Voyage Not Completed Part 1

Arthur Jenner
7th January 2009, 00:10
Here is a true story

Voyage Not completed

This was my first deep sea trip as an Efficient Deck Hand or EDH as we were known and it produced the only VOYAGE NOT COMPLETED stamp in my discharge book. We signed on at Tilbury shipping office on the 9th of August 1946. I can’t remember when we sailed, but it must have been shortly after. We were destined for Casablanca, where we would load bulk phosphate for Fremantle and Adelaide. The Fort Glenora was what was known as a Fort boat. These were coal-burning cargo steamers of about 5000 tons nett. built in Canada during the war; good solid ships – not like the ‘liberty boats’.
I will try to remember the crew as far I can. I will leave the deck crowd ‘til last. Captain Briggs was a pleasant man with a pointed ginger beard. He was taking his wife and his seven year old son John with him on the voyage, as some masters and senior officers were allowed to do after the war. The mate was a thinnish rather severe sort of a man. The second and third mates I barely remember, but seem to recollect that they were fairly pleasant types. There were a couple of cadets but they do not come to mind. I can remember none of the engineers, donkeymen or greasers. The firemen were all negro; mainly from the West Indies and were on the whole a pleasant lot. We didn’t have a lot of contact with them, even though they lived in close proximity. Of the catering staff I can only remember the two who came ashore with us in Port Kembla. The second cook and the second steward whose name was Ted Povey. Ted played the mandolin.
Now to the deck crowd. The bosun was an old man; not too far off retirement. A serious but inoffensive man. The carpenter I can’t remember. I believe I can remember most of the AB’s and ordinary seamen even though a lot of names have fled my brain. The one who stands out was Babbington. He was called Babs and surprising didn’t object. He obviously had a first name but if I ever knew it I have forgotten it. He was tall and slim, aloof and domineering, very strong and very aggressive especially in his cups. He would have been about forty years old I suppose and he would have been the forecastle boss. I say forecastle even though ships built during and after the war didn’t have forecastles any more. We lived aft and there were two men to each room. Babs shared a room with his mate who was a South African. He was the antithesis of Babs; short and tubby, jovial and friendly. When he was drunk however he was almost as bad as Babs. I can remember the names of very few of the crew, so I will have to give them false ones: let’s call this man Bob. I shared a room with a fellow who was a good bit older than me. We got on fairly well probably because we were both interested in pencil drawing. I will call him Max. He came from Chatham. A lot of seamen seemed to go around in pairs and looking back I can see that it was a phenomenon more prevalent than I realised at the time. Max had a mate whom I will call Ron, who was from the same area as himself; I think it was Gillingham. Ron and I shared an interest as well. We played chess. We played chess at least once every day and by the time I left the ship we were very evenly matched. Ron had another interest and that was in the game called ‘crap’. This was a very popular game with the negro firemen and Ron often used to go into their accommodation to play it. There were two other AB’s. One was small skinny fellow who was covered in long black hair and the other was a fellow whom I should remember but can’t, even though he had been on my previous ship, the Ben Read. There were two ordinary seamen. One was a big ungainly fellow from Yorkshire. A quiet inoffensive lad whom I will call Harry and the other was Roy Anderson from Southend. I think there was also a deck boy.
When we arrived in Casablanca where the loading of phosphate was quick; only two or three days at the most, the Captain sensibly decided to allow us a sub of only one pound each because, of course, we would only have had a very limited amount of credit to our names. There was not a lot one could do with a pound even in those days, but Babs and his offsider managed to become more than a little inebriated. Apparently they marched up to the saloon and demanded more money from the officers and, I believe, became very aggressive. I don’t know how the incident ended but it gave us an indication of the sort of behaviour that we were likely to expect from Babs - forecastle boss extraordinaire.
I can’t recollect any noticeable incidents between Casablanca and our next stop except that Babbington had a very poor opinion of me because I had only been at sea for two and a half years and was on the same pay as himself and he couldn’t resist a few sneering remarks at meal times. The rest of the crew were friendly enough though.
Our next stop was at Durban for bunkers, I think it was only an overnight stop but there was a very ugly incident. When we came aboard in the evening after our run ashore Ron, my friendly chess playing friend, was seen on the wharf beating up the inoffensive Yorky ordinary seaman. I never found out why.
Next morning the ship could hardly creep out of the port because the firemen had had grand booze up and were too hung over to raise enough steam. We did however manage it and to the best of my recollections as we steamed our great circle path to Fremantle without any memorable incidents. I remember that I drew a pencil portrait of the captain’s son at about this time but I can’t remember what happened to it.
We discharged part of our cargo in the port of Fremantle and proceeded to Port Adelaide minus two members of the crew. I can’t remember who they were except that one was an assistant steward.
