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Home <> Lifestory Library <> Explore By Location <> <> <> A Year Aboard The Thurland Castle

  Contributor: Harold TaylorView/Add comments

After being called up with the Merchant Navy in October 1943 Harold Taylor, born and bred in West Sussex, had travelled to many many places and will now tell you of his adventures on the Thurland Castle on which he spent a year, commencing November 1944. From Liverpool they were to travel to Australia:

The Thurland Castle was an Elder Dempster boat. The Castle group were purchased from the Dodwell Castle Line, and I think mainly ran out of American ports, at least they traded around the East Indies and Japan I believe. The main officers had been with her since before the War, and once again we had Chinese crew who likewise were of long standing.

Later I was to discover that the ship and crew had distinguished themselves during the evacuation from Greece resulting in the Skipper, receiving the DSC, the Chief Officer and Chief Engineer receiving the OBE and the Chinese Quarter Master getting the MBE.

We were a happy crew, got on well and settled down well. Her tonnage is listed as 8807 and I gather that we carried about 13,000 tons of cargo. We also carried some deck cargo, which included army vehicles and one huge lump of solid iron about 12 foot long and 15 inches square, with what I can only describe as a rounded point at one end. We christened it the potato dibber, but I suppose it was some kind of crushing tool for one of the quarries where they dug up bauxite, manganese or some other marketable rock. I think we unloaded it at Freetown, but it may have been Takoradi.

Also on board we had two passengers, both military personnel. One was an Army Warrant Officer and the other was in the RAF, I forget what rank, but they were both accompanying some specialist gear that they had to keep a check upon its condition several times a day. I believe it had something to do with Radar. I know there was some little antagonism went on between them over rank, one sounded higher, but the other was, or that they were of equal rank but one tried to put it over the other. They were almost on non-fraternising terms with each other.

We left Liverpool and went to either Oban or Loch Ewe to pick up a convoy and proceeded out across the Atlantic till well below the Azores and coming in to Rio De Oro and proceeding down to Freetown, arriving on 16th November 1944. Here we unloaded part of our cargo before moving on the 22nd to Takoradi, which was in the Gold Coast now called Ghana, arriving on the 25th.

We unloaded a lot of our cargo at Takoradi. The only stuff I recall was paint, because it got spilled everywhere and the natives, being of such simple disposition, took pleasure in painting practically everything in whatever colours happened to be handy. They painted topees, shoes, bags and anything they thought could do with a splash of colour.

As we showed our shore passes at the dock gate so we were issued with a supply of 'French letters', the only place that I knew this to happen. I always thought it peculiar, these contraceptives were manufactured in Portugal, which was supposed to be a country that did not support birth control because of their religion.

It was here that I spent my second Christmas away from home. Also here, that I lost my innocence to a local prostitute!

From Takoradi Harold was to sail to Lagos, which he describes as a busy little town and being densely inhabited, the natives living in huts. There were a few cafes where the crew could obtain Congo juice (apparently like a weak lager), with the only other entertainment being an open-air cinema. Across the water from the Lagos Wharf was Appapa where they spent time swimming and drinking beer at the Merchant Navy Inn. Football was also played with seamen from other ships as well as soldiers from the local army camp.

After loading a cargo of Congo juice bottles the Thurland Castle set sail again, this time for Matadi down the Belgian Congo. Here the Congo juice was manufactured, so the empty bottles were exchanged for full ones to take back to Lagos. 500 tons of cordite was also loaded, bound for Port Harcourt in Nigeria where they loaded palm oil to take to Lagos.

After returning to Lagos it was back to Takoradi then onto Brooklyn where, being January, it was freezing cold and snowing. Here Harold journeyed to Time Square and Fifth Avenue in Manhatten to purchase underwear and silk stockings for his sisters and girlfriend. He also visited museums, art galleries and zoos, as well as a restaurant owned by ex world heavy weight boxer, Jack Dempsey.

Apparently on this trip the chief steward attempted going through customs with 1lb of raw opium strapped to his legs, but was caught. This resulted in the whole ship being thoroughly searched. The ship was subsequently fined $25,000.

Whilst drinking in the local bars and hotels Harold would enjoy the music on the jukebox such as 'Rum and Coca Cola' and 'Don't Fence Me In'.

A deck cargo of several dozen US war planes was loaded, together with tin plate, newsprint, typewriters, spectacle frames and medical instruments, and this time they were bound for Sydney.

In Sydney Harold enjoyed spending some spare time swimming in an open-air pool. However, one side of the pool was exposed to the water in the harbour, and the only thing preventing sharks from entering was chicken wire! Also to pass time in Sydney, Harold visited Taronga Park Zoo, as well as Bondi, Manly and Cogee beaches.

Then it was onto Melbourne where Harold dated a young lady, taking her on a river trip down the Yarra. Whilst here the seamen celebrated VE day (8th May) with plenty of beer. Unfortunately one of the crew had a few too many, climbed up the outside of the Melbourne Town Hall and was arrested.

