Monthly Archives: February 2021

Chapter 2 – A Bank Line Tale

A fictional story, by John Wale & Alan Rawlinson

Cocky decided that a club may be a good idea as there was bound to be other people about. Anything to get out of this awful limousine.

The girls were delighted and told the driver to head for the Cave. He flicked through a number of cards in a rubber band on the dashboard.

‘Ah yes, I think I know where it is, lots of hippies and pop music.

Fifteen minutes later they arrived, disembarked and entered descending the stairs to the basement.

The music was deafening but the onlookers were riveted as act after act took to the stage.

His escorts seemed confused at first but soon got caught up in the mood so Cocky even found himself quite impressed by what he heard.

During an interval of sorts, Corky excused himself for the loo. 

He was hoping to find a fire escape or window where he could make a quick exit.

He engaged his neighbour in a casual chat.

‘Not really like a Cave is it?’

‘Well it’s not, our kid, or should I say Jock. I suppose a cave is not far removed from the actual name of the Cavern!’

‘Oh , sorry I got the name a bit wrong, but the music’s not bad. What is the name of that last group?’

‘Your obviously not from round here. Everyone knows the Beatles.’

They returned to the auditorium. Cigarette smoke filled the air and the two men joined a group nearer the stairs.

Cocky saw an opportunity as the girls hadn’t seen his return. He waited until three people were leaving and tagged along without being noticed.

Out back on street level he continued to mingle with his unknown companions until he rounded the corner where he took off at a run. Hailing a black cab he settled back with relief and told the driver to head for the docks.

Hamish and the third apprentice had finished dinner and asked the watchman if he had seen Cocky.

‘Acha sahib,’ the watchman replied, ‘he caught a cab about a couple of hours ago, he didn’t say where he was going.’

‘Let me know the minute he gets back.’

The two apprentices adjourned to the smoke room for a game of scrabble and were halfway through when the watchman came in and announced that he had seen Cockygetting out of a cab. They found him in his cabin.

‘Where have you been?’ Hamish asked in a demanding tone.

‘Just with a couple of local girls,’ Cocky replied nonchalantly.

‘Went clubbing and saw a really good group called the Beetles.’‘Yeh. Yeh,’ Yeh, “    Hamish replied with unconscious irony.

‘Tomorrow first first thing, you can get yourself down below and move those tea-chests out of the locker. You can use your vivid imagination to figure out how to open them. Knowing you, you’ll claim they are full of contraband or something. As it’s Saturday we are both going to explore.’ He said looking at the third apprentice.

‘ Maybe we’ll take a look at this club of yours!’

In the morning, all hell broke loose.    Before long, there were police everywhere and all before breakfast!  Charlie had listened with incredulity to the yarn that Cocky had unfolded the night before.   They were sharing a cabin and a bond was forming between them despite their vastly different backgrounds.  Charlie liked Cocky’s outward confidence and tried to overlook or ignore the accent.  He didn’t believe the story about the Cavern, but put it down to his shipmates wild imagination.

The cause of the early morning rumpus was the discovery of raw heroin in plastic bags scattered around the tweendecks.  It looked like bags of useless tar, but it was later explained that each bag was worth thousands, and even more in the wrong hands.   It had been consigned to the hospitals. During the homeward voyage, the locker in the tweendecks had been broken into but not discovered due to the copra cargo filling most spaces, and the fact that the locks and clasps securing the doors had been carefully put back to look intact from a distance.  Inside, beneath the dunnage the cases showed clearly where the breakin had occurred.  Now, the young apprentices were set to, combing the decks and collecting all the bags, placing them in a pile in the ship’s hospital, guarded by an armed policeman.   Charlie thought he looked a bit gormless with his shiny leather holster and a blank stare.  He was also hungry, very hungry.  He wandered hopefully past the bhundarries preparing delicious smelling fare for the crew, also out searching the ship.  His efforts secured him a still warm chapatti, enough to satisfy the immediate needs, and he made a mental note of this potential new source of goodies.

At the head of the gangway, a chalk board was displayed announcing a sailing time of 0600 for the following day, and up in the Captain’s cabin, the Chief Steward was grovelling as he explained that due to an error in ordering, he only had enough meat for a week in the deep freezer.  “ Well, there’s not enough time to order more now”, grunted Macdonald.   He had his own problems to deal with. Back home, his wife of 10 years was threatening to leave home unless he quit sailing on those blasted long Bank Line voyages.  

He thought she meant it this time!  


The Levernbank was lost in Peru in July 1973

The coast at Matarani

As I recall, Matarani wouldn’t accept vessels at night, so the plan was to stop and drift until daylight, it seems anchoring was not possible, not sure why, but the Chief Engineer reckoned the sea was too deep – don’t know myself. Anyway as we tracked along up the coast there seems to have been an understimation of our actual distance from shore. The turn to seaward to drift was interrupted by a bump, which I took to be a collision with a fishing boat but which was in fact our first contact with the Peruvian mainland, the engine was still full ahead at this time, when we suddenly got standby followed immediately a double full astern ring followed, and then by a major bang and the engine stopped dead. I ran down the tunnel to see the tail shaft about three feet out of line with the last two bearing pedestals tipped over by about 30 degrees. I reported this to the second who considered the best thing to do was put the kettle on!

An extract from a first hand account. See Levernbank account on this site.

A Bank Line tale

(Fiction – maybe)

by Alan Rawlinson and John Wale

Unknown to the lads onboard, hungry and salivating over the dinner to come, their shipmate Cocky was in trouble.   It had started out alright when he had spruced himself up and gone ashore to ring a cab.  The phone was inside the shed on the quay, and without realising it he had called what turned out to be a dodgy number.  The corrugated wall was plastered with garish cards and advertising of all sorts and he had carefully picked a pink one saying, “ TAXI – We take good care of you and all your needs”.   He should have known, he reflected later.  The clue was in the wording. Anyway, here he was, feeling somewhat trapped on plush leather seating in the back of the limousine, swaying through the streets of Liverpool with a girl either side and brightly painted fingernails grasping his inner thigh.  Music blared out from the boom boxes, and he vaguely wondered if this really was a regular taxi.  It was reggae blasting his ears but his immediate and most pressing thoughts and concern were for his nether regions!    Suddenly, a hand with a glass was thrust in front of his face and he heard the girls giggling.  “  What’s a handsome boy like you doing on a dirty old ship like that ”, a voice said.     It sounded far away, but maybe it was down to the combination of the scented interior, the drink, and the singing that had started up.    He recognised the Scouse accent, but the tune was not “ Maggie May”, far from it.   He looked out from behind the grubby curtains.  They should have reached the Liver building where the Agents were, but instead the Limo seemed to be heading for the Birkenhead tunnel.   Cocky wondered idly what the Captain would say.  “ How about a club, La?” ,  said a disembodied voice in his ear.  It was a statement more than a question and Cocky realised he was in deep trouble.   It was time to assert himself, but how?

to be continued……

Dipping the Ensign

Many thanks to ‘jungle’ for this account. One of his earlier ships, above, painted by him – the “WEYBANK” in Thailand


It is a tradition at sea that when a merchant navy vessel crosses path with a warship, the merchant ship shall dip its national ensign (flag) as a mark of courtesy/respect.

Warships never dip their ensigns, except in answer to such a salute by a merchant vessel.

Generally, when a merchant vessel leaves port for the open sea, its national ensign, flown usually from the flag staff at the stern of the vessel, called the jackstaff or jack for short, is taken down and only raised again when entering the next port of call. There are a number of reasons why this is so, one of them being that when underway the combination of wind and saltwater causes the ensign to slowly disintegrate. One would often see such ensigns hanging in tatters from ships’ jacks where their crews couldn’t be bothered to lower them at sea.

A flag salute from a merchant vessel consists of dipping its ensign, by lowering it by a half of the length of the jackstaff. This dip should be maintained until the warship responds by first dipping its own ensign and then raising it again to the truck (full mast position) wherefater the merchant vessel responds by raising his own ensign back to the truck.

In the US Navy the jackstaff ensign is never flown while a ship is underway, the exception being in response to a dip from another ship.

The following incident occured aboard a German freighter as we were cruising majestically along through the Caribbean Sea on a beautiful sunny early afternoon. The officers aboard our ship were German but most of our deckhand crew were Spanish.

The early afternoons were Siesta time for most of the off-watch crew. I was in the wheelhouse “shooting the breeze” with the 2.Offz. who had the watch when we saw a ship popping up on the horizon. We switched on the radar to get an idea of its course and observed it through binoculars. As it got a bit closer we were able to see that it was a warship. Tracking it with the radar we reckoned that it was on a course at a tangent which would eventually bring her to pass crossing astern of us. She was moving fast so the 2.Offz. grabbed our national German ensign (folded up) from the flag locker and called one of our Spanish bridge wing lookouts over. He stuck the folded-up ensign in the Spaniards hand and told him, in his best Spanglish to run aft and hoist it on the jack, thereafter to wait for a hand signal from him to dip it and for another when to raise it again. “Si, Senor” answered Manuel, who then galloped off down the companionways to the main deck and all the way to the poop deck.

