Peter Curnow - NATO Dispatch Rider for RAF Laarbruch
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Topics Covered :
- First 5 minutes
What his his Father was like after the First World War.
His uncle who died in a mine accident.
His brothers, all seaman.
- 7 minutes:
Being called up to National Service, sent to Holland and Germany.
Shooting rabbits off NATO gardens as a supplt assitant, getting promoted to a Dispatch Rider.
- 10 minutes 30 seconds
Begins time in Laarbruch
Recovering crashed aircraft to prevent the Russians getting them.
- 14 minutes
Transferred to 317 Squadron (NATO transport station) picking up new German Trucks for delivery to Holland, Belgium and Germany.
- 16 minutes
Fear of being trapped in a uninteresting job, leaves the service.
- 17 minutes 20 seconds
Begins working on tanker ships.
- 20 Minutes
Ships Logs during a storm aboard the New York City
From this point onward Peter shares various experiences from his life working on ships.
TRANSCRIPT (Kindly provided by Kim Megson)
- Interviewer: Harley Couper (HC)
- Interviewee: Pete Curnow (PC)
- Date Recorded: 27 August 2012
- Duration: 42min 18sec
- Date Typed: 31 August 2012
PC: Oh, yes, so Pete Curnow, 21st of the 1st ’36 I was born, 1936, not 1836.
PC: And I was born in Cornwall, a place called Prussia Cove near Penzance. Our nearest neighbour was about three miles away and we had no power and no telephone, but we managed to get by.
(Pictured left is a photo of the house Peter grew up in. It was taken later when power was added, hense the powerline in the background).
HC: Did you have running water?
PC: No, we had to fetch the water every night with two buckets from a spring; beautiful water. And my father was in the First World War. He was the first Cornishman to sign up. Everyone had to report to ... in Falmouth, to sign on, and he went down there. And when he came home his mother said to him ... oh, that was my grandmother – she said, you know, “What happened to you today, Jim? What’s happened with you?” He said, “I’ve signed up”, and he went away ... he was the first one to go away, and he was the last one to come back. He went right down through France and Belgium and right down to Salonika.
HC: This is the Great War?
PC: Yeah, the First World War. And I had an uncle in the Second World War. He was ... he went right across Libya and all that, you know, with the Eighth Army, yeah. And I had an uncle that ... of course, Cornwall is a lot of tin mining, tin and copper, and I could have gone in the mines but I thought, well, I’ll be underground long enough, ‘cos my father and my grandfather, he went ... my grandfather actually went to America to work in the mines, then came back to Cornwall. And my father, before he signed up, went ... he worked in the mines and ... us all there. If we ever went out for a walk on a Sunday, the first thing he did when he ... picking up a bit of rock to have a look and ... to see what’s inside.
HC: To see what was in it, yeah.
PC: But, you know, that was ... we never starved, we lived on rabbits – rabbits and swedes and fish. Fishing’s pretty popular down in Cornwall.
HC: So that’s mostly meat you caught...
PC: Yeah, rabbits.
HC: ...rather than reared?
PC: Yeah, the rabbits are good cooked properly (?). I’ve had them here but ... they did in the forestry here and they’ve got a very strong taste.
HC: Yeah, a bit gamey.
PC: Yeah, that’s it.
HC: So ... plus a few shotgun pellets through it...
PC: Yeah, that’s right. Yeah, I bought my first motorbike selling rabbits. I used to cycle about three k away or three miles away with the rabbits all on the handlebars and along the frame, and we used to get half a crown a rabbit.
HC: Who did you sell them to?
PC: Oh, there used to be a guy that used to deal in them. He had a motorbike and sidecar and he used to go around all over the place.
HC: He was interested in the meat or the pelt?
PC: Yeah, he used to sell the meat, yeah. And I had a dog given to me, and my father didn’t believe in dogs, like as far as rabbiting, because he thought they would bruise them, so we used to go out at night with a lamp, a spot-lamp, across the paddocks, dazzle the rabbit. Of course the rabbit would take off and the dog would see them. He was a good dog and he used to bring the rabbit right back to us.
HC: Oh, ok, spotted it.
PC: And when my father ... you know, like gutted the rabbits and that ... we used to take them home and he used to do all that, at night, and he couldn’t believe that there was no munch marks and, you know, it was a soft-mouthed dog.
HC: it was a retriever, was it?
PC: Yeah, yeah.
