Sparkies....

Alistair Macnab
10th January 2010, 21:27
This is a Bank Line thread but it has turned into a reminiscence of Marconi Sahibs which is OK with me as I am in agreement with the general tenor of the comments submitted so far.
Probably the most interesting R/O was an elderly fellow called Tom Scott-Weir who had been on the 'Queens' and now found himself on the "Inchanga" admittedly 'in charge' of the station but with no juniors. He was very 'grand' and suggested that the Weir in his name was an association with the Weir familiy who owned the ship. The hyphen was a phoney too, but you get the idea of what sort of chap he was. Absolutely perfect for the passenger phoneys who traveled on the ship. He could smoke out a masquerading chi-chi at 40 paces!
Another was a fellow from my home town of Ayr. He was a sailing nut and got us into no end of exciting trips on the ship's lifeboat in the queerest of ports. I think Andy Lavies has mentioned them going adrift when the motor failed in Sandakan, North Borneo and they drifted out to sea. This Sparks eventually met a lonely end in a boating accident in Ayr Bay. His father had been my english master at high school. He was 24.
Finally, my last reminiscence. This Irish charmer could lure a girl into bed at the drop of a hat. I was most impressed and one day asked him how he did it. He said that you had to be sincere. Whatever it was, his sincerety invariably worked for him and never for me! To this day when someone says: "The luck of the Irish" I smile ruefully and respectfully. It works! And in a strange reversal, I married a Brooklyn-Irish girl and am pleased to report it works both ways! Even after 33 years!

Alan Rawlinson
11th January 2010, 09:12
This is a Bank Line thread but it has turned into a reminiscence of Marconi Sahibs which is OK with me as I am in agreement with the general tenor of the comments submitted so far.
Probably the most interesting R/O was an elderly fellow called Tom Scott-Weir who had been on the 'Queens' and now found himself on the "Inchanga" admittedly 'in charge' of the station but with no juniors. He was very 'grand' and suggested that the Weir in his name was an association with the Weir familiy who owned the ship. The hyphen was a phoney too, but you get the idea of what sort of chap he was. Absolutely perfect for the passenger phoneys who traveled on the ship. He could smoke out a masquerading chi-chi at 40 paces!
Another was a fellow from my home town of Ayr. He was a sailing nut and got us into no end of exciting trips on the ship's lifeboat in the queerest of ports. I think Andy Lavies has mentioned them going adrift when the motor failed in Sandakan, North Borneo and they drifted out to sea. This Sparks eventually met a lonely end in a boating accident in Ayr Bay. His father had been my english master at high school. He was 24.
Finally, my last reminiscence. This Irish charmer could lure a girl into bed at the drop of a hat. I was most impressed and one day asked him how he did it. He said that you had to be sincere. Whatever it was, his sincerety invariably worked for him and never for me! To this day when someone says: "The luck of the Irish" I smile ruefully and respectfully. It works! And in a strange reversal, I married a Brooklyn-Irish girl and am pleased to report it works both ways! Even after 33 years!

I can recall sailing with a young ' boyish ' Irish Sparky, who appeared at breakfast with facial cuts and bruises. Said he had '' walked into a wardrobe ''. This followed an evening of merriment in the Master's cabin, singing, dancing, and reading poetry, leading to an incident which caused us all to leave suddenly when the OM took a strong fancy to the Sparks and he had to run like hell!

It's a true story from a Bankline ship, but the names are suppressed for obvious reasons.

rcraig
11th January 2010, 19:05
Most of the Sparks I experienced seemed quite normal despite looking for anything different because of their reputation!

Except for one whose radio shack was on the after end of the boat deck (Glenbank??), and who never seemed quite connected with anyone. Some claimed he addressed the ventilators, but I am sure this was gross exaggeration and inspired by a degree of jealousy after seeing his attractive Aussie wife.

He had a habit of sitting in the shack in the tropics with the door wide open and from the stern of the vessel you could clearly hear the intolerably loud peep-peeping of Morse shrieking out day and night.

His name is definitely suppressed if only for the obvious and usual reason in my case. I can't remember it!

China hand
11th January 2010, 19:16
Sitting in the sauna with Sparks (Burmese), 2nd Mate (Goanese), Chief Steward (HongKongChinese); waiting to see who would be chicken enuff to run for the door and the pool which was two metres from it; China innocently asked "are those Burmese tattoos something to do with Bhuddism,Aung?" Sparkie smiled,"naa Cap, Rangoon jail".
I went for a swim then. Another nutter, but a bloody good Sparks.