I have named him Manuel here because he bore a remarkable likeness to Manuel, the Spanish waiter in the “Fawlty Towers” TV episodes. We watched from the bridge wing as Manuel clipped on the ensign to the jack’s halyards, raised it and then struck the colours. The flag billowed out in a blaze of black, gold and red. “Scheisse!” said the 2nd. and started shouting at Manuel in the distance – “Zieh’s ‘runter!, Zieh’s ‘runter!! (abbreviated German for “pull it down”).Instead of the German flag flying proudly it was that of Belgium (which has the same colours as that of Germany). Manuel obviously couldn’t hear or understand so he outstetched his arms with his palms up in the air as in “what the hell do you want now?” The 2nd mate also changed over to hand signals which however were misinterpreted by Manuel as “get down”, which he promptly did by crouching down low at his haunches – like a Chinese rickshaw coolie waiting for a fare. The 2nd. mate blew a fuse “Komm zurueck Du Idiot” he shouted while simultaneously making relevant hand signals. Poor Manuel got the message and galloped all the way back up to the bridge wing. On his arrival he was rewarded by getting another flag jammed into his hand together with an order to get his ass moving and exchange the ensigns “Muy Pronto” (along with some unprintable German expletives).

The other Spanish lookout and I exchanged grins. I then heard a single “Whooop” sounding, the kind you hear in movies featuring US warships. I looked across at the warship which was now really getting close and then saw the “Stars and Stripes” being struck from her jackstaff.

Down came the Belgian flag. Manuel, fumbling in panic, hooked on the German ensign and then hauled her up to the truck. By now the warship, which was a big modern US destroyer, was just about to cross astern of us. She was so close that we could almost hear the camera shutters of half of her crew who had gathered on her port side to watch the event.

Manuel, after having raised the ensign, immediately noticed his mistake – he had clipped the flag on upside down to the halyards and so he immediately started lowering it again. It was at this moment when the destroyer passed us astern, dipping her own ensign and then raising it again followed by three long “Whoop” blasts from her klaxon – the “as you were, carry on” signal.

The destroyer’s bridge command officers had undoubtedly viewed the whole pantomine unfurl (pun) through their binoculars from start to finish. What they thought of it is anybody’s guess – an episode from a German version of “McHale’s Navy” perhaps?

Tales of the Deep continued…

I would like to, if I may, share some of my adventures on board the M.V. Geopotis. A Single Trailing Suction Dredger which operated in the area of Chilichup in Indonesia for about 6 months.

For the next 10 to 12 weeks we continued to dredge the allotted area, and to the best of my memory,  were able to increase the depth by about 15 to 20 m.   Watch followed watch as it does,  dredge for 4 hours, travel to the dump ground and deposit ‘cargo’ and back around again for another bite at the sea bed.  On Saturdays we returned to the wharf at around 14.00hrs and shut everything down and connected to shore power.  Minor repairs were carried out and everyone took a break.  Chillichup was, at that stage anyway, a very small village, and had the ‘mandatory’ bar/hotel which we often frequented.

The dredge carried two ‘drag heads’ both around 9 tons each.  I was led to believe that there was always a spare drag head, due to the fact that it was always possible to ‘lose’ a drag head if it snagged whilst a dredging operation was being carried out.     At around 14.00hrs one afternoon whilst we were doing the last dredge run for our shift, and doing about 3 to 4 knots, we felt a distinct lurch to the starboard, almost came to a stop, and then as if ‘released’ from some obstacle start to slowly move forward again.  I remember noticing that the ‘sound’ of the main suction pump in the engine room had changed somewhat.  Bridge brought the vessel to a halt and the anchor was dropped.

We went up on deck to see what the fuss was all about, and found that drag head had indeed snagged something and had been ripped off.  The suction pipe, which by this time had been raised to deck level, looked a sorry sight with no drag head at the end.  The whole drag head had been ripped off and lay somewhere beneath the waves!  We returned to base camp so to speak, and a dozen or so shore side fitters descended on to the Geopotes.  My memory is hazy about how long it took to ‘bend’ the now slightly oval pipe back into a circular shape, and attach the spare drag head back on.  Methinks it took about 3 days, after which we went back to doing the dredging thing!!

There was another ‘minor’ incident that I would like to share which caused a bit of a heart flutter!  As mentioned earlier a fair few munitions would be dragged up on each run, and it was quite common to find ‘clips’ of two pounders which I assume, were used on what are/were called ‘pom-poms’ during WW2 along with small to medium land mines in the holding tank.  On this particular occasion we were on deck taking in the sights (!) when dredging was stopped, and the pipe raised to deck level.  A large round lump of metal had blocked the drag head.  The head was brought in above the deck and a couple of deck crew were pointing and talking about this piece of metal.   One of them decided to try to remove it by picking up a 38lb hammer and giving it a few good wallops to dislodge the errant piece of metal!  Most of the Mates standing watching all this carry on, howled disapproval and quickly, well actually at great speed, ran the other way screaming a number of expletives, basically questioning the IQ of the person who was wielding the hammer!  This gentleman was thereafter nick named ‘Kamikaze’.   The said piece of metal turned out to be a ‘small’ WW2 land-mine about 18inches in diameter.  As one can understand, all work came to a grinding halt, and we were told the local Army guys would be over shortly to evaluate the situation.  About an hour later, some gentlemen in Uniform came on board and stood around the drag head, looking, pointing, shaking their heads and  rubbing their chins, as they do!   Sometime later it was declared that the land-mine was ‘live’ and should be removed.   Understandably, there were not a lot of volunteers for this daunting task.  Even  Kamikaze did not seem too keen  to put his hand up!  Once again we ended up at base camp where the blocked drag head was replaced with the spare one.   I seem to remember that great caution was taken whilst loading the blocked drag head onto a large flat bed truck, which slowly moved away.   How the Army guys removed the land mine was never shared but it was back shortly prior to setting sail for Adelaide.  Meanwhile it was back to doing the dredging thing.

It is said in the classics that all good things must come to an end sooner or later.    I think it was in the 11th week that the ‘higher ups’ decided to cease dredging in Chillichup and relocate the vessel to Port Adelaide, where we could have more fun rearranging the sea bed for vessels with a higher draft.

A couple of days prior to leaving Chillichup the ‘village’ organised a bit of a party for the ships crew.  And for those of you who think is was just one big ‘pis*up’, it was not!  We all drank sensibly that night and a good time was had by all.   Music as such! Was provided by an electric gramophone, most songs were Indonesian songs, we had 4 ‘English songs’, the favourite song was “I found my thrill on Blueberry Hill-by Fats Domino and this track was played many many many times that night.  Being an ex Bank Line- Doxford-Andrew Weir type of person I taught the locals and a few others the soul stirring benefits and mind boggling capacities of the “Doxford Dance’ to the tune of Blue Berry Hill!  and I wonder whether it became part of the village scenario?    Whenever I hear that tune these days it takes me back to my halcyon  days at Chilichup doing the dredging thing.

This story ends on a somewhat sombre note.  A couple of hours after we left Chilichup and headed for Port Adelaide, the bridge slowed the engines down and appeared to take a hard turn to starboard, this continued till we were basically going back to where we had started.   At times like these rumours fly left right and center!  One was that the Port Adelaide trip had been cancelled and we were to do another 3 months at Chillichup.  The truth of the matter was that a young Indonesian lad of about 18 had stowed away and hidden himself in the 2.5M diameter suction pipe.  The story goes that the 2nd Mate started to do a deck inspection shortly after we left Chilichup.  Whilst ensuring that drag heads and suction pipes were battened down correctly etc, he had spotted the lad in the pipe.

Much (heated I might add) discussion about the stowaway followed whilst we drifted off Chilichup, but the final decision was that the Captain had no choice but to ‘hand him over’ to authorities. This occurred and we finally turned and headed out towards Port Adelaide.   I signed off at Port Adelaide and was flown home to Brisbane.

As all of us who have travelled the open spaces know, it is not the ship itself, but the human beings that we have interacted with in the course of its great wanderings that make all the difference.

Perhaps Tennyson puts it better:

“There gloom the dark broad seas.  My Mariners, Souls that have toil’d, and wrought, and thought with me—-”

Thanks to Alan Rowlinson for making it possible for me to share a small part of my sea going career with you good people.  May all be well with you.

Many thanks to Michael for sharing the interesting memory above


These are memories from Michael Smith, who started his sea-going career as 6th Engineer on the M.V. TEAKBANK.

He later served in other interesting vessels, including a suction dredger – as related below.

M.V. Geopotis


I would like to, if I may, share some of my adventures on board the M.V. Geopotis. A Single Trailing Suction Dredger which operated in the area of Chilichup in Indonesia for about 6 months.  The vessel had been tasked with ‘deepening’ part of the harbour so that ships, mainly Tankers, with a deeper draft could enter and discharge various cargoes at Chilichup.  The vessel was powered by Two Twin Bank Mirrlees-Blackstone Diesels.  A single Turbo-Charger was fitted to each engine.  Normal running revs were around 900rpm.  The single propeller shaft was also ‘attached’ through a separate gearbox, to the ‘suction pump’ which ‘sucked’ in vast quantities of sea water and silt (and anything else that happened to be lying on sea bed) from the sea bed and pumped this into a  large holding tank.  The sea water would drain off from this tank, leaving the silt and other ‘objects’ in the tank.  When the tank was ‘full’ we moved further out to sea, and by means of hydraulic operated bottom doors ‘dumped the cargo’ into a deeper part of the surrounding area.  The vessel operated 24 hours, 6 days a week.  Watches were 12 hours stints.

