Recollections: Stan Mayes

Stan's recollections are comprehensive and span several pages:

On this page:

Introduction

Introduction by Brian Watson

Stan Mayes served in the Merchant Navy from 1936 to 1956, then worked as a ship’s rigger from 1956 to 1985. He had a wonderful memory and always gave great attention to detail. Although his schooling was pretty basic, his use of English was excellent - straightforward, clear and without waffle or self-pity. From his earliest years he kept all manner of documents, photos and other items, and late in life he got to grips with the use of computers and the internet and was an avid researcher and user of on-line forums dedicated to ships and the sea which is how I originally came into contact with him.

I corresponded with Stan for many years and visited him at his house at Gravesend on a number of occasions. He helped me a great deal in my research into the history of ships, and was one of my main inspirations in creating the Benjidog Nautical Resources websites. He was very pleased to work with me on publishing his recollections; in fact he had done most of the donkey-work already and my main role was to act as his editor and publisher.

Stan would certainly not have wanted to be depicted as a Saint, but he was a kind and generous man. Although this is not described in these memoirs, he fought the Authorities long and hard after the War to get them to agree to allow his beloved wife Elsa to settle in the UK. He was devastated when she died but kept going and was a great comfort to me when I lost my own wife a few years after him. I often think about him and the struggles of his life.

Stan "crossed the bar" on 21 August 2014 at the age of 93 after a long fight with lung cancer. I am proud to have known him and to have worked with him to produce this record of his remarkable life. He was providing me with information almost to the end of his life. With great sorrow I joined his family and friends for his funeral in Gravesend which took place in a packed church beneath the standards of the Gravesend branch of the Merchant Navy Association of which Stan was one of six founder members. Further information about Stan's funeral can be found HERE.

If anyone epitomised the old saying "they broke the mould after they made him", it was Stan. I have lost a good friend and trust that he will rest in peace after a long and worthwhile life lived to the full.

I believe this to be one of the most complete accounts of a life dedicated to ships and the sea that can be found on the Internet.

Stan's own Introduction

This is my life

World War II: One by one, the dwindling number of survivors fade away, and all that will be left will be names and words in history books as no longer will there be men and women who speak of those terrible times at sea.

Ships: These floating masses of metal which in years gone by we called home. Some of those ships were like a second home and a good crew were like another family.

Good old days? There will never again, ever be so much camaraderie in the seafaring world as we experienced and I feel privileged in having shared these experiences and the camaraderie.

To write these memoirs is a vanity, but sometimes a vanity with a purpose, as maybe one day my grandchildren will ask the question "What did granddad do in his life?".

Stan Mayes

Family and Early Years

Paternal Family

My father was Edward George Mayes, born 5 May 1898 and his brothers and sisters were:
  • Percy William Bell Mayes, born 18 Sept 1891
  • Thurza Elizabeth Bell Mayes, 20 March 1894
  • Alice Maud Mayes, born 1 June 1896
  • Herbert Sydney Mayes born 6 June 1901
  • Donald Horace Mayes born 17 August 1903
  • Ivy Marian Mayes born 4 May 1906
My father served in the Royal Fusiliers during the Great War and saw service in France and Belgium for two years.

Maternal Family

My mother was Victoria Sargent and she had one sister Gladys.

My father had three sons with her:
  • Stanley George
  • Leslie Donald
  • Robert Dennis
My mother died in 1928, and one year later my father married a widow with two children. She was Maud Hazell nee Webb and her children were:
  • Harry William
  • Lilian Rose
My father and stepmother had one son:
  • Peter

The Mayes Family During WW2

  • Stanley served in the Merchant Navy
  • Leslie served in the Royal Navy
  • Robert served in the Army and saw service in India
  • Stepson Harry served in the Royal Navy.
  • My father and stepsister Lillian both worked at a margarine factory during the war situated by the River Thames at Purfleet Essex.

Childhood in Grays Essex

I was born on 29th May 1921 at 122 Argent Street, Grays in Essex. My parents were Edward George, and Victoria neé Sargent - known as Queenie.

A year later we were living in rooms with the family Pasterfield at 3 Roseberry Road Grays and at this address my brother Leslie was born on 22 October 1922. Another year later my parents became tenants of a new council house in Wallace Road Grays - No. 16. At this address my brother Robert was born on 1st July 1925 and I began my first schooling at Quarry Hill Infant School in Grays.

During 1926 my mother developed tuberculosis and spent a long time in hospital in Black Notley Essex. While she was in hospital we were cared for by my mother’s sister - our Aunt Gladys.

I was seven years old when my mother died of TB. My father and us boys then went to live with relatives in the village of Corringham in Essex, my father, Bob and I were accommodated at the home of his sister Alice, known to us as Aunt Lal. She had a daughter - Marion. Brother Les was cared for by our grandmother Nanna, who lived at 24 Digby Road. I attended school in Herd Lane and later Lampitts Hill School.