HC: So you grew up on a good diet of apples and rabbits.
PC: Well, we did really, you know, ‘cos we ... there’s a lot of cauliflowers they grow in Cornwall, and potatoes and that, because they used to beat the French into the markets in Auckland ... ah, in London. And, yeah, we lived on ... and father worked on the farm. And, you know, we never ever went short of anything. We had a big garden. He was always in the garden, you know.
HC: So, how old were you when he was at war?
PC: I ... I ... he was at war before I was born.
HC: Before you were born.
PC: Yeah, he was in the First World War.
HC: Ok, yeah.
HC: And what was he like?
PC: He was good, you know, he never ever spoke about the war. I’ve found out more since I’ve been here.
HC: You asked him?
PC: No, I never ... I never really. I knew he was in the war but he never ever spoke, but it was a different life then. A lot of those people never ever would ... ah, spoke about what they did.
HC: Was there kind of a ... sort of a protocol that said you shouldn’t ask people about the war?
PC: Well ... yeah. I don’t ... no, I don’t think there really was, but ... oh, well, like it was in ourselves, you know. We didn’t go asking too many questions ... you might ... but ...
HC: Why were you hesitant to ask about the war?
PC: I don’t really know. I’ve heard him say that they went down to Salonika and all that and they had the gas and the mules and all that, and they were ... I know that he wasn’t very happy. My mother once put on corned beef for tea and he saw the corned beef and he wouldn’t eat it because they lived on that for four years in the First ... in that First World War. Smokes and corned beef they lived on, and lived in the trenches, but he survived, he came back. And, as I say ... and I had an uncle, my mother’s brother, he died in a mine back in Cornwall. I’m not sure whether they ever got his remains out of that mine or not. We never even asked about that. I never ever met him but my mother showed me the mine that he lost his life in, you know, and I didn’t like to ask too many questions. Like, you sort of don’t when you’re a close-knit family, you know. So that’s it, Harley.
HC: Did you have siblings; brothers and sisters?
PC: Yeah, I’ve got three brothers, yeah. They’re all ... we’ve all been at sea, and my eldest brother, Ray, he used to live here at Foxton. He was on the airlift over into Berlin, from Varnsdorf, the aircraft ... the Air Force in, ah ... in Germany, and he was over there for three years in the RAF regiment. And then he went back to sea ... went to sea, and ended up down here and married a girl from the South Island. He had four kids.
HC: So you were obviously too young to have been a soldier in the war.
PC: Oh, yeah, I was in the Cold War after the war.
HC: Oh yeah.
PC: You know, when Russia and Germany ... we were in Germany. I was called up ... but getting back to that, I was called up after all the mucking around, you know, going motorbike racing and all that. They said to me, “You’ve got a week to get a medical and report to a place in London.” Well, London’s seven hours away. You know, we hadn’t been used to travelling. So, anyway, I travelled on the train.
HC: What year was this?
PC: Ah, that would have been in 1955.
HC: So you were ... would have been just 20-something?
PC: Yeah, wait a minute ... no, ’36 ... ’36, ’46 ... yeah, about 19, wasn’t I, yeah.
HC: And so you were called up.
HC: They still could call you up, even though that was post war?
PC: Yeah, oh yeah. It was national service.
HC: National, right.
PC: Yeah, we did two ... I think it was a year or two, but they only did ... they didn’t do so long, but we ... I was two years. So I put in for overseas. I thought, oh well, I mean, I’ve gotta go. So I put in for overseas and they sent me to Holland, and I remember going to this big camp – it was a stores camp. I don’t know, I think I was an embarrassment to them because most of the people learnt trades, like in the shipyards and all that and ... I mean, I was really ... I’d been at sea for four years but I think that was nothing.
HC: Even at 19 you’d had four years at sea?
PC: Yeah, yeah, I went to sea when I was 16 – 15½/16. And when I went to ... when I was there they set me up with a Land Rover to go round the perimeter fence of this place, you know, like with a rifle, you know, because it was a show of NATO, you know? And I remember the commander of the Air Force that I was ... I was at Nijmegen, Eindhoven – and he says to me, “If you see any rabbits or any hares, shoot them!” He said, “They’ve been eating my lettuce.” And I thought Jesus, I’ve come all the way in this ...
HC: To shoot rabbits.
