Richard Crow (Part 1 of 8)
Richard's recollections span several pages. This is the first - move through the pages using the arrows at the foot of the page.
On this page:
These recollections were first published on the MerchantNavyOfficers.com website which closed in 2014 .
Richard's account consisted of 10 pages with a degree of overlap but relatively few dates relating to events making it difficult to be sure of the chronological order. In the end I settled for leaving the material near enough in what I beleive to be the original order. A couple of the pages are more or less free-standing essays. I have corrected obvious typing errors and added a number of images to enhance the accounts plus a few notes to clarify or correct factual errors. Otherwise the text is exactly as written by Richard.
I have no information about Richard's family at all and would be very pleased to hear from them should they come across these pages. If you know the family, I would greatly appreciate being put in touch with them. You can contact me via the Feedback page accessible from the menu.
Richard included the following introduction on one of the pages:
I joined the B.I. as a cadet in the cadetship Australia, anchored in Falmouth harbour, on my seventeenth birthday, 12th. September 1932 and distinguished myself the very next day by being seasick.
1942 obtained my Master's certificate in London and married Ivy Bryant for fifty-three years of happy marriage.
Served the Company in all ranks up to, briefly, Chief Officer and then, on 25th. June 1948 left to join the Tanganyika Railways and Port Services (shortly to become the East African Railways and Harbours) in Dar-es-Salaam as Marine Officer and Pilot.
I should like to take this opportunity to apologise to all my friends and shipmates in both the Deck and Engine room whose names I have forgotten. Like the 3/EO in, was it Nirvana, who one Christmas voyage made a very fine Athol Brose which he strained through a pair of his wife's silk stockings and the 3/O of Empire Tugela who I yarned with every midnight at sea when taking over the watch during a long and memorable nine months voyage?
Since retirement I have taken up painting, ships and maritime views in general with some occasional local landscapes , mostly in Acrylics, for my own nostalgic amusement.
They say that ones memory extends backward with increasing age, I can now remember five of the six first trip cadets who joined the Australia with me in 1932, Bill Oliver, Toby Blackett and John Willy Cook of the starboard watch and Pip Harris, Everett and Dick Crow of the port watch.
If I last another five years or so I may remember the sixth!
Born within the ancient city walls of York on 12th. September 1915 my first memory is of being carried in my Mother's arms down the stairs to the cellar, my Father leading the way with a candle. There was then a loud but distant explosion and I sensed that both my parents were frightened.
Mother told me years later that the occasion was a Zeppelin raid over York in 1918 when a bomb was dropped on Heworth Parish Church on the outskirts of the city. Two years later we went to live at Heworth and there was still a large hole in the roof of the church.
My next memories come from this time. We lived in 'Beech House', a Georgian house that had been a Doctor's home. It had a cobbled driveway at the side leading to a yard with a stable and coach house where the Doctor had kept his pony and trap. A brick wall with an archway halfway along lead into quite a large garden; the front a lawn with flowers and trees, and the rear half a vegetable garden with, at the back, a large hen house and chicken run where my father kept hens.
The house was lit by gas; I can still remember the old-fashioned gas mantles which could so easily be broken. Indeed the whole area must have been lit by gas as the street lamp post just opposite was gas, and I remember a man with a long pole who used to light it every evening and turn it out each morning.
In those days the milk was delivered daily in Heworth by a pