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Post Number:#1  PostPosted: 02 Jun 2017 03:57 
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THE ‘CREAM’ OF THE BRITISH MERCHANT NAVY .
Acknowledge to " Peter West. " for this article.

 Do you remember when the deckhands on the ‘Queen Mary’ went on strike and caused total chaos in the port of Southampton?     
 This true and unbiased account of this sad event, its cause and effect, should still make interesting reading despite the passage of time.  In this brief chronicle I will describe from a personal involvement point of view what it was like to be part of the crew who chose to openly defy a direct order from the ship’s captain (the late, great Donald Sorrell) and incur the wrath of the company’s senior Bosun, the late Ted Thewless at the same time.  Ted, by the way, had an amazing reputation: deck hands of any standing who dared disobey him were eaten on the spot!
 This incident happened on the 19th June 1955.  I was a very junior (but contented) EDH (Efficient Deck Hand) who had enthusiastically joined the crew of the ‘Mary’ a few weeks previously.   Although only a boy at the time, I was, looking back, every bit as responsible as any of the other forty-eight members of the department who took part in this hapless strike, and as you will read, we all got our just deserts in the end.
 In spite of the serious nature of this incident, there were some light hearted moments, some of which I recount here, but first some background information and retrospective gut feelings.
 The British Merchant Navy in the mid 1950s was going through an unstable period in its long and eventful history.  Ratings in every department at this time thought they'd been dealt a poor hand: voices of complaint were never seemingly heard.  Shipping Companies, everywhere, were cracking-down. The Seaman's Union, for what it was worth, was toothless.  There were always rumbles and mumblings about seamen coming out on strike - but who would be willing to run the risk of taking part in such an unlawful action. Furthermore, where and how could a strike be convened? 
 It needed, (according to the general mess chatter that I heard) just one ship’s crew to have the guts to stand-up and be counted.  The question was who would have the bottle to lead the first “mutiny” anyone had heard of since the days of Captain Bligh – and look what happened there!!
 Unbeknown to us the ‘innocents’ of RMS Queen Mary, there was dirty work afoot in the Merchant Navy bars and clubs of Liverpool.   A cunning plan had been hatched I now have reason to believe.   A spokesman or ‘mouthpiece’ from that part of the country would be recruited, and he would travel the two hundred odd miles to Southampton on the day in question and pounce just before the old Queen was due to sail.  He would sneak aboard, divulge the wicked conspiracy and hope to sell it to us - the unsuspecting.  He did!
 Yours truly had all of 2 years service - hardly an ‘old sweat’.  I’d been promoted from Junior Ordinary Seaman only sixteen weeks before.  “Come on guys, give me a break” I should have said – “I am only a boy really.”
 Seamen the world over - always “on a downer” the day they’re scheduled to leave their home port aren't they?  Readers who have experienced "sailing-day blues" will understand what is meant by this expression, so to be confronted by someone as persuasive as this well dressed infiltrator who could tell a good tale as well, is bound to be believed.  Right? 
 We were told that there were "thousands" of anxious seamen countrywide waiting for us, the 'Mary', to head this revolution.  “We would lead and the rest would follow” was the story line.  Sadly, in retrospect, we were dumb enough to believe it - every man jack of us from senior Able Seamen who had worked on this wonderful old vessel for over 20 years - to young ‘sprogs’ like me.  
 You believe anything on sailing day don’t you, particularly if it holds out the promise of  another night at home?
 The agreed plan in principle was simple.  When the instruction to “single up” (which means to release most of the mooring ropes in preparation for leaving port) was received from the Bosun via the Pilot on the Bridge, we were to tell the Bosun, straight, we were ‘on strike’ and would not be sailing that day under any circumstances. 
 Cunard, we were assured, would “wilt under the pressure” especially when the other company ships came out in support of  the Queen Mary, then the battle for better conditions, etc., would be won and we, mere humble deckhands would be the toast of underprivileged seaman everywhere.
 Ted came into the 'Pig' [the crew bar] and rocking gently whilst hand-rolling a cigarette [his trademark] said, "Get to your Stations lads."   Instead of the usual activity of men gulping tea, extinguishing cigarettes, knocking out pipes and springing to work like mechanised robots, there was instead total silence. 
 "Come on," grumbled Ted, "I said let's go."
 Someone with more courage than most, rather nervously said, "Bosun, this crew is on strike."
 Ted, an irascible man of few words at the best of times, was speechless; he looked as shocked as though his own mother had just struck him over the head with the ship’s binnacle.  He turned quickly on his heels and left without a word. 
 No one spoke for several seconds. I think we all, suddenly, realised the enormity of the occasion.  I for one wondered whether we would be shot at dawn!
 The silence was finally broken.  Through an open porthole I heard the ‘whooping’ sound of a tug's siren followed by one of its impatient crew shouting, "Isn't this f.....g ship ever going to leave?"  One of our Able Seamen in reply, put his head out and lustily replied, "If you want her to sail mate, let her go your f....g self," and with that he slammed shut the porthole.  Everyone laughed and the tension was broken.
 Within two minutes we were rejoined by Ted Thewless and his three deputy “Mates” and others, but the person who took my full attention was Captain Donald Sorrell.  I didn't realise that ship’s captains had quite so many gold rings on each arm;  Our captain really looked the part despite the fact that he only measured 65 inches from heel to gold encrusted cap.
 Climbing on to a nearby bench, and addressing the assembled group as though in a stage drama, he said very solemnly [words which are permanently engraved on my soul] "As Master of this vessel, I command you to single-up the Queen Mary."  You could have heard the proverbial pin drop.  The silence screamed.
 I read, somewhere, that Sorrell in recounting this incident in his memoirs, said it was the saddest moment in his entire sea career.  I remember feeling guilty and very sad myself when I read this!
 Climbing down and beckoning to his entourage the captain led them out. Ted remained:  "Those of you on Fire Watch" he said, "Carry on" - and that was that.  We weren't shot: better than that we had won, more importantly we had secured another night at home with our loved ones.  Three hearty cheers (I thought at the time) for our bravery.
 The Ocean Terminal (Queen Mary's berth at Southampton) was heaving with waving relatives, each wondering why the the ship hadn't left the quayside.  She was already 45 minutes late.  Four, possibly five tugs were already attached in preparation for the procedure of leaving the dock, the entire catering department must have wondered what was going on.  Suddenly and without warning, hatches both forward and aft were being reopened and the Queen's Mail, loaded earlier that day for the journey to America was being unloaded. 
 The uninitiated must have thought the whole world had been turned upside-down and gone quite mad.
 My mother was petrified I would get the sack.  My father, a man of few words, predicted trouble.  Me?  I couldn't have cared less because I was a hero and would go down in history as being one of the 49 who dared to lead this “glorious revolution.”
 The Southampton "Echo" the following day carried these grave headlines:
 "49 DELAY THE SAILING OF THE QUEEN MARY"  & "CUNARD LOSE £QUARTER MILLION.”
 Things began to look a little serious, particularly as the next day evolved............
 