On 28th September 1929 my father married a widow Maud Hazell who had a son Harry (Nutty) and daughter Lillian Rose and we then lived together at 23 Digby Road.

During the 1914-18 war my father served in the Royal Fusiliers and saw service in France and Belgium. On being demobbed in 1919 he obtained work in a margarine factory at Purfleet Essex and the factory was owned by Van Den Bergh, Jurgens - later Stork Margarine. He worked in the dairy for most of his years. While we lived in Corringham, my father cycled to work daily - a distance of 14 miles. He retired in 1964 after 45 years service and sadly he passed away on 29th Sept 1979 aged 81.

In 1932, when I was about 11 years old we returned to live in Grays at 2 York Road. I then began attending school in Arthur Street Grays. At age 12 I became a paper boy, delivering newspapers and magazines every morning to 60 customers in Ward Avenue and Bradleigh Avenue. On Friday evenings I made a delivery of the local newspaper, Grays and Tilbury Gazette. After the Saturday delivery I made the rounds again to collect payment for the papers which I entered into a notebook, so I made 8 deliveries each week and for this I received 6d (2½ pence) wages, of which my stepmother claimed 3d. When I was 13 I received ninepence per week wages.

Note: Argent Street Grays, Digby Road Corringham, have since been redeveloped. York Road was demolished by 1979 and its site is now a covered shopping precinct called Grays Shopping Centre and has a car park on top. As a very young child I remember visiting a couple in Grays who my parents had got friendly with when on holiday at the seaside. The house was in Elm Road, quite nearby, and was very odd to me as a child as the staircase went across the house in between the front and back rooms. Many years later I lived in an almost identical house in Leicester and learned that this was a typical pattern of house built for the working classes. Stan's houses are likely to have been similar to this - the layout is shown in the plan below.

House Plan
Plan of a typical two-up, two-down Victorian terraced house [1]

First Jobs

At age 14 I left school and reported to the local Employment Office and my first job was with a one-man business. He owned a large shed at Tyrrells Corner Grays and we had a contract to clean, maintain and paint a fleet of lorries owned by the Thames Board Mills at Purfleet. My job was to clean the oil, grease and dirt from the chassis, axles and wheels with paraffin, then to wash same with hot soda water - the boss would then paint them. My hours were 8am to 5pm Monday to Friday - 40 hours for 9 shillings (45p). Needless to say, my clothing was a mess at the end of the first day and on arriving home I received a lot of verbal from my irate stepmother, and on the next morning she accompanied me to work and after a heated discussion with my boss it was agreed that I would received another shilling per week as a clothing allowance - nowadays termed 'dirty money'. I left that job after a month.

Then came a period of unemployment and during these times I attended night school for 2 evenings each week. We were taught a trade and I recall that I became very interested in carpentry.

My next job was in a bicycle shop in Church Path Grays and the work entailed cleaning, repairing and painting bikes. 8 shillings a week for a 40 hours week and I left after a few weeks.

My next employment was in West Thurrock with the Thurrock Flint Co. A dozen lads were employed in sorting and grading flints after their extraction from chalk from neighbouring quarries. On a high platform 50 feet long and 20 feet above ground level, we lads were spaced 5 feet apart on the platform and as flints of various sizes passed us on a conveyor belt we sorted and removed them. The largest stones were removed by the first two lads, the next size by the next two lads and so on. The flints were dropped toward the ground below us and consequently pyramids of various sizes built up. Only dust remained on the belt at the end of its run and a foreman stood there to make sure all flints had been removed. At the end of the day our hands were cut and bleeding - work gloves were unheard of. On the following days we attempted to relieve the damage to our hands by wrapping pieces of burlap around our hands but it was only partly successful, so it was a job I disliked and was also underpaid, I left after two weeks.

Another period of unemployment followed with sessions at night school, but by no means did it worry me as I always found something to do.

A fleet of sailing barges were owned by a Grays company E.J. and W. Goldsmith Ltd. And many of their barges were often at anchor off Grays and awaiting work and when the crews came ashore in their dinghy I would care for it while they did their shopping or visited a pub. As the river was tidal I would row or scull the boat to keep it afloat. When the crews returned they usually gave me a few pennies so I was paid for doing something which I thoroughly enjoyed. I also had a home-made wheelbarrow which I took into fields or along the river bank looking for scrap metal which I sold to a local scrap dealer. On one occasion when I was caring for a boat for a barge crew, I took it up river from Grays to an obsolete jetty where some scrap metal was laying. I began putting some metal into the boat with the intention of selling it, but on hearing somebody shouting I jumped into the boat and rowed down river to the causeway at Grays where I would put the scrap into my barrow which was hidden behind a shed. Nearing the causeway I saw a policeman near the shed so I dumped the metal overboard then casually moored the boat. The officer came onto the causeway and told me that I had been reported as stealing the metal and that he saw me dumping it. We then remained there for an hour while the tide ebbed and when the metal was exposed I went into the mud to recover it and put it into my barrow. I was then escorted to the police station and charged and later in court I was given two years probation. The scrap metal was returned to the jetty and a P.S. to this is that it was taken again a few days later. On mentioning this incident to the Mate of a barge, he took his boat during the hours of darkness to the jetty and removed the scrap.