PC: ... for this, you know. So, anyway, one day it was that cold ... it might have been a couple of weeks later, I went to ... I called in at the depot with the trucks and I saw this Triumph motorbike. So I went over and had a look at it, you know, and the fellow, an officer came over and said, “You interested in motorbikes?” And I said, “Yeah, I am, as a matter of fact.” So he said, “What do you ... what’s your trade?” I said, “Well, I’m only a supply assistant.” I said, “I think I’m a bit of an embarrassment to them, you know.” So he said, “All right”, he said, “Well, give me a couple of days”, he said, “I might be able to get you a job as a dispatch rider, would you be happy with that?” I said, “Yeah.” He was from Bristol too, in the UK. I’ll never forget him. I said, “Yep.” A couple of days later he came along and he said, “You’re going to Laarbruch in Germany as a despatch rider.” So I was happy as. So then I was ... I was only there a couple of days, they had all my gear, you know, and protective gear, gloves, you know, like for waving the traffic, and I was running down to Antwerp in Belgium, escorting all the trucks, big ... Queen Marys they call them, big trucks, with Canberra ... crashed Canberra aircraft on the back, to keep them away from the Russians, and they go back to the UK to be analysed, I suppose, you know.
HC: So they are ... these are planes that have been damaged and ...
PC: Oh, quite a ... there was a lot of them really. Well, a few of them.
HC: Just wrecks really, were they?
PC: Yeah, you know, like there was a lot of deaths too, ‘cos it was 24 hour a day flying station at night. There was Canberras flying all night, bombers, and in the daytime they had Star- ... ah, American Starfighters, Starfighters. They were fighters for flying in the daytime and the Canberras at night.
HC: So all of these needed to be hauled off away from the Russians?
PC: Yeah, but ... well, everything was kept away from the Russian ... you know, the ... the ... we weren’t even supposed to have a camera, you know, like unless you had permission to take a photograph or anything. So we used to take them down there and they used to offload them. We’d stay the night in a big castle in Antwerp and then come back the next day. And it might be another couple of months, three or four months before we had another one. It’s not as if they’re every day, but it was a big job recovering them too, ‘cos they’re in the bloody middle of nowhere.
HC: Right, yeah.
PC: You know. It’s sad, but it did happen. And, also, we were recovering trucks on the autobahn over there. There was a lot of accidents, you know, especially with Combi, Volkswagen Combis. They were taken off ... they were going too fast, and it was not only the Forces, but the German people as well. And the motor used to be at the back, you see, the air-condition- ... air cool motor at the back. And they used to take off.
HC: Oh, really?
PC: And, yeah, fatal accidents, ‘cos nothing in the front of the ... so ...
HC: This was the early days of autobahns?
PC: Yeah, that’s right, yeah. There’s the autobahn up there, up the top there. There’s me with the motorbike there (pictured).
HC: Oh, ok.
PC: Yeah. So that’s the sort of life it was there. Oh, and then I ... I forget how ... I think I did six or eight months there, and then they ...
HC: These pictures on the wall, is that ... are they at that moment, that time?
PC: Yeah, yeah, that’s the air- ... the crews I was with, and ‘cos ... my kids did this because they said, “What did you do, dad?” you know, “... like, in your life?” They stuck them all together. But all these are in the RAF, and that’s that ship that was in the paper.
HC: Yep, yep.
PC: That’s my brother up there, another one ... brothers, my eldest brother. That’s that fellow from the north of Scotland storing away up there. There’s us doing the decks, and a few up there. But it was a good life, you know. It was a good life at sea. There was never a dull moment. You know, you ... some of the guys you’d hardly see them. They’re on different watches, you know, and then there’s a day watch. You see them more than anybody else, but all that ...
HC: So this ... so you went to sea after ...
PC: I went back ... oh ...
HC: While you were in ...
PC: I went back after I finished with the Air Force.
PC: But then I ...
HC: So that was for two years, was it?
PC: Yeah, I’m getting back to another story now. But this was when I was in the Air Force. They transferred me in ... to 317 Squadron. It was the biggest transport squadron in NATO, in Germany, and we were on the biggest flying station at the time. So I had to go to pick up old trucks and that from the air bases, because they were becoming obsolete and Germany had to pay a war bond. They had to supply all new Mercedes trucks. There they are there, and I used to deliver them all around Germany, Holland and Belgium, and take an old truck up to a place called Hamm in Germany. They used to have hand throttles on them for the autobahns, you know.
HC: What’s a anthrottle?