DAY 2.  
 Day 2 (for me anyway) started at noon.  Reporting for the rostered 12 hour fire watch, I found all hands had been instructed to muster on one of the Sports Decks between the funnels.  Joining them a few minutes later I found the entire deck department standing to attention in rows.
 One by one our names were called.  One by one each man went - not to return.  What the hell was going on?
 Eventually it was my turn. I stepped forward when required, and like a boy virgin venturing into a brothel for the first time, I was ushered into a small room often used for the storage of deck chairs.  I immediately recognised the Staff Captain but avoided looking at him.  Sitting at a small table alongside was someone else.  He looked peculiarly out of place.  He was dressed, I recall, in a pale gabardine raincoat, the sort favoured by Lockheart of TV fame.  A snap brim trilby hat was lodged on the table beside him.  I think the collar of his Burberry was turned-up as well.  Definitely not a seaman!!
 "Is your name Peter West?" he expertly asked.  "Yes" I replied, not knowing what question would follow.  There was a rustling of papers on the desk: "Do you admit being a Seaman lawfully engaged on the Queen Mary?" he probed, to which I again replied, "Yes."  More paper shuffling, then the dreaded words, "I am an inspector from Southampton City Police. You are being reported for failing to obey a lawful command whilst so engaged, contrary to Section 225 (1b) of the Merchant Shipping Acts 1894.  Do you have anything to say? Anything you do say, will be taken down in writing and may given in evidence?” 
My father reminded me that evening of his prediction.  My mother, completely ashamed of  the loutish conduct of her only son, told my fiancée that she, my mother, would understand if my intended wanted to change her mind, and her boyfriend!  

DAY 3
 I don’t remember when Day 3 occurred.  Let me just say it was some while later.  The postman that morning brought mail from some kind soul from the ship (on “our side” too judging by the contents) which invited all hands to a meeting in a pub at Woolston, near Southampton.  Apparently a solicitor had been briefed to represent us at Southampton Magistrates’ Court.  His name was Attlee; brother of the once famous Clement Attlee – well, one would remember that name wouldn’t one?
 The letter advised meeting Mr Attlee at 2.30pm on this particular day. Those of you who are old enough to remember the old Licensing Laws will know that 2.30pm was always closing time.
 Advise Merchant Seamen to meet at a pub at closing time?  Someone was joking, surely!
 I arrived early around noon, and judging from the noise coming from the private room which had been set aside for our use at the rear of the premises, most if not all of the ex-crew had been there since opening time!  Our solicitor arrived on time, sober as the judge he was destined to address, but unfortunately most of his new clients were as drunk as merchant seamen on a good run ashore.  How this man in two or three hours was physically able to elicit the information necessary to prepare a case in mitigation of the charge, I will never know. But he did – God Bless you Sir.

