"Between the Wars"

March 1918 ~ October 1939

I joined Radcliffe’s, S.S. Wimborne 3689 tons net, at Portland on the 17th of March 1918.  This was my first three mate ship, and I signed on as Second mate, and having bunkered we sailed for Newport News. We met with strong wind and heavy sea off the island of Flores, in the Azores, and the Master Capt J. W. Jones O.B.E. of Cardigan was very annoyed at the course the vessel was making good. In this ship it was not the practice to tow the log, and the Second Mate was the only one who did navigation. Neither the Mate nor the Third Mate had sextants, and the Master never took sights. When I found we were only thirty miles North of Flores, instead of about 120 miles, I reported that the ship was steering badly, and he said that there must be something wrong. The next I saw of him was coming from the poop, and he then informed me that our rudder plate from the 12 foot mark to the bottom was missing. He then said that on their previous voyage, they had been ordered to dock at Boulogne, North France, but when they tried to enter the locks, they found that the ship was too wide to enter, they then had to back out and in doing so, their stern had struck the bank, and they had to pull her out clear of the piers, stern first, as she could not possibly turn inside as she was also too long. We made Newport News and entered port, nothing being said to the Pilot about the rudder, until the vessel entered the dry dock, which had been arranged for her beforehand. Quite a few times between Cape Henry and the dry dock the Pilot had asked sarcastically, what was wrong with the steering, as he had always found this an excellent steering vessel, but he got no reply. When he found the reason for dry-docking, he declared that he would not have brought us into port without the help of two tow boats. If he had been aware of the fact that we had only barely five foot depth of rudder. The propeller and rudder were removed, the vessel taken to her loading berth, and loaded with 1500 tons of steel billets and filled with oats, which brought her down to her full load line. She was then placed in dry dock and the propeller and rudder repaired, and put back. This cargo was discharged at Dunkirk. This ship was manned on deck by ten apprentices, 5 Malay seamen and a Portugese, Bosun. We again came into Portland Harbour after leaving Dunkirk, and when berthing, some of the Malay crew started to fight with the Apprentices. This was seen by the Harbour Master, who asked me to tie up as well as I could, and that he would be back soon. He came back with a squad of Naval Police who took all the Malay seamen ashore, to be dealt with for insubordination. Before sailing it was reported that the Chief Steward was missing, and I was told by the Master to check the stores in the Steward’s storeroom. This did not take long to carry out as there were no stores left, although we should have had sufficient to get back to the USA. When searching the Steward’s room, we discovered some letters that had been given him by army people in Dunkirk for posting on arrival U.K. This was a serious matter, and they were handed over to the Naval people. In the letter, was evidence of where the stores had gone in Dunkirk and notifying the people, to whom the letters were addressed, that the Steward promised to send them some stores also from Portland. He was arrested in London and punished. Our next cargo, consisting of oats and with our double bottom tanks full of fuel oil, was landed at New York. The oil was discharged at Portsmouth and the oats at Dunkirk, and when we called at Portland on 1st August 1918 I was paid off.

I then went to study for my Mate’s Certificate at Liverpool and obtained it at the first attempt at  the end of September 1918.

As the 1914 – 18 war was soon over I decided to have a holiday and my next employment was with Messers Howard Houlder and Partners of London. I went across to La Pallace, France to join their s s Doonholm 2776 tons, signing on there on 24th January 1919. This vessel was supposed to proceed to Philadelphia but at the last moment we were ordered to Cardiff where we loaded a cargo of coal for Gibraltar, and then in ballast to Freetown, Sierra Leone, where we took on board the usual crowd of crew boys to do the cargo work. Having taken in 1000 tons Manganese ore at Secondu, we loaded at Lagos and four other coast ports before calling at Freetown to land the crew boys. On our passage to Liverpool, we called at Las Palmas taking 5000 crates tomatoes on our foredeck and 5000 crates bananas on our after deck. We anchored in the Mersey for a week awaiting a discharging berth, and were then sent to Manchester, where on our arrival, all hands, except the Chief Officer, Chief Engineer were informed that their services were at an end. Our Master was a real old timer, one Smith, from the Tyne, whose nose shone like a lighthouse, but who always swore that he had been a teetotaller. He had known for some time that the vessel had been sold, and I was later informed that he had dismissed with our services without authority from the old owners. My date of discharge from this ship was 14th June 1919. My last couple of months on this ship had been spent in agony owing to an abscess on the jawbone, which kept me form joining a ship that was offered soon after arriving home.

I remained home until May 1920 when I was instructed to join the ex Hamburg American Liner, SS Bosnia at Leith, where she was being handed over by the Germans as Reparations. We eventually took this vessel to the Tyne, where she had been built by Palmers in the 1890’s as an emigrant carrier, and as she was not suitable for Houlders trade, she was eventually sold to Nemasis of Hong Kong as a pilgrim ship and was renamed the Frangiestan, under whose ownership she was lost by fire in the Red Sea in about 1923. I then joined the same company’s ss Franktor 2297 tons net at Cardiff on June 25th 1920 as second mate and made two voyages in her with coal from the Bristol channel and ore from Agulas homewards to Barrow and Cardiff. On the 12th November 1920 the vessel was renamed Jalavijaya and registered at Bombay. The Scindia Co of Bombay, a newly formed Indian company, having bought all Howard Holders remaining ships, we were only too glad to serve the new owners, and so sailed from Newport loaded with Railway material for Bombay. After discharging our outward cargo we entered the Indian coastal trade and remained on it until the end of March 1922. We then loaded for Hamburg and Dunkirk, and I was promoted mate, and the 3rd Mate a Cardiff man became 2nd Mate. We were the only ones left of the Officers and engineers who had come out with the ship. We paid off at Barry Dock on the 10th May 1922. I now decided to sit for Master and went to Liverpool, and received my Master’s Certificate at the end of July 1922.