Another use for the barrow was to take it along the seawall to a paper mill at Purfleet. It was Thames Board Mills and much waste paper was always stowed close to the river side - some of it was bundles of newly printed - but unsold - magazines and comics. I would fill my barrow with these and take them to a stallholder in Grays market and he would pay me for them.

Towards the end of 1935 I began to work on a farm at Orsett Heath near Grays. The owner was Hugh Watt. My job entailed the delivery of milk to customers in Horndon on the Hill - a village 3 miles from Grays. I had a trade bike to which a crate of milk bottles was attached to the front and another to the rear. Another dozen milkmen were employed at the farm but their deliveries were made by a horse-drawn milk float - no mechanically driven floats in those days. I liked this job while the weather was fine and I would make an early delivery of mild from 6am then to on the round again with butter, cheese, cake, biscuits, margarine and chocolate bars. I knew which customers were potential customers of the products and I received commission on sales. My days work ended before noon so I had the rest of the day to mess about in boats or whatever.

1936 began with severe weather - snow, ice and freezing fog all through January, and with these adverse conditions I found myself pushing the bike for most of the round and consequently it took longer. One morning I left the farm for the early delivery and had to push the bike through deep snow in the country lanes. Crying with the cold and one mile from the farm I suddenly decided that I’d had enough and I pushed the bike with its full load into a shallow roadside ditch. I then ran back to the farm and reported to Mr Watt that I had skidded on ice and fallen off the bike. The farmer and I then returned to the scene in a horse-drawn float to salvage the bike and milk. As we lifted the bike from the ditch an elderly woman from a nearby cottage called out that she had seen me deliberately push the bike into the ditch. Without my having a chance to make an excuse or denial the farmer gave me a slap across my face and told me I was sacked. Thinking back on those work conditions I don’t suppose I was upset at being unemployed again.

My next employment was at a fish and chip shop in Chadwell St Mary near Grays. The hours I worked would nowadays be termed as unsocial. I started at 9.30am and peeled a sackful of potatoes in preparation for making chips. Potatoes were put into a large drum which was turned by hand until the peel was removed. I performed this work until 11.30am and then began delivering fish and chips to customers homes on my bike. Customers had regular orders for certain days and while making these deliveries I would call out 'Fish and chips!' as I rode through the streets and if I received an order it would be fulfilled in a few minutes. I was paid a small commission for gaining these extra orders. In those days the fish and chips were wrapped in old newspapers and sixpence would buy a large piece of cod and a generous portion of chips. I worked there for about two months and by that time I was unhappy with the hours 09:30 to 1pm then return 5pm to 9pm. Saturday 2 hours 11am to 1pm.

More sessions at night school and I then got a job on a farm in East Tilbury - St Clere’s farm. My day began at 4:30am when I helped the two cowherds to bring in the cows from the fields for milking. They were put into a cowshed for this and the milk was then passed through filters and into large churns.

A mile from the farm was a recently built shoe factory owned by BATA and a 4 storey accommodation block had also been built and was known as BATA Hotel. Hundreds of workers were accommodated there and many were from the deprived areas of the North where unemployment was high. A large canteen occupied the ground floor and at 7am each morning I would deliver churns of milk to the canteen in time for breakfast.

The cows were later turned out into the fields again and the stalls would be cleaned. I would make another delivery of milk to the canteen at 11am and this ended my days work. I left this employment after a few weeks, possibly as it was too early a start and was 7 miles from home.

Again without a job so my barrow came into use again. One morning I was at the paper mills in Purfleet and loading comics into my barrow when a young lad of my own age came by and called me a theif. We were soon fighting but were separated by a man who was the father of the boy, and he asked why I was taking the comics. To this I replied that I was unemployed and hungry and would sell them to be able to by food. The man Mr Harris, told me he had a painting business with a dozen painters on contract work and at the time were painting the mills internally and the cranes on the wharf. He offered me a job as a tea boy to his gang which I gladly accepted and I was paid 17 shillings a week which was almost double any previous wage. As tea boy I would make a large urn of tea for the breaks and also buy loaves of bread, cheese and cooked meats for sandwich making. We also had a portable cabin for our use.

