26 March 2004

First draft: South Shields. Farewell South Shields

Two weeks after passing my examinations and then applying for a position with Marconi Marine I was accepted into the company. I was instructed to apply for a Seaman's Record Book and Certificates of Discharge. This Book complete with photo and details could also be used as a defacto Passport when necessary to join ships in other countries.

I was officially entered into the Merchant Navy on the 16 June 1951 at the South Shields Marine Office. Now all I had to do was wait until Marconi Marine needed me. At this point after a few days I headed for home at Kidside.

It was now farewell South Shields. I did not see South Shields again until 2003 when I made a trip to the UK and visited my cousin David living in Ponteland just north of Newcastle. Unbeknown to me he had made arrangements to take me down to South Shields and view some of my old haunts on the afternoon of my arrival. That was 52 years later but that is of course another story.

Reaching Kidside towards the end of June I did not realize then how long I would have to wait before a suitable position was available for me. In point of fact my wait for a position stretched into August before anything suitable was found.

I'm not sure how I filled in my time at home. I have only vague recollections now. In fact during the previous 2 years I do not really remember how I filled in my time during the holidays between terms. Most of my friends were working now and coming home after a hard days work, an evening out was not on the top of their list of activities. I do remember looking forward to Friday and the weekend activities.

Postscript to South Shields

Leaving South Shields I felt a pang of nostalgia, I still feel a little pang for South Shields even now. Although I had my ups and downs, trials and tribulations I enjoyed my 2 years stay. I learnt a lot at the Marine College, not only the syllabus of the course but how to work under pressure, to run to keep up. Not to be daunted by failure and not to refuse a helping hand. I enjoyed my leisure time and the company of the other students both at the hostel and at Mrs. Greenwell's. I knew when I left I would miss the harbour, Mill Dam and the Missions to Seamen, the town centre and the trolley buses but life moves along and I knew I must move along with it.

This concludes another Chapter of my life and the beginning of a new phase in the next Chapter, the beginning of a new learning curve.

24 March 2004

First draft: South Shields. Another Hand along the Way

I didn't leave Mrs. Greenwell's immediately after passing my Diploma, my scholarship was still running which covered accommodation costs. I had to find employment with my brand new "ticket", I was better up here at South Shields in the hub of things than at home.

The largest employer of Radio Officer's was the Marconi Marine Company who supplied its Radio Officer's on contract to the various shipping companies. They were always advertising for Radio Officer's and as the largest employer I though that this was a good place to start looking for a job. I penned a letter to the Marconi Marine Company and in a few days received an application form from them for employment. I duly filled in the required details, posted the application off and then came the expectant wait.

During this time a new boarder arrived at Mrs. Greenwell's, an older man who introduced himself as Stuart Mc Kay. Mrs Greenwell told me later he was Chief Engineer of a ship that was in dock for an engine refit. Stuart was a bachelor she told me whose ship was a lonely place in the evenings with no crew on board. Stuart as Chief Engineer had to be present during the engine refit. He periodically stayed at Mrs. Greenwell's when in port for the company, she told me.

Stuart would be... I guess now, in his late 50's, a thin man with sparse grey hair and he wore round wire-rimmed glasses, an easy man to converse with despite our difference in age. A few days after I had got my results of my Exams Stuart remarked as I came into the dining room that he believed congratulations were in order and then enquired what I was proposing to do. I told him I had just posted off my application form for employment with the Marconi Marine Company and I waiting for my acceptance. Presently he enquired had I got my uniform and tropical kit? I hesitated and then said that I had the Marine College uniform, which was basically the same as the sea-going uniform, but tropical kit? Stuart then proceeded to give me the rundown on the tropical kit saying not to delay; I could be required to report for duty the next day after my acceptance. I then remembered the question on the form. Would I be ready for immediate duty? I had ticked yes.