In Port Adelaide the wharfies became somewhat militant and they were continually striking and causing the business of discharging our phosphate to take much longer than anticipated. Some of us were enjoying ourselves in Adelaide city and were becoming fairly attached to the place so we had no particular desire to leave it. Before we left for our next port of call, Port Kembla for bunkers, a replacement assistant steward called Dusty Miller was signed on. I think he might have been an AB but was the only replacement they could find. After we left it was discovered that three more members of the crew were missing.
Some of us had become rather attached to Australia, and Adelaide in particular, by this time and Dusty, the new member of the crew, who had apparently, absconded from a ship some time previously and was very familiar with this new country, persuaded four of us to join him in another ship jumping exercise.
We spent our spare time during the run to Kembla in preparing for our expedition back to Adelaide. Roy and I made rucksacks from an old tarpaulin while Eddie, the second cook, and Ted Povey gathered some pots, pans and eating utensils together. On the night before we arrived in Kembla the lads gave us all their left over Australian money.
The ship arrived fairly early and we were tied up at the wharf about nine if my memory serves me aright. We couldn’t have chosen a better place to desert because Port Kembla North railway station was very close to the end of the wharf.
At morning smoko, about ten in the morning we waited until the mate left the deck to go to the saloon for his tea break. We took all our luggage onto the wharf and hid it behind a shed. At midday the mate went to his midday meal and the five of us went down the gangway, collected our gear and made for the railway station. At the station we booked our seabags and cases to Adelaide by goods train; to be picked up. We enquired about travel away from the port and bought tickets to Bulli. We didn’t have long to wait for a train and once it started we all breathed a great sigh of relief. We didn’t know how long it would be before the mate would realise we had gone. Someone suggested that when he realised we were missing he would start making enquiries at the station. The ticket seller would tell him we’d bought tickets to Bulli and a reception committee of cops would be there to meet us. So what to do? We decided we should get off at an intermediate stop. We were now just leaving North Wollongong and decided we would leave the train at the next stop; whatever that might be.
The next station was Balgownie, now called Fairy Meadow, so we hopped off and, after stopping to buy a billy can, started heading west. We walked along the left side of the load with our thumbs wagging in the traditional hitch-hiker manner. A small truck stopped and we hopped aboard. I don’t think he asked where we were going so he kept on until he reached his destination; Mount Keira. looking further East we saw a magnificent view of wooded hills stretching as far as we could see with Cordeaux reservoir in the foreground. We realised then that we needed a map because we had come to a dead-end.
After disembarking we found a field with a nice view of the whole coast right down to Kembla and we could see the Fort Glenora lying at the coal wharf, so we relaxed, settled down, boiled the billy, made a meal and spread our blankets. We were soon asleep
I was the first awake next morning and discovered that we were sharing the field with a herd of cows.
I walked over to place where we could look out over the coast. The ship we had left yesterday was no longer alongside the bunkering wharf: she would be well on her way to Japan.
It was a strange sensation: it wasn't fear: it wasn't homesickness nor even loneliness; no, none of these. It was a feeling of being marooned, which in a way I supposed we were. These were the thoughts that occupied me as I lay in the grass gazing at the Pacific Ocean and the towns of Wollongong and Port Kembla spread below me. Yes, it was a feeling of being marooned. The five of us, cut off from everything we knew: on the opposite side of the globe, with no idea of what awaited us in this very large island. We were now totally dependant on our own resources. We had very little money and optimistically, we believed we would be able to get enough casual work to finance our needs on our journey to Adelaide. Of the five, I was the only AB. Dusty Miller and Ted Povey were stewards, Roy Anderson was an Ordinary Seaman and Eddie was a cook. Obviously catering wouldn’t be a problem with two stewards and a cook.
I began to wonder if we had done the right thing in leaving the ship. The shipowners wouldn't think so and neither would the Captain. The company certainly wouldn't think so either, especially as the ship had already lost two men in Fremantle, and three in Adelaide. I thought my parents would be something less than elated when they found out as well.
Well, what did they all expect? It was 1946, I was nineteen and the war was just over. We’d had six years of going without just about everything. Six years of war propaganda and thinking of nothing else but when it would end. Six years of lives disrupted and distorted. Six years of regimentation. What did they expect us to do when we saw a chance to do something interesting and exciting?
I knew what they would expect. They would expect us to conform, to continue to let ourselves be regimented, to continue to do our duty for King and Country and to continue to work hard to help the shipowners to make enormous profits.
So here we were, self-marooned in Australia, at the top of Mount Keira, on the first day of a new adventure. In the rush to get away from the ship, we hadn't taken too much notice of the fact that we'd taken a dead-end road. Well, we'd just have to go back down again, buy a map and sort out a practical route.