It was about a month after the ‘run job’ to Singapore on the M. V.Lake Barine, that I got a call from the Australian Institute of Marine and Power Engineers in Sydney, inquiring whether I would be interested in doing a stint on the Geopotis.  The vessel at that stage was in dry dock at Sembawang in Singapore, going through a refit in preparation for dredging at Chilichup.  I was pleased to find that some of the guys I had done my 2nd’s ticket with in Melbourne, were on the same flight to Singapore, as was  The Chief Engineer Bill Hoskins who hailed from Invercargil in New Zealand and Phil Parker, the Electrician, from Perth in Western Australia.   One of them was Louie Salvagno, who at that stage lived in Melbourne.  Both Louie and I were to be the Senior 2nd’s on the Geopotis.   Two Junior engineers completed the engine room crew.  After a nine hour flight we arrived in Singapore and were housed at The Cockpit Hotel which was a very pleasant hotel to stay at.  Our working day started at 09.00hrs and finished at 16.00hrs.  We were driven to and from the hotel each day, 6 days a week.  We were at the drydock for about a week.  My memory of these events and times are a bit hazy.  Other than basic tasks of packing glands on various valves, checking/testing correct functioning of equipment and assisting Singaporean shore-side marine fitters to complete various tasks, it was not a demanding 7 hours a day.  It was however the height of summer in Singapore, and thus the engine room temperature tended to be over 40 degrees most days.  The humidity did not help!!  

Coming out of dry-dock we anchored at Singapore Roads for about 2 days and then finally left and headed for Chilichup.  The voyage to Chilichup was more ot less uneventful and the Mirrlees ran smoothly.  We were cautioned to check the lube oil level on the two Mirrlees every 2 hours.  The reason behind this was; the diesel fuel pumps were actually ‘positioned inside’ the crankcase, the injectors were as per normal, placed outside in middle of each cylinder.  Any fuel leakage from the fuel pumps would result in the crankcase filling up with a mixture of lube oil and diesel.  I seem to remember being told that the crankshaft on both of them had been replaced some months prior, when a fuel pump had leaked, and diesel had filled the crankcase.    During the 4 months I served on the vessel this never occurred.  

We finally started to dredge.  It basically consisted of lowering a large long pipe/cylinder which had ‘drag head’ (weighing about 10 tons) at/on the end of it that looked very similar to a household ‘vacuum cleaner’ head.  This head was lowered to the sea bed and the vacuum pump started, the main engines were engaged and the vessel moved (slowly—4 to 5 knots) dragging the head along the bottom and sucking up anything in its path.  At the end of a preorganised ‘path’ the vessel turned around and took another suck of the sea bed.  I seem to remember that during any 12 hour watch we did 3 to 4 trips to the ‘dump site’ further out to sea.

What amazed me no end was ‘what was actually dredged’ up from the sea bed.  Being an area which experienced a whole lot of action during WW2 one can only imagine what ended up in the holding tank!!  Previous dredging crews had seen bits and pieces of what turned out to be a Japanese Zero, and other bits of aircraft which no one could identify.  Munitions of various types, rifles, parts of machine guns…cars, many motorcycles, etc, most of them not easily recognisable, and the list goes on.  

Some of the crew decided to ‘salvage’ some of the munitions as keepsakes, until some senior person from the Army informed them that the munitions could very well be alive!!  This put a stop to ‘salvaging’!!  (I think!!)  As always there were ‘tales and stories’ of what had been collected in the past trips.  Herewith a few of them:  Huge number of 2” gold coins made in Spain (apparently).  Gold bars with unknown stamps on them.  A smallish treasure chest containing jewels, diamonds and other valuable ‘stuff’.   The story goes that the key was still in the lock, (?) and so, no issues were experienced when trying to open the chest!!   No one telling these stories seemed to know what actually happened to all this wealth.   

To be continued:

Many Thanks, Michael.


One of 18 sisters built in 1925/6 in Govan. Served for 35 years, through WW2 and beyond. Here is an account, written in a ‘factional’ style, of her last trip.

Second trip continued having negotiated the Panama Canal-M.V. Comliebank

The ship headed due West for about two to three days before altering course to Port when due south of Clipperton Island at the start of their long and not uneventful journey across the Pacific Ocean. After a further two days the port engine stopped and soon after, this was followed by the starboard engine.

Fortunately, the seas lived up to their reputation and were as clear as glass. This lasted for well over the week it took for the engineers to mend the engines. Less fortunate was the over-worked generators that succumbed, causing both freezers to fail. The order was given that to preserve the produce as long as possible, access was limited to once a day or more accurately, once at night when it was a little cooler.

In 1957/60 all merchant ships had to be as self reliant as possible and carried extensive spares and tools, most of it not being available elsewhere. An added reason was that communication at sea was not possible other than by morse code. 

To break the monotony of drifting, some of the Europeans took to swimming in the calm deep blue ocean completely oblivious to any sharks or other deep water dangers. In between duties the soot clad engineers joined in these pastimes to cool down and wash off their grime and sweat.

Surprisingly, the crew whose main pastime was fishing, were totally unsuccessful but with hindsight this was probably because the ship was drifting between the extremely deep water Galapagos and Clipperton fracture zones. 

A new course of 220 degrees true was set that would take them to the South of Kiritimati but this was unable to be confirmed due to the arrival of cloudy weather obscuring the Stars and Sun for several day’s. With normal sights being impossible, dead reckoning was the only option and it was difficult to accurately account for the week’s drifting to the North, whilst they had earlier broken down.

Several days later, Sparks rushed excitedly onto the Bridge with a decoded morse message that read.


To the MASTER and/0r duty Officer.

This is Her Majesties Frigate ‘Ulysses’.

Immediately alter course to due South (i.e. 180 degrees) and stay on this course for three hundred miles before resuming your passage.

This is mandatory and to avoid being fired upon you should reply the affirmative to indicate that you have received, understood and taken the required action.

Rear Admiral J. Cummings.

Nobody, even Captain Moody, had the slightest idea what it was all about but discretion being the prefferable part of valour, Sparks duly replied and the ship altered course as required.

Needless to say speculation was abound. With the Internet over twenty years away and secrecy being paramount it wasn’t until after the event that they found out through the services of the BBC overseas radio channel that there had been a successful nuclear detonation of a hydrogen bomb on Christmas Island. It was the spring of 1958.

Some of the crew reported a bright flash around the right time but there were no explosions heard or mushroom clouds seen.

After being on the new course heading south for three hundred miles they altered  hard to starboard and having finally obtained a good ‘fix’, they headed 255 degrees true to pass between Tonga and Fiji.

By this time the victuals were nearly depleted and certainly they were suffering from a very limited menu. So much so that for the final three days before making port in Brisbane, all they had left to eat was tinned kippers and jam supplemented by japatties from the Asian crew. It was shortly after that the apprentices came up with a scheme involving an increased diet. 

The crew were made up from a mixture of mainly Muslims and some Goanese who required a different diet consisting of ‘Hal -al’ food that had to be ritually and freshly slaughtered by the holy-man. They kept pens of live chickens and goats for that purpose so its not rocket science to imagine what the apprentices had in mind.

In the dead of the night they had liberated some chickens and furtively gave them to the Chinese carpenter for dealing with. The chippy and the engine room fitter, who was also Chinese, lived separately from the crew and were of an entirely different culture, being from Hong Kong and brought up under British rule. As part of the arrangement and in order to share in the bounty, the carpenter and his colleague agreed to deal with the birds from despatching, plucking and cooking in the tiny facilities of their storerooms. 

Subsequently, the Captain and ship’s officers were never appraised as to how the welcome food had suddenly appeared.

 A couple of days later, having passed the New Caledonia Islands to Starboard, the ship reached it’s first port of call for thirty nine days and due to the frozen food stores being spoilt following their breakdown, everybody was keen to get ashore for a hearty meal.

The Captain rather magnanimously gave everybody an unconditional advance (not to be repaid) of £10 per person to assuage the hardship. Some sceptically thought this was to discourage complaints but nobody turned the money down and without exception, once safely tied up, a mass exodus was underway.

The junior officers and apprentices headed straightaway to a restaurant come bar, that had been frequented by one of the junior officers on an earlier trip.

The cold draft beer was the flavour of the day and the restaurant being noted for its seafood, the large succulent prawns and crab were a close second.

Their scheduled stay in Brisbane of five days became extended to three whole weeks to allow for necessary servicing and repairs to the engines and generators. 

At weekends it was lucky that the stevedores didn’t work which allowed sufficient time to visit town and attend the dances with the hopes of meeting some girls.

In the event this was interrupted by the arrival of the new Ark Royal, Britain’s largest aircraft carrier.

Some naval Admiral had underestimated what the addition of around three thousand sailors would have on the community. Coupled with the several thousand local Australian sailors it turned out to be less than harmonious.

The three apprentices together with the third mate, sparks and the second engineer, had found a lively bar to quench their thirst. 