Stuart then said " right, if you like we'll go up to Newcastle on Saturday and sort out the tropical kit for you, there is a good marine men’s outfitters there". Again I hesitated and Stuart said "don't worry, the payment can go on my account and you can pay me later". I then replied that I would be glad of his help.

Saturday morning saw us on the electric commuter train from South Shields up to Newcastle and Stuart took me to large men’s outfitters specialising in marine wear. I had taken with me my uniform jacket to be altered too. As we entered the shop Stuart was obviously known here. He was greeted by a middle aged man with Good morning Mr. Mc Kay what can I help you with? Stuart said "fit this young man out with full tropical kit, please".

The man whipped out his tape measure and quickly had my measurements, waist, chest, hips then arm and inside leg. Suddenly the tidy counter was littered with boxes of all sizes. Shirts, shorts, knee-length socks and shoes all in white... including the shoes. Then came the tropical evening uniform, cotton jacket buttoning to the neck and long trousers, again all in white.

Next came the fitting first the shirt, shorts, socks and shoes... all a good fit on my then slim figure. Then came the evening dress uniform, a little long in the sleeves and leg. These were pinned up and the assistant said " we have a tailor on the premises, they can be altered immediately.

"Anything else, sir" said the assistant. Stuart barked, "Yes! 2 pairs Junior Radio Officer epaulettes and don't forget the cap covers and a M.N. cap badge". Stuart in charge was clearly enjoying this. I pulled out my uniform jacket and asked for the Junior Radio Officer's gold braid to be fitted on my jacket sleeves too. The tropical kit was parcelled up and we said we would be back in 3 hours to pick up the parcels including the altered garments.

Leaving the shop Stuart took me on a walking tour of the city centre pointing out the main features. As we passed through a small square in the city centre we stood for a moment and watched with a crowd of shoppers a one man band perform with his big drum on his back and instruments on stalks in reach of his mouth. The first one-man band I had seen. The gyrating figure today is etched on my memory as if it were yesterday.

Visiting my cousin David Bell in 2003, he took me on a driven tour of Newcastle city centre but I recognised nothing, things had changed so much. As we turned to head for South Shields I saw the latticework of the Tyne Bridge, which I did recognise. The bridge was the forerunning design for the Sydney Harbour Bridge in Australia, the Tyne one much smaller of course.

We returned to the shop for our parcels, a quick fitting of the altered garments and Stuart said "put everything on my account please" and the assistant said "certainly, sir". We then headed to the station with our booty to catch the next train back to South Shields.

Stuart gave me the account slip to be passed on to home and money credited to his account at the Newcastle menswear shop. Back in those days people seemed to be more trusting of others than now in the 21st Century.

20 March 2004

First Draft: South Shields. The End in Sight

Time was fast approaching to re-sit my Theory examination papers and I think this time I was prepared. Towards the end I eased off study. I had been over and over my notes, attended lectures and I felt reasonably confident.

At last the day of the first Examinations came along. I remember feeling pleasantly surprised after the usual 10 minutes allowed to reading the questions through. I picked up my pen and ploughed steadily through the first 3-hour paper. I did the same with the 2nd paper. The practical examination followed and then all I had to do was wait for the results.

When the results were promulgated I found I had passed all with a reasonable margin. The pass mark was 60%.

I became a fully-fledged Radio Officer at the young age of 17 years and 3 months old and my qualifications were dated the 29 May 1951.

I remember well that day 53 years ago. I came down into the dining room at 47 Lawe Road and noticed some mail for me. I knew as I picked up the official letter, it was the results of the Exams. I opened it, unfolded the letter and as I scanned it my eyes riveted on the word Passed. I remember I just stared at the letter. I was I think, in a daze. I couldn't sit down; I couldn't scream, "I've passed". I couldn't do anything or settle; my mind was in a whirl. I went upstairs and grabbed my topcoat and I went for a walk, a long walk to release some steam. I wanted to be on my own and think.

