Liberty ship Corabank Gallery (Updated with more pictures from 1948 in Makatea loading phosphate)

Photos kindly supplied by Peter Nicholson from Canada (pictured), who was a Junior Ordinary Seaman onboard. An account of life aboard the Corabank follows….


The Corabank was my 5th ship in a year when I joined her as a Junior Ordinary Seaman, which was just one rank above the lowest of the deck crowd, the Deck boy.

That one year’s experience at sea before had given me the chance of sampling the sea life on merchant ships as a young teenager living amongst hardened men and holding my own amongst other teens, getting over sea sickness, going through rough weather that can’t be imagined by landspeople and even knowing foreign pub life which included mixing with the  ladies of the night in such countries as Brazil, United States, Argentina, Australia, South Africa., and my Dad taking me to his pub when I came home and bragging to his mates, “Go on son, tell ‘em where you bin”, and even such as  “He came home with eighteen quid”. 

On Corabank every man older than me was a war hardened seaman as were the crews of my other 4 ships before her .I do have trouble remembering the names of every man on the Corabank. I do know         that was a long trip, but also it was over 70 years ago and memory does dim after that many years.

Anyway the Captain’s name was Peter Stewart, A very nice man. Mr. Carnie was the Mate and Mr. Davidson was 2nd Mate. I won’t mention the Bosun’s name who the Captain fired in I think, Melbourne, when he was coming back to the ship along the dock and came upon the Bosun flogging a brand new coil of 2 inch rope.

There was a young apprentice named String fellow who I have good reason to remember with warmth and there was a young steward’s boy that I have good reason to remember his name of Champion, and of course the Deck boy, ‘Ginger’ Bulbrook, who many years later I was to be Best Man at his wedding.When we left London, I was put in the 12-4 watch with 2 ABs because I had learned steering experience on other ships. Corabank did not have radar or

Gyro compass, only magnetic compass, which was quite standard for those times. She also had a steering station up on Monkey Island which we made good use of in good weather.

The voyage was uneventful to the East coast ports of the United States, New York, New Orleans, Galveston, then Trinidad where the ABs sent me ashore to buy rum, and coming back to the ship as they were all leaning on the gunwhale watching me and no doubt relishing the thought of what was in the bag I was carrying, when I tripped on some railway lines and down I went and….disaster!  The 4 bottles in the bag broke!. Needless to say, I got my ears clipped for that and spoiling their evening of pleasure indulged in by all seamen. But unbeknown to us, the Mate had been watching and sent for me later and had me take down two 12 packs of beer to them. That didn’t stop them for the rest of the trip, always coming out with a reminder when I went ashore, not to trip on my way back aboard.

We left Trinidad bound for Brisbane via Panama. The ABs told me I would be doing my wheel going through the canal, which alarmed me as in the past up to then I had never steered in rivers or canals. They told me just do what the Pilot tells me and I’ll be OK. So with much trepidation, when my time came I went to the wheel. The Pilot took one look at this little fresh faced 17 year old and said to the Captain “Do you usually let the boys to the wheel in confined waters like this Captain?”. My Captain looked over at me and after about 3 seconds replied “Yeah, he’ll be OK”.

 From that moment this little 5 foot 6” OS, was 6ft tall and ready to show what I could do, which was my 2 hour wheel, with no mistakes.

The voyage across the Pacific was uneventful except for one thing that sticks in my memory ever since. The 2nd Mate had paid off sick in Trinidad or Panama, and left us with a mate short. Stringfellow, the young 15 year old cadet was put in charge of standing the 12-4 watch.

When I was at the wheel on the Monkey Island I often saw him ‘shooting the stars’ at night and the sun at noon. We often chatted teen age boy stuff, and one night when I asked him how he could do such a thing as navigation, he told me he had been put in a sea school since he was 10 years old, and he learned it there and now it was child’s play to him and besides, the Captain  checks his work.