It was a bit of a dive in that they noticed that the chairs and tables were screwed to the floor which should have indicated something!

A band we’re playing on a raised platform and the place started to fill up will sailors from both navy’s.

It wasn’t until about an hour or so later that it began. A typical Australian hippie started singing to the music and after an interval, she had decided to please her country’s seamen by a rendering of ‘Waltzing Matilda’.

A  gunner from the Ark Royal who was a bit worse for wear, threw a missile in her direction that happened to be an empty beer bottle. Without missing a note the ginger haired singer known locally as ‘blue’ expertly caught the bottle and returned it wence it came. Unfortunately her aim was a bit like her singing or so the Ark Royal lads thought. The missile missed its target and struck one of her own countrymen causing the uproar that followed. Glasses and bottles flew everywhere but the band and singing continued uninterrupted.

Fortunately the furniture, such that it was, held fast to the wooden floor otherwise the injuries would have been much more severe.

Soon the M.P’s arrived noticeable by the wooden batons they wielded and their white arm bands as well as the loud piercing whistles.

There was no attempt to isolate the trouble makers as everyone within the M.P’s range were targets whatever their nationality or even whether they were actually in the forces.

The six merchant seaman made a swift exit through a door marked ‘Sheila’s’ where they removed the steel mesh netting from the window. They squeezed through the opening and once out into an alleyway they speedily set off for an alternative hostelry without a even a bruise between them.

Three days later Sydney proved to be a much more preferred port.  For a start the climate was less hot and humid and the people being more cosmopolitan caused the seamen to feel a lot more at home. The world class beaches of Bondi and Manly became firm favourites as did the nurses home attached to the Mater Misericordiae Hospital on the North side of Sydney Harbour and close to where the Comliebank was berthed. 

John had kept his shore time to weekends and evenings only although a generous Bank holiday was enjoyed while the ship was in port. He had decided to save any leave for Adelaide and hoped to meet up with his brother whom he hadn’t seen since he was seven years old.

Their arrival in port Adelaide was a bit of an anti-climax after the splendour of Sydney. The wide road to the city had been destined to boast a canal but this had been shelved due to the expense. As a consequence the broad avenue into the City has the traffic to and from the city divided by a colourful display of tropical vegetation of all types including small trees and shrubs.

John arranged for three days shore leave and contacted his oldest brother. A meeting was made for the first Friday lunchtime and he had arranged the meeting outside Myers one of Adelaide’s large departmental Shops in the centre of town.

Arriving in good time, John readily found the venue and patiently waited for his brothers arrival. He hadn’t envisioned it further and apart from natural curiosity he had no idea of how the meeting would turn out.

When John had last seen Brian, his brother had appeared to be about eighteen inches taller than John. So it followed that he was attempting to look out for someone similar. 

When they finally met the growth gap had disappeared and was very noticeable to John who found that both he and his brother were of similar height. Nevertheless they got on extremely well from the start and later found that they shared very similar traits. 

Brian had arranged to meet his wife and the three of them had lunch at a restaurant just off of Rundle Mall offering a delicious and exclusive cuisine

After lunch, being the start of the weekend, Brian dropped his wife back to the hospital where she worked and took his younger brother to their house in the Adelaide Hills.

A bottle of Australian wine later, the two brothers decided to treat Brian’s family and his mother in law to a special celebration meal at a renown restaurant high near the top of Mount Lofty. It proved a great success and was the first of two visits during the ship’s stay in Adelaide.

Brian had taken a couple of days off so a game of golf was planned for the following Monday at the nearby golf course. The same evening John joined his brother and wife at a rehearsal of a ballet show in which they were taking part.

The still quite shy seventeen year old, particularly with the opposite sex, found himself sitting next to a completely uninhibited Australian girl clad only in her underwear. Most of the cast were similarly attired as it was a pre-dress rehearsal and led to Brians younger brother taking out his sparsely clad neighbour on an exotic dinner date to Mount Lofty, his second visit to impress his new friend in a car borrowed from his brother

The ship finally became discharged and proceeded light-ship to a place called Ocean Island  close to the Equator in the Pacific Ocean.

Just before departure a large box was delivered to the ship addressed to Mr. John Wale. It was a case of wine from his brother as a farewell gift.

The downside turned out to be that the wine was white and without means to cool it, it was unpalatable and being a Sauterne proved to be too sweet when warm so with much regret it joined the refuse. 

There were two great islands near Australia that consisted of millions of years build up of seabird droppings. These were a valuable fertiliser known as phosphate. The shipping company had exclusive rights to freight the phosphate which would only take two or three days to load before returning to the Australian mainland for discharge. The whole process including the outward and inward voyages, took usually less than six weeks and to save cleaning, once a ship was on this route it usually did several voyages. Being little or nothing to do at the primitive ports of loading, the trips were unpopular with the ships compliment. However the Head-office in London had other considerations, notably the costs of running and repairs to the ageing ship. As a consequence after several phosphate runs that ended in discharge in Newcastle New South Wales, about two hundred miles to the North of Sydney, the ship was sold to the Japanese for scrapping.

On arrival at Newcastle amongst his mail that had been forwarded by the ship’s agents in Sydney was an envelope addressed in his eldest brothers hand.

 There was no note of any kind and the envelope just contained a cutting from a local newspaper in Adelaide. John read…..

‘……. at a coroners inquest yesterday a report recorded the sad and untimely death of Susan Mc Kinney aged eighteen which was registered as suicide being of temporary unsound mind. The Coroner added that being a nurse she would have had access to various medication including barbiturates that caused the end to her short life.

Susan, a trainee nurse at Adelaide’s Royal Infirmary had been reported as having been deeply affected by her parents splitting up some nine months earlier. She will be sadly missed by her colleagues and especially the members of the amateur dance troupe where she was a long term member and also the mainly males at the Port Adelaide rowing club.

John put the cutting down and silently remembered his joyful times with Sue especially his introduction to the adult world of female enlightenment. He was deeply saddened but realised that one could never alter some things.

A skeleton crew were kept on for the last passage of the Comliebank to Japan where it would also meet a similar fate to that he had just read about but putting both momentous events behind him, John decided to continue with what fate had in store.

Prior to departure of both John and the ship, a celebration had been arranged. It consisted of a procession from the ship to the officers favourite bar to present the ship’s solid brass bell. 

The nurses from the local nurses home had prepared the food and drinks and also provided a band of sorts for the procession which was to start at the docks and end at the Pub. The mainly deck officers were dressed as pirates and carried the heavy bell slung between two oars with one person at the each end of the oars. The band made up from students from the music college, played popular jazz tunes as the procession slowly made its way into town. They were all in sailors parlance ‘three sheets to the wind,’ and the merry crowd continued to the Quayside Arms where the main party began, with the ‘Saints come marching in,’ entertaining passers-by.

The dancing or jiving gradually diminished as people partnered up and couples found privacy. However the evening crowd served to liven things up so the party was re-kindled and continued well into the next day. 

The great bell had somehow been hung on the wall behind the public bar and was used and probably still is, to signal the hour in ships time and for calling last orders and other special occasions such as her Majesty the Queen Elisabeth’s birthday etcetera.

The following day the remainder of the crew were paid off and repatriated but a few less fortunate were to be transferred to the Tealbank in Fremantle. They consisted solely of John the apprentice and, at sometime a little later, the Second Officer, an ex Master Mariner called Jenks which was short for Jenkins.

The train journey to Sydney was uneventful and John spent the night at an Hotel close to the main Railway terminal. Early next morning he caught the overnight express to Perth in the far West.

Although John hadn’t been allocated a sleeping berth he found that the journey was well provided for especially as the seats were not only very comfortable but were fully reclining if needed’

However the train was unusually empty apart from a contingent from the Australian Army. The Englishman was fascinated by the soldiers strange wide brimmed hats, where the brims on one side were folded up to the crown.

The scenery was also fascinating as the express stopped at the principle places during its travels with changing scenery throughout the journey and finally arriving in Perth on the twenty ninth of January 1959.

The ship in Fremantle turned out to be a Liberty ship. Built by the Americans to send supplies and troops to Britain, these ship were extremely novel. They were constructed continuously with the bow and stern being added on later. The construction was fully welded which was unique at the time. 

After the war the surviving ships were purchased by merchant fleets being popular by sailors and owners alike, for their economic propulsion and the generous conditions required by the American seamen. 

The engines were steam and relied on a triple expansion system which provided endless amounts of hot water and electricity from the steam driven machinery.

The Tealbank was commanded by Captain Lidstone, who, at barely twenty seven had been the youngest Captain in the fleet. As well as ‘Jenks’ and myself, the only other person to join was the fifth engineer. He was a very affable individual and soon became a bit of a legend when at his first dinner the steward brought a large steak and kidney pie intended for the engineers table. Instead of waiting to be served with a portion,  the naive Australian took the whole dish and commented,  ‘The tucker here is really bonsa.’
  No wonder he was very fat.

This account written and kindly submitted by John Wale Esq. The text is copyright and may not be reproduced without written approval

Bank Line recall…

South America bound….