It was a blustery, cold day and I walked up Ocean Road and on to the Market Place and Mill Dam then as I retraced my steps, my mind was still churning over. As I came to the bottom of Lawe Road I didn't want to go back so I continued down and round towards the South Pier breakwater and I came to the Groyne... an artificial construction built out into the harbour to prevent the shore washing away. It was concreted flat on top and had a low lighthouse on its short stubby end.

I slowly walked along the Groyne on this cold, blustery day and in the open aspect the wind was blowing fully in my face. I stood for a while taking in the harbour entrance scene and slowly a complete sense of utter relief seemed to envelope me, it seemed a large weight had been taken from my shoulders. As I stood I thought if you want something hard enough and try hard enough you could achieve anything. I then started to feel as though I was 10 feet tall. Still standing I remember distinctly stretching my arms upwards as far as I could reach and again remembering the words that I shouted, "I've done it, I've done it " at the top of my voice.

The words were whipped out of my mouth by the wind and carried by the wind but no one heard, just me. Anyway there was no one else foolish enough but me to be down on the Groyne on such a blustery cold day as this. I continued standing there for a few moments longer and suddenly I felt drained, completely drained and I retraced my footsteps slowly to Mrs. Greenwell's at 47 Lawe Rd.

Yes, I remember all as if it was yesterday; 53 years ago this coming May.

18 March 2004

First Draft: South Shields. John Bainbridge

During the latter months of the course before my examinations a student arrived to stay at Mrs. Greenwell's. His name was John Bainbridge. John had come to South Shields Marine College to study for his 1st Class PMG Certificate before going to sea. Where he had taken his standard Certificate I have no idea now. In fact I don't know why he had come to South Shields instead of his old College.

The 1st Class PMG Certificate required a further paper to be sat delving more deeply into electrical and electronic theory plus a rise in the Morse speed to a minimum of 25 words per minute.

What I do remember is that John came from Lancashire and his father was a headmaster in his home town... was it Blackburn... I think it was, as my memory drifts back.

We seemed to click immediately as friends although John was at least 2 years older than I. Perhaps it was because both of us were studying hard and not going out too often which brought us together. For relaxation after study I remember we often went down to a local park entered from the bottom of Lawe Road although the park boundary was just across the road and a piece of open grass land from where we stayed. An iron railing fence and a steep bank prevented us entering up here.

We were not hermits of course we went up town as normal, went to the movies and down to Mill Dam. It was just that we reduced our leisure time.

John finished his course before I did and passed his 1st class PMG successfully. Soon, with a job awaiting him he said goodbye. We had exchanged addresses and a few weeks later a letter arrived from John from somewhere down around the Indonesian Islands on a cargo ship calling in on small island ports picking up and unloading cargo. It all sounded so romantic in his letters through this tropical region and this helped to spur me on with my studies. I could hardly wait to get to sea and experience this life for myself.

I was soon in my final term having re-sat and passed the Morse examination with the final hurdle soon to come of re- sitting the 2 Theory papers. I accelerated my studies, concentrating on my weaknesses and in one or two cases committing to memory more complex pieces.

I was determined not to fail this time.

15 March 2004

First Draft: South Shields. A Good Samaritan

I thought over the Examiner's proposal and although it was scant on detail I thought I had nothing to loose, besides I had not been across on the ferry to North Shields before. I found the address on the piece of paper and knocked at the 3 p.m. appointed time and a lady opened the door, enquired my name and led me into a front room and I came face to face with the Examiner.

He was tidying some papers and suggested that I sit down. Then he turned and faced me, He then told me I needed some one to one tuition, if I didn't get it I would probably fail again. My faults had to be monitored and corrected, if I didn't all I would do was compound them.

He suggested that I think it over and he left the room for me to ponder his words. Quickly I came to a decision and on his return I indicated that I would be happy for some help with my dilemma.