PC: Like, just a hand throttle. Instead of using your foot ...
HC: Oh, yeah, yeah.
PC: ... pull the hand throttle down, let her go in the paddock. The guy said, “Roll the spare wheel off”. The paddock as far as you can see. The bloody thing used to just keep going until it stops, you know. What a waste really. They were all well maintained but they’ve been obsolete ... finished. So I delivered all the ... all those. And then they sent me to 317 Squadron. That’s that one up ... like, up with that truck and trailer up there.
HC: Oh, ok.
PC: And, whoa, we had cranes and everything, and I drove the trucks and cranes there then until I was demobbed, you know. When the two years were up, they wanted me to stay on.
HC: You weren’t tempted?
PC: Nah, I wasn’t really ... you know, I didn’t want to ... I think that, there in the war, like, with everybody ... like, all the guys around Cornwall were sort of caught. You know, if you were on a farm, you worked there ‘til the end of your days. Or if you went to a mine, you were in the mine, you know. And I wanted to ... I wanted to see the outside of the world, you know. So an officer did come along. He was from Devon. He came along and he says to me ... oh, he said, “How would you like to join the Regular Force?”, because most of those people were Regular. I was lucky that I applied to go to Germany because I was only a National Serviceman.
PC: And nobody ever questioned me about it before, but he says to me, he said, “Oh, you can be in the Regular Force if you can get this and get that.” So I said, “No, no, I’ve made up my mind, I’m going back to Cornwall.” And he says, “Well, you’ll have to buy a new uniform.” And I bought a ... I had to buy a bloody new uniform for a week.
PC: That’s how bad he was.
HC: Was he trying to bend your arm, was he?
PC: Yeah, I knew ... I ... they gave me the uniform but, I mean, that’s what he said, you know, ‘cos being on a truck all day, the uniform gets shiny. It’s not right up to parade thing, you know, but I never forget that guy’s face. He said, “No, you’ll have to get a new bloody uniform.” So, anyway, that was it, and then I went back ... I went back to Cornwall and I went on ... actually a guy that came round the other night, he’d been to Cornwall. He says, “I saw the ship there, the Scillonian”, and I said, “I was on the Scillonian”. The Scillonian II used to run across to the Scilly Isles off Penzance, daily. Oh, in the winter it used to stay the night in the Scillies, St Mary’s, and we used to bring back daffodils, ‘cos they used to grow daffodils over there, and they all used to go to the markets around London and Birmingham and whatnot. And at the end ... oh, she paid herself off. It was owned by the Scillonian people, and they paid her off ... I think it was a quarter of a million dollars, which is nothing now, and they took us to Jersey.
HC: In the States?
PC: No, in ... off the Channel Islands, to ... it was Guernsey and Jersey. They took us to Jersey. We got in ... walked in the pub. The skipper said, “Oh, a day off the day when you get there, boys.” We all went to the pub - first place ... first place up the road. Was 13 bloody rums on the table from all these people, ‘cos they owned it and they ... and a hundred ... a hundred pound was ... for every man on the ship, yeah. But I only stayed on it ... when I left Jersey, I paid off, went back to Southampton, ‘cos she had to go into dry dock in Southampton, and she had motors from up there, and it all had to be overhauled. And then ...
HC: So you got on the ship ... you started working on the ship as soon as you went back home after ...
PC: Yeah, yeah. And then I ... then I went back to sea. I went back deep sea. I used to be on oil tankers, you know, like some of them you ... you sign on for two years but we were only ... sometimes I’d been away ten and a half months on them, you know. I was on one, the San Ubaldo, it was named after a place in Mexico. That was the only ship ... ah, the only tanker that wasn’t torpedoed during the war, with them ... or shelled. It went right through the war. It was built before the war in New York, and I was on her seven and a half months running from Venezuela, Maracaibo to Jamaica Cuba and all around the West Indies. And we really struck a storm ... struck a storm. I found it a couple of days ... got it here ... I found it a couple of days ago. This is the log of it. There’s one page missing there. That’s the San Ubaldo. Oh, no, hang on, hang on, that’s the ... this is the New York City. I was on the New York City, sorry. That’s the log of that, ‘cos we had a hiding on that. We had a hiding on that too. That’s the San Ubaldo.
HC: With a storm?
PC: Yeah, oh, but this ... this goes with this ship here, the New York City. I’ve been in about three or four of those hurricanes and water spouts around the Caribbean there, you know, there’s always something going on.
