on the rack and wondered what to do, fortunately I met up with the assistant surgeon, an Australian, on a one way trip home working his passage. He offered me his cap as he said he wouldnít be needing it and fortunately it fitted. Saved by the cap!

Lunch that day was again with my first sitting passengers and as I understood it later that the 'officer' was expected to buy the first bottle of wine. I didnít that day. The afternoon was free to have a kip or sunbathe but as there was no sun sleep was the answer and a 1600 hours restart in the office. This time it was preparing the daily 'Good Morning' sheet showing the activities for the day and noting land sightings plus advertising the noon mileage sweep which proved to be very popular with the passengers guessing the shipís run over 24 hours (run from noon to noon and announced by the bridge).

In those days there was nothing like the activities we see nowadays on a 14 day cruise. There were lots of deck games, quoits, deck tennis, sometimes cricket plus some indoor activities. The fancy dress night was always a major event and for days prior the entertainment staff were helping passengers with their designs. Bingo was another prominent activity and well supported. Late afternoon the pianist always played in the lounge and at night we had dancing. cadets had to be off decks by 2200 hours unless he was the duty officer!

On a later voyage I was the sportís AP and it was one of the best roles as you were out on deck most of the time helping with the various games and competitions. That evening I went to second sitting dinner to meet my other table companions. I learnt fairly early on that the officers tended to have drinks etc. before dinner, either in a cabin or at a bar. As a cadet I was only allowed to buy beer, wine at dinner, soft drinks and cigarettes. As a non-smoker my bar bill included lots of cigarettes as I wasn't allowed to buy spirits. This was of course a problem when you were with passengers but the friendly chief bar manager helped me out! They were an interesting group, some returning Australians and future ones! I did buy the wine that night and was in bed by 2200 hours!

click to enlarge

On these migrant voyages we sometimes had up to 500 children under the age of 12! They were reasonably well looked after, but if they broke free they were always seen running round the ship getting into all sorts of mischief. They had their own meal times and menus. At this stage we still had to call at Naples and embark more migrants and their families and then on to Kalamata. As most of the passengers didnít have passports, but documents of identity, they werenít allowed ashore. Shore leave for us was therefore limited.

On leaving London and Sydney we were given the 'Berthing Book'. This was prepared by the relevant office depending on the voyage being undertaken. It was supervised by a female assistant purser (FAP) and was a large book that had every cabin listed, and number of berths. It included way ports and indicated where the passenger was disembarking, for instance, if it was Naples it would show vacant unless somebody was joining later in the voyage. Each way port would have been advised of the vacancies and would have advised London and then the ship would be advised if they had sold that cabin/berth. Outwards as a migrant ship we rarely had vacancies but there were some full fare paying passengers, usually on the upper decks.

The ex-London passenger list was the basic and for each port additions/deleted were an addendum and given to the port agent. Yes, he was met by the cadet who relieved him of the bag of mail he was hopefully carrying and any official papers. Generally he went to the Captain first and then the purser. If he had staff they went to the purser and the chief engineer or chief steward (for on board supplies etc.), wherever relevant.

We had rounded Gibraltar and now Naples. I remember being on deck keeping an eye out for the pilot launch and was therefore able to watch us come into port. To me it was a magnificent entrance with Mount Vesuvius in the distance and the odd navy ship, colourful fishing boats and so on. My first of many visits to Italy over the next 60 years! I was reminded of a, probably Aprophrical, story concerning the end of the war when a war ravaged and rusty frigate came into Naples and the crew manned the decks to salute the Admiral on a US aircraft carrier which had the slogan 'Second to None'. As the frigate went passed and the appropriate salutes were made it was noted that the frigate had put up a sign 'HMS None!'.

I was fortunate that I had to take some papers to the agent's office and naturally I got lost! I did however have a good wander round the city which was still a lot of rubble from the war and although the people seemed happy many were cleaning streets etc. I donít remember having a pizza but I did see plenty of lovely fruits and some food smells that excited me.

That afternoon we embarked Italian and other European migrants, many were obviously very poor with perhaps one suitcase between the whole family. In the early days, after the war, many Italian males came to Australia on their own and their families came in later years. It was interesting to note that most of the embarking passengers here had the same contact address i.e. KWPR, Cooma NSW. They were going to work on our great Snowy River hydro electric scheme which was started in 1949. Several dams were built on the Snowy River which started high up in the Snowy Mountains in the most southern part of NSW. I'm sure if such a scheme was mooted today we would never get the relevant states and federal governments to agree which is unfortunately what is happening to many of our larger infrastructure ideas toady.