For many regular, or even casual visits to South American ports, our young seafarer would feel the pulse quicken when the itinery was announced.  The music, the mystery, the girls, and the sheer excitement and exuberance  of the  anticipated visit dominated. The big cities, Buenos Aries, Montevideo and more held out wildly imaginable prospects, and the smaller loading and discharging ports all around the coasts had their own intimate charm.  Less variety perhaps, but often they offered quirky fun with piano bars, impromptu singing, friendly girls, and more, much more.

Picture This:    A sunny morning.   The loaded ship with a pilot on board is slowly moving through the brown sluggish  water of the mighty River Plate with a low strip of land on the horizon ahead. Outward-bound vessels are gingerly passing on their way to the open sea .  The mood is upbeat. The bridge teams wave to each other.

Soon, the ship is berthed and the stevedores arrive.  The pace of life is noticeably slower than expected, and this is confirmed on the first shore trip, when families are surprisingly seen eating meals and relaxing, well after midnight.  The city starts to buzz and most bars and restaurants have a tango band, giving out a magic ambiance to appreciative visitors and locals alike.  Near the docks, the bars are noticeably more wild and unpredictable. The music louder.  Many ‘girls of the night’ are working the floor like enticing vultures.  They drift in and out, and it’s  near to paradise for any randy seamen!  Up in the city centre, outside tables are near full, and the famous ‘ beefsteak de lomo’ is a favourite dish accompanied by heady local red wine.

Later, the ship visits out of the way grain loading ports, where the pace of life is amazingly slower still.   Work is desultory and the port stay extended, leading our young seaman to worry about the cash he can draw.  No thought here for the ship owner. The bars ashore are numerous, and most have ancient pianos playing nightly and some are strangely situated on a platform elevated above the floor, possibly to avoid troublemakers.  The lady pianist takes requests, but only for music! The night wears on and dawn breaks.  South America has left it’s mark.

Onboard snaps – SPEYBANK and other ships

As Chief Engineer

These photos were kindly forwarded by the daughter of George Duncan, Jean Wilson. Her father, George, was a Bank Line engineer.  George Duncan, joined the Speybank in December 1939 and was captured in January 1941, just over a year later by the German raider ATLANTIS under Captain Rogge. George continued his career in the Bank Line after he was released at the end of WW2, after four and a half years as a P.O.W.

( See the SPEYBANK story by clicking on the link)



Kenneth Mackay – Ships served on with dates and rank, starting with the GOWANBANK above. Many thanks.

  • Gowanbank; Rotterdam from 19-01-72 to Jarrow 30-08-72; 6th Eng.
  • Riverbank; Mombasa from 02-10-72 to Durban 19-01-73; 6th Eng.
  • Rosebank; Barry from 13-03-73 to Liverpool 20-11-73; 5th Eng.
  • Corabank; Liverpool from 17-01-74 to 07-02-74; 4th Eng.
  • Nairnbank; Durban from 21-01-74 to Tyne 23-04.74; 4th Eng.
  • Fleetbank; Immingham 14-05-74 to Aqaba 26-07-74; 4th Eng.
  • Cloverbank; Sunderland 17-10-74 to London 08-11-74; 4th Eng.
  • Larchbank; Liverpool from 26-11-74 to Amsterdam 03-01-75; 3rd Eng.
  • Palacio (McAndrews); Sheerness 10-06-75 to Sheerness 04-08-75; 4th Eng.
  • Cloverbank; Bander Abbas from 08-01-76 to Rotterdam 23-11-76; 2nd Eng.
  • Siena (Cloverbank); Hong Kong from 26-06-77 to Bangkok 15-01-78; 2nd Eng.
  • Speybank; Rotterdam from 28-03-78 to Antwerp 21-04-78; 2nd Eng.
  • Hollybank; Liverpool 31-05-78 to Hull 30.06-78; 2nd Eng.
  • Cedarbank; London from 24-07-78 to Cardiff 07-08-78; 2nd Eng.
  •  Fleetbank; Hamburg from 14-08-78 to Hamburg 18-12-78; 2nd Eng.
  • Fenbank Brake 21-03-79 to Durban 14-09-79; 2nd Eng.

WW2 Memories as a boy

An extract….

“Then VJ day came and went, and after a 3 year stint at sea  school my life opened up in a most amazing way.  I was appointed to a ship in Cardiff and began to roam the world.   The ship was the FORTHBANK and she had come through the war unscathed.  For me, it was the start of a completely new and exciting life, leaving WW2 far behind but not forgotten.”

(Click the download button to read the illustrated article about life as a young boy in the London Blitz in WW2)



There was a British Purser on the Isipingo who when in Durban visited, as many of us did, the Playhouse in the main Street which was an enormous and very popular Bar Lounge, Restaurant and Cinema complex.  On one occasion, after a good evening there enjoying a few drinks, he pitched out into a taxi and said Isipingo and promptly fell asleep in the back of the cab.  

He was awoken by the driver shaking him to find they were by a deserted beach with the surf pounding in loudly.  The Purser immediately feared the worst – that he was going to be robbed and even worse – and nervously asked “why have you brought me here?”.  The taxi driver replied, “you said Isipingo and here we are – Isipingo”. The Purser hadn’t realised that Isipingo was a southern suburb and beach of Durban.  

He also probably didn’t know that Inchanga, the other ‘white ship’, was named after the beautiful ‘Inchanga, Valley of a thousand Hills’ in traditional Zulu country, roughly halfway between Durban and Pietermaritzburg.

The third ship of the trio, Incomati, which was sunk by gunfire in WW2 by U508 some 200 miles south of Lagos, was named after the Incomati River which flows from South Africa into the sea near Maputo (Laurenco Marques as was).

Story kindly provided by Captain R.P.Blowers

RIVERBANK memories

The Riverbank back in 1972, what a state the old girl was in, steam leaking every where and none of the engine room fans worked. Used to send the donkey man up to turn the cowls into the wind, haha. Running low on water in the Indian Ocean and chasing clouds in the hope of rain. I was 5th engineer and the heavy oil tanks were below by cabin, stinking hot with an old DC desk fan that went at a snails pace. The bar was self built from old dunnage but we loved it all. the social life was what keep us all going. I am sorry to say that I cannot remember the names but the 4th eng was called Muttley because he laughed just like the sniggering hound, 2nd mate was Ken Carpenter I thing, the mate was from Buckie, really like his drink. Hopefully others will be able to add names.It had an old Doxford 4 cylinder LBD with twin scavenge pumps. We had to run on three many time due to the cylinder liner wear, ended up shut down mid Indian Ocean between Christmas and New Year changing out one liner for one slightly less worn.

Story and pics kindly supplied by Kenneth Mackay

LEGENDRY FLOTILLAS – by Captain Geoffrey Walker

Singapore – East Coast Roads in recent times – a modern view

What follows is a fascinating account of the wartime evacuation by small vessels – an ‘Asian Dunkirk’


One of the vessels involved

An extract………….

A Plan of evacuation had been made and those vessels carrying military and civilians were directed to proceed towards safety via the Durian Straits, Berhala Straits, and the Banka Straits to points of refuge in Java. It is claimed that around 44 ships carrying evacuees left Singapore in loose convoy formation between February 12 to 14, 1942 and that of these vessels, all but 4 were bombed and sunk as they passed down the Bangka Straits from Singapore to Java. Consequently, thousands of men, women, and children were killed before any could reach land or be rescued from drowning at sea.

Click on the download button below for the full unpublished and illustrated article titled, ” Legendry Flotillas” kindly supplied by Geoff Walker

Also, see the website at

Joining the WESTBANK

It was with excited anticipation that the apprentice joined his first ship.

He said goodbye to his father at the dock gates not wanting his new colleagues to think him in need of support.  Unknown to him, it would be last time he ever saw his father.

Everything was new to him including the uniform he was wearing and the contents of his second hand kit bag.  Finances didn’t permit so they had arrived on a number 141 bus.

 He stopped occasionally to put down his burden for a brief respite and was able to look around the busy docks where ships of all kinds were loading and unloading their different cargoes.  He was completely taken in by all the activity and wondered what his first ship would be like.  The gateman had given him directions and although he was not unfriendly, his manner came across as somewhat bored.

Although he had been to a Nautical School since the age of eleven, he had little idea of what to expect in spite of passing GCE exams in navigation and seamanship as well as several other topics.  His school taught all subjects but seemed lax in equipping leavers with the knowledge of practical matters relating to the theories that they had learnt.  In their defence, it’s fair to say that different shipping companies had different agendas for their cadets and apprentices, which varied from cheap labour to uniformed petty officers or something in between.

Unfortunately, the excitement was soon to be tempered by being in the former category although at sixteen, adventure of any kind is still exciting, particularly if you are unaware of any other options.

He knew the funnel markings of the shipping company he was about to join and armed with the directions the gateman had given him he continued his search for the ship. 

Murders were very rare in London in the fifties so he had been shocked to read in the evening newspaper the night before he was due to join, that there had been a murder on board the ship that was to become his home and first place of work.

It was with a certain amount of trepidation that he climbed the gangplank, mindful of the murder and apprehensive about what to expect.

At the top of the gangplank an Indian man met him with a casual salute and said,

‘Welcome aboard sahib.’ 

As well as murders being rare at that time, so were dark people and he had hardly seen any and never spoken to one.