HC: What is it like being in the midst of a hurricane?
PC: Oh, well, I never used to take too much notice of it really because it’s just that you were running out of food because you used to ... they used to bake their own bread on the ship. Of course the cooks couldn’t do anything.
HC: So the whole ship’s obviously moving about a lot.
PC: Well, yeah, oh we were chucked about for three of four days.
HC: Could you sleep during a hurricane?
PC: Nah, not really. You’re thrown out of your bunks, you know, and she comes down, woooooffff and you’d think, God is it ever going to come up again? No wonder ... on that New York City there, where that is written out, that log, I copied that off the log. We ... I sailed from Bristol on that and I wondered ... I thought, “Gee, that was easy, I got on this ship.” Because people used to have to wait to get on there. The guys that were on there were Regulars from Bristol, and then we found out that they ... it was the winter and they usually go on the banana boats or something way down to other parts of the world. So that’s all right. So we used to run ... we used to pick up in Wales, South Wales, Cardiff, Newport and Swansea, and then we’d head to the States and we’d go to Boston, Baltimore, New York and Newport News, unloading and then load up again, up to Halifax and back to Wales again. It was only a six or seven-week trip but a real rough trip, ‘cos over there is about 40 below, you know, in the winter. And when we first got over there, I never forget, we were in New York, and some of the boys on there couldn’t give a damn. They said, “Oh, we’re going ashore.” And we ... so they took off for shore and they left all the tarpaulins off, you know, instead of rolling them up. In those ... on that ship they had tarpaulins all over the hatches and that. They just left them lying on the boat, and he said to me, he said, “They’re gonna have a job in the morning”, he said, “But they’re gonna have to do it.” They all iced up. They had to get sledgehammers, these guys. But that one there had rolling hatches, see. She’s got steel MacGregor hatches. They were good.
HC: What are they?
PC: They just fold up and that.
HC: Oh yeah.
PC: But the other ones you have wedge ... bang a wedge in and ... bloody huge big hatches, you know. But they were ... it was a good ship, you know, but three ... we were three days on that just thrown around, and a couple of the ... then everybody’s temper starts getting on top of them, you know. Look ... everybody ... look ... you were scared to look at anybody.
HC: That’s where the term ‘cabin fever’ comes from.
PC: Yeah. They were scared to ... I think you’re scared ... well, you don’t like looking at somebody because they’d say, “What the hell are you looking at?”
HC: I suppose there were a few fights and things?
PC: Yeah, there was. I never forget one in the mess room once, God. This guy, he was from North Wales, a place called ... ah, geez, all we heard about was this place that he ... Aberdare... Aberdare ... and there was a big scrap started in the mess. We were all sitting in this room, even though we had nothing really to eat, and this guy from almouth in Cornwall, hell of a nice guy he was ... he was an AB on deck, and a fight started. This ... the fellow fromFalmouth, he had him, like, in a bear hug, a bear hug. He really made a bloody fool of this fellow. Never heard a ... after that he was the quietest guy on the ship, you know. He was a ... quite ... yeah, Joe Harkwell. I never forget Joe. He grabbed him in a bloody bear hug, a bear hug, and that was it. Yeah, so it’s been pretty exciting, you know, really. A lot of things happened. I’ve been up ... I’ve been all round from Persian Gulf on tankers, down to Buenos Aires and back to all the coast around South America ... ah, South Africa, I mean, South Africa, and over Africa, South Africa, North Africa, West Africa, on different ships.
HC: Doing different kind of tasks, you mean?
PC: Like a tank- ... oil tanker.
HC: Oil tankers, oh ok. So this is well now beyond taking military equipment back?
PC: Yeah, yeah. Oh, yeah, no, no, we used to pick up oil from the Persian Gulf, like Mahadevan (?) and deliver them all around India and down to Australia. And, also, I’ve been over to Indonesia, Palembang, way up in the jungle, and we’d load oil there. We’d only have ... we’d load half a load, bring it out to an island called Tanjung Uban, go back up to this place again, to this big oil refinery, pick up another lot and come down and pick the other lot up from the island, because you couldn’t get in and out with a full load.
HC: Oh, right, yeah.
PC: And through the jungle was interesting really. There was monkeys everywhere, you know.
HC: You’d walk through these jungles?
PC: No, no, we’d take the ship up.
HC: Oh, through the ...