 DAY 4.
 I got off the double-decker 53 at the Civic Centre in Southampton and walked the two hundred yards or so (with head held low) towards the grand steps leading to the Law Courts.  There were reporters everywhere.  I didn’t have a clue who was who, but someone whispered that hacks from The Daily Worker had arrived.  I didn’t realise the significance at the time, and to be frank I couldn’t have cared less - I just wished I wasn’t there!
 Again for the second time that month we stood to attention in rows, this time facing the Clerk of the Court who fronted three Magistrates.  The centre position on the Bench,  traditionally occupied by the Chairman, had been taken by an elderly woman.  Did she like Merchant Seamen, I wondered?
  The charge was read, a plea of Guilty was entered: Mr Attlee got to his feet.
 “Your Worships, appearing before you today and pleading guilty” he commenced “we have the cream of the British Merchant Navy, who in a moment of great weakness and under much pressure, contravened Section two hundred and twenty-five (1b) of the Merchant Shipping Acts…………”
 And later, towards the end of his long impassioned speech …..
 “……… and take this man as one example, Your Worships, [naming the person concerned] he has fifty hitherto unblemished years at sea.”  It was at this point that I noticed the Chairwoman of the Bench silently mouth “Fifty Years?”  She had clearly taken every word of the speech on board.  Was she impressed, I wondered?  I just hoped she’d had a good breakfast with her family that morning before coming to work!
 At the end of Mr Attlee’s address, he proudly announced that none of his flock had any previous convictions.  The Prosecutor graciously nodded in agreement.  Things generally were looking better, I thought, until I happened to glance out of the courtroom window.  Outside of the Civic Centre Police Station  I saw four or five “Black Maria” vans patiently queuing, and I wondered whether they knew something we didn’t.  Suddenly my bowels felt loose!
 The Magistrates re-entered the courthouse.  Solicitors on both sides bowed from the waist towards the Bench.  Me, I would have cheered out loud if I’d known what would follow next.  “We have taken into account the facts of this case” the woman Magistrate began,  “also the eloquent way in which your solicitor has represented you.  You will each be Conditionally Discharged for a period of 12 months, and the Prosecution’s application for costs against you has been rejected.  I never want to see any of you here again, ever.” 



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Post Number:#2  PostPosted: 02 Jun 2017 10:21 
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Something doesn't sound right about that story
1) if the writer is 18 years old he is no longer classed as a boy.
2) he was promoted for JOS to EDH. wrong.
3) If hes a Jos he must be at least 161/2 years old and had 9 months sea time under his belt. if he has 9 months sea time under his belt he would have a good nautical knowledge base
4) he could not be promoted JOS to EDH just like that . He must have an EDH cert and be 18 years old + i years sea time..
Just some of the points that dont ring true with this story. on one of the other sites there were a lot of wanabies who thought they could become seamen just by joining a site and rewriting somebody else,s story's or in fact writing books supposedly of their own sea times, but all of the stories were just that: stories!. Im sure most of us have come across these people.



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Post Number:#3  PostPosted: 03 Jun 2017 02:08 
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Yep mate one would have thought that he would have become a sos before edh. Know what you mean about some pretending to be ex seaman. Know of one particular person on a site that I believe was at sea but some of his stories are so over the top it is unbelievable. Same as some of the tales of life on deck written by catering staff who would not have a fecking clue as to what happened on deck. They all fall down because of simple maths when talking service. Just think of two seaman who left the sea and both maintain that they did five years at sea. One has Thirty discharges in his book and the other one just two. Does that not mean? One was a rock dodger and the other one probably had the missfortune to sign on a couple of tramps LOL.



