The way it was

To those of us who served our time on "white crew steamers" or even "three legged Doxford Economy's" life was altogether more demanding than for those who followed on. I am now talking about the old type vessels with one hatch in the middle!
Firstly, the bridge block was off limits to Apprentices and we were only allowed to use the outside ladders to access the bridge.This, of course, meant that Saloon dining was a fantasy!. We queued up outside the galley by No.3 hatch with our aluminium "kits"to collect our meager fare. Milk came in the form of a small tin of thick condensed. One pierced two holes in the top and blew in one to extract it!. the holes subsequently plugged with matchsticks to prevent contamination by cockroaches.
We were 4 to a cabin in the Engineers block, forward end on the starboard side, in a cabin just about big enough for two. There was a tiny messroom adjacent, inboard, and conveniently situated over the boiler!No such thing as air conditioning.
Our duties comprised being at the Mates beck and call at all times .Three of us would be on watch-(first wheel/Second wheel/Farmer) and presence on the bridge was discouraged apart from Saturday morning. This was the day the coconut matting was rolled up, decks swept and wheelhouse and chartroom decks scrubbed by an Apprentice on his hands and knees. I presume the tradition still prevails,- this was the one day of the week everything sparkled for Captains Inspection!
Brass cleaning was another hobby and as a last resort,one would be banished to the Monkey Island, complete with bathbrick and colza oil to be confronted by a binnacle, beautifully encrusted with green verdigris. One was expected to transform this into a thing of beauty!A lasting consequence of this is that, fifty years ago, when I married, I insisted that there would be NO brass in my home.
Holystoning wooden decks was another mind provoking task!One had ample time to ponder life's problems whilst pushing this lump of stone up and down. A very important part of one's nautical education and guaranteed to get one a 2nd Mates ticket!
Studying was non existent and the dreaded Correspondence Course was extremely low key! Mind you, in all fairness, we didn't press the point either.
Erecting shifting boards was another form of entertainment.The North Pacific in a gale were the optimum conditions. To be swinging around the lower hold in a bosuns chair with 3 inch boards coming at you from all directions was exhilarating, to say the least.
Chipping hammers and Scaterscalers would soon become the tools of our trade and many happy hours were passed squatted on the deck hammering hell out of everything in sight. One quickly learned the advantages (and disadvantages) of Presomet( a byproduct of the coal industry) guaranteed to bring one out in a serious rash.
Finally, for £82 in the first year/£110 in the second/£150 in the third and £210 in the fourth it remains to be said that it was a rough indoctrination Fortunately, the lot of the Deck Apprentice improved with the advent of Indian Crews and not before time.
Although the reader might conclude that I hated my Apprenticeship(not true!) it was a grounding that stood me in good stead and I have no regrets.
I have enjoyed "swinging the lamp" and thank you for your indulgence.
John Cann Posted on forum 17/10/09.

I remember these days as the first ship I joined was the ss Orient City on 12th December 1956.
As you say the cadets accommodation was just above the engineers. We had our own saloon there as well.
I had just completed my 5 year apprenticeship ashore and joined as a Junior Engineer. The cabins were extremely small with the bunk bed under the porthole, and taking up almost the full width of the cabin. There was a wash hand basin but no drain connection. You had to put a bucket underneath to empty the basin and then take it to the washroom to empty it.
I joined the ship in Rotterdam drydock and was on board for 14 months until the ship was laid up in Cardiff.
When the ship was in drydock they had left some sawdust in the diesel tank and it came about that we had great problems every morning with the injectors on the oil fired galleys and on several mornings we had boiled eggs for breakfast. I always remember that as they were boiled in crew blue pillow cases and the egg shells came out blue.
As you say it was a happy ship and I enjoyed my time on there before moving on to the Indian crew ships.

Jeremia O'Brian in San FranciscoTwice when I have been in San Francisco I have been aboard the liberty ship Jeremiah O'Brien. We had a talk at an Institute meeting a few years ago by an Englishman who was connected with the project and had sailed to the Normandy beaches on it to commemorate the 60th anniversary. When I went on board in 2006 it was all steamed up ready to go the next day to San Diego for Navy Week. Had a long talk with the engine room staff.
These Liberty ships were based on a design from the UK North East and was similar to the Orient City and Madras City but was of all welded construction unlike the riveted hull of the English built ships. The accommodation is even more basic than the RSL ships. Eric Poingdestre Posted on forum 24/10/09.



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