A 15 year old trusted to share in navigating an ocean going, fully laden merchant ship!!!  He had to be good! When we got to Brisbane there was a dock strike on which left us at anchor amongst lots of other ships. Short of tobacco and grub too, but eventually we did get alongside where all hands made the most of shore leave, and that can be imagined how, including all officers and crew. All crew except for one man who unbelievably did not go ashore for over a year by the time we got back to London, and that was an AB named ‘Ginger’ Hubble. He told me he was not long married with a baby son and was saving up for a house.  Which was understandable in those days when you could buy a house for about 1500 pounds. So his years wages would amount to 24 pounds a month times 13 plus overtime. Nowhere near 1500 but a good down payment.

Now brings me to a memory that I had no reason to bring to the forefront until an event that happened quite recently, only a few years ago.

I saw an article on my computer on a nautical website that I’ve forgotten now, but it referred to a guy that his father was telling him about a ship that he was on that hit a bridge many years ago in Brisbane, Australia. I immediately perked up because I had firsthand knowledge of such an event. I made enquiries and got in touch with a guy in England who told me by email that his father told him about it happening and the ship was named Corabank. As I was the man at the wheel when it happened, I was most interested. The 2 ABs in my watch were in no way fit to go to the wheel on account of their shenannigans ashore on the previous few nights, so it was left to me do it. I didn’t mind at all. We let go from the discharging berth and headed out into the river. The Captain, Officers and Pilot by now were all on the wing of the bridge and I was keeping the ship headed on my last order from the Pilot which was “Steady”, and which I marked as the center of the bridge ahead.

I was the only one in the wheelhouse and as we were getting closer to the bridge, I looked at the mast, then looked at the bridge and thought to myself, “It can’t be, but it is. Surely not. That mast is gonna hit the underneath of that bridge!” I’m thinking.  I yelled out something to attract those out on the wing of the bridge, but they was already coming in the wheelhouse. But they were too late to take any action to prevent what was certainly going to happen. Too late to get the way off her by putting the engine astern, and no helm order would have any effect to change what was going to happen. That mast was going to hit the underside of the bridge regardless. And hit it did. First the underside of the side we were headed for and next a few seconds later, the other underhang. Then we were under, free and clear, with no damage to the ship but a buckled topmast. We did hear later that the bridge was closed for the day while they had it checked for damage, but none was found and the bridge was free for traffic to resume.

We never did hear what was the Company’s reaction when they got the report, but it was obvious that the topmast should have been lowered after the ship came higher out of the water after discharging cargo. Maybe those in the office in far away London from Brisbane Australia, didn’t know about shenanigans ashore after a long trip across the Pacific…….or did they. Anyway, the buckled topmast had to be cut off when we got to Sydney as it could not be lowered due to the buckling. Bill Champion, who was a young steward’s boy at the time on Corabank told his son about it so over 70 years after that voyage I sent him a tee shirt with Corabank’s picture on it and the list of ports we done. Sadly he died since then and his son told me that his Dad wanted to be buried wearing that tee shirt. (Photo of that tee shirt following) We did several Australian ports including Port Pirie where the “Maplebank” was already docked loading wheat for India, I think. She had a crew of Brits too and they told us they were making their own good whisky from their cargo. We loaded bagged grain there too but I forget where we discharged it because we eventually took a complete load of copra back to London with no grain in any hatch.. We also took a couple of loads of phosphate from Nauru to Australian ports. The ship was drydocked in Auckland, and  as she was in there for a few days the Crew, Officers and Engineers too were all put in hotels ashore except us Deck and Engine room crowd who were put in, of all places,….. the New Zealand WRENS barracks!  Say no more!

We went also to Port Lyttleton in New Zealand where the deck boy and I got ourselves into quite an adventure:

(Here’s the previously written story)

 My New Zealand Adventure

Looking back to those years, 1947 was a fabulous time for me as a teenager.

