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My First Captain

I was aged just seventeen at the tip of the summer season term 1956, once i left the previous wood-wall training ship HMS Worcester. I had already been accepted by Port Line as an officer apprentice for a 3 further years’ training. Port Line was then a subsidiary of the Cunard Steamship Company and ran a fleet of 32 very good and nicely-maintained ships trading between Europe and Australasia with some various routes that took in the East Coast of the USA and likewise South Africa. Their ships almost all carried twelve paying passengers and had been run to Cunard passenger ship standards. Outward bound they carried equipment, cars and normal cargo to Australia and New Zealand, with stops at intermediate ports. They were part-refrigerated ships and on the homeward voyage their cargoes have been butter, lamb carcasses, beef quarters and fruit with casks of tallow and bales of wool in the non-refrigerated areas.

All this I was to be taught. At the tip of the summer season holidays I obtained instructions to affix 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 Master) was a really outstanding man, although I didn’t fully 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 research his history. This has not been simple as he doesn’t seem in any reference books that I can uncover, or on Google or Wikipedia or any of the standard websites. None the much less I have discovered quite a bit about him from those who also sailed with him. Now, for the first time, I have tried to inform his story, albeit incomplete and unlikely now to be absolutely revealed.

He was a fearsome man with a deep, rasping voice. I remember him towering over me when he had trigger to query my behaviour (which, I am ashamed to say was a fairly frequent occurrence). Yet his utility to sit down for a Masters’ Certificate in December 1920 provides his height at 5 feet and 9 inches – a good six inches shorter than I’m. That was the sort of impression he gave. I have managed stone island blue jacket to search out one photograph, taken when he was Master of the Port Jackson in 1947 and it could possibly be the just one in existence. Unlike at this time, the habit of informal photography was not much practiced at sea in those days.

Francis William Bailey, all the time known (though not to his face) as ‘Bill’, was born in Belvedere, Kent, within the south of England on the nineteenth July 1896, which would have made him sixty years old after i joined his ship in 1956 because the junior apprentice. There isn’t a record of his schooling or early life however I’ve found that his first voyage to sea was as an apprentice in a West Country barque called ‘Tralee’ in 1910. In 1956 I used to be on the bridge logging the engine and helm orders after 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 image) with epaulettes and cap with gold scrambled egg spherical the peak. He offered a determine of nice dignity and, to me, some menace. A small and equally immaculate Australian pilot stood by his aspect, his head coming up to the captain’s armpit.

“Have you ever discovered Jesus yet captain ” asked the pilot brightly and a-propos of nothing. He was a born-again Christian apparently. Bill considered this comment in deep silence. After a pregnant pause whereas the remainder of the bridge personnel tried not to catch his eye, he answered.

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

“You see lads; the Outdated Man was a young apprentice on a sailing ship which was a pretty hard life in those days. He went ashore to a dance in Melbourne and met a pretty blonde Aussie lady. He fell in love and ran away together with her; jumped ship if you like. They caught him after per week or so when his cash ran out and the native magistrate gave him two weeks exhausting labour building the breakwater earlier than they shipped him back to England as a DBS (Distressed British Seaman).”

Taking a look at his records, which I have in entrance of me, I can see that he was appointed third mate of the SS Indrabarah (to be renamed Port Elliot in the following 12 months) on thirtieth October 1915 when he would have been nineteen years outdated. She was a 4-masted, 12 knot ship inbuilt 1910. He handed 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 year. He handed his First Mates’ Certificate in London on April 2nd 1918.

On Christmas Eve 1920 (of all days) Bill Bailey passed his Masters’ Certificate of Competency in Steam. The examiners in these days should have followed Scrooge’s work ethic. He married quickly afterwards, however I have no particulars of his spouse, children or family life. He progressed by way of the ranks of Port Line within the 1920’s and 1930’s being promoted to first mate of the Port Melbourne in 1928.

On the time of the great depression of the 1930’s he remained in employment in that capacity which was lucky as Port Line had certainly one of their ships filled with young officers and engineers that they had no technique of using as officers with so many of their ships laid up for need of cargoes. All the ready seamen aboard had second or first mates’ certificates and all of the deck officers had all passed for grasp, even the fourth mate.

Lastly, on 27th March 1939 he was lastly appointed as Grasp of the Port Bowen for her forthcoming voyage to New Zealand. This could have been the acme of his twenty-four yr career with the company; a time of nice achievement for him, however after hubris comes nemesis. In the early hours of July 20th 1939 the Port Bowen ran aground one mile to the west of Wanganui, North Island and turned a complete loss.