The painting contract at Purfleet lasted for a month and during this time I became pals with the son of Mr Harris - also named Stanley. On completion of the paper mills contract, the boss told me he had a contract to paint a newly built power station at Portishead near Bristol and if my parents consented I could go with them. I got the OK from my parents and next morning I was at the Barking yard of Mr Harris, and carrying a bag with my clothing in it. On seeing the small amount in the bag, Mr Harris took me to a clothing store and bought me a new suit - my first ever - new shoes, socks, shirts and underwear and told me he would deduct a small amount of money from my wages each week to pay for them. A dozen men and I travelled to Portishead in an old coach owned and driven by Mr Harris. On arrival we were found lodgings which were paid for my Mr Harris.

Five men and myself were accommodated in a house in 26 South Road, 10 minutes walk to the power station. Mr Harris told me that I would no longer be the tea boy as we would be using the canteen facilities in the power station. From then on I would be an apprentice painter under the guidance of the foreman Mr Jones. Bill Jones taught me painting and sign writing. Unfortunately after about 2 months at Portishead, Mr Harris and Company went into liquidation and so we all returned to our homes September 1936. This was a turning point in my life as if I had remained in that job, a job which I liked very much - I would no doubt have been there when the war began and would possibly have been drafted into one of the Services.

A few weeks after the war began, I met Bill Jones in Grays and he told me he was again working for Mr Harris. The company had been reformed with Government assistance and now had contracts to camouflage oil refineries and factories.

Other Recollections of Those Early Years

Entering the Medway in pre-war years we were always presented with a magnificent sight. Many fighting ships of the Royal Navy at anchor in their home port, Cruisers and destroyers moored to buoys off Sheerness and further up river, and across from the Isle of Grain could be seen huge battleships also moored to buoys. There was a constant movement of many Liberty launches shuttling between the ships and their shore bases. Close by and at anchor would be RFA tankers which occasionally berthed alongside the ships for the purpose of re-fuelling them. In the upper reaches of the Medway closer to Chatham, other RN ships would be seen.

During my period in sailing barges I had a spell in a coasting ship Camroux I owned by the Newcastle Coal and Shipping Co. and we were engaged in carrying scrap metal from the wharf of Thomas Ward & Co (Shipbreakers) at Grays, to Blyth, and a return cargo of coal for London which was discharged at Rosebank Wharf Fulham.

In 1938, our family were living in 2 York Road Grays and my father was considering buying a newly built house in Grovelands Way Grays. The house was priced at £350, with a £25 deposit. As there was a threat of war, my father decided against buying and we then moved to a rented house at 69 Hampden Road Grays. While at this home during a blitz in November 1940, some bombs fell close by and my father suffered an injury when entering our garden shelter.

End September 1940, my stepmother was evacuated to a maternity home in Bath and there she gave birth to my half-brother Peter on 18 October. During an air attack, mid 1941, bombs damaged the factory at Purfleet where my father worked. So he was transferred to Bromsborough near Birkenhead to work in a factory there for a few weeks until repairs were completed at Purfleet. I visited him while I was on leave.

Sailing Barges

Born and bred in Grays Essex within 3 miles of the docks at Tilbury, I was fascinated by the ships using that port and I often went there during my school days to view the ships and their working. The shipping lines using Tilbury in those days were mainly Australian and Indian trades. The passenger ships of Orient Line, P & O Line, British India Line and Bibby Line and the cargo ships of Ellerman Lines, Harrison Line, Brocklebank Line, Clan and Houston Line and various tramp steamer companies.

On leaving school at age 14 I was employed in various different jobs, none of which lasted long. When I was 15½ I got a job as Mate in a sailing barge which was owned by Goldsmiths of Grays. At the time they owned about 60 sailing barges. This was the beginning of my sea career and connection with shipping which lasted for 50 years. The sailing barges I sailed in were Scorpion, Norman, Ailsa, Thetis, Geisha, Decima, Esterel and Celtic. We traded to many ports on the East Coast, and down channel from the Thames and Medway Ports including Maldon, Colchester, Mistley, Ipswich, Snape, Lowestorft, Great Yarmouth, Norwich, Wisbech and the Humber and Dover, Shoreham, Weymouth, Portland and the Isle of Wight.

Cargoes carried were varied - coal, cement, grain , timber, cattle feed and naval stores. These barges had a cargo carrying capacity of from 100 tons to 300 tons and most were crewed by a Skipper and Mate only.

I was in sailing barges at the outbreak of the war and we were given a Ross rifle. It was for us to fire at floating mines in an attempt to explode them. I remember that floating mines were reported by barge crews but I don't know if any were destroyed by them. I was in Ailsa in 1938. On 13th January 1943 Ailsa was sunk by a mine off Clacton. She had loaded sand at Wivenhoe for London. Incredibly the skipper and mate survived as they were blasted into the air with the sand. The mate is an old pal from Grays Syd Milbourn, and I am still in contact with him. He skippered many sailing barges through the years during the barge races.

During 4½ years service in these craft I experienced ship-wreck three times during very bad weather and each time we were rescued by a lifeboat from shore stations.