Other young guys were working in factories, or offices, or a store, some still at school even, and here was I, working on a steamer sailing to destinations which can only be described as ‘Exotic’

 We sailed from London in an England which was still engulfed in the drab and dreary early post war years, bound for the ports and bright lights of the USA, then through the Panama Canal, lazily steaming across the Pacific Ocean to Australia. Then on from there to New Zealand, New Guinea and eventually to many of the South Pacific Islands, which up until then only existed in most people’s, including my own, imagination, or from brief glimpses seen in movies. Tahiti, Bora Bora, Fiji, Rambi, Rotuma, Makatea, Nauru, Tarawa, most of them with no harbor as we know ports to be.

The ship would lay at anchor in a lagoon or bay, and with nothing to do in one’s spare time but to swim and fish in the warm, deep blue, crystal clear water whilst my brothers and those other boys I had left behind in England were riding their bikes in the cold, pouring rain to get to a factory, only to stand soaking wet all day, making cars they could never in those days dream of owning.

As I had already completed a few other voyages, I was rated ‘Ordinary Seaman’. Amongst the crew was another young guy about my age, a first tripper, who had the rating of ‘Deck Boy’, and owned the status of a ‘nobody’ which was bestowed upon boys of that rank.  Deck boy, steward’s boy, galley boy, all nobodies on a ship.  But….fiercely protected by the men regardless. In the pecking order I was about second to lowest among the deck crew whose duties and work was totally separate from cooks, stewards, engine room crew and of course, Officers. I was ranked just above the galley boy, deck boy and stewards boy.

Above us were the seasoned seamen, men in their twenties, thirties, forties and older to whom war on the oceans was still very fresh in their minds. Some of them had been torpedoed and bombed, swam for their lives in fiery oil covered waters, spent days on end in open lifeboats and watched their shipmates die in agony until  rescue came for those still alive. And among us was an ex wartime Spitfire pilot who told us he couldn’t settle into the blasé post war life any more. His name was Arthur Farthing. All of them great seamen who taught me the seamanship craft that stood me in good stead over the many future years that I spent at sea.

New Zealand in those days was a young country populated by aboriginal Maoris, with the Europeans being mostly of British stock, with a very British Olde-world flavor to the country, a very ‘comfortable’ and friendly country to visit, welcoming not just for Brits, but for anybody of any nationality. It was a country that was a magnet for seamen to ‘jump ship’ as it was almost like being at home, with the English language, and employers crying out for help in those days and offering wages that many could just not resist. This did result in numerous seamen adding themselves to the country’s population, knowing that the Department of Immigration would turn a blind eye to their presence. 

Actually, in stark reality, jumping ship was classed no less than Desertion, and punishable by imprisonment Myself and the deck boy who went by the name of ‘Ginger’ due to his mop of copper colored curly hair, decided it was about time we had a go at this jumping ship lark, after all, what harm could befall us? Aren’t we in a country almost like home? and both of us with the Over ‘Ome accents. What could go wrong? It’ll be a piece of cake.

Our plan was to jump the night before sailing, hide out somewhere until we’re sure the ship has gone, resurface, and get one of those high paying jobs that are abounding here. Piece ‘a cake it’ll be.

Except it wasn’t a piece of cake.  It didn’t quite work out that way for us though. Oh, jump we did. Hide out we did not. We actually watched the ship sail away, us being bold as brass and our teenager plans being kept with a determination of a pair of chocolate soldiers. What we didn’t know though, was the alarm was already raised. The Captain had put out our description to the Authorities in this small New Zealand port town where everybody knew just about everybody else and the police were already alerted for two young guys, one with copper colored hair and one with blonde hair, both with seamen’s kitbags on their shoulders. Seamen didn’t use suitcases in those days. By now we were quite hungry and we decided then to go and get a breakfast and plan which one of the high paying jobs we would go after. Piece ‘a cake, right?