Ron Stringer
11th January 2010, 19:58
He had a habit of sitting in the shack in the tropics with the door wide open and from the stern of the vessel you could clearly hear the intolerably loud peep-peeping of Morse shrieking out day and night.


Oh dear! Definitely a no-no. On my first trip to sea the Chief R/O, P.J. Kelly, drummed into me and the 2nd R/O that we must never, never, keep watch using anything other than headphones.

His reasons were:

a) that it was possible to miss faint signals when listening on a loudspeaker because the background noises from the ship were not being excluded (or at least attenuated) by the headphones over your ears, and

b) that the noise was sure to annoy your off-watch shipmates, who had earned their rest.

Seemed reasonable to me and I complied then and thereafter. As P.J.'s cabin was across the alleyway from the radio room, it would have been a brave 3rd R/O that put a loudspeaker on! I was not a brave R/O.

I sometimes did wonder why the authorities made ships carry a Loudspeaker Watchkeeping receiver but who was I to question the motives of the BoT or the Chief R/O?

John Dryden
11th January 2010, 20:37
If my memory serves me well the radio room on the Olivebank was situated in the bottom of the funnel,really hot and smelly.

Jim Brady
11th January 2010, 22:17
Hello to all you Sparkies,I'm going off the subject in hand but I thought this little story may be of some interest to you.
My brother died some two months ago,just before his demise he wrote a short autobiography this is part of it.
He was called up for National Service 1942 was assigned to the Royal Navy.He past the test to become a Telegraphist.
Did all the training,the aim to go for was 20 words per-minute.But what I find amazing (I dont know if it is to you Sparkies) he had to learn the Japaneese alphabet.
He was posted to Columbo,sent upto Trincomalee,joined Escort Carrier (Ameer ?)also HMS Queen Elizabeth.Job in hand to listen to Japaneese planes talking (in morse) to their bases,this was around the Malacca Straits.
He went on to say that there are nearly twice the amount of letters in the Japaneese alphabet as ours.
After the war he managed to secure a job with the Admiralty,stationed at various "Listening Posts" including Malta and Cyprus.This job of course was then taken over by GCHQ Cheltenham.
He served some of his training time with Stan Wilcox author of the book The Voyages Of A Dry Land Sailor and in fact was in the same convoy as Stan on their way to Columbo.Stan gives a good graphic discription of that trip in his book.
Regards.
Jim B.

holland25
11th January 2010, 23:32
Having heard Japanese coast stations working in Japanese Morse I expect it would be a useful skill to have during wartime,thankfully they used English for us. I dipped out for a job with the Diplomatic Wireless Corps when I missed all the accented Morse.

Charlie Stitt
12th January 2010, 13:38
+All the Sparkies I sailed with in Bank Line were young normal,( well just as normal as the rest of us Bankliners). The one and only R/0 on the Ernebank was only 19 years old, he was the only means of contact we had with the outside World, A loony job ? Sparky a passenger ? think about it. If,say, when out in the middle of the Pacific, we had suffered a serious accident, or a fire on board, the responsibility on the shoulders of that 19 year old to get us assistance would have been pretty heavy. Yes that was his job and like all others on board, his job was important. The R/O's I remember, were always very obliging when asked to help out when required, tally cargo and even muck in cleaning holds etc. I remember getting a rude awakening when I joined my first coastal container ship as Mate, there was this dirty big RT set in the chartroom which I paid no attention to, as I thought it was someone else's toy., We sailed Larne at night, my watch, the Skipper, leaving the bridge at the fairway buoy turns to me and says, send a TR to Portpatrick when you get clear Mate, send a TR ? right, Ah just a minute Skipper.:sweat: What was it, 2172 listening, 2246 Portpatrick ???. I later had to get an RT Cert, then VHF,and now DSC as I use a set on my boat. What next ?

Tai Pan
12th January 2010, 15:38
Interestingthread. I was only 17 when I went as the only R/O on Esso Bedford. It certainly made you grow up quick. after that went with Blue Funnel.