'A Postcard Home'

Note: The content of this section is from from an article called 'A Postcard Home' that Stan was invited to write for the Sailing Barge magazine 'Topsail'. I have taken the liberty of reproducing the introductory section below "as is" but have moved the paragraphs about specific barges into appropriate sections that follow.

Some of my most treasured souvenirs of my 4½ years in barges are the postcards I sent home to my parents in Grays - and which, thankfully, my father carefully preserved over the years. The messages they contain may be short and to the point , but they instantly take me back over fifty years to the pre and early war years, providing memories not only of the barges in which I sailed but also the Skippers of the craft, ports visited and cargoes carried. I went into barges at age 15½. It was a very hard life especially in wintertime.

The younger skippers would push and punish their barges by sailing in atrocious weather conditions, but elderly skippers like an easy life which for most of them meant working the Thames and Medway only where they could drop the anchor when darkness came and so have a good nights sleep. Most elderly skippers carried elderly Mates who were not too interested in earning too much. Barge crews were paid by the freight and the quicker the turn round the quicker the money was in hand. Of the money earned from a freight - half the amount was taken by the barge owners and the other half was shared by the crew - two thirds for the Skipper and one third for the Mate so in effect the Mate received one sixth of the total earnings.

Of course we supplied our own food and bedding, and had to contribute to any expenses such as towage by a tug or horse and port dues etc. Hard times were experienced by all if there was no work. I remember endless days at anchor off Grays on the 'Starvation Buoys' at Woolwich where 20 barges could be seen on any day.
Starvation Buoys
Sailing barges awaiting work on the 'Starvation Buoys' at North Woolwich London. [2]

Scorpion

I began my career in the stumpie barge Scorpion skippered by Charlie Smith of Rochester. When Scorpion was going alongside the ship Uffington Court in Surrey Commercial Docks in 1937, I saw a puppy fall from the quay into the water and I quickly rescued it. I gave him the name Uffington but later changed it to Tiger. I kept Tiger on various barges for three years then gave him into the care of my parents in Grays.
Scorpion
Sailing barge Scorpion carrying a load of timber. [3]
Also in Scorpion we went to St Katherine Dock to load from a small ship just arrived from Spain, then embroiled in Civil War. The cargo was rotting sacks of hoof and horn but many of the sacks contained large bones rumoured to be human bones from the battlefields, and indeed they could have been. This undesirable freight was taken to a glue factory at Queenborough and I remember how relieved we were when it was discharged as it was crawling with live maggots. Also we spend a very uncomfortable night alongside the factory with dozens of rats running around the decks of Scorpion. The factory was rife with rats. Many of the freights in Scorpion were of coal from Queenborough to Key Glass Works in New Cross. From Greenland Dock we entered Surrey Canal and were then towed for 1½ miles by a horse on a towpath, to the glass works. Other coal cargoes were from Beckton Gas works to Sharps toffee works, Maidstone. Boxwood was taken from Surrey Docks to Faversham through the Swale and Naval stores from Woolwich to Chatham Dockyard.
Queenborough
Barges moored at the Queenborough glue works. The glass works were nearby. [2]
Stan Mayes
A very youthful portrait of Stan which is annotated Scorpion so was presumably taken when he was with her. [2]

Norman

From Scorpion I went into Norman with Skipper Bill West of Frindsbury and we carried many cargoes of timber, grain and cattle feed to Ipswich and Yarmouth. While Norman was under repair we took Ailsa for a trip to Yarmouth and were caught in the gale of 23 November 1938.
Norman
Stan, his father and the dog Tiger on the sailing barge Norman in 1938. taken when he was with her. [2]
Norman
Mr & Mrs Mayes on the sailing barge Norman in 1938. [2]
Norman
Mrs. Mayes and the dog Tiger on the sailing barge Norman in 1938. [2]

Thetis

I made one freight of timber from Surrey Docks to Dover in Geisha with 'Trunky' Rolf as Skipper, then a spell in Thetis with Skipper Jack Blundell of Grays. Jack was an older Skipper and would not leave the river, so for the reasons previously stated, I did not earn much. Our principle cargo was coal - Queenborough to Blackfriars - Queenborough to Cliffe and Beckton to Southend. When war was declared on 3 September 1939 we were unaware of it till some hours later. On that day the Thetis had left Southend gas works for Queenborough and on our arrival there I was told the news by my girlfriend - the daughter of the publican of the 'Castle Inn'.