We sailed late afternoon for Greece and another migrant pick up. In the office we were updating all our lists, the mail was sorted and delivered to the relevant officers with the passengers coming to the letter bureau to see if there was anything for them. If I remember the crossing was uneventful.   Somewhere along the way we changed into whites but as it was January it probably wasnít done till Port Said.

Again another new country, Greece, but unfortunately I didnít get to go ashore. I did start to notice that this great new fruit appeared at meal times plus other fresh produce, including fish and vegetables. Rationing of meat and butter didnít end in England until July that year (1954). We used to get our butter and meats from Australia and New Zealand as the ships had very large refrigeration spaces so these items had to last over 3 months. I think we used to have 3 refrigeration engineers and of course we were not air-conditioned. Portholes were opened and scoops in place to catch the fresh sea air. That was okay if you were on the higher decks but it had to be a very flat sea otherwise the scoops would 'catch a wave'.

We had no problems in Greece and soon we were on our way to Port Said. Here the only people allowed ashore were those with passports so the majority of our passengers still hadnít been ashore!  The local police/immigration people always came aboard without pens, rubber stamp pads etc. plus ink for the pads so we always had to supply same. No doubt they were sold once they got ashore!    Our local agent always brought on the crew lists of all the ships that had passed through since we had last visited. They didnít mean much to me then but on later voyages they were always interesting reading to see which ships colleagues you knew were on. It was here that all the bum boats came alongside and offered their various goods and fruits with passengers throwing their monies down and the baskets being hauled up, there were always lots of young boys diving into the water retrieving coins before they sank to the bottom. Up on deck we had the Gully Gully man performing. I suppose in this day and age with all the high security on ships passengers donít have the same opportunities? It was a night time trip through the Suez Canal and and on to Aden all the time getting hotter and hotter and with no air conditioning! Always plenty of cold beer though.

In the meantime we were now in whites, deck competitions had started, fancy dress items were being made, card games and bingo being played and of course dancing in the evenings. These were 5 week voyages from London to Sydney and there wasnít the variety of extra entertainment like there is nowadays on cruises. From time to time there were film shows and the cadet learnt how to run the 35mm projector, you had to make sure you didnít miss the appropriate switch to the other projector and you had to learn how to fix a broken film (which always seemed to take too long followed by the suitable cheers from the audience). 

By now I had got to know most of the officers by name, but became very friendly with the junior engineers who had a lot more experience than me but were closer to my age. Some of these I am still corresponding with and others who have sadly passed on I still exchange Christmas cards with their widows, many of whom I have met. Some did go on to hold more senior roles. We therefore often got together after the office closed and before dinner. Then after dinner we advanced to the dance floor to try our luck. Unfortunately for me the more senior officers seemed to get the best girls and I was still under 18 and had to be off decks at 2200 hours! I was however a good dancer, so didnít do too badly on the dance floor and being very agile did very well at going under the low bar. I loved the swing music but we werenít officially meant to dance those types of dances, but if senior officers werenít present, doing the Charleston and jiving was great. Yes, I was still learning on the job and as you know there were regular Captainís inspections where the purser was always present of course with the cadet holding on to his coat tails taking appropriate notes and making sure relevant people knew what had to be done and so on. Sometimes the surgeon joined the procession.

If it was the passenger accommodation being inspected the leading accommodation steward was also there. Some pursers wore white gloves and would rub their hands along ledges and around toilet bowls! Woe betide any bedroom steward (BRS) if a dirty cabin was found. If it was other parts of the ship then the relevant head would be there. I was certainly learning more about a purserís responsibilities which were far greater than I had originally thought. He had responsibilities for the passengers' well being, the crew which ran the various departments, the entertainment which often fell under the staff captain's role, finances, stores and ordering same, the menus were always presented to him by the chef the day before so they could be printed. Yes, we did have a printer on board. From time to time there were special menus for special nights. The forthcoming dayís entertainment was planned and the daily programme was 'Banda' printed by the purserís office and ready to be delivered to passengers' cabins with their 'wake up' cuppa! If there were shore excursions at the next port of call these were also listed. The excursions were sold by the purserís office. Each port of call had a special 2-4 page leaflet which was delivered to each passenger, it included a map showing where the ship would be berthed and nearby streets etc.