PC: Yeah, yeah. I wouldn’t walk up ... go through up there. The people were bloody terrible. They killed the skipper on a ship that was in that port before we arrived there, a Norwegian skipper. Just went into his cabin and killed him. And they used to cut the ropes of the ship and everything, you know. You had to walk around at night with an axe in your hand, and they would say, “You’re on duty tonight.” And then when we left there ...
HC: This was in North Indonesia, is it?
PC: In Palembang ... no, South.
HC: South Indonesia.
PC: Yeah, Palembang. And then we come in down through the Malac- ... Straits of Malacca at night. We had to walk around the deck all night with fire axes. He said to me, “If anybody comes on the ship, it’s either you or him, so it’s up to you.” But we never did ... the pirates ... they’re all full of pirates down through there.
HC: Oh, ok.
PC: Then we came down through the Barrier Reef to Brisbane, Port Kembla, that’s down Newcastle, and Melbourne. Then we went toTasmania. Then we went across to Kwinana, that’s near Fremantle, picked up another load of crude and went back around the Australian coast again. It was quite good down there. We were offered jobs at every port. I should have bloody taken one. ‘Cos they ... you know, you’d walk ... I was walking off once in Newcastle and I thought, I don’t know how far the town is, but this ... a truck pulled up, he was working on the wharf. He said, “Oh, are you going up town?” I said, “Yeah”. He said, “Hop in.” So he said ... oh he ... and he went ... I said, “What’s things like driving the trucks out here?” And he said, “Oh, bloody good.” He said, “I own them”, he said, “But they ... all my bloody guys they never turn up.” He said, “When there’s a cricket match on, they’re home watching the cricket.”
HC: Right, ha ha.
PC: So, anyhow, he said, “Do you want a job?” And I said, “Nah, I’ve been in that ship too long. I would have wasted too much money”, you know, but that’s how it was then. They’d offer you a job. And when we were ... when I was in Tasmania too. I never forget, we went to the Seamen’s Mission one night. They used to have a Mission on the wharf. You could go in and have a drink and whatnot and listen to the radio or whatever, and some girls came in and they said, “Oh, you boys are coming to the dance with us.” And it was the last thing we wanted to bloody do. So she says, “No, no, hop in the car ... we’re all ... we’ve got a dance on, a good band.” So we got in this car. I never forget, it was a Ford Zephyr that she had. She just about turned it over going to this place. I thought the hell with this, you know. I know I deal with life, but I thought this is a ... this is ... but, anyhow, we arrived there and she said, “If you want a job, dad owns the orchards and owns the trucks.” “Cos they couldn’t get people either. In those days you could get a job over there, you know, they throw it at you, throw them at you.
HC: This is the ’50s?
HC: Still in the ‘50s?
PC: Yeah, yeah. Oh, wait a minute. No, no, it’d be the ‘60s, early ‘60s. So then I did a trip out here – that was on a Cornish ship, the Trekahn. We loaded in Hamburg, Rotterdam and Antwerp, went back to London and picked up a racehorse that came out here. It was called High Rank; it won the Kentucky Derby in the States. So we put ... it was on the horsebox on the deck, and so we set sail for ... through the Panama, down here to Wellington. Of course when I got to Wellington I saw my brother, which I hadn’t seen for years, and all the kids and everything that I’d never ever seen. But the boatswain gave me a couple of days off down there. And we did most of the ports around New Zealand, which was good. I really enjoyed it down here, it was good. It was good music to the rest of the world, you know, like even though we were isolated and away from the continent, you know, even going up into Port Chalmers or Dunedin or something, they had pop music, you know, which we’d never ever heard. Used to be, “This is the BBC Home Service”; that’s all we had.
HC: Now for a bit of Chopin.
PC: But here was good, you know, and all the top songs. Even in Canada when I was in Canada on that ship, on the Tennyson, number one from Cash to Ca- ... from coast to coast, Johnny Cash. Number two from coast to coast, Johnny Cash. You know, it was all upmarket but, anyhow, we sailed from Bluff ... we were then when there was supposed to be a tsunami coming over from Chile, and we had to be ready to leave the harbour ... it was signals up to one rope in the bow and one rope at the aft part, and when it came into Bluff it was just a trickle. We were lucky because it got washed out at Lyttelton. And we loaded wool and tallow there for Hull in the UK, yeah. We came back from Bluff to Wellington, topped up with something like ... I don’t know what we topped up with now, and we sailed back. The only thing we saw when we went back was Pitcairn Island, and that was a way in the distance on the horizon; we didn’t go in there. Back up the Panama into Hull in the UK, and I paid off.