No, not right, not right at all. Oh, we got the breakfast ok and were halfway through, when a uniformed policeman came in and just sat himself down at our table and said, all friendly like, as if he’d known us all our lives, “When you’ve finished eating lads, you’re coming with me”. Just like that! That was it. That was the extent of our jumping ship. That was as far as we got. Not even 24 hours into our New Life in a New Country. We were not ship jumpers now, we were ship Deserters, and were about to take the consequences. The policeman who had detained us was quite an affable chap, having nonchalantly sat drinking a cup of tea while we finished our breakfast, or tried to finish it more likely. Appetites suddenly disappeared with this bolt out of the blue. Our first day in the New Land was instantly shattered. What will they do to us now? “Oh, nothing much, you’ll be detained until your ship either comes back here or to some other New Zealand port, and then you’ll be put back aboard her, that’s all” Put back aboard? Oh no! We’ll be the laughing stock of the crew. Not to mention what punishment the Captain will dole out to us. “Can’t you just let us go? We can find a job and not be trouble to anybody. You’ll see we can make good. Just give us the chance and we’ll prove it” “It doesn’t work that way lad” said the policeman. “You’re too young to go wandering around on your own, and you’ve got to be taken care of until you get back on your ship”

We were up before a Magistrate, who ordered us to be detained until such times as we could be returned to our ship. We weren’t looked upon, or treated as criminals in the real sense. It was an Immigration offence that we were guilty of as far as the New Zealand authorities were concerned, with our desertion from the ship being a matter for the ship’s Captain to decide upon. The jail we were put in was a local jail, not a big prison. It held about twenty small time offenders. Thieves, burglars, a couple of drunk drivers. Most of them guilty of petty nuisance stuff. One guy I remember was doing six

months for breaking into a railway station booking office and stealing train tickets. His excuse to the Magistrate was that he was waiting for a train when he heard the office phone ringing and as it kept on ringing he thought it might be an urgent emergency so he broke the window to go in and answer the phone, that’s all. And that’s when he was caught and arrested. The cops must have put the tickets in his pocket to frame him. This is the story he told to anybody who would listen, including me.

We heard that our ship would be away for about a month, and wherever she came back to is where we would be sent, under escort, return fare for our escorts and a night in a hotel for them at our expense yet! And while we are in jail, we’re not earning anything. We’ll be working forever to pay this ship jumping caper off. I made 12 English pounds per month and Ginger made 7 pounds per month. In those days the dollar rate of exchange was around 4$C. I made $48 and Ginger made $28 a month, his not even a dollar a day. The worst thing about daily life in that jail was getting ‘banged up’ at 4.00pm until 7.00am. We did not share a cell. We had our own cells, which were not intended to be comfortable in the least. Wooden boards and a straw mattress, no pillow, no sheets, just two rough, filthy blankets. When I complained to another guy that half the straw was missing in my mattress he said to me “Yeah, the guy that had that cell before you smoked the other half”. One bare light bulb that went off at about 9 o’clock and there you were with your thoughts until the next morning. There was no toilet in the cell. At the 4 o’clock lock-up you lined up and took a chamber pot, of course referred to as a piss-pot, and took it into your cell for any personal needs you might have during the night and that was it. Daily routine for Ginger and me was hum-drum and boring as we had no tasks. Unlike the other cons who had mopping out, kitchen duties, and other tasks assigned them during the day we had nothing except to play cards or read the whole day long, waiting to get banged up again at 4 0’clock. No radio, with television, whilst it may have been invented in those days was certainly not widespread and equally as certainly not available to convicts. This boredom was soon to end for me though and I was offered and accepted a task that relieved my boredom and led to an experience that stays in my mind until this very day. Sid, the chief jailer and a kindly man to Ginger and me, sent for me one morning and put a proposition to me that was mine to choose or not. “Nick” he said “ In a couple of days a man will be coming in here to stay for a while until he may be sent to another prison to serve a long term sentence. While he is here, he will wear his own clothes, smoke tailor made cigarettes, have books and magazines and food sent in from outside. He can have chocolates, sweets, candy and fruit as long as he is here, and during that time we’d like you to keep him company. Not share his cell, but just play cards with him, talk with him, and generally keep him company. Also he doesn’t get banged up with the rest of the guys and you won’t either as long as you’re with him. You’ll only get locked up when he wants to go to sleep, how does that sound to you?”

How does that sound? Chocolate, sweets, tailor made fags? Books and magazines! That suits me Sid. Bring him in! Wait a minute though.  “Er….. Sid, what’s this guy in for? What’s he done?”

