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My First Captain

I used to be aged simply seventeen at the top of the summer season 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 additional years’ coaching. Port Line was then a subsidiary of the Cunard Steamship Firm and ran a fleet of 32 very sensible and effectively-maintained ships buying and selling between Europe and Australasia with some different routes that took in the East Coast of the USA and also South Africa. Their ships almost all carried twelve paying passengers and have been run to Cunard passenger ship standards. Outward certain they carried machinery, automobiles and normal 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 was to study. At the tip of the summer time holidays I obtained 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 Master) was a really remarkable man, although I didn’t totally realise it on the time. His identify was Francis William Bailey, and in the 57 years since I joined his ship I have made constant makes an attempt to research his historical past. This has not been straightforward as he does not appear in any reference books that I can uncover, or on Google or Wikipedia or any of the standard web sites. None the less I’ve discovered quite a lot about him from those who also sailed with him. Now, for the first time, I have attempted 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’m ashamed to say was a fairly frequent incidence). Yet his application to take a seat for a Masters’ Certificate in December 1920 provides his peak at five ft and 9 inches – a very good six inches shorter than I’m. That was the type of impression he gave. I have managed to search out one photograph, taken when he was Grasp of the Port Jackson in 1947 and it could possibly be the only one in existence. Unlike at the moment, the behavior of informal photography was not a lot practiced at sea in those days.

Francis William Bailey, always identified (although to not his face) as ‘Bill’, was born in Belvedere, Kent, within the south of England on the nineteenth July 1896, which might have made him sixty years outdated after i joined his ship in 1956 as the junior apprentice. There is no file of his education or early life however 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 was on the bridge logging the engine and helm orders once 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 round the peak. He presented a determine of great 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 found Jesus yet captain ” requested the pilot brightly and a-propos of nothing. He was a born-again Christian apparently. Invoice considered this remark in deep silence. After a pregnant pause whereas the rest of the bridge personnel tried to not catch his eye, he answered.

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

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

Looking at his information, 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 following year) on 30th October 1915 when he would have been nineteen years outdated. She was a four-masted, 12 knot ship built in 1910. He passed his Second Mates’ Certificate in steam and sail in October 1916 and went back 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) Bill Bailey handed his Masters’ Certificate of Competency in Steam. The examiners in these days should have adopted Scrooge’s work ethic. He married quickly afterwards, but I have no particulars of his spouse, youngsters 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 nice depression of the 1930’s he remained in employment in that capability which was fortunate as Port Line had one in all their ships full of younger officers and engineers that that they had no technique of employing as officers with so many of their ships laid up for want of cargoes. All the ready seamen aboard had second or first mates’ certificates and all the deck officers had all handed for master, even the fourth mate.

Lastly, on twenty seventh March 1939 he was finally appointed as Master of the Port Bowen for her forthcoming voyage to New Zealand. This could have been the acme of his twenty-four 12 months career with the corporate; a time of nice 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 total loss.

Before 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 ready 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 found 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 introduced out in lighters from Wanganui. Bill Bailey handled John’s observations with bad-tempered contempt.

“When I want your recommendation on how to run my f*****g ship son, I’ll 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 again to England as a passenger on one other Port Line ship to face the directors in Cunard Home, Leadenhall Road, London. Right here he was threatened with dismissal but pleaded that they had not heard his side of the story. He talked about his spouse and family that he had to support, plus his twenty-4 years of otherwise exemplary service with the road. The battle had began and many of the corporate’s skilled officers have been in process of being referred to as up for service within the Royal Navy. After some debate they determined to scale back him in rank to Chief Officer and appointed him to the Port Wellington, then alongside in Avonmouth.

A few years later I sailed with a Captain called Invoice Clough who was the second mate on the Port Wellington that voyage. He advised me he had arrived by train, late at night at Avonmouth station in a heavy downpour while the port was being bombed by German planes. There were no taxies and he stood miserably within the felpa stone island uomo blackout getting wetter and wetter with all his luggage for the four-month voyage. It was a winter’s evening, late in 1939, chilly and miserable. He stated that he thought things could not get any worse till he heard a stentorian voice from the other end of the platform.
“I can see you skulking there Clough! I’m mate on the Wellington, so don’t assume you’re 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 29th November 1940 she was attacked by the German surface 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 eighty two survivors aboard, including the dying Captain Thomas, and seven ladies passengers. In due course Invoice Bailey was lodged in a civilian POW camp in German for the rest of the struggle.

It was full of Merchant Navy personnel with no actual ambition to flee and that the commandant, who was an old and tired reserve Wehrmacht Lieutenant-Colonel, turned over the working and administration of the camp to Bill 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 felpa stone island uomo probably the most Wonderful Order of the British Empire) by a grateful King George VI on November twenty first 1945.

After the struggle, Bill was made a temporary colonel within the British Army and put in command of the Flensburg space 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 struggle reparations in respect of them, these being expensive gadgets for an impoverished sailor. He carried out a private raid on an intact German destroyer in the native harbour and relieved the ship of a tremendous Plath sextant and a pair of prime-high quality Zeiss binoculars, to the fury of their (German) owners. In later life he was inordinately pleased with this stuff and woe betide any apprentice or junior officer who asked to borrow them.

Back in Port Line he joined the Port Hobart (which carried 150 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 a number of Port Line ships and ended up serving because the Commodore of the Port Line, from 1958 till his retirement in July 1959, aged 65. For this interval he remained in command of the Port Brisbane.

I left the Port Brisbane in August 1957 after completing two voyages below Captain Bailey’s command. I by no means saw him once more. I used to be instructed later that his years of heavy smoking had precipitated 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 company with his wife, both as passengers. Although he was in a wheelchair, he insisted on wheeling himself around the deck to watch the fingers at work, then lecturing the younger chief officer on what was mistaken along with his work organisation.

He was an iron man who few dared to cross however he might be sentimental and comfortable on occasions. I remember him speaking to me whereas we transited the Panama Canal.
“Take it all in son, I’ve been coming by here for forty years and there’s still so much that is new and interesting every time.”

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

He died in Hertfordshire in England sometime after 1967. He was in each sense a superb shipmaster of the old-fashioned and simply the kind of individual one wanted as a mischievous young man just freed from the powerful discipline of a training ship. It is 55 years since I last saw Captain Francis William Bailey MBE however I will never forget him and nor will lots of my compatriots in Port Line who sailed with him and who’ve contributed a fantastic deal to this little memoir.