Joe C
12th January 2010, 17:14
Hello to all you Sparkies,I'm going off the subject in hand but I thought this little story may be of some interest to you.
My brother died some two months ago,just before his demise he wrote a short autobiography this is part of it.
He was called up for National Service 1942 was assigned to the Royal Navy.He past the test to become a Telegraphist.
Did all the training,the aim to go for was 20 words per-minute.But what I find amazing (I dont know if it is to you Sparkies) he had to learn the Japaneese alphabet.
He was posted to Columbo,sent upto Trincomalee,joined Escort Carrier (Ameer ?)also HMS Queen Elizabeth.Job in hand to listen to Japaneese planes talking (in morse) to their bases,this was around the Malacca Straits.
He went on to say that there are nearly twice the amount of letters in the Japaneese alphabet as ours.
After the war he managed to secure a job with the Admiralty,stationed at various "Listening Posts" including Malta and Cyprus.This job of course was then taken over by GCHQ Cheltenham.
He served some of his training time with Stan Wilcox author of the book The Voyages Of A Dry Land Sailor and in fact was in the same convoy as Stan on their way to Columbo.Stan gives a good graphic discription of that trip in his book.
Regards.
Jim B.

The services were still involved well into the sixties Jim

ccurtis1
12th January 2010, 18:23
All I sailed with were grand lads, but because of Marconi's antiquated payment system, most were nearly always broke, and depended upon the Old Man to cash them cheques. Some of the places we visited did not have a Marconi Office where Sparks could get cash from his pay-book. How Marconi got away with this in the sixties, is beyond me. Some of the Old Men, Len Thorne, comes to mind would not allow us to spend income from overtime. Perhaps a good thing

jimthehat
12th January 2010, 18:38
They must hav e been good chaps cos i can only remember two standing out,one on the maple bankwho used to make home bru and colour it with red ink pinched from the chartroom,somewhere on th oz coast he came back one night absolutely full and fell of the gangway he was squashed between side and quay ,but amazinly did not break anything but was a bright blue from top to bottom.
The other bright spark was on the isipingo,son of a bishop and was the randiest person I ever met,tried to move in on a girl in a bar in Durban got his jaw broken ,thought he would be sent home ,but all they did was wire him up and sent back to the ship.good old days

jim

RayL
16th January 2010, 23:28
This guy sounds to me like an example of something we were warned about in radio college; he may have been driven slightly mad by the high volume Morse! We heard various stories about this while we were training so we knew that it was a valid point. Consequently I always remembered this warning and kept the volume as low as possible in my headphones (commensurate with getting the message down, of course).

I also tried (but didn't always succeed) to adhere to some well-meant advice given to my class by the principal one day - "Never allow yourself to get into an argument with anyone during a voyage. You will notice when you get to sea that people disappear overboard mysteriously from time to time!"

John Briggs
17th January 2010, 01:07
As I remember it, all the sparkies I sailed with were great shipmates, some were nutters (characters) but all were great company.
As a watch keeping officer I used to enjoy sparkie wandering onto the bridge for a chat and he was invaluable for answering aldis messages from navy ships.
As master I would regularly have a nightcap with sparkie when he finished his last watch around 2200 or so as I recall.

RayL
18th January 2010, 00:09
I realised after I'd sent that last message that I'd omitted another relevant detail about guarding against going half crazy as a result of listening to a lot of Morse. We were told to adjust the BFO (beat frequency oscillator) on the receiver so that what was going into your ears was low in pitch (it was high-volume, high audio frequencies that were potentially damaging).

I may be odd, but if I hadn't adjusted the BFO and minimised the volume all those years ago, I'd have been even odder!!

RayL
27th January 2010, 18:36
Some names from my 1966-67 voyage on the Speybank, recently found in an old note:

D. Vincent, Mate (Dave, I think)

B. Watson 2/O (Brian, I think)

John W. Robertson 3/O

Charlie Stitt
28th August 2010, 18:05
Marconi Sahib posted some good photos, some of Bank Line ships, on this site, but where have they gone ??

pete
28th August 2010, 18:55
On one of the Bank Line vessels I sailed on 7 of the Officers went down with Malaria in West Africa, this was despite taking the specified Medication. Sadly the Sparks was one of us but his went haywire and went into Cerebral Malaria which rendered him helpless. We were at sea by the time this became apparent and without VHF we could only use the Aldis. Luckily a Greek Vessel came to our aid by forwarding all our problems and our ETA to London and when we arrived in Safi (I think) a relief was waiting for the hapless lad. I was given to believe that he never fully recovered. Sorry about the sad info................pete