Earlier than he died I used to be 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 in a position 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 nicely to the west and had overshot the place where she was to anchor to load cargo introduced out in lighters from Wanganui. Invoice Bailey treated John’s observations with unhealthy-tempered contempt.

“When I want your recommendation on how you can 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 came on watch, John whispered to him’

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

Invoice Bailey was blamed for his error of judgement but retained his Masters’ Certificate. He travelled back to England as a passenger on another Port Line ship to face the directors in Cunard Home, Leadenhall Avenue, London. Here he was threatened with dismissal however pleaded that they had not heard his facet of the story. He talked about his wife and family that he had to assist, plus his twenty-four years of in any other case exemplary service with the line. The warfare had started and many of the company’s experienced officers have been in technique of being referred to as up for service in the Royal Navy. After some debate they determined to cut back 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 known as Invoice Clough who was the second mate on the Port Wellington that voyage. He instructed me he had arrived by train, late at evening at Avonmouth station in a heavy downpour while the port was being bombed by German planes. There were no taxies and he stood miserably in the blackout getting wetter and wetter with all his luggage for the 4-month voyage. It was a winter’s night time, late in 1939, cold and miserable. He said that he thought things could not get any worse until 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’re going to have it straightforward!”
It was ex-Captain Bailey, and Bill 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 Master, Captain E.O. Thomas, mortally wounded. The Port Wellington was sunk by shellfire and the Pinguin took the eighty two survivors aboard, together with the dying Captain Thomas, and seven girls passengers. In due course Invoice Bailey was lodged in a civilian POW camp in German for the remainder of the conflict.

It was filled with Merchant Navy personnel with no real ambition to flee and that the commandant, who was an outdated and drained reserve Wehrmacht Lieutenant-Colonel, turned over the running and administration of the camp to Bill who controlled the German guards and Allied prisoners with a rod of iron. For his conflict providers as a POW he was awarded an MBE (Member of probably the most Excellent Order of the British Empire) by a grateful King George VI on November twenty first 1945.

After the conflict, Bill was made a short lived colonel within the British Army and put accountable for the Flensburg area of British-occupied Germany. As the actions of the Pinguin had brought about him to lose his sextant and binoculars when the Port Wellington was sunk he reasoned that he was entitled to war reparations in respect of them, these being expensive gadgets for an impoverished sailor. He carried out a personal raid on an intact German destroyer in the native harbour and relieved the ship of a wonderful Plath sextant and a pair of high-high quality Zeiss binoculars, to the fury of their (German) homeowners. In later life he was inordinately pleased with this stuff and woe betide any apprentice or junior officer who requested to borrow them.

Back in Port Line he joined the Port Hobart (which carried one hundred fifty passengers) as Employees Captain and was lastly appointed as Master once more, to command one of the Port Line Liberty Ships that the company managed for the Ministry of Conflict Transport, the SS Samleven. Invoice 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 sixty five. For this interval he remained in command of the Port Brisbane.

I left the Port Brisbane in August 1957 after finishing two voyages below Captain Bailey’s command. I by no means noticed him once more. I used to be instructed later that his years of heavy smoking had brought on him to develop diabetes and hardening of the arteries and that ultimately he had to have a foot amputated. He was given a farewell voyage to New Zealand by the corporate with his wife, each as passengers. Despite the fact that he was in a wheelchair, he insisted on wheeling himself around the deck to watch the hands at work, then lecturing the younger chief officer on what was flawed along with his work organisation.

He was an iron man who few dared to cross but he might be sentimental and tender on events. I remember him talking to me whereas we transited the Panama Canal.
“Take it all in son, I have been coming by means of here for forty years and there’s still so much that is new and attention-grabbing every time.”

On his final stone island blue jacket voyage when he and his spouse have been passengers, their ship was berthed in Lyttleton, South Island. For some reason they had been unable to go to Christchurch as they wished, so the native manager despatched Mrs. Bailey a giant bunch of flowers as some compensation. It’s reported that Bill was so touched that he was almost in tears.

He died in Hertfordshire in England sometime after 1967. He was in each sense a superb shipmaster of the old style and simply the type of individual one wanted as a mischievous young man simply freed from the powerful self-discipline of a coaching ship. It is 55 years since I last saw Captain Francis William Bailey MBE however I will always remember him and nor will a lot of my compatriots in Port Line who sailed with him and who’ve contributed a terrific deal to this little memoir.