19 May 2005

Sea Life. 1951. The Modasa.We Sail for East Africa.

First draft:
In the morning we left port on the morning tide. After breakfast I reported to the radio room as ordered by the chief. The engine room was rumbling from the bowels of the ship as she built up steam. All cargo was loaded and the passengers all on board with their baggage.The chief, known to all as either Sparks or Jock was waiting for me whilst checking over the equipment. The first thing he told me was my watch periods. This evening I would be on watch from 1800 - 2000 and then again 4 hours later, from midnight, that is 0000 - 0600. As Jock talked of other things, I chewed over and digested this piece of information.The next piece of information from Jock caught me by surprise "can ye type?" said he. I said I could not. "Och! I thought as much", said Jock. "Well you had better wake me just before 0200, the newspaper transmission come through then. It’s got to be typed for the Purser's office first thing in the morning. The passengers like to hear the news from home read over the ships domestic radio system with their breakfast”.

We were moving now, leaving Tilbury heading down the Thames and after about half an hour Jock almost caught me with his knockout punch. “Now ye can send the TR” Jock said. I knew what a TR was but at the same time it seemed to go right out of my head, so to speak.

The TR, Transit Report is a message sent when leaving or entering port to the local radio coast station giving the ships name, bound where to and where from. This is so that any telegraph messages can be diverted to the ship.

I scribbled down the ships name, leaving Tilbury and bound for Marseilles, our first port of call and then looked in askance at Jock for the coast station call-sign call letters. On the key in nervous Morse code I called the coast station and listened through the hash of many busy stations calling and Jock said “there he is, there he is” and suddenly my mind focused on the coast stations call letters coming back to me. With mind now focused I sent the pertinent information and he then acknowledged receipt of the message.

I sat back in the chair, let out a gasp of long held breath and looked at Jock. I swear now that I saw a slight smile behind those dour crusty eyes. He’d seen this pantomime many times before with the new sparks and relished the discomfiture caused by throwing him in at the deep end.

Within a few days I started feel like an old hand when on watch, sending and receiving messages, sifting them through the interference and static, monitoring call lists and keeping a running log.

Note: I may rewrite part of this piece especially the TR piece. The mind is a little dull now thinking back to August 1951. It is said that everything is lodged within the memory somewhere. I have found it surprising how much one can remember now when the mind is fully focused.

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