HC: Paid off means you cashed in and ...
PC: Yeah, (?) duty. You have your wages at the end of the trip, you know. Oh, but it was pretty good. I did enjoy it. I could have stayed there for the rest of my life, I suppose, but there was too many guys ... some guys, they were really alcoholics. You used to see them making bloody whisky out of orange peel and stuff like ... you know what I mean, the Scots.
HC: At sea?
PC: Yeah, yeah. You know, and you see them up in the Persian Gulf with a bloody overcoat on. You know, I mean, it’s that hot, it’s a hundred degrees in the shade, and I thought I don’t really want to bloody end up like that.
HC: ‘Cos of the alcohol withdrawal symptoms?
PC: Yeah, it must be, yeah. I never forget one guy, he was from Ireland, he was a good guy. He was ... I don’t know how old he would have been. So the boatswain gave him a job down in ... and he said, “Look, I’ve got a job for you, Pat”, he said, “Down in the hold. You’ve gotta splice the wire; the wire with the big ... an eye on it.” And, of course, when he went down in the hold, he had a look around the size of the hold. It was empty then; we’d already unloaded it, ready to load again, and he found this bloody big bottle of bloody whisky. It had been hidden behind something – what they unloaded (…?) before. Of course he got on to that, and when the boatswain went down to check on him a couple of hours ... oh, lunchtime, he said he was ... Paddy was in a hell of a state. And when he looked, he ... it was like a stanchion, like a pole, and he had to splice this rope, and he put the eye around the bloody pole and spliced it, and there’s no way that they could get it off because the pole was rigid to the top of thing down to the bottom, you know. That’s how stupid and drunk he was. Yes, there were hard cases, yeah.
HC: Did you feel like being at sea, you know, off during the ‘50s and ‘60s, there’s a lot of changes happening in the culture?
HC: Popular culture and sexual revolution and rock’n’roll.
PC: Yeah, that’s right.
HC: And while you were at sea were you missing out on that or ...
PC: No, didn’t really because a lot of the guys, especially from Liverpool and whatnot, we used to join those on the ship that sailed out of Liverpool, and we thought what the hell have ... you know, these guys had shirts, “I Love Elvis”. You know, we thought, you know, this is a bloody ship, you know. And these guys ... but that was their life, that was it, what they were brought up in it and thus everyday they wanted to be in it, you know. And then we were out at sea. I mean, they were good kids then when I look back, but it’s just that we thought what the hell is the future of this going to be. We were so staunch and that. You know, the ship work had to be done and everybody had to get on with everybody, and these guys, not a problem. “I Love Elvis” and whatever, yeah.
HC: So, a little bit of a, I guess, a wake-up call with the next generation coming along.
PC: Yeah, yeah, it is. That’s why I really ... well, my kids are in Aussie, all except one, he’s back here on a farm and his kids, and they love it on the farm. But all the other ones are all in Aussie and they’re all good, and I understand them too. I mean, when I’m with them they’re, to me, we’re all together, you know. … know I’ve done this or done that; we’re all together, and their kids are good, the grandkids, they love it over there. They’ve got good jobs, they’ve got bloody work cars, they’ve got their own houses. I don’t know how long it’s going to last over there, but ... I got one son-in-law, he’s up in the ... up in ah ... oh, the West Coast way up off Perth. Oh, Newman, a place called Newman, right up the top, in the mines, you know. They’re making a fortune.
HC: Oh yeah.
PC: But who the hell would want to be stuck away like that?
HC: Oh, well, you avoided Cornwall for that very reason, didn’t you?
PC: Yeah, that’s right, that’s what I look at. I thought I’ve been there and done that, and I’m ... but he, you know, he’s sticking it out. He was here ... an electrician, you know, his trade here. And my ... ‘cos he married my daughter, and Rosie and him, they both got picked for the world amateur body-builders, and they went toGreece and, Rosina, my daughter, came second. He came fifth in the singles, and in the doubles the both of them came second. They were beaten by a Greek pair which ... that’s what would happen over there, because they reckon that the pair were talking about they were going to Spain the next week to perform, so they must have been professionals, but that’s besides the point. They came home with all the trophies and everything, you know.
