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My First Captain

I was aged simply seventeen at the end of the summer time period 1956, after i left the previous picket-wall training ship HMS Worcester. I had already been accepted by Port Line as an officer apprentice for a three further years’ coaching. Port Line was then a subsidiary of the Cunard Steamship Company and ran a fleet of 32 very sensible and nicely-maintained ships trading between Europe and Australasia with some various routes that took within the East Coast of the USA and in addition South Africa. Their ships nearly all carried twelve paying passengers and had been run to Cunard passenger ship requirements. Outward certain they carried machinery, cars and general cargo to Australia and New Zealand, with stops at intermediate ports. They have been half-refrigerated ships and on the homeward voyage their cargoes had been butter, lamb carcasses, beef quarters and fruit with casks of tallow and bales of wool in the non-refrigerated areas.

All this I used to be to study. At the top of the summer time holidays I received instructions to join M/V Port Brisbane within the Royal Albert Dock, London and arrived on board on August seventeenth 1956 for my first voyage.

The Captain (or Grasp) was a very remarkable man, although I didn’t totally realise it on the time. His identify was Francis William Bailey, and within the 57 years since I joined his ship I have made constant attempts to analysis his historical past. This has not been straightforward as he does not seem in any reference books that I can discover, or on Google or Wikipedia or any of the same old web sites. None the much less I’ve discovered quite a bit about him from those that also sailed with him. Now, for the first time, I’ve tried to inform his story, albeit incomplete and unlikely now to be absolutely revealed.

He was a fearsome man with a stone island micro ripstop jacket green deep, rasping voice. I remember him towering over me when he had cause to query my behaviour (which, I’m ashamed to say was a fairly frequent incidence). Yet his utility to sit for a Masters’ Certificate in December 1920 provides his top at 5 ft and 9 inches – a great six inches shorter than I am. That was the form of impression he gave. I’ve managed to search out one photograph, taken when he was Grasp of the Port Jackson in 1947 and it could be the only one in existence. In contrast to right this moment, the habit of informal photography was not much practiced at sea in these days.

Francis William Bailey, at all times identified (though not to his face) as ‘Bill’, was born in Belvedere, Kent, in the south of England on the 19th July 1896, which might have made him sixty years previous once i joined his ship in 1956 because the junior apprentice. There isn’t any document of his education or early life but I’ve discovered that his first voyage to sea was as an apprentice in a West Nation barque called ‘Tralee’ in 1910. In 1956 I used to be on the bridge logging the engine and helm orders when i heard his story of that voyage. As we entered the dredged channel of Port Melbourne Harbour Captain Bailey was in full whites (as in the picture) with epaulettes and cap with gold scrambled egg spherical the peak. He offered a figure of nice dignity and, to me, some menace. A small and equally immaculate Australian pilot stood by his side, his head coming up to the captain’s armpit.

“Have you discovered Jesus yet captain ” requested the pilot brightly and a-propos of nothing. He was a born-once more Christian apparently. Invoice thought of this comment in deep silence. After a pregnant pause while the remainder of the bridge personnel tried to not catch his eye, he answered.

“See that breakwater pilot I constructed that f*****g factor, stone by stone!”
The pilot went very red and there was no further dialog between them. Later the Chief Officer, Roger Holmes, explained what he had said.

“You see lads; the Old Man was a young apprentice on a crusing ship which was a reasonably hard life in those days. He went ashore to a dance in Melbourne and met a reasonably blonde Aussie girl. He fell in love and ran away along with her; jumped ship if you want. They caught him after every week or so when his cash ran out and the local magistrate gave him two weeks arduous labour constructing the breakwater earlier than they shipped him back to England as a DBS (Distressed British Seaman).”

Taking a look at his records, which I’ve in front of me, I can see that he was appointed third mate of the SS Indrabarah (to be renamed Port Elliot in the next 12 months) on thirtieth October 1915 when he would have been nineteen years outdated. She was a 4-masted, 12 knot ship built in 1910. He passed his Second Mates’ Certificate in steam and sail in October 1916 and went again to sea as second mate of the Port Elliott in November that yr. He passed his First Mates’ Certificate in London on April 2nd 1918.

On Christmas Eve 1920 (of all days) Invoice Bailey handed his Masters’ Certificate of Competency in Steam. The examiners in those days will need to have adopted Scrooge’s work ethic. He married soon afterwards, however I have no particulars of his spouse, children or household life. He progressed by way of the ranks of Port Line in the 1920’s and 1930’s being promoted to first mate of the Port Melbourne in 1928.

At the time of the great depression of the 1930’s he remained in employment in that capability which was lucky as Port Line had one among their ships stuffed with younger officers and engineers that they’d no means of employing as officers with so a lot of their ships laid up for want of cargoes. All of the able seamen aboard had second or first mates’ certificates and all the deck officers had all passed for grasp, even the fourth mate.

Lastly, on twenty seventh March 1939 he was finally appointed as Grasp of the Port Bowen for her forthcoming voyage to New Zealand. This could have been the acme of his twenty-4 year profession with the company; a time of great achievement for him, however after hubris comes nemesis. Within the early hours of July twentieth 1939 the Port Bowen ran aground one mile to the west of Wanganui, North Island and became a complete loss.