There was another girl in this port for Harold. Joan was a sister of a nursing home and Harold would accompany her frequently whilst she was on duty, not leaving until the early hours. They became so besotted with each other that they decided they would eventually get married. Harold wrote and told his girlfriend, who subsequently destroyed all his letters.

It was 24th May and time to set sail to cold, wet Dunedin in New Zealand, where again Harold met and dated a couple of girls.

After arriving in Wellington Harold went ashore with a couple of shipmates to a hotel where they met some girls, although Harold didn't have a very enjoyable time as he was pining for Joan.

In Takoradi Harold experienced his first Monsoon before sailing to Adabaya then onto Port Said where salt and coal was loaded on board for Nigeria.

After Appapa, Port Harcourt and Matadi it was time to head back home to England and Liverpool once again. On their journey they had a very rough night and lost some of their cargo of teak and mahogany tree trunks. In fact, the seas were so rough that night that 11 ships were reported to have sunk. Harold continues:

When we arrived at Liverpool on 31st October, we went ashore to the Ocean Club, which was the big Merchant Navy amenity. The night I spent in the Merchant Navy Officers Hotel which was attached to Lime Street Station. We signed off the following day, but we Marconi people still had to go to our own offices to get clearance to go home.

Whilst at the office I got very chatty to one of the girls who did all the apportioning of crews to ships, her surname was Macavoy, and her sister also worked in the same office. I dated this girl that night and intended to go to a boxing competition at some large hall in the town, although we did not finish up there after we saw the queue waiting to go in. What we did I do not remember, but I do recall getting on very well with her and arranging to meet her when I returned for my next ship. I was at the time unattached, having burnt my bridges with both girlfriends.

I had lost Monica because of my attachment to Joan, and somewhere along the line I had upset Joan. I was aware that Joan had had several American boyfriends before me. She had made a comment about flying up to some town with her sister, where I knew there to be a base of the Americans. Apparently she had misinterpreted what I had said about that, or perhaps I had put it badly. The next thing I knew was that she had broken off the tacit arrangement, because I had accused her of being a whore.

I had tried to mend my bridges with Monica, but had received a cool response, although we were writing again. By now she had several strings to her bow.

The last night in Liverpool I again spent in the Officers Hotel as it was handy for catching the train the following morning. I had accumulated a lot of gifts and souvenirs, in fact I had a kit bag, a large holdall, a suitcase, and my 'get away' bag. This was a small attaché case with all my personal papers, plus some warm clothing and a supply of nourishing and easily stowable foods, like chocolate. This I always had attached to my life jacket in case one ever needed to take to the boats. Even for all boat drills I took it with me, as not always did one know a practice was a practice.

I see my customs chit for this trip records four pounds empire tea at 2/-, one pound silk tissue, 2 of at 6/5d and 12 of silk articles at 17/4d. As I was struggling along in the queue of passengers making for the London bound train with one bag slung over my shoulder, carrying two and pushing the fourth along with my feet, my brother and his girlfriend, Irene, turned up. I cannot remember now if they came to meet me or if it was just by coincidence.

She at this time was teaching at Aintree and he was a Bevan Boy in the North Midlands. I therefore had help to board the train. Incidentally I had made good use of Irene's stay in Liverpool as I would visit her and this saved me from going on drinking bouts to pass the time with my new shipmates.

I was welcomed home and my gifts were well received except by the niece and nephew, who were very sceptical of bananas, which they were seeing for the first time.

Time passed quite happily, I renewed my acquaintance with Monica, although acceptance was quite cool for a time. I also renewed a lot of old friendships, this was mainly because the war was over and a lot of them were awaiting demobilisation, and were at idle ends. We used to meet in the 'Hole In The Wall'. The true name was the St. Martin's Brewery, run by Bill Barfoot. In the mornings we used the public bar where we played darts till closing time. We usually played combined games in which all could participate, paying so much a corner, winner take all. This kept me in beer money, although I was only an average player.

In the evenings we used a small back room, where we would meet some of the older inhabitants of the town.

Eventually I was called back to work for Marconi. My leave had over-run, because with peacetime, ships were reverting back to one and two operator ships, therefore there was envisaged a large redundancy.

I had a heavy cold at the time and it was very near to Christmas. I did not want to go because my friendship with Monica was paying off, so in order to extend the time before I returned, I went sick.

This I suppose was the worst thing I could have done, because I subsequently heard nothing when I reported fit after the Christmas period. The next thing I heard was to report to the London office, where I was told I was being discharged as redundant. My Merchant Navy discharge book (signed on release from each engagement) states 'Discharged from the Merchant Navy 12.1.46'.

It felt unnerving to no longer be required, so I went down to the Labour Exchange, which then was still in the old St. Pancras infants school, and signed on. Because of my tender years, I was still eligible to be called up for military service. However, as it so happened, I avoided it. I had registered as a plumber and got a job immediately with F. Hill of Northgate. Because the building industry was an essential one, I avoided call up.

Every three months I would get a card from Brighton, on which I had to state my present circumstances, otherwise I could still have been called up.

Harold continued with his plumbing until 1948 when he became a chief constable until leaving in 1956 to carry out the job of lighthouse keeper on many a different lighthouse.

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