‘‘Thank you,’ he replied, ‘I am the new apprentice.  Where do I go?

‘To see the Chief Officer in his cabin, sahib.  I cannot leave my post, but if you enter the accommodation through the starboard door, his cabin is at the top of the stairs to the right.’

The watchman scribbled something in a notebook and said, ‘leave your bags Sir, I’ll send them up.

He followed the instructions, eventually ending up outside of a door with a sign that read – Chief Officer.

He knocked and a deep accented voice said, ’Enter.’

‘You must be the new apprentice,’ the Chief Officer said rising from his chair with an out stretched arm.  ‘My name is Peterson.  Mr. Peterson or Sir to you.  Anyone of a higher rank than you is always addressed by his surname.  Alternately as Sir or by their rank.  Got it?’

‘Yes Sir.’

‘Good.  Come along with me and I’ll introduce you to the other apprentices.  John McDonald is the senior and you should do whatever he tells you to.’

They returned to the main deck and the Chief Officer peered down the hatch immediately forward of the accommodation.  A wooden ladder disappeared below and a short while after Peterson had called down a fair-haired youth in his late teens appeared from below.  The first thing the new apprentice noticed was the absence of uniform.  The second thing was the cheeky grin and the third thing was the grime.

Peterson made the introductions and instructed the senior apprentice to settle the newcomer in.

‘As it’s a bit late in the day,’ he said, ‘he can unpack ready to start work at seven in the morning.’

‘Aye, aye Sir.’  McDonald responded, but the Chief Officer had already headed back the way they came.

John McDonald called down to someone below that he would be gone for ten minutes.

He then offered his hand saying, ‘that’s ‘Scouse’ the other apprentice.

We’re securing the deep – tanks.’

McDonald having proffered his pack to his fellow apprentice lit a cigarette and deeply inhaled. 

‘I don’t smoke.’  The newcomer responded, ‘and by the way my name is John.’

‘Touché, so is mine.  You’d better just call me Mac.  Most people do anyway.’

‘The Chief Officer said to call those above me Mister or Sir,’ Mac gave one of his winning smiles,

“We’re all apprentices so that doesn’t count and neither does it with any one else except the deck Officers and perhaps the Chief and second engineer.’

 They made their way back to the accommodation but this time they used the steps at the rear end that led up to the boat deck.

A watertight door containing a fixed porthole provided entry into the corridor after they had stepped over a nine-inch threshold designed to keep the water out.

McDonald, as senior apprentice, had a cabin to himself overlooking the boat deck and another porthole on the outer bulkhead overlooked the sea.  Next to his cabin was the double cabin for the junior apprentices.  Although it was small it was perfectly adequate and sharing was not a problem as the new apprentice had shared his bedroom at home with two elder brothers.

The cabin had two wooden bunks, one on top of the other, two lots of drawers, a double, wardrobe, a chair and a desk that turned into a washbasin when the top was lifted.  Natural light was restricted to a single porthole that looked out onto a lifeboat hanging from davits. 

Ablutions were shared and in a separate shower room together with two W.C’s. just along the corridor. 

Pointing with his cigarette, MacDonald stood in the doorway and said,

‘Tom sleeps in the bottom bunk so yours will be on the top.  I’ll leave you to unpack and see you around five thirty.  You game to go for a beer after dinner?’

‘Urr, I don’t drink either but will be pleased to come.  What shall I wear?’

Before he left, the senior apprentice told John to stay in his uniform for dinner and change after into something casual like jeans and a sweater.

John unpacked and stowed away his gear in the spaces left by his roommate.  He climbed the short wooden ladder to test his bunk that, apart from creaking a bit, was surprisingly comfortable.  Though he didn’t know it at the time, it was to be his bed for over half a year and it would serve him while he travelled completely around the world.

Shortly after he had finished, about five thirty the another lad arrived and introductions were made to the person he would be sharing his room with and working alongside. His cabin mate escorted the new arrival on a cursory exploration of the accommodation.

It didn’t take long as the only two rooms that were not private, were the dining saloon and the officers lounge where he was to spend many an evening either reading or playing cards.

He returned to his cabin to find that both of the other two apprentices had decided to skip dinner and head for the shore.  Naturally he was invited.

“ Love to.  Hadn’t we better let them know?”

“Not necessary.”  The senior apprentice said, “how much money have you got?”

Their first stop was a pub’ called ‘The Bricklayers Arms’ where they ordered two pints and a coke for John who was paying. The Twenty Pound note his father had given to him for ‘rainy days,’ was already starting to diminish.

As they sat near the dartboard, John took a pull on his coke and asked of nobody in particular,

“Did you see anything of the Murder?”

MacDonald, who had sailed on the ship on its last trip, seemed pleased to have been asked.  He entered into an account of what had happened with a certain amount of relish.

“ The Chief Steward, called a ‘Butler,’ on our ships was approached by one of the cooks who had.complained that the food was inadequate.  Anyway, the Butler apparently told him if he wanted anything else he could eat his ‘p..k.’ Sometime later when the Butler was asleep, the cook castrated him and stuffed the separated parts into his mouth. Bloke bled to death and wasn’t found until too late next morning.  The police were all over the place, when we docked. They took the cook away. Cook now crook.”

He laughed at hos own joke.

The new apprentice was dumbstruck and the second apprentice, who had no doubt, heard the story many times before, added,

“ You see the Butler has an allowance of so much a day for each person from the shipping company.  There is a legal limit.  If the Butler can save on the allowance, he keeps the rest.”  He drank deeply from his tankard and continued, “ These Indian people don’t have the same standards as us and are all religious fanatics who don’t just rear up when a problem occurs but will sneak along in the dead of the night and think nothing of stabbing the person who has upset them, even quite mildly.”

This information was quite alarming to the sixteen year old who had been rather sheltered until then, but he was determined to learn so asked another question,

“I thought the articles we signed said something about…not frequenting alehouses or houses of ill repute…doesn’t that mean pubs’?

Mac explained that the articles were old fashioned and drafted in the eighteenth century so it didn’t really apply.  Alehouses no longer existed and neither did houses of ill repute.  He omitted to mention to the newcomer, that today’s favourite haunts of sailors of all nationalities were the modern equivalent known as BB’s.  Not bed and breakfast but bars and brothels.

Someone selected a disc on the ‘Juke Box’, a new innovation to England in the 50’s being a legacy of the Americans.  Paul Anker’s ‘I’m just a lonely boy’, resonated around the bar causing John a moment of depression and nostalgia which fortunately, soon passed.  A pool table, another American introduction, attracted the sailors.  The two elder apprentices were first to play with John taking on the winner. The wager was half a crown that wouldn’t have been unreasonable had John played before but as Mac said, “ you have to pay to learn.”  John hoped this wouldn’t apply to everything! 

As the night wore on, John’s fail-safe got smaller and smaller, but needing to be included he didn’t complain. They had talked him into trying some beer, the fact he was unaccustomed to alcohol had the effect of making him quite gregarious.  He soon found himself chatting to strangers and even young ladies a thing he had never done before.  Of course he was eventually to realise that ‘Ladies’ wasn’t quite the appropriate word especially when they discovered the extent of his, later to be depleted, funds.

When they returned to the ship a little after midnight all that remained of his father’s last gift was a five-pound note and a few coins.

At some time during the night they had sailed.  John awoke with the first hangover in his life and in sailor’s parlance had a ‘technicolour yawn.’

His cabin mate was nowhere to be seen though his wristwatch indicated that it was only six thirty a.m.  He knew from the evening before that they were bound for Hull to take on the last of the cargo and some stores and were due to remain for less than a day.

The door opened and his colleague returned, draped only in a wet towel, obviously having just taken a shower.

‘Good morning mate, how are you feeling?” enquired his roommate.

‘Touch fragile,” replied John.

“You’ll feel better when you’ve showered.  You’d better hurry up though; we turn to at seven sharp.  By the way, we seldom wear uniform.  Just working gear – jeans and a jumper, will be good.”

Visions of wandering around the ship’s bridge in full uniform, faded as reality took their place.

A routine had begun that would hardly vary for the months to come, apart from when they were in port.

It consisted of starting deck work at seven.  Breakfast at eight thirty until nine and working (mainly chipping and painting) throughout the day until six in the evening.  Apart from lunch between one and two, there were only two other breaks.  These were for a quarter of an hour each and called ‘Smokoe”, when they would take tea and tab nabs, a euphemism for toast or some kind of rock cake.

The new apprentice was to learn many new words apart from bad language and although some were nautical expressions, most had a connection to the lascar crew.

He soon learnt that a bosun was called a ‘serang’, a storekeeper ‘a cassab’, and so on.  Then there was jargon where an electrician was ‘Sparks’ and a carpenter was a ‘Chippy’.

Hull seemed an interesting place and is situated on the River Humber. In many ways it was quite behind the times as compared to the part of London where John had grown up.

Mac helpfully showed him the ropes (literally) as they tied up and informed him that had been given the task of taking on the stores. He explained the task was merely to make sure the goods weren’t damaged and matched the receipts. The crew would take care of loading and storage. 

He smiled and said ‘A cushy number, the mate must have a soft spot for you!’

Later on Mac was proven wrong.