Having had a holiday, I was required to relieve one of the Chief Officers in a sister ship to my last one at Liverpool in early October 1922, and went with her to Manchester and Barry Dock, at which dock I was asked to proceed as passenger with this ship to Port Said to await the return of my previous ship on her next return voyage from India.

I rejoined the Jalavijaya at Port Said on the 11thDecember 1922 and arrived at hull on the 3rd January 1923, where I was ordered to proceed to Tyne Dock to join the ss Jaladuta 2592 tons reg, as Chief Officer, loading coal for Port Said and then in ballast to Rangoon to re – enter the Indian coastal trade once more. We were transferred to the Calcutta – Karachi coastal trade after getting rid of our Rangoon cargo, and remained on that trade until the vessel was sold to Japanese buyers on the 5th December 1925. I was then appointed Master of the SS Jalatarang of 4200 tons deadweight, which vessel had been built by Thornycroft, on the Isle of Wight three years earlier. This was an oil burning vessel, and we traded between the Burman Rice ports and South India or Ceylon. When leaving the port of Akyab, fully loaded with rice, early May 1926, we received warning of a cyclone to the south of our track, so having gone just out of sight of land I decided to stop and await development. That ship with her extra large hatchways and deeply loaded, would not have much chance if she met a cyclone. Next day we re-entered port just before the cyclone arrived, and managed to hold her with both anchors down and the engines working as necessary, until the worst was passed. That night the storm crossed the Aracan Coast 60 miles north of Akyab and nearly 1600 people lost their lives. I left the ship at Bombay at the end of August 1926 and came home as a passenger, having in my own heart said goodbye to the Indian Coastal Trade.

Athel Line

"Capt Hugh Roberts, in command of the Athelprincess"

I remained home until the 28th April 1928, when I joined the tanker, Athelbeach 3472 tons net at Birkenhead, as Third Mate. I had not been Third Mate previously, and had never been near a tanker, but within an hour of joining her I was left in sole charge of pumping operations. She was discharging a molasses cargo into the owner’s own storage depot and I managed to keep things going from midnight until 8 am without any complaint. We loaded our  next at Holland for New York this was all Best Molasses. In August of 1928 I became 2nd Mate, and again Mate in December. We sailed from Amsterdam for Baltimore on 1st January 1929 with a cargo of beet molasses, and off the Azores we ran into extremely heavy weather which continued for the remainder of the 26 day passage. She was an excellent sea boat, but even so the sea smashed in the wheelhouse windows. She had a large hatchway forward, and after the wheelhouse were smashed, it was seen that something had gone wrong with the hatches, but no one could get near until just before dark, fourteen hours after the sea had done its damage, we went to investigate, whilst the Master and 2nd Mate nursed her with the engines, and found the forward hatch sections had been driven over the second section and only tarpaulins covered the forward section, the only wedges left were  those on the fore end. Had another sea dropped on that tarpaulin, nothing could have saved us. Things were put right in quick time without any injuries. We arrived Baltimore with swept bunkers, and only five tons small coal and dust left. This vessel used coal as fuel at that time, because until suitable storage was arranged, there was too much risk of the cargo of molasses being contaminated by fuel oil. This vessel owned by the United Molasses Co. of London was sold to Norwegian buyers at Hull early November 1929.

I came home and having married that same month I was promoted to Master of the new 14000 ton twin screw motor tanker, Athelprincess which I joined on 26th December 1929 at Greenock. (See photo of launching) This vessel was fitted with a Sperry Gyro Compass and Automatic Helmsman. We left the Clyde after trials, on the evening of the 31st December for Tjilatjap, on the south coast of Java, where we loaded a full cargo of cane molasses for London and Rotterdam. I remained as Master of this vessel, until mid October 1939. Our usual voyages used to be from home in ballast, through the Panama Canal to California, where we usually loaded crude oil for Japan and then on in ballast to the Philipines, Java or Calcutta to load molasses for either the UK or the USA. When bound to the latter country we usually went around South Africa. Occasionally, however, after discharging in Japan, we went back to the Hawaiian Islands where we always loaded molasses for the UK. On one voyage, we remained on the California/Japan oil trade for sixteen months. During all the time I was on this vessel, the only delay we had due to machinery failures, was seventeen hours changing a piston, and another short delay due to a faulty lubricating cooler, we were free of any serious damage to the hull of the vessel throughout. On one particular voyage from Java to New York non stop around South Africa, when we were north of Bermuda an old AB from this village, asked me if I thought the engines would stop if required to do so, we were at that time 48 days out of Java, and both engines had been running continuously. When war was declared in 1939 we were just south of Madagascar, and called at Capetown and Dakar before coming to Liverpool, where I left, as I had Gall Bladder trouble.

M. v. Athellaird

July 1940


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