Thursday, 30 April 2009

3 August 1942

PB still in good humour today.  Out from 10.10 to 11.15.  Three games of handball played – England v Holland, Holland v China, England v Indonesia.  Smoking allowed but no talking.  Great surprise for supper –  nasi goreng (fried rice) and half a duck’s egg.  No soup.


Dad was a panel patient and the evil of the National Insurance Scheme was amply in evidence in his case.  The doctor sent for immediately but presumably because it was Sunday he refused to come, although called no less than three times during that afternoon and night.  If my father had been other than a patient for whom the doctor received payment from the Government whether he attended him or not, I am quite sure his behaviour would have been otherwise.  He condescended to put in an appearance about 9 o’clock the next morning and, I recall being told, got a great shock and became as white as a sheet when he saw the severity of the injury.  We can only trust that others benefited from what must have been to him a sharp realisation of the neglect of his duty as a physician.  That Dad eventually recovered and was fit enough to be accepted for the Army two years later was in the greater measure due to the splendid constitution built up by years of clean living and honest toil. Dad’s incapacity for work for a long time was a serious matter for the household in our humble circumstances where the only income was the few shillings sick benefit granted weekly by his Union and it does my heart good when I think of how the Clan rallied round and helped in many ways to lighten the burden.  One incident I shall never forget.  An uncle and aunt, who shall be nameless, had visited us and it was only after they had been gone some time that we discovered a parcel of groceries behind the outer door which they had placed there surreptitiously when entering.  Such kindness can never be forgotten.  Anyhow, to return to the good ship, ‘Hogarth’.  At the time I started that vacation, Dad was already convalescent  but still far from fit for work.  Father and mother and sister used to come to the quay to see me off on every occasion and it so happened that one day while they were there, the departure of the vessel was delayed on account of the second class stewardess failing unaccountably to turn up.  But time and tide wait for no man or even a stewardess and it had just been decided to cast off when Johnnie, inspired, dashed down the gangway, grabbed my mother my the arm - ‘Come on, you’re the stewardess this trip’ – and hustled her aboard, leaving Dad and my sister Madge standing open mouthed on the quay.  Johnnie quickly instructed Mother as to her duties which were merely to be at the beck and call of every female passenger and to assist in every way.  Mother was soon busy but alas for all her good intentions to give satisfaction as stewardess on that trip.  As soon as we had cleared the harbour and reached the open sea, the wind freshened to almost a gale and the poor little ‘Hogarth’ was tossed about like a cork all the way from Aberdeen to London.  The second class quarters resounded with moans and cries of ‘Stewardess, stewardess’ but in vain.  The new stewardess had been among the first to succumb to mal de mere and lay in a bunk praying weakly, I suppose, for death – when given the opportunity.  So to all intents and purposes, the ‘Hogarth’ was none the less stewardess less during that trip.  The return voyage, however, was made in perfect weather and I shall never forget the evening, with the sun sinking slowly like a great ball of fire in a sea of glass and my mother singing ‘Somewhere a voice is calling’ on the fore deck where the passengers had gathered for a sing song.  Every time I hear that song it brings that scene back to me.  There were doubtless other items but that is the only one I remember.  It was one of those moments when it seemed the world stood still and the song with its setting were imprinted on my memory for evermore.  The stewardess more than amended for her lapse on the outward trip and returned home much richer than when she set out, a great blessing under the circumstances.  During one trip that summer, I celebrated my 10th birthday and I still remember the thrill that was mine that morning when I woke up and found two large cakes of chocolate next to my pillow, place there my Johnnie, the dear chap.  He had also allowed me to sleep until I waked as an additional birthday present.  When I did appear in the cook’s galley in due course, he came forward to congratulate me but I stopped with the the remark,’Not yet.  I wasn’t born until 10 o’clock.’  And only when that hour struck did I deign to accept his congratulations.  For a child of my years, I used to make quite a large sum (two or three shillings) in tips every trip.  These tips came from second class passengers who generally economised by taking their food with them for the 36 hour journey instead of patronising the dining room and who came regularly to the galley to beg hot water for making tea.  The task of supplying this want was delegated to me and I was quite proud of my official position as hot water dispenser.  And talking of hot water that reminds me that I got into that element myself of one occasion on board the good ship ‘Hogarth’, running foul of the ship’s carpenter, albeit quite innocently.  Up to the time my voice broke, I possessed the gift of imitating the whistling of a canary in a really wonderful degree, according to report.  The trill in the canary’s song can, of course, be likened to a whistle with a pea in it, such as milkmen were then in the habit of using and may still do for all I know.  Anyhow, the captain of the ‘Hogarth’ used such a  whistle for calling the carpenter and as I had been trilling away intermittently  in sheer exuberance of blithe youthful spirits one day, the carpenter, poor man, had been running up and down the stairs leading to the bridge all day to the great surprise and annoyance of the captain every time he appeared.  I verily believe the carpenter would have clouted my ear if he could have got me alone.  As it was, he did lift me clear of the ground and gave me a shaking but not in earnest, I suppose, but I know that I was so scared that I yelled blue murder and so upset the poor man that he hastily released me.  But I was resolved from then on to keep the canary for dry land.  My seagoing vacation in the following year, 1914, was broken off abruptly by the outbreak of war on 4 August.  It was a keen disappointment to me – what did war mean to a child of my years?  The Hogarth was later in the war torpedoed and sunk off Flamborough Head.  These trips implanted in me a love of the sea and ships which has never died and up to the time I was sixteen, a sailor’s life was my ambition.  During my last year at Gordon’s College, I attended the Navigation School there and had every intention of following the sea as a career.  Circumstances, however, and no doubt for the best, decided otherwise.  To enroll me as an apprentice on one of the steamship lines was beyond my parents’ means as a premium of anything from £40 to £100 had to be deposited and during the 4 year’s apprenticeship private means were practically essential.  I was quite prepared to take the alternative course of shipping before the mast as an ordinary seaman, but immediately after the war (this was 1919) with the return of so many seamen to the merchant service, there were no vacancies to be found.  So my dreams of a seagoing career had to be perforce shelved, although, the lure still haunting me, I tried to join the Navy even after I had apparently settled down in the position of a respectable bank clerk.  But even there I was baulked, as there were no vacancies in the Navy either.  Quite obviously, Fate had other plans for me.

1 comment:

TheresaJ said...

Love reading your memories.