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Post Number:#4  PostPosted: 03 Jun 2017 04:15 
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As you all know I have never been in the Merchant Navy, apart from spending about 3 months on a cable ship in the 1960's as part of my training as a Tech Officer. and it was very boring, splicing miles of cable .
reg



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Post Number:#5  PostPosted: 03 Jun 2017 20:31 
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Please dont think that there are any reflections about you Sir Reg in my post [arsekiss] th_lmao1-vi.gif Anyone who can splce telephone wires is held in high esteem in my book. :pirate:
What i was trying to say on one of the sites i used to be on, there were several people who just want us to tell them stories etc so that they could use them in their books etc and were clearly using Plagiarism ( now theres a big word for me). And there was one who called himself a captain something or other. (i forget its name now). Who had several identities under different names and id addresses who would all back each other up if he was questioned about anything, as he would being that all the identities were the same person and they could get quite nasty if they were challenged..
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Last edited by x taffy 2 on 04 Jun 2017 00:54, edited 1 time in total.
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Post Number:#6  PostPosted: 03 Jun 2017 23:25 
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My sentiments as well Stumpy. Would not like to think that M'lord was of the opinnion that I was having a pop at him. Yes I to fell foul of some of them on that site mate. It got quite nasty for a while. Got to ask you if you agree with me about one of their favourite stories. Seems that there where quiet a few deck hands that ended up getting caught in the topping lift and going through blocks and such like. Knowing that you also worked with bits and stoppers I still cannot work out how someone could literally go through a lead block or head one for that matter. I would say that most of them that veryfied that this happened where catering staff. Still miss that job of topping and flattening out with the bits. As for the AB that had done 50 years at sea would be a stretch of the imagination as surely he would have been a QM at least.



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Post Number:#7  PostPosted: 04 Jun 2017 05:31 
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Gentlemen, I never intended to imply anything, it's just the way I replied
Reg.


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Post Number:#8  PostPosted: 04 Jun 2017 19:58 
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yacht: yacht: CheersW.gif CheersW.gif
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Thank you Sir Reg, I got in quick before that scupper guts le Les managed to get his paws on it. th_lmao1-vi.gif

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Seems that there where quiet a few deck hands that ended up getting caught in the topping lift and going through blocks and such like. Knowing that you also worked with bits and stoppers I still cannot work out how someone could literally go through a lead block or head one for that matter

i think i remember that debate, and im like you, ive never seen anybody get caught up with the topping lift or blocks never mind somebody going through the block. As a starter the throat of a block wouldnt take a man, might take a few fingers, but thats about all. Ive seen blocks part company with worn or broken parts and ive seen chain and rope stoppers do the same thing. But as for men going through the blocks thats pure fabrication and B/S. I think its one of those glove puppets with schizophrenia and a multi personality complex . th_lmao1-vi.gif


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Post Number:#9  PostPosted: 05 Jun 2017 08:09 
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This gentleman you are talking about Was he Captain Cong or Ailhouse ?
reg



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Post Number:#10  PostPosted: 05 Jun 2017 22:37 
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Claiming old timers over this M'lord but think this is one instance where it was even so ludicrous that the Kong did not comment on it. Think it was more like one of the cooks that started it up and so many got on board with instances of it happening because they forgot the old saying? The best way to get out of a hole is to first stop fecking digging.



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Post Number:#11  PostPosted: 07 Jun 2017 04:28 
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Yes Les some wise words their.

“I walk down the wooden deck
There is a deep hole in the deck on the port side I fall into. the hole
I am lost... I am helpless
It isn't my fault. Though I knew the hole was there It takes forever to find a way out.,
Next day I take my walk down the deck again. I fall down the hole again this time it takes ages to get out, of cause it's not my fault
Again the next day I take my walk on the wooden deck, the hole has gone, I fall down and break my nose, It's not my fault I thought the hole was still their.
:wave;



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Post Number:#12  PostPosted: 07 Jun 2017 08:27 
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[quote][/This gentleman you are talking about Was he Captain Cong or Ailhouse ?quote]
Capt Kong was harmless, he just had more yarns than a weavers loom.
The capt im on about came on site long after Kongs arrival. he was a nasty bugger, thought everybody should call him sir. a few of us questioned him a few times and all his alter ego,s joined in on his side of course, i think from memory there were 5 or 6 alter egos, all joined about the same time as he did. Dead give away. th_lmao1-vi.gif
Maybe Le Les can remember the other nasty git who can from NI and was having a go at our Terry, even threatening to go to lilapool with his sons to sort him out.
How is our Terry i havent heard anything about him for yonks. ??????????????????????????????????????????????



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Post Number:#13  PostPosted: 08 Jun 2017 00:02 
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Our mate Red lead ted has moved to a smaller place but still in the pool. That anus wipe was claiming to be a officer from the engine room and last I heard was he developed old timers and think he is cactus now. Recall that I got tangled up in the arguments but I lived to far to be threatened. Yep found the site to fecking right wing for my liking. Still go now and then but nothing like here. When I found this site it was like a breath of fresh air to be around real people. There is still one on there that seems so insecure that is always looking for others to rally around him if there happened to be some one that did not agree with him. Think that he has risen in stature on that site simply because it was easier to do that than pander to his tantrums.



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