Another duty I had from time to time was doing the rounds after 2230 hours with a deck officer and the master at arms. Generally to see if it was all quiet and peaceful below decks. We rarely walked on the upper decks as it wasnít quite our job to catch those lingering behind stanchions or couples star gazing. Naturally walking the crew decks could sometimes be a problem but we never had to use that old navy term 'show a leg' to see if a lady was in the cabin (or hammock in the navy days!)  The best bit was where we adjourned to the night pantry manís area and he made us a sandwich. A sandwich was two slices of bread with a nice chunk of cheese or a slice of ham (this is of course what you got in those days in both England and Australia in comparison to what is available today!). Then off to bed and hopefully not being woken up with a cable for the Captain.

We were now in the Arabian Sea heading for Aden which was a British colony.  A bit of history as I am sure many of the later seadogs would not have visited Aden. It was in 1839 that British East India Company landed royal marines at Aden to secure the territory to protect its shipping from pirates etc. It was declared a free port and was a fresh watering hole and coal for the earlier vessels and fuel oil for later ships. It was under British control until 1967 when the last to leave were the Royal Marines by the end of that year. Mail was often dropped here for P&O ships to India and the Far East and picked up on the return journey for the UK.

click to enlarge

Aden where the smells of the East permeated the ship long before you saw land. I was allowed ashore here for my first glance of an Arab country at ground level. We anchored off shore and various barges came alongside with fuel, water, stores and mail. This was a duty free port but I had little money to spend as my wage was only £16.00 per month. At this time the Japanese were getting into the export business by copying major successful brands so you had to be careful as you could buy a Parker pen for about £2 if I remember correctly but the fakes had a full stop after the P so they said they werenít copying, it was so small that you wouldnít notice it. Those passengers who were allowed ashore of course ended up with a fine collection of silks plus a lot of junk as well.

We were now on the long leg across to Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) which was a British colony until about 1967. It is 5 degrees above the equator and very warm. We were going to Colombo the capital and passengers were going to be allowed ashore. I canít remember if those on the British travel card were allowed. There were to be shore excursions and I was going to accompany one going to do a city tour ending up at the Galle Face Hotel for lunch and a swim. The only advice I was given was that I didnít lose my list of passengers and make sure I didnít lose any of them and always check the bars and beach. This was the first of many tours I did during my 33 years with Orient Line and then P&O.

You anchor off again in Colombo and again the various barges came alongside with fresh water, fuel and lovely and interesting fruit and vegetables plus a wide variety of fish. The bum boats came out of course and I think before we sailed there was a concert of Ceylonese musicians and dancers.  We did have a similar show at the Galle Face Hotel. To me this was a wonderful hotel, not having seen anything like it before. All passengers successfully re-boarded the barges and we returned to the Ship.

click to enlarge

Sri Lankaís iconic landmark, the Galle Face Hotel, is situated in the heart of Colombo, along the seafront and facing the famous Galle Face Green. One of the oldest hotels east of the Suez, the Galle Face Hotel embraces its rich history and legendary traditions, utilising them to create engaging, immersive experiences that resonate with old and new generations of travellers alike. No visit to Sri Lanka is complete without staying at this majestic hotel, built in 1864 and recently restored back to its former glory. I extracted this from the hotels description.

Soon we would cross the equator and with most passengers not having crossed before the numbers for King Neptune would be limited, but the cadet purser was on the 'dunking' list. A few children were included as well as a selection of adult passengers. All relevant passengers would be given a certificate that they had crossed the line.

I did mention earlier that every cabin had a water tank above their cabin basin and the showers were fresh water but the baths salt water. The ships desalination plant was stretched but not as bad as on the return voyage where Australians seem to want 3 or 4 showers a day. I know in our household we had a bath a week, same at boarding school!

This long section of ocean between Colombo and Fremantle was often hectic with passengers getting ready for the fancy dress evening, making costumes. The kids also had a fancy dress parade during this time. Many activities were played out and others ran during other parts of the voyage such as race meeting night which was run by the purserís staff. A casino night was held, card competitions, different deck sports (I donít think we played cricket on Otranto although we had the space). All the various events built up to various presentations where passengers received a prize from cups to teaspoons to sailor dolls, miniature life belts etc. The farewell dinner before Fremantle was a special event and the Captain sometimes said a few words. The Fremantle departing passengers were packing up and the crew sorted their baggage for offloading.

