"Second Mate"

January 1916 ~ September 1917

Menevian. My next ship was the s s Menevian 1852 tons nett, which I joined at Bristol on the 25th January 1916 then on to Swansea to complete loading with tin plate, and coal, and called at a small port close to Pompei, Italy, (Torriananciata)  then Leghorn, Genoa, Marseilles, Valencia and Burianna, Spain, and returned to Liverpool and Bristol with a cargo of oranges, hides, marble, etc. We paid off on the 1st May 1916.

All these vessels were managed by Messers Owen and Watkin Williams of Cardiff and whose home was at Pwll-Parc Edern, and the ships I served in gave me very good experience, especially the ‘Edernian’ whose Mate at one time was Master of the ‘Pengwern’. On our first voyage we renewed all this steamer’s standing rigging, and it used to be a rule with him, that I always had to report all lights sighted ahead at night when at the wheel, and what action I would take and why, and if I gave the wrong answer, there would be trouble, and he gave me every encouragement to go and study for my Second Mate’s certificate. After leaving the Menevian, I went to Captain Jutsum’s school at Cardiff, which at that time was under the sole control of his assistant, Captain Bwan. I sat the examination at Newport before Captain Weir, and was successful at the first attempt. He did however give me a tough time of it in the orals, and at one stage I could not get the first word of a particular article out word perfect. He left the room with a book containing the articles on the table, for five minutes, but I knew full well, that if I had made any attempt to see that book I would have to return to sea for six months, when he did come back, he began the article himself.

O & W Williams had no vacancy for Second Mates so I applied to Messers E. Thomas Radcliffe and on the 12th October 1916 I joined their SS Llanishen 2434 Tons Nett as 2nd Mate at Newport, where she loaded coal for Italy, then in ballast to Norfolk, Virginia, loading another coal cargo for Italy. We then loaded iron ore at Hornillo Bay, Spain, for Cardiff where we paid off and signed on again on the 21st March 1917. We then loaded coal a coal cargo at Port Talbot for Italy, and then on to Hornillo Bay for another ore cargo for Middlesborough, paying off the 16th June 1917, and having dry docked in the Tyne we loaded a coal cargo and 180 tons of petrol in drums for Savona. We sailed from Savona for Malilla near Oran, but only got as far as the Gulf of Lyons on the 8th August 1917, 1 a.m. when a torpedo explode abreast of the stokehold, killing both firemen on that watch. The 3rd engineer was found on the boat deck uninjured, but he could not say how he had arrived there. The main engines were still turning although the space they were in was flooded to sea level, they stopped of their own accord when the steam failed just before we eventually abandoned ship.

When the torpedo struck, I was asleep in my cabin aft, and although I was vaguely aware of noises, it was Jack Davies of Dinas Cross, our Chief Steward, who called on me to get out, and I did jump very quickly, and landed in water on the after deck. My first impression was that this deck was at sea level, but I soon realised that it was the column of water thrown up by the explosion that had flooded the short after well deck. The Master had been sleeping in the Chart Room on the lower Bridge, this was a teak wood house, but when I arrived there, this had collapsed and the Master was dragging himself out of the ruins. We were ordered to abandon ship, and when I arrived at my boat the starboard one, I ordered my crowd to cut the lashings preparatory to lowering it. When they did so the boat fell apart and into the water, having been shattered by the force of the explosion. As we could not be certain in the dark whether anyone had fallen with it, we released all our rafts on that side. Our lot were now divided between the 1st Mate’s boat and the jolt boat on the port side of the bridge. The Master and 12 others got into this and we lowered but could not be cast off for fear of fouling the Mate’s boat which had been kept just above the main engine cooling discharge pipe, the engines not yet having stopped, when someone in this boat, cut the forward tackle with an axe, the boat then became upended, bow down into the water, and some men fell into the sea. The mate being on deck saw what happened and immediately let the after tackle go, the boat then floated away full of water and men. We took the Mate into our boat, and soon found the lifeboat and having counted the men found six missing. Four were found on one of the rafts we had released, and one was picked up out of the water by the Mate’s boat. Our boat picked up an apprentice, Davies of Pontypridd, a very heavy lad, but to make matters worse he had his pyjamas over his heavy underwear, then a suit of working clothes and his uniform on top, with his lifejacket over all. The ship did not sink, but the submarine hailed the Mate’s boat and asked for the Master, and was told that he had been lost. He told us to pull towards the Franco, Spanish frontier about four miles distant and herded us in. We landed, and having landed were not allowed to return to the boats, although we could see our old ship still afloat, by the Spanish Police, we were just inside the Spanish side of the frontier. The old ship went on the rocks, and was re floated  a year later by an Italian firm. Radcliffe’s had five or six ships of this class of ship, and not one of them was sunk by a single torpedo, they all had to be shelled or torpedoed a second time. They had ten athwartship bulkheads, not all water tight, in order to be able to stow many different parcels of grain on the Black Sea trade, for which they were built. We were sent down to Barcelona by train and later by sea to Gibraltar, where I was ordered to join Chellen’s, SS Penere, leaving with the first ocean convoy from Gibraltar to Cork. She was a Mate short, that worthy having left her at the North African port where she had loaded her phosphate rock cargo, and I had to act in his place on the way home. This was the dirtiest, and most hungry ship I was ever on, the rooms being full of bugs. We arrived safely at Cork and I left at once for Cardiff where I was informed that my youngest brother, William, had been lost with the SS Edernian, I arrived home about the 15th September 1917.

Between the Wars

  March 1918 ~ October 1939


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