The stores arrived in dribs and drabs through out the day. Luckily it was cold but the rain had kept off and good progress was made in loading the remaining cargo.

The trouble arose later when John asked the serang who had busted the bags of cement. These would be used later for stopping up the hawse pipes prior to crossing the Atlantic Ocean.

Imagine John’s surprise when the serang pulled a knife on him! 

As he timidly waited outside the Chief Officers cabin, John thought that it didn’t bode particularly well that just the third day on board he had had an altercation with the crew.

The Chief Officer had heard him out and sent for the serang telling John to wait outside.

The cabin door finally opened and John entered.

The Chief Officer looked somewhat bemused and the Serang had his back to him looking out of place in his drab khaki wear.

The Mate advised, 

‘I’ve got to the bottom of it. The serang apologises – he thought you called him a b…ard. I explained the word busted meant broken.’

Now shake hands.’

The serang turned and came over to where John stood. He didn’t shake hands but put his arm around John’s shoulder before nodding to the Officer and retreated to carry on with his duties.

Before dismissing him, the Chief Officer gave John some good advice.

‘ They are not the same as us so when dealing with them you must learn to think like them and then there will be no further troubles. In the meantime take care and keep out of trouble.’ 

As they steamed east down the English Channel the new apprentice found himself full of mixed feelings. The excitement of at last being at sea and about to cross the Atlantic Ocean for the United States was mingled with nostalgia as he glanced for the last time that year at the land that had been his home.

It was also very different from what he had imagined.

Studying charts on the bridge in his smart new uniform whereas the reality was that he was freezing cold with the strong westerly wind spraying seawater in his face while he soogied the port alleyway on the main deck. 

His reminiscing and homesickness were soon replaced by physical discomfort as the icy cold washing water tricked down his arm inside his oilskins when he reached up to wash the deck head.

 Even though he felt like crying, he simultaneously wanted to laugh with joy and anticipation, as he felt overcome by a feeling of exhilaration and anticipation of what was in store. Little did he know!

Many thanks to John Wale for this ‘story’ based upon real events long ago!

1955 A First Tripper voyage to the South Seas – an interesting account kindly submitted by Captain R.P.Blowers.


In July 1955, at the age of sixteen, having spent three years at the London Nautical School and taken the General Certificate of Education in six subjects, which included Navigation and Seamanship, I was prepared to go to sea,  It was first necessary to pass a full medical examination and eyesight test, which sadly caught out a few of my fellow classmates who suddenly had to find alternative careers. 

 To avoid oil tankers and experience worldwide trading, I signed indentures as an Apprentice with Andrew Weir’s Bank Line and was appointed to a new ship, M.V. Foylebank, then nearing completion at Harland & Wolf’s shipyard in Belfast.  A large list of uniform, work clothing and other items of equipment required were sent by the Bank Line and I showed this to one of my school’s ex-seagoing Navigation Teachers and he said, rather depressingly and erroneously, that all I would need for the Bank Line was a couple of boiler suits.  A visit to outfitters in London was necessary to purchase all the requirements and at quite some expense for my Father.

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An Engineer’s story continued – courtesy of Michael Smith – N.Z.

The TEAKBANK in later life as the NEWTON

The Teakbank was in the port of New York for around 2 days.   During those 2 days a huge amount of activity took place as the original crew departed and a ‘new’ crew arrived.  Badly needed stores like beer, and many other such nutritional products were winched on board.  The crew change included the engine room and deck crew who had been on the vessel for about 16 or so months.  Captain Wigham stayed on. 

The departing 4th engineer John, had bought a second hand accordion in Cape Town at some stage from a person at a Sunday Market, and it was indeed a second hand accordion! He informed me that I too, could be the proud owner of this musical instrument for the minor sum of $20.  I offered to give him by cheque for $20, but being a canny Scotsman, he told me he much preferred cash, he also claimed that he was more than happy to cart it all the way back to Scotland.   Some of the keys did not work, and holes in the ‘air pump’ had been covered and patched with duct tape.  And for some unknown reason ‘smelt’ of Drambuie!!  One could at a stretch, say that it was in ‘working condition’ as it did in fact ‘work’!   Ted the new 3rd engineer from Belfast turned out to be a dab hand at playing this lovely instrument, whilst no maestro, when it came to producing the required ‘noise’ when we all gathered in his cabin for a sing song when we were in port, he did rather well.  He could play 3 tunes really well, he even had the swaying body movements down pat, ‘I belong to Glasgow’, ‘Danny Boy’ and ‘If you ever go across the sea to Ireland’.  Many other songs were sung, but sadly, the music/tune did not quite match the lyrics! The ‘brave’ among us carried on regardless and the song was sung regardless of the tune, the disparity between music, timing and lyrics increasing as the night wore on.  There were times when it sounded as though 2 different songs were being sung at the same time.  Our ‘new’ 2nd Lecki being Welsh had a great singing voice, as they do, the only minor issue was that as the night of frivolity wore on, he swapped from singing in English to singing the words in Welsh.   This resulted in a situation where most of us had no idea as to which song was being sung, and what the words were.

 The ‘new’ Engineering Officers and Deck Officers to the best of my memory were as follows.  The Chief Engineer Prim Mangat hailed from Delhi.  The 2nd engineer was Clifford Sai who was from Hong Kong originally, but lived in Liverpool. The 3rd engineer was Ted Sawyers who hailed from Belfast and had been at sea for about 20+ years, and had sailed on ‘Bank Boats’ several times. The 4th was John Cree who came from Glasgow.  I was the 5th engineer, and the 6th engineer was a guy named Donald McClung who was from Dumbartonshire in Scotland.  The 2nd Lecki whose name escapes me, was from Wales.  He was on the ‘8 to 12’ watch with John the 4th engineer. 

I have very little recollection of who the Deck Officers were.  What I do remember, is that the ‘new’ R/O was Trevor.  I met Trevor briefly in Brisbane about 6 years later when I was living there, he had joined the RFA and had done several ‘stints’ on their vessels.  

[ If any of you good people out there reading this article recognise any of the names above, or know of their whereabouts please contact me. Thank you]

Leaving New York we sailed to Norfolk-Virginia where, for the first time in about 40 or so days, I was able to ‘go ashore’ and feel ‘solid ground’ under my feet!  The said ‘Roto Valve’, mentioned earlier that had been the source of much angst, had been pulled apart and reconditioned.  We never did have that problem again.  Leaving Norfolk where we had picked up a small amount of cargo, we traveled to many of ‘Gulf’ Ports loading ‘general’ cargo for Australia.  At New Orleans we berthed at what was called ‘The Bank Line Wharf’.  If my memory is correct, there would have been at least 20 to 30 names of Bank Line vessels painted just about everywhere along the wharf.  One that I remember distinctly, was the Dart Bank.  Someone had taken great pains to colourfully draw a dartboard, complete with numbers etc on a 8 foot square piece of timber.  A really well drawn ‘dart’ was drawn sticking into the ‘bullseye’.  I have never really forgotten that image representing the M.V. Dart Bank.  I wonder whether the Bank Line wharf is still being used?

We stayed in New Orleans for about 14 days.   Bourbon Street was almost like a magnet to most of us and a good time was had by all.  Leaving New Orleans, we headed for Panama to pass through the Canal and make our way across the Pacific Ocean to Australia.  Then a funny thing happened.

At around 10.00hrs I happened to be on the ‘boat deck’ a day out of New Orleans, when I felt the revs on the Doxford drop to around 25rpm (normal sea speed was 95rpm), many alarms were being sounded and the engine finally came to a stop.  I looked down through the ‘swing doors’ of the engine room vents I saw a large stream of water gushing vertically upwards almost touching the top of the engine room.   The top piston cooling water hose had decided to detach itself from the steel water inlet nozzle. 

Let me explain that a bit better!

The top pistons on an opposed piston Doxford diesel, are cooled with fresh water that is pumped through water channels within the piston. There are 2 hoses, one is the inlet hose the other the outlet. I cannot remember what the ‘exact’ pressure of the fresh water was.  I ‘think’ it was around 50 to 70lbs, perhaps one of our readers has a better idea??   In any event, the pressure of the fresh water is/was higher than the ‘salt water’.  This ensures that, if there is a leak in the ‘counterflow cooler’, the salt water would not ‘mix’ with the fresh water and contaminate the piston cooling fresh water tank.   If however, a leak did develop in the cooler, the fresh water would go overboard.

To get a better idea please visit this link: 

We replaced the faulty hose with a new one, and in about an hour and a half we were back up to ‘Full Away’ headed for the Panama Canal.  I remember making a mental note to have at least half dozen ‘already cut to length pieces of hose’ in the engine room store so that replacing them when and if they did come apart, would be a quicker fix.  The 12 hour (I think?) trip through the Canal was uneventful and we finally emerged into the largest ocean in the world, the Pacific Ocean.  It was daunting to realise that there was several miles of water between the ship’s hull and the ocean floor.

Seeing a pod of about 1000 Dolphins making their way in leaps and bounds towards the setting sun was a sight I shall never forget.  We also passed several Blue Whales diving and exposing their massive tails and ‘thumping’ their tails as they dived or moved on.

It would take 37 days for us to arrive in Brisbane. 

To be continued…

Engine Room Tales …..

kindly contributed by Michael Smith – N.Z.