There was a brief break to this long sector of the voyage as we passed Christmas Island and the Cocos Keeling Islands. I canít remember but I think we dropped mail at Christmas Island and picked up same that was brought to the ship by the natives boats. They did have their own stamps which I think we sold at the letter bureau. Christmas Island is some 950 km NE of the Cocos Keeling Islands. It has been an Australian territory since 1958 with its main population being Malays. It was discovered on Christmas Day 1643 but only settled in the late 19th century.  Phosphate was the main industry but the plant has now closed. During the Second World War the Island was taken over by the Japanese in 1942. Presently it's known as a detention centre for boat refugees. The Cocos Keeling Islands, some 2750 km NW of Fremantle was first discovered by Captain William Keeling in 1609 and finally settled in 1826. They are a group of Coral Islands which for over 100 years were ruled by the Clunies-Ross family. Their main crop is copra which is exported to SE Asia and Australia. The military took over the Islands during both world wars where it became home to thousands of military personnel. The battle between HMAS Sydney and the German raider SMS Emden took part off these Islands and the Emden beached on the reef at North Keeling Island. During the Second World War it was a strategic staging post between Australia and India and was bombed by Japanese forces. The Islands became an Australian territory in 1955 and the main population is mainly Malays and Chinese. Only two of the 27 islands are populated. In 1943 Qantas began a non stop service across the Indian Ocean between Perth and Colombo via Cocos Keeling. They flew 5700km and averaged 27-30 hours in the air! A circumnavigation of both group of Islands broke the long sea voyage.

Australia at last and we passed Rottnest Island picking up the pilot through Gage Roads finally and arrived alongside at Fremantle. We met the agent (an Orient Line employee) with mail etc. which had to be sorted before passengers disembarked. Also embarked was a Doctor whom every passenger and crew member had to pass in front of baring ones arms for inspection. I canít remember what he was looking for but it was a long process and nobody could go ashore until all passengers were cleared. Not much to see looking over the deck to Fremantle, just a lot of wharf.  After I had done my usual duties of welcoming the officials I had to go onto the wharf and supervise the disembarking of passengers. I cannot remember ever going into Perth, but did manage a walk around Fremantle once. Ironically enough, after I swallowed the anchor in 1957 I became Passenger Manager WA in 1970 and was situated in Perth. I was appointed there to boost P&O and Orient Lines non shipping business. Old time staff members couldnít understand why I didnít live between the office and Fremantle. Very few passenger ships calling! Fremantle hadnít changed much until when it won the right to host the Americas Cup in January 1987.

That afternoon, I helped with embarkation and met my first group of our Australian passengers. In those days Orient Line had the right to carry passengers between Australian ports, which was forbidden by mainly foreign flagged migrant ships. The bad news was that duty free was over and drinks were a higher price! Perthís population became approximately 20+% pommy migrants! Life in the bureau continued as normal as I have said earlier routines didnít change much. Port Adelaide our next port of call. Here the local trains came down alongside the wharf. It was interesting to note that the ends of each carriage had an open platform, just like the wild west trains. I did manage a ride on one of these to have a couple of hours in Adelaide and first chance to see an Australian City.  I loved the fresh fruit juice bars the likes of which I had never seen before!

A couple of days later and we are picking up the pilot at Queenscliff and the agents further down Port Phillip Bay. At this time there was Station Pier (and still there today) and Princess Pier. I canít remember which one we berthed at. Public Transport was easily accessible. A very large number of our migrant passengers disembarked here and found themselves being transported to migrant camps well out of the city and often to semi isolated country locations. I was lucky here as the harbour master, an old friend of my Bibby Line uncle invited me to lunch at the Melbourne Club (the no1 Gentlemanís Club in Melbourne having a very select and strict membership code), I was picked up by his chauffeur and taken to and from the club. As a 17 year old I never knew such premises existed and had to be very careful of my Ps and Qs!

At Melbourne, at that time, we were usually in port 3 days. Remember we carried a lot of mail and general cargo. We usually sailed about 1600 hours and it was 2 days to Sydney. Another farewell dinner, tearful goodbyes, last minute exchange of addresses, come and see us when you are next in Sydney and so on!

click to enlarge

Well Sydney at last! What a magnificent sight it is going through the Heads and seeing the Harbour Bridge in the distance with the morning sun glowing against the metal. I couldnít get over all these houses coming right down to the waterfront. Why didnít I have a camera? The slow sail up the harbour, the tugs picking up their lines, taking us under the bridge to 13 Pyrmont. I have been fortunate in my life as having visited over 80 countries but coming in to Sydney Harbour tops the lot!

Those days we had 8 days in Sydney, restoring, discharging and loading cargo, possibly a few days leave. For the time ashore, whilst the Pyrmont Hotel was just up the road, it was 6 pm pubs closing time. If you were on gangway duty it could be pretty hectic with many drunken crew coming back trying to sneak their lady friends on board. Doing the lower deck rounds those evenings could be quite harrowing, especially for a young man who still hadnít been to a pub! Fortunately the master at arms and a couple of quartermasters together with a deck officer they managed to control it all.