This is a question that one soon learns in jail not to ask. “What are you in for?” is a question that’s a no-no. You will be told if the con wants to tell you, if he doesn’t, don’t ask.“He’ll be going to court for trial every day and coming back every afternoon until his trial is over” “Yeah, O.K Sid, but what’s he going to be on trial for?”

“Oh, didn’t I tell you?  Ah…well………..Murder. He killed his wife’s lover” Murder! Yikes! Instant visions of a 6 foot 6 thug entered my head. A murderer and I got to play cards or checkers with him? That means I’ll have to let him win all the time. Ah well….the chocolate and good outside grub will make up for that. But Jack was far from what I imagined he was going to be. I was myself at that time a little shrimp of a kid. Skinny, and weighed about 125 soaking wet. This ‘murdering thug’ was even smaller than me. In his mid fifties I would think, baldy head and a hearing aid stuck in his ear with wires leading to a battery in his shirt pocket. Very soft spoken too, as well as being very mild mannered. Altogether different, even the opposite, from what I had always imagined to be the stereotype murderer. Ah well, at least I won’t have to deliberately let him win any games we play.

Jack and I got along quite well, very well in fact. In retrospect, I think that he thought he was playing a part in rehabilitating a juvenile delinquent, a budding criminal so to speak. Each day he would go to court for his trial. Young as I was, I had to smile at the cons making book on what length of sentence Jack was going to get. They would press his pants in the prison laundry for him. They made sure the guy with haircutting talents would trim the few hairs he had left over his ears and give Jack a good clean shave. They seemed to have a mistaken idea that if Jack appeared in front of the Judge with an always neat and tidy appearance it would somehow have an influence over the length of sentence he would hand down to Jack.


At first Jack would not have much to say about the trial when he returned in the afternoon, but as time passed he would let on a few things that went on in court that day. I do remember one time he came back and said to me “That brother in law of mine has really dropped me in it. That’s going to get me a few extra years” He was resigned to doing about a twelve years sentence which is what you did if you’re sentenced to life in New Zealand in those days. Gradually, Jack opened up to me. Opened up about the actual murder, describing to me in detail how he killed the guy. It was if he was just telling me a story. “Oh, I did it alright” he told me. “And d’you  know what made me laugh? He said “They was out hunting for me and all the time I was home in bed”  “Made you laugh Jack?” I thought. “You just blew a guy in two, gave him both barrels you told me, went home and went to bed, and it made you laugh because they were looking for you everywhere but the righ place.Hmm…

Getting on towards the end of his trial, we had a nice meal, and I said to him after him telling me of events at that day’s trial, I said “Jack, something doesn’t make sense to me and it’s this. Look, really, a person doesn’t have to kill anybody. You don’t kill at all. But let’s suppose you do, surely you make sure you kill the right one” “What do you mean? kill the right one” “Well, look at it this way. That guy you done in, how do you know what your wife had told him, how do you know that she could have said she was a widow, couldn’t she? She could have told him she was divorced. She even could have told him she was a single woman, in fact she could have told him anything.” “So? They was still carrying on wasn’t they” “Yeah Jack, but the difference was it was her that was stitching you up, not him. After all, he never made any wedding vows with you did he? It was her that made the promises, not him. You told me yourself that you didn’t know the guy, and you only found out about the affair by gossip, then you found out where he lived and went and gave him both barrels of your shotgun. That’s why I think you killed the wrong one”. Then I hastened to add “Not that you should kill anyone”.

“Nah, he had it coming” said Jack. The following day was the day that Jack was going to be sentenced. All the cons were making themselves busy to ensure that Jack looked his best for the Judge, and I was in fact hoping that he would get a lighter sentence than they were forecasting, but I wasn’t too optimistic from what Sid told me..