One night while I was aboard the Thetis at anchor off Globe Jetty near Grays, I was awakened by a heavy 'thump' - it was after midnight. Going onto the deck I saw the towering side of a ship above me and although I shouted repeatedly there was no response. Sensing danger I got into the dinguy and rowed ashore and then ran to the police station at Grays about two miles away. I reported the ship as dragging her anchor and had struck Thetis. This news was telephoned immediately to the Pilot Station at Gravesend and they alerted the ship by radio. The ship was Masunda of McClay & McIntire, Glasgow. Later the ships agent sent me £5 as a reward for my prompt action.
Thetis
Sailing barge Thetis. She was of wooden construction. [2]

Celtic

I was also Mate on the 300 tonner Celtic with Skipper Bill West. Being only two-handed, it was very hard work especially when the barge took a few freights of coal from Queenborough to Cliffe. The coal had to be trimmed underdecks as it was being loaded, and this was done by us with shovels, then came the replacing of the hatchboards and battening down, then getting under way and a few hours later we would be discharging at Cliffe cement works.

Unloading took only 4 hours then it was back to Queenborough to repeat the process. Of course a freight of 300 tons paid very well but it certainly was well-earned.

In May 1940, Celtic loaded cable at Woolwich Arsenal for Dover. The cable was loaded into the main hold and consequently the barge was trimmed well down by the stern making it impossible to use the sails. Celtic was then towed to Dover by a Watkins tug, but we returned to Grays under sail and we provoked the interest of a lone German aircraft as we passed through the Downs and after circling us one time he flew off towards Deal much to our relief.

A day or two after this incident the evacuation of Dunkirk began, the preparation for which I saw at Dover. Shortly after this, and still in Celtic, we were at anchor off Grays and awaiting work. The Skipper was at home and as I was returning aboard around midnight I saw a barge displaying an anchor light moving up river with the tide. Presuming that she had lost her anchor, I went after her in my boat with the intention of warning the crew she was adrift but on boarding I found here to be crewless. I then began getting underway, starting with the port and starboard lights which I lit and fitted. I then set the topsail, foresail and part mainsail and by this time we were off Greenhithe. With just enough wind to sail against the tide I took her back to Grays and on the way I made 4 or 5 runs along the deck to the windlass to heave in the broken anchor chain. Reaching Grays as dawn was breaking, I moored alongside Celtic. The barge was Ernest Piper, also owned by Goldsmiths. Later I was ashore to Goldsmiths office to report to their manager Mr Woodgate and he rewarded me with 10 shillings. I was given another £5 by the owners later.

I left Celtic for a spell and made freights in Decima and Esterel, both of which became casualties in bad weather, and I then returned to Celtic. Of the many pals I had in barges, one of them was Danny Griffin, also from Grays. In 1940, he left the barges and joined the Merchant Navy. I met him in June of the following year in Grays High Street and he was in the company of other seamen and a shipping office official, and they were on the way to Grays beach where they would be taken by launch to an oil tanker at anchor in the river awaiting a crew. She was Adula of Anglo-Saxon Petroleum Co. London. While we were chatting the official remarked that an ordinary seaman was missing. Danny told him that I was a seaman and serving in sailing barges and asked if I could have the job. The official gave me one hour to return with my gear, so I went off to Celtic to get my belongings - them ran to my house to tell my parents that I was off 'Deep Sea' and returned in time to catch the launch out to the ship. And so my career in Barges ended, though I continued in the Merchant Navy until 1956. Following that I had nearly thirty years as a ships rigger in the Thames and Medway area, but I will always have special memories of my time in barges, as prompted by my postcards home.

The following information is by courtesy of Wikipedia:

MV Celtic is a former sailing barge which was built by Kievits & Van Reede in Papendrecht, Netherlands in 1903 for E & W Goldsmith Ltd. She is currently under restoration at Sittingbourne, Kent.

Celtic was used to trade around the coast of Kent and Essex, and the Thames Estuary. She was mostly involved in the brickmaking and papermaking trades. In 1941 she was requisitioned for war service and at this time was fitted with a diesel engine. She was used as a barrage balloon base at Portsmouth, later serving as the headquarters for Operation Frankton. She saw further service in Scotland after this. Postwar saw her in service in the cement trade, working between Asham Cement Works on the Rover Ouse and the Isle of Wight. In 1967 the cement works closed, and she then worked between the Isle of Wight and Shoreham by Sea or Greenhithe [1] and was laid up at Newport in 1969. She finally ended her days working in the ballast trade in the Thames area. Her Official Number was 118314 and she used the Code Letters JGMC until 1933 and From 1934 the Code Letters were MKFZ.

In 2008, Celtic was at Murston near Sittingbourne in Kent awaiting restoration. In 2010 she was reported as "last used as a workshop at Dolphin Yard museum and almost derelict". Her current status is not known.

Unfortunately I have not been able to locate any photos of Celtic in her heydey apart from the one immediately below.