Here I was given 3 days leave and went to visit a couple from my old school who hosted me at the special dinner the school gave those leaving. I hadnít met them before and they drove me to their house which was near Cronulla, which is south of Sydney and was on Burraneer Bay. It was 5 bedrooms, very spacious living area, a swimming pool and tennis court, a motor boat at their own wharf and lovely gardens. I was spoilt rotten, especially for a lad who had lived through the war.  They came to Australia before the war and had established a paint manufacturing business.

Whist in Sydney I did manage to get ashore and enjoy myself especially enjoying the fruit juice bars. Being on £16.00 a month didnít leave me with a lot of surplus cash. Closer to sailing the purserís office became a hive of activity getting ready for embarkation, ship inspections, loading lots of cargo, stores (frozen meats for over 3 months), fresh fruits and vegetables and all the other food stores required to satisfy over 1400 passengers and crew. Australian beers were loaded but I donít think much Australian wine was. The ship carried lots of French and German wines. I mentioned earlier that my cabin was abutting the shipís shop, running lengthwise and there was a porthole almost next to the hold and I found out, by the smell, that they had loaded sheep skins which I had to 'enjoy' for the next few weeks! It wasnít very pleasant if one was entertaining!

Sailing day! All the purserís staff very busy and embarkation was very chaotic unlike today for shipís departure. The greatest number embarked at Sydney, their friends carrying cartons or eskys of beer and trays of eats. This was typical of Australian departures for many years to come. The bars werenít allowed to be open. Then the rush to get the visitors ashore. When I got back on deck I couldnít believe the sight of all the streamers being thrown from the ship to their friends and relatives ashore. There were vendors wandering round the ship selling streamers also ashore. My job here was to go to the radio room and play the range of nautical sailing records such as Anchors Away, Rule Britannia and the Maori's Farewell. This last one was played as the streamers broke as the ship pulled away from the wharf, tears streaming from motherís and friends eyes as their loved ones were off to the big wide world, especially England for a working holiday. England was still called home by many Australians. The ship swing round, the tugs take up the slack and we're off to go under the bridge, through the Heads and turn south for Melbourne again.

I am reminded of a story of a chap throwing a streamer and hitting the young lady standing next to him. He apologised saying ďif your heart is as soft as your bosom my name is AnonĒ (to protect the innocent!).  Her reply ďif your old fellow is as hard as your elbow my cabin is A21Ē. Time was limited before you reached the bridge but if you were successful then you could claim to be an 'Under the Bridge' club member.

What a surprise I had when I went to my table for second sitting dinner! There were 6 ladies and only one gentlemen. It turned out the ladies were all trained nurses and were going to further their experience in England. That night, over coffee which was held in one of the lounges, I suddenly found I had a lot of new friends in junior engineers etc. who wanted to join me and the ladies! At least I didnít have to buy a drink that night. Interestingly two of them eventually married girls from my table, one couple ending up in Rockhampton and the other in Auckland. I kept in touch over many years since. They were a very bright and cheerful group and made the voyage home a happy one. Two or three times I managed to go ashore with them. One funny instance after we left Australia they were in a group getting their fancy dress items together and I joined them. I can still remember one of the girls asking who had the Durex! I blushed as I only knew them as things the Barber sold and were used by men! But she was referring to what we called in England 'sticky tape'.

It was a very happy time going home, with my 'fan club', knowing the purserís office routine much better and my role in it, and knowing the ports of call, we added Marseilles on the homeward voyage. Many of the Australians disembarked at Naples or Marseilles and either toured Europe from there or went overland to London, their new home. I managed a break in both Athens and Marseilles. We were now getting towards the Bay of Biscay, after rounding Gibraltar, and some rough weather before heading up the English Channel and into the Thames for Tilbury! This was now early April but where was the sunny weather? I found Tilbury rather depressing after Australia and the wonderful weather we had (after all it was summer when we visited). My role here was making sure the passengers disembarked safely and I said fond goodbyes to 'my girls' and in fact I did catch up with them in what was called in those days 'Little Australia' also known as Kensington.  There was the Down Under Club where they sold Aussie beer, had dancing and you could catch up with ex passengers. Also in those days Australian banks and Australia House had mail rooms and people had mail sent there as they often didnít have a fixed addresses, they also had Australian newspapers. I always visited these banks, Australia House and the Down Under Club when I was home on leave.

© Amberfluid Web Design