He then suggested I put on a pair of headphones and he would send me a test piece of Morse at the regulation speed of 20 words per minute. On completion he took my copied piece and scanned it. Then he tried me for a few minutes of coded letters... groups of 5 random letters, then the same with 5 figure groups of figures. He then said to change places and I sent Morse to him and as he listened he made notes as I pounded away on the Morse key. After a while he sat back and indicated that I stop sending Morse.

He then told me he could straighten me out for the next Morse exams in just over 3 months and if I failed again there was a further Morse exam in 6 months when I would be re-sitting the Theory papers.

Then on the dot of 4 o'clock the door opened and his wife came in with a tray and afternoon tea.

Every Saturday afternoon for 12 weeks I caught the ferry across to North Shields and turned up on the Examiner's doorstep promptly at 3 o'clock. I practised for an hour under the Examiner's watchful eye and promptly at 4 o'clock his wife would bring in afternoon tea. He certainly straightened me out during those 12 weeks. He showed me with my left-handedness how to best position myself when sending. Over the weeks he brought me up to send and receive perfect Morse at the regulation speed and then on to and above the regulation speed.

Towards the end of the 12 weeks he pronounced that I should sail through the examination with flying colours, but to remember everyone can trip during an examination. There was always a second chance in a further 3 months when I would re-sit my Theory papers. On our last session he wished me good luck and said Goodbye, he would not be the examiner for the next Examinations.

Yes, as the Examiner predicted I did sail through the Morse re-examination with flying colours. I never saw the Examiner again, I cannot remember his name now at all, and if prompted I would still not remember it. I could have called him Mr. This or Mr. That when writing this piece but I thought it I would leave it just as I now remember him... The Examiner.

In today’s world I would have phoned him immediately with the good news of my pass results but in 1950 as I had written before, telephones were not the norm in private homes. He would have known the results the next morning; all the Examiner's used the same offices. But that is not an excuse, I could have caught the ferry across to North Shields and told him personally.

That was a long time ago in fact 54 years ago when I was almost 17 years old. I still puzzle as to why the Examiner took me under his wing. Over the years I have had all kinds of theories as to why he did it, but to this day it still puzzles me. After a bout of going over the reasons I usually come back to the same conclusion. He was simply a Good Samaritan... there was someone in need... it just happened to be me.

10 March 2004

First Draft: South Shields. The Examinations

After 18 months study suddenly it seemed the exams were closely in the offing. I had tried my best with my studies I felt, but was that enough? I felt fatalistic and I remember thinking, "Well I can't do much about it now. Hopefully I'll scrape through".

The day of the exams arrived. There were 2 three-hour papers to sit.

1. Principles of Electricity and Magnetism.

2. Radio Theory and Practise.

Each paper consisted of 8 questions. Three compulsory questions and 5 other questions. Six questions to be attempted, 2 of which must be from the compulsory list.

Next day came a practical examination in operating and faulty finding procedures of marine receiving and transmitting equipment and other ancillary equipment.

Then we came to the Morse examination receiving and sending and operating procedures.

To cut a long story short I failed the examinations. I could not sit the 2 Theory papers again for 6 months and the Morse and operating examinations again for 3 months. Although I had scraped through in one of the Theory papers I would need to sit both papers again... in 6 months including the practical and operating examinations.

The Morse exam. I had failed miserably. The Westmorland Education Board were very good about the whole thing and I kept my scholarship. I was devastated at the time. It seemed the world had come crashing down on me. I wondered years later, was it my young age that saved me with the Board.

After the Morse examination the Examiner asked me to wait. At that instant I didn't know whether I had passed or failed. After the completed examination of the other students the Examiner came through to me. He asked me if I was aware that I had failed? Miserably I said, "Yes". He told me my operating practises were passable but my Morse sending and receiving was not up to standard... too many mistakes. He told me I needed a lots of practise. The Examiner then paused and asked if I would I be interested in some out of College tuition? He gave me a hand drawn map and suggested if I was interested to come to the enclosed address next Saturday afternoon at 3 p.m.

Little did I know then, I had met my second good Samaritan.