Sea Life. 1951. The Modasa.To London and the Modasa.
Well the morning for leaving arrived and Dad ran me to Oxenholme station to catch the early morning train. Mum didn't go, we said goodbye to each other at the door and Mum waved me off as we drove away down the lane. We weren't very demonstrative in our family, no hugging and kissing, it was just a gruff goodbye, write soon and a wave off. Thinking back now, my mother would probably have been feeling very upset.
Arriving at the station Dad and I trundled my new case and trunk on to the platform, I presented my travel warrant at the ticket window and received my ticket for the journey. In moments it seemed, the express train arrived, my trunk put into the guards van and my case with me into a part empty coach. As I boarded the train I remember Dad saying "Goodbye lad, have a good journey". He stood, a lone figure as the train pulled out and waved. I sat down in my seat, my heart in my mouth and butterflies in my belly heading for the great unknown.
I remember very little of the train journey now but I do remember my arrival at Euston station in London. I heaved my blue case off the rack and staggered on to the platform, a waiting porter said "want a hand, sir"... I'd never been called "sir" before. I must have indicated yes, my case was quickly on the trolley and we headed for the guards van to pick up my trunk then we headed to the main entrance of Euston to a waiting taxi. The porter said to the taxi driver, "this young man wants to go to Tilbury Docks". Even at 17 I was very much aware of tipping for any service and I thankfully slipped the porter, probably a shilling for all his help.
It was quite a way to Tilbury Docks but the journey did not take too long. Traffic was light compared to today, 2005. We arrived at the dock gates and the driver enquired the location of the S.S. Modasa and the gatekeeper gave him the wharf number, adding she was presently taking on passengers. Soon, we drove up to the gangplank and the driver unloaded my baggage and me. The wharf and deck of the Modasa was alive with dark-faced stewards and seamen hurrying about their duties. One of the stewards in a dark blue uniform in buttoned to the neck, obviously in charge, hurried up to me enquiring my business. Proudly I said I was the 2nd Radio Officer reporting for duty. Immediately he summoned another man also in uniform with gold braid on his sleeves who came across and said "Oh, hello Sparks, reporting for duty, eh"? He handed me back to the steward in charge telling him to have a man escort me to my cabin and telling him to have my baggage delivered to my cabin immediately.
Once on deck, we seemed to go up numerous stairs until we came out on the top deck just below the ships bridge and I was shown to my cabin. I looked around, a neatly made bunk bed with sheets turned down, a day bed, a dressing table, mirror and chair, a wardrobe plus drawers below the bunk. All fitted snugly into a 10-foot square space. I wondered, what happens now? I went out onto the open deck and looked down far below, figures hurrying to and fro, cargo slings taking baggage on board, people arriving, taxis leaving. So I thought I would just wait, someone will be along.
I returned to my cabin and sat down, excitement was churning away, I wanted to do something in this strange environment. I found it difficult to contain myself. At that moment there was a knock at the door and I stood up, the door opened and a smiling brown face greeted me. " I have brought you chae, sahib. Before me, he placed on the dressing table a tray covered with a snowy white cloth, a cup of tea and a plate of neatly cut, thin sandwiches. The steward introduced himself and added, "I am your cabin steward, sahib".
From the dressing table drawer he brought out a list of mealtimes, laundry information and much more. "I will inform the burra sahib you have arrived when he wakes", he said. Burra... sahib, 2 strange words I had never heard before.
Sometime later the steward returned and informed me the burra sahib was awake and he would see me now. He led me to an adjoining cabin and I found myself standing before a bulky man with the gold braid of 1st Radio Officer on his uniform. Unsmilingly, he looked me up and down as he gruffly greeted me in a strong Scots accent, dourly introducing himself as Angus McKay. After a few words he took me into the radio room connected internally from his cabin and showed me the equipment, asking me a few more questions about myself.
As he dismissed me he grunted "we sail tomorrow morning on the tide, be here when we cast off". With that he let me out of the radio room through another door into another cabin and then out onto the starboard side of the ship. "This is the door you'll use" he said.
I made my way back to my own cabin on the port side.