PC: I said to them, “Don’t stay in ...”, I said to her, “Don’t get bloody hooked in that for too long, you know. You do what you want to do but ...” ‘Cos they ... I took them up to the Auckland Airport and they were saying, “Oooh, look, it’s ten o’clock, we’ve got to have our something fruit bar”, you know, or something. And I thought oooh, to hell with this, what sort of life is this, you know. But they were strict, they wanted to get somewhere, and they did.
HC: Oh, good on them.
PC: Yeah, yeah.
HC: So when did you ... or how long did you stay at sea for?
PC: Well, I did four years before I went in the Air Force, which I really didn’t, as I say ... I really didn’t have to go in the Air Force, but I sort of threw a wobbly when they said, “You have to get a medical and report in a week”, so I thought, “Oh, well, I’ll bloody do it.” ‘Cos otherwise you had to stay on a farm or at sea until you were 28.
HC: Were you called up for a second time, were you?
PC: No, no, a first time, only once.
HC: So this is the first time still?
PC: Yeah, ‘til you were 28, but they wiped it after a while. I’m not sure what year they wiped it. But then I went back to sea again for another four years, you know, for four and a half, five years. So I did about nine years all together at sea. But when I look back over it, you know, it was pretty good, different crowds, different guys. They used to say, “Oh, you’ve got a ... you’re (…?) with a Cornish crew, boy.” No, no way. They’re the worst bloody crews.
HC: Why’s that?
PC: It’s because you know everybody, you know, and it’s good to have a mixed crew, a mixed crew.
HC: It helps to (…?)
PC: See, when I was in Canada on that ship there, we were running up and down the St Lawrence when we dropped the China clay off, and that goes for printing and putting the gloss on paper. Then we did three months running up and down the St Lawrence River to Cape Breton Island, and there was an Indian ... all the Indian reservation there. They would load this gypsum. We’d take it up to Montreal and back again; three months we did that. Then they took us off that because they would have had to pay us Canadian rates, so they sent one ... we did one trip up to Goose Bay – it’s a big army place up there, like with ammunition and all sorts of things. We went up there and we came back to New Brunswick,Newcastle, New Brunswick, and they loaded ... we started loading pit props. I’ll just show you this, Harley (pictured). See, they’re like logs, but we were going to 15 foot on deck, this is on deck. They’re for the mines in Italy; we went to Venice. And the skipper come out and he said we were going to ... he said, “Close her off”. We were up to about here at 12 foot. He said, “We’ve been ordered out of the port, otherwise we’re going to be stuck here for three months with the frost. It was supposed to freeze over that night. So we put the chains across, sailed, they listened to the radio. Next morning it was all frozen up back there, so we did the right thing. Then we ran into another bloody storm, and they started getting waterlogged with the water coming over, and we couldn’t right the ship with the ballast tanks.
HC: Oh, it was getting too top heavy.
PC: Yeah, yeah. So we had to go out and let the bloody chains go for all these things to ...
HC: Move over the deck.
PC: Yeah, and then we ended up with a hell of a [40.40] wood. They were floating around all over the place to get out through these stanchions, you know. And so we got to Venice, that’s Venice there, that’s on a tanker, another tanker, it was in Venice. And we got to Venice – 11 days we were there with fog; we couldn’t move, we were stuck in the middle of ... with the horn going all the time. They wouldn’t unload us. They put us right in. So then when we unloaded, we went to Bou in Algeria and loaded iron ore. I never forget, we went up to the pub to have a beer and there was wire netting all over the windows in this pub, and I said to the barman, I said, “What the wire netting for?” He said, “To stop the terrorists from throwing a bomb through the window.” That was the quickest bloody beer I’ve ever had! We were gone like rockets. And then we went to Workington. We took the iron ore to Workington. That’s the seas on the tanker; that’s that tanker, ‘cos they’re pretty low in the water and that’s loaded, fully loaded. That’s a British BP tanker, yeah.
PC: Yeah, oh well, yeah, it’s ... I mean, there’s good memories now. There’s all ... I’ve forgotten about it for years, and just when I found that I thought ... when I saw in the paper that, you know, anybody put in (…?), I thought, oh, I’ll put the photo in it. But I thought, oh, everybody will be sick of that because the Rena’s gone aground out here. Who wants to see another ship?
This page archived at Perma Cc in September of 2016: https://perma.cc/4KRX-4VJK