Before he died I was in correspondence with John Devlin, the fourth mate of the Port Bowen on that voyage, who had sailed round the world on the sq. rigger ‘Joseph Conrad’ as an able seaman, taken his second mate’s certificate and had been accepted by Port Line. He had the eight to twelve watch and had been taking bearings and dipping ranges of lighthouses. He discovered from his observations that the ship was well to the west and had overshot the place the place she was to anchor to load cargo brought out in lighters from Wanganui. Bill Bailey handled John’s observations with unhealthy-tempered contempt.

“When I need your recommendation on the way to run my f*****g ship son, I will ask for it!”
None the much less John switched on the then new-fangled echo sounder as a matter of prudence. At midnight when the Third Officer got here on watch, John whispered to him’

“Stand by for the bump!”
The ship ran aground shortly after the change of watch.

Bill Bailey was blamed for his error of judgement however retained his Masters’ Certificate. He travelled back to England as a passenger on another Port Line ship to face the directors in Cunard House, Leadenhall Road, London. Here he was threatened with dismissal however pleaded that they had not heard his aspect of the story. He mentioned his spouse and family that he had to support, plus his twenty-four years of in any other case exemplary service with the line. The battle had began and lots of the corporate’s experienced officers were in strategy of being called up for service in the Royal Navy. After some debate they decided to reduce him in rank to Chief Officer and appointed him to the Port Wellington, then alongside in Avonmouth.

Many years later I sailed with a Captain referred to as Bill Clough who was the second mate on the Port Wellington that voyage. He advised me he had arrived by prepare, late at night time at Avonmouth station in a heavy downpour while the port was being bombed by German planes. There have been no taxies and he stood miserably within the blackout getting wetter and wetter with all his luggage for the four-month voyage. It was a winter’s night, late in 1939, cold and miserable. He mentioned that he thought issues could not get any worse till he heard a stentorian voice from the other finish of the platform.
“I can see you skulking there Clough! I’m mate on the Wellington, so do not assume you are going to have it straightforward!”
It was ex-Captain Bailey, and Invoice Clough’s heart sank into his boots.

The Port Wellington was on her homeward leg from Australia with refrigerated cargo and 12 passengers when, on the twenty ninth November 1940 she was attacked by the German floor raider Pinguin commanded by Kapitan Ernst-Felix Kruder. Her bridge was shelled when she tried to broadcast an SOS, her radio operator killed and her Grasp, Captain E.O. Thomas, mortally wounded. The Port Wellington was sunk by shellfire and the Pinguin took the 82 survivors aboard, including the dying Captain Thomas, and seven girls passengers. Sooner or later Invoice Bailey was lodged in a civilian POW camp in German for the rest of the conflict.

It was filled with Service provider Navy personnel with no actual ambition to escape and that the commandant, who was an previous and tired reserve Wehrmacht Lieutenant-Colonel, turned over the working and administration of the camp to Invoice who managed the German guards and Allied prisoners with a rod of iron. For his war services as a POW he was awarded an MBE (Member of essentially the most Glorious Order of the British Empire) by a grateful King George VI on November 21st 1945.

After the war, Invoice was made a brief colonel in the British Army and put in command of the Flensburg area of British-occupied Germany. Because the actions of the Pinguin had triggered him to lose his sextant and binoculars when the Port Wellington was sunk he reasoned that he was entitled to conflict reparations in respect of them, these being costly gadgets for an impoverished sailor. He performed a personal raid on an intact German destroyer in the local harbour and relieved the ship of a wonderful Plath sextant and a pair of top-quality Zeiss binoculars, to the fury of their (German) house owners. In later life he was inordinately happy with these things and woe betide any apprentice or junior officer who asked to borrow them.

Back in Port Line he joined the Port Hobart (which carried one hundred fifty passengers) as Employees Captain and was finally appointed as Master again, to command one of the Port Line Liberty Ships that the corporate managed for the Ministry of Battle Transport, the SS Samleven. Bill then commanded several Port Line ships and ended up serving as the Commodore of the Port Line, from 1958 till his retirement in July 1959, aged 65. For this period he remained in command of the Port Brisbane.

I left the Port Brisbane in August 1957 after completing two voyages beneath Captain Bailey’s command. I by no means saw him once more. I used to be told later that his years of heavy smoking had caused him to develop diabetes and hardening of the arteries and that ultimately he needed to have a foot amputated. He was given a farewell voyage to New Zealand by the company along with his spouse, each as passengers. Although he was in a wheelchair, he insisted on wheeling himself around the deck to look at the palms at work, then lecturing the young chief officer on what was flawed with his work organisation.

He was an iron man who few dared to cross however he might be sentimental and delicate on occasions. I remember him talking to me while we transited the Panama Canal.
“Take all of it in son, I have been coming via right here for forty years and there’s still a lot that is new and attention-grabbing every time.”

On his final voyage when he and his wife have been passengers, their ship was berthed in Lyttleton, South Island. For some motive they had been unable to go to Christchurch as they wished, so the local supervisor despatched Mrs. Bailey a big bunch of flowers as some compensation. It’s reported that Invoice was so touched that he was virtually in tears.

He died in Hertfordshire in England sometime after 1967. He was in every sense a high-quality shipmaster of the old fashioned and just the kind of person one needed as a mischievous younger man simply freed from the robust discipline of a training ship. It’s fifty five years since I last saw Captain Francis William Bailey MBE but I’ll always remember him and nor will lots stone island micro ripstop jacket green of my compatriots in Port Line who sailed with him and who have contributed a great deal to this little memoir.

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