The waiting for Jack to come back was nail bite time and the time dragged slowly until the bell sounded that somebody was coming in from outside. As soon as I saw Jack’s face I knew it was bad news for him. It couldn’t have been worse. He looked at me and said two words, “Natural life”, then burst into tears. He was only given time to change into prison garb from his street clothes, gather up his personal belongings, and be hustled out to journey to the place to begin the sentence that would last until the day he died. The last words he said to me were “I think you were right boy, I killed the wrong one” That’s what he said to me.

I was told that if they had the death sentence in New Zealand, Jack would have got it.

I asked the other cons what kind of life would Jack have in Mount Eden, the prison he went to. “He’ll have everything he wants except the key to the front gate” they told me.I was told that if they had the death sentence in New Zealand, Jack would have got it. Our own time in that jail eventually came to an end for Ginger and me and we did go back to the ship with our tails between our legs to complete the voyage that lasted 13 months. The Captain was kind to us and told us that he was thinking of our parents when he alarmed the authorities that we were missing, and if we had been over 21 years old instead of 17 he would have left us there. Our ‘adventure’ was very costly to us in terms of money though, for a start off we lost a month in wages, then we had to pay the return fares of the 2 policeman escort to take us from the Christchurch jail to Wellington and a night in an hotel for them. So it was about 3 months before I started earning for myself again, longer for ginger because he earned much less than me. After that escapade, the ship started the ‘copra run’. This entailed going from island to island in the South Seas. There were no ports as such in most of those islands. The ship just anchored off and loaded copra from boats in which the islanders brought a few bags at a time. Many, many boat loads of sacks at each island where there were no streets, no roads on most of them, no shops and certainly no bars or pubs. There was little for any of us to do those days. Most of our off duty activities when Corabank was anchored was pleasurable though.  We did have a raft which was made from empty oil drums and planks, and mainly used for painting the ship’s hull, but also used by us in our spare time for swimming and fishing. There were sharks abounding in those waters, but swimming took place when cargo nets were hung over the ship’s side and a lookout posted to holler a warning if a shark was spotted in the clear blue water, when swimmers made for the net until it was safe again.  I remember 3 of us swimming ashore in Makatea and while we were there the weather came up, the ship departed for 2 days, leaving us there. Msr Charles Buchet, the head islander, kindly made a hut available for us to sleep in and made sure we had plenty to eat and we were never short of female company all that time until the ship returned. We did not get in trouble on the ship because we had permission to go ashore. There were harbors as such when we went to 2 places in Fiji to load bulk copra. Also harbors in Rabaul and Madang. There was one place we went to in New Guinea which I forget the name of, but we it was another place we loaded copra. The local natives intrigued me, an English teenager from far away London. We were used by now to seeing bare chested women and men wearing nothing but a loincloth and white tattoos on their faces and bodies. The men, when you gave them a cigarette, always wanted a piece of newspaper to roll it in, even though it was already rolled. A page from a book or magazine would do as long as it had print on it. I was intrigued by this and when I asked their Australian ‘overseer’ why that was he told me that they see us reading and as they have no concept of reading, think the book or newspaper is somehow talking to us, and they think that when they take the smoke containing “Talk-talk paper” inside of them, they will get the magic.    Another thing he told me was that their chief did all the business regarding the labor of the villagers that worked the cargo, wages and everything else. When he tried to cultivate the chief in the matter of the value of banking for the villagers as a group and how the money would grow with interest, the chief, after giving that some thought, insisted in payment in Australian shillings which he had planted under certain trees so that he could see for himself the money growing. Because they could see no sails or oars on the ship, they figured she must have legs to walk along the bottom of the sea and their river.

I figure nowadays their children and grandchildren will all have cellphones and computers. The voyage continued with So many delights for all, officers, engineers, Deck and engine room crowds and catering personnel. Our surroundings at sea, the sun, the calm and deep blue sea, and the starlit sky at night amonst those islands. The weather was almost such that we would use the open wheelhouse on the monkey island , with Corabank being such a good steering ship that she would hold her course with the helmsman having only to put a spoke or two to correct when she wandered slightly off course.