Celtic and Tiger
Stan Mayes' dog Tiger looking very much at home on the sailing barge Celtic in 1940. [2]
Celtic Celtic
Sailing barge Celtic at the Dolphin Barge Museum in Sittingbourne in 1997. [2]
Celtic and Cambrai Celtic and Cambrai
Sailing barges Celtic and Cambrai at the Dolphin Barge Museum in Sittingbourne in 1997. [2]
Celtic Celtic
Sailing barges Celtic at Sittingbourne in 2008. [1]

An Amazing Reunion

In 1996 the following article appeared in Issue 31 of Topsail - the journal of the Society for Sailing Barge Research:

I would like to end this year's editorial with a letter I received from John Woodman in the spring and I am sure John won't mind if I share his remarkable story with Topsail's readers. John, whose father was skipper of Goldsmith's ironpot Scot when he was mate in her, was himself promoted to skipper at the age of nineteen at the end of the Second World War, as told in his article in Topsail No. 28. It was this article which led directly to John being recently re-united with an old friend whom he had lost touch with for 55 years. But I must let John take up the story:

I'd like to tell you of a re-union between myself and a great friend whom I thought had lost his life in the early part of the last war. In the 1930s my family were living at Gravesend but I was over at Grays whenever I could get there and this was where I met Stan Mayes. I only ever knew him by his nickname which was Chick. He served in a few of Goldsmith's barges, the last one being Celtic with Bill West. Now I had started as mate of Speranza, 150 ton ironpot and I knew the skipper Fred Edwards quite well. The barge was laying off Grays with wheat loaded for Dover when Chick was mate of Celtic. It must have been 1941 and Chick was walking up Grays High Street when he bumped into another barge mate and a shipping agent who was looking for a seaman to go deep sea. Chick signed on and that was the last I saw of him until early in 1996. We were told soon after he left Celtic that the ship he was then serving on had been torpedoed and that he had lost his life.

Nothing however was further from the truth and he had one hell of a strory to tell about that. He was serving in the Viking Star when it was torpedoed by the German submarine U-13. The survivors took to the lifeboats and the sub surfaced. The commander, Ernst Kals, asked if there were any officers in the boat. 'No' came the reply so the submarine sailed away. A few hours later the same sub sank the British ship Beechwood owned by John Jacobs. Well Chick safely steered the lifeboat down the west coast of Africa and locals eventually led them to Freetown and safety.

It was Topsail that brought us together again after 55 years and this is how it happened. Chick saw a copy of Topsail 28 with my article in it and subsequently obtained my brother Jim's address from the SSBR Newsletter as Jim had just joined the Society. Chick wrote to Jim signing himself by his real name and asking him if he had an elder brother because he had years ago been great pals with him. Jim passed the enquiry on to me and I wrote to Stan, not knowing who he was, saying that I had known a chap whom I was friends with but that he had lost his life at sea in 1942. I told Stan that my pal's name was Chick. A few days later brother Jim came to see me. Stan had found Jim's telephone number and had rung him to say he was the same Chick and Jim said he was over the moon with excitement. I can tell you Peter it takes a lot to bring tears to my eyes but that was the case at that moment and I still can hardly believe it. We had a wonderful re-union at Chick's home in Gravesend and plan to see each other again. Chick said in a subsequent letter to me that ten or twenty years is a long time but with us it was fify five and that is incredible. Thank you for bringing us together again after all these years.
Reunion
Left to right, Jim Woodman, Stan Mayes and John Woodman taken in January 1996. [4]

Ailsa

Off Great Yarmouth on 23 November 1938. I had been sailing in Norman with Bill West of Frindsbury as Skipper, but while she was on the slip at Grays being overhauled we took Ailsa for a trip. Loaded with cattle feed from London and bound for Great Yarmouth, we arrived off that port late evening 22 November. At same time the paddle tug United Service came out of Yarmouth towing half a dozen barges which were all in ballast and bound for London. After releasing its tow, the tug came to us and asked if we wanted a tow into Yarmouth, but Skipper West declined as the towage charges were higher during the hours of darkness. After midnight the wind increased to gale force, and soon the heavy seas were swamping the barge, and with the violent rolling, the wangs carried away and the main sprit began swinging about and eventually crashed down on to the stack of cattle feed stowed 5 feet high on the hatch tops. Before this had happened we had sent up some distress flares and when Yarmouth lifeboat arrived we were told to go into the rigging and to jump into the lifeboat when we had the opportunity. We refused to abandon and requested two crew members to join us aboard and to assist us in raising the anchor and we then wanted to be taken into port by the tug which was on the way. If we had abandoned there would have been a salvage job for them - but we were adamant that we would not leave her and eventually the two crew from the lifeboat boarded us and helped to lift the anchor and assisted in making the tug fast and we were taken into port.

As the main sprit had shattered we remained in Yarmouth for a month until a new one was delivered by a Goldsmith barge (motor barge).

Of the barges which left for London as we arrived, all were caught in the gale and their crews were rescued by lifeboats from Lowestoft and Aldburgh, and the barges sailed themselves across to the Continent where one went ashore on the coast of Germany and the others to Holland. The Grecian of Goldsmiths was lost.