Bank Line ships – Kiddapore Dock

I clearly remember the day I arrived at a berth in Kidderpore Docks to find that the deck Serang had organised two of the crew, to assist in taking my large metal suitcase up the gangway to the 6th Engineers cabin.  As most of us know the first day is a blur, I signed papers on board, met various other Officers, and was asked by the 2nd Mate whether I would like a pay advance.  I naturally said ‘yes please’!  It was then off to the Shipping Office accompanied by Captain Wigham and the 2nd Mate to ‘officially’ sign on to the Teakbank. Funnily enough I do not think that anyone mentioned that I was signing ‘ 2 year’ articles! 

The 2nd Engineer who I will refer to as ‘Jack’ from here on in, showed me around the engine room and told me that we were on ‘Port’ watches, 00.00hrs to 08.00hrs. And that at sea, I was to be on the 04.00hrs to 08.00hrs ‘Sea’ watch with him. Often referred to as the 2nds watch.    I went home for a while to say my last goodbyes to inlaws, outlaws, and family and friends and was back by 18.00hrs.  Jack demonstrated the ‘blowing down’ of the lubricating oil filter on the Generators which was to be done every 6 hours.  I stuffed the process up the first time, but from then on it was a breeze.  During my first port watch I was tasked to ‘splitting the ends’ of the exhaust gas boiler tubes, all of which were to be renewed by a shore crew the next day.  Unfortunately, half way through doing this task, I managed to wallop my left hand instead of the cold chisel with the hammer.  That brought my exhaust boiler work to a grinding halt for the night!  However, it did provide me with the opportunity to learn more about the engine room which was to become my new home for many a month. The next day we moved to a berth along the Hoogly River.

Allow me to digress for a while please.  I did a 4 year Apprenticeship at The Shalimar Shipbuilding Works in Howrah.  During my last year I was moved into the Ship Repair Department which was something I always wanted to do. I was fortunate to be placed on the M.V. Irish Rowan, (and many other vessels) for about a week, she was a 6 cylinder ‘J’ type Doxford with a center scavenge. I stayed on board when the vessel moved berths, and hence, was fairly conversant with all that needs to be done, to get a marine diesel engine ready for maneuvers.   

Finally, a few days later, we received orders to sail to Chulna to pick up a cargo of Jute and Gunnies for New York.  We had ‘broken’ Port Watches the previous night and at around 03.30hrs the 4th engineer, John, woke me and told me the Circus was about to begin.   An hour or so later he showed me how to go about ‘testing’ the Steering Gear.  As I walked back to the engine room along the deck after testing the steering gear, I remember seeing the sky tinged with a pink red sunrise.  The tugs slowly dragged the vessel out into the Hoogly and the first of many ‘telegraph commands’ rang to Half Ahead.  My own Great Wanderings, had well and truly begun.

It was a day or so later after leaving Chulna that we received news that there was to be a ‘crew change’ in New York.  Most of the Officers had been on board for about 14 months.  I recall that Captain Wigham had been there a lot longer.  The vessel needed bunkers, both heavy and diesel, so Bank Line decided to bunker the vessel at Cape Town. It took around 12 days to get to Cape Town and in the process I learnt what it was like to be sea-sick!   I remember Jack telling me that I would get used to the ships motion, and that he had seen more waves in a teacup!! We were in Cape Town for about 8 hours, here I was introduced to the gentle art of sounding the heavy fuel double bottoms tanks as the fuel poured in. Glad to report there were no spills! (that I know of!!!)  Leaving Cape Town we headed for New York, it was sort of being on the ‘home stretch’ for most of the Officers.  Sam the 5th engineer signed off in Cape Town, I was promoted to the exalted position of 5th.  So the engineers sailed ‘short handed’ when we left Cape Town for New York.

It was ‘watch on—watch off’ for the next 28 days.  I got 2 hours ‘overtime’ each day after breakfast, and my tasks included reconditioning/replacing galley burners which ran on heavy fuel.  8 days out of New York, we ran low on heavy fuel and the heavy fuel transfer pump refused to ‘lift’ the fuel from the double bottoms up to the crude oil tank.  The crude oil tank puts the crude fuel through a PX Purifier, then a separator up to the Heavy Oil Service Tank.  We then switched to Diesel Fuel and the Doxford ran on diesel till we arrived at destination.

Then a funny thing happened.  The bridge rang ‘Stop’ on the telegraph and informed we were about to pick the pilot up.  Half hour later, with the pilot safety on-board we approached a ‘U’ shaped dock where we were to berth Starboard side to.  Bridge rang ‘Stop’ and moments later, rang ‘Full Astern’, Jack who was on the controls, was not very happy fellow merely because, any large marine diesel takes a while to come to rest even after the fuel is shut off.  It finally did however, and Jack banged the lever that permits compressed air to the cylinders into Astern, gave it some fuel and a blast of air.  The engine started again but, was still in the Ahead mode and so started in the Ahead mode again! He tried 3 or 4 times, each time it refused to go Astern, and continued to go Ahead!!! The Chief who was in the engine room at that time, looked very concerned as the bridge rang ‘double Full Astern’ 3 times, which normally translates into ‘we have a problem Houston’!! He told me to follow him as he raced up to the the ‘middle platform’ with a large hammer and started to beat the living daylights out of the casing, of what I now know to be, the Roto Valve. At the same time screaming at Jack to ‘give it another go’, which Jack did, but which produced the same result.   Funny that!

Meanwhile of course, unbeknown to us, (no one ever tells the engineers anything!!) the vessel was fast approaching the end of the ‘U’ shaped dock, two heavy duty Tugs were straining to slow the vessel down with ropes attached to the aft bollards.  

Most/all marine diesels are unidirectional.  They can be started to run clockwise or anticlockwise as needed.   I need at this stage to give a brief explanation of what a Roto Valve does.  My understanding is that a Roto Valve consists of a cylinder, in which a ‘free floating’ piston can move up or down allowing ‘different’ ports to be exposed, which in turn directs compressed air to the appropriate cylinder depending on whether one needs to ‘go’ Ahead or Astern. The piston had jammed in the Ahead position, probably due to the fact that we had been at sea close to 38 days.

Many attempts later, and copious quantities of ‘Release All’ it did finally go Astern, but we were at berth by then! But folks who read this know where this story is going!

Some say that the bow did not nudge the end of the ‘U’ shaped dock, some say it did, but only just, whatever that means!!   We engineers will never know the truth because: ‘no one tells the engineers anything’!!!  Besides, when one is chomping at the bit to go home after 15 months at sea, mind sets are somewhat different.  Many had started to celebrate by having a few wee drams after we picked the pilot up.

to be continued………

( To contact Michael please email him directly at or leave a message below – thank you)




Tales of the Deep, by Michael Smith

“Tales of the Deep”

by Michael Smith N.Z.

I decided to share my experience and stories of a 22 year career as an Engineer in the Merchant Navy with those others, who like myself, were called to go ‘down to the sea in ships’.  I am in my late 70’s, and have lived in New Zealand with my wife for the last 7 years. The stories that I will share with you are not in cronological order.  Whilst I will endeavour not to get to ‘deep’ into the engineering side of things, I trust that the engineers ‘out there’ will find common ground in my descriptions.  

I joined the M.V. Teakbank in late ‘64 as the 6th Engineer in Calcutta.  The Captain was Louis Wigham, who in my opinion  was the best ‘Old Man’ I ever sailed with. The Chief Engineer was from  Sunderland whose name escapes me.  The 2nd Engineer was Jack who hailed from Mount Lofty in South Australia.  He was around 63 years of age at that time, he had been at sea for about 30 or so years, the Teakbank was the last vessel he was to serve on.  The 3rd Engineer was Alvin Latty who hailed from New York.  Most pleasant person who basically along with Jack the 2nd showed me the ropes over the next 5 or so months. The 4th Engineer John hailed from Glasgow.  The 5th was Sam who had signed on about 6 months prior to me. He hailed from Durban.  The 2nd Lecki was Barry who hailed from Newcastle in NSW Australia.  I cannot recall who the Chief Electrician was.  Deck and Engine room crews were recruited from Chulna and Chittagong, and the Chippy was from Hong Kong.

The Teakbank was powered by a Doxford 4 Cylinder Opposed Piston oil Engine. It had three 500kw Ruston Generators.  The Main Engine was started by compressed air, two large air cylinders were fixed vertically to the forhead engine room bulkhead.  Whilst entering and leaving a port the main engine was run on Diesel Fuel, when at sea and at ‘Full Away’, the engine was run on Heavy Fuel.  About an hour before a pilot was picked up the ‘revs’ were slowly dropped to around 70rpm (normal running revs were 95rpm).  Two inlet pipes fed the Fuel Pump block, one fed pure diesel and the other heavy oil.  When coming into port it was a simple matter of shutting off the ‘steam heating’ to the heavy fuel lines, and slowly shutting the valve which reduced the flow of heavy oil and, at the same time, opening the valve on the diesel line, allowing the flow of diesel oil to the fuel pumps.  Within a couple of minutes the ‘tone’ of the beat of the engine changed and one could smell the faint traces of ‘diesel exhaust’, it is something engineers rarely forget!

To be continued………