Being as Mr. Davidson, the 2nd Mate was an affable man who was not given to treating the man at the wheel as a non-person and would engage in conversation when he was not engaged in taking sights etc.  I remember distinctly, one night up there, and if it had not been dark, the islands around us would have been visible, but a distinct smell like perfume came drifting over the ship, and was so strong that I said to the Second Mate, “What’s that scent surrounding us Sec?  He replied straight away, ”Oh that’s the smell put off by the Bougainvillea carried over here by the breeze”.

This was the kind of reward for us in those days on the Corabank’s trip, but it shouldn’t be construed that it was a pleasure trip. For us in the deck crowd there was plenty of work to do for 8 hours a day, liberally mixed with very hard work. But in the islands on our time off, there were plenty of diversions to occupy us, like swimming, fishing, going ashore in those islands, the fabulous beaches, meeting very affable and friendly islanders. There were very few cameras amongst us in those days, certainly cell phones with their cameras hadn’t been invented yet, hadn’t even been thought of. Film type cameras then were expensive for us, so we had to rely on the good will of those who did have one to get pictures.

I sailed with Mr. Davidson as AB many years later when he was Captain of the Empire Star. He had a tattoo on his upper arm which I saw very often on the Corabank that he had done in Levuka, Fiji. 

It was a skillfully crafted moonlight scene of an island scene, with a palm tree and moonlit waters, with the words “Suva Fiji Bula” underneath.

On the Empire Star I went to the wheel at night, and the Captain was there in the wheelhouse. I knew he was Captain, who I remember as being a very nice guy to crew members when he was second Mate. When he said“Who’s the man at the wheel”? I answered “Nicholson sir, Suva Fiji Bula”  He came for a closer look at me by the light of the compass binnacle. “Nicholson” he roared, and then, “You’ll get no special favors here”. And neither did I, nor expect any.  One day he did ask me if I knew what happened to the senior cadet of Corabank, and he was pleased at my answer that I did see and spoke to him in KGV docks when he had Captain’s stripes on his sleeve. Amongst the islands that we visited was Tarawa, where one of the bloodiest battles of the Pacific war was fought, if not the bloodiest. While we were anchored off there, another ship came and anchored. She was an American freighter belonging to the United States Navy, painted all grey.  We found out that she was there to take the bodies of U.S. service men who had been killed when the island was taken from the Japanese. Some crew and officers from that ship came aboard Corabank one evening and brought a movie set with them, ice cream and Coke too, while our ship provided beer.

After the movie show, there was a friendly mixture of both ship’s Officers and crew. They spoke of their unenviable task, and bitterness of having to dig up those bodies to take back for final burial in the USA. The islanders told them of the location of many bodies, with one very sad tale of when they were told by the islanders of a plane under the water on a reef.  They sent divers to investigate and they found the plane with the pilot’s body still in the cockpit. When they got him out and back to their ship, they found a note in his bullet riddled flying jacket pocket that he was uninjured when he crash landed, but he could see the Japs had set machine guns up on the beach and were already firing at him, so he won’t be getting out.   That tale ended our celebration and for them, they told us of many sad stories of their trip.  That put a tone of sadness in our stay at Tarawa. And for them…being as American ships were ‘dry’, they couldn’t ‘drown their sorrows’.

We called at a few more islands, including some remote as Rambi and Rotuma and by now all 5 hatches were almost full of copra and just needed topping up. Everybody, from the Captain down, by now were plagued by copra bugs which were everywhere imaginable, in every nook and cranny, especially in our bunks….and shoes which have to be shaken out before putting them on. There was nowhere on the ship free from them, and they were breeding by the millions as time went by.

However, we were homeward bound now and ‘Channels’ took over making the bugs seeming insignificant, and goodwill prevailed as on any ship when homeward bound as England got closer.  and even the odd guy you didn’t like becomes your friend. 

So ended an unforgettable voyage all those years ago voyage that took place over 70 years ago. I have sailed on 28 different ships, from deck boy to Bosun, with multiple voyages in a few of them, sailed 4 different flags too, but none of them stay in my memories as much as the Corabank.

Many thanks to Peter for this authentic and original account.

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