Hervey Benham gives the following account in his book Down Tops'l - External Ref. #23:

..... More spectacular still were the rescues in the sudden 70-mile-an-hour gale of November 23 1938, when seven barges were assisted by tugs and lifeboats off Yarmouth and two more to the southward off the Suffolk coast. The fleet (mostly Goldsmith's) had left Yarmouth decieved as to the weather prospects. The Ailsa, Everard's Britisher and Royalty, and Sully's Raybel were being towed in - the Royalty with sails and sprit gone, and the Raybel having dragged her anchors for three miles - when three more craft were seen driving down from the southward. The lifeboat succeeded in getting the crew out of the Una just as she grounded on Yarmouth south beach, herself hitting the bottom in doing so. She then turned her attention to the Cetus and got alongside her - suffering further superficial damage - taking out the crew off Winterton. The barge had been in trouble in the same place only two years previously, having been towed in with broken sprit in November 1936. Returning from this second rescue, the lifeboat, by the greatest good fortune, happened on the Decima driving before the gale pursued by the Lowestoft lifeboat, and saved her crew just five minutes before she hit the Scroby Sand.

Meanshile the Grecian and Astrild, both bound for Colne to load sand, had anchored - the former at Thorpness and the latter near the Sizewell Bank buoy. There the Aldeburgh lifeboat rescued the crews, after which both barges parted their cables and disappeared. Lowestoft and Southwold lifeboats were called to barges driving past out of control, but could find only one, abandoned high and dry on the Scroby - presumably the Decima.

This was one of the most arduous days in recent lifeboat history, and the worst in modern sailing-barge annals. A number of the abandoned barges were later salvaged, one of them having driven nearly across to the coast of Germany.

Notes:

  1. In the above account, Stan has used the word wangs. I asked him if this was a misprint and the word should have been vangs. He told me that they were the same thing but they had always been called wangs on sailing barges for some reason lost in the mist of time.
  2. Ailsa was a 67 GRT spritsail sailing barge built in 1898 at Deptford with official number 108371 and owned by E.J. & W Goldsmith.
  3. I have been unable to locate any photos of Ailsa and would be very grateful to anyone who has one. Contact details are at the foot of this page.

Decima

My next barge casualty was Decima which sank during a gale on 17 November 1940. The Skipper was Ernie Milbourn of Grays and we had loaded timber in London for Manningtree. Passing off Southend a gale sprang up so we anchored just below the pier to await finer weather, but as the tide turned we lay athwart the river and very soon the seas were washing over the barge causing the lashings on the deck cargo of timber to carry away, and the timber was soon gone overboard and water entered the holds through damaged tarpaulins. On sending up distress flares, Southend lifeboat came out to us and as the barge was sinking we had climbed into the rigging to await rescue. The lifeboat had safety nets suspended over her sides so when she was closed by we jumped into them. We were given a very warm welcome and a generous glass of rum amd taken to Southend Pier. Before jumping into the lifeboat I had kicked off my sea boots in case I fell into the water. I arrived home in Grays wearing socks only. No compensation was ever paid by barge owners.
Decima
Barge Mirosa bound for Sadd's with a cargo of timber as loaded. Stan says that Decima was loaded like this when she sank. Note that the foresail and mainsail have been reefed so the foot of the sails are above the cargo. [2]
Decima
Stan by the wheel of the sailing barge Decima. [2]

Decima was a steel barge and was restored. She is currently sponsored by Tiptree Jams and Preserves and based at Heybridge Basin near Maldon in Essex. She is available for pleasure cruises and looks very good as you can see from the photos below.

Decima
2008 shot of the sailing barge Decima with her wind being stolen by sailing barge Thistle [5]
Decima Decima
Sailing barge Decima racing in July 2011. [5]

Esterel

Later I sailed in Esterel, again with Ernie Milbourn as Skipper. A few weeks after the Decima loss we were bound London for Ipswich with grain when we ran aground on Buxey Sand during bad weather. We were rescued by Clacton lifeboat. Decima and Esterel were salvaged and returned to service.
Esterel
Stan by mainmast of the sailing barge Esterel in 1940. [2]

Notes:

  1. According to Benham - External Ref. #23, Esterel was abandoned and sank off Clacton in the winter of 1948 whilst carrying a cargo of wheat. She was raised five months later, unloaded at Rowhedge, and her cargo, washed and dried, went for cattle-food.
  2. Esterel was a 67 GRT Spritsail barge built in Southampton in 1899. Her official number was 110200.
Esterel
Esterel washed up at Walton beach in October 1939. She seems to have had some unpleasant experiences. [2]

Image Credits

  1. By courtesy of Wikipedia
  2. By courtesy of Stan Mayes
  3. By courtesy of Hervey Benham External Ref. #23
  4. By courtesy of Tops'l magazine
  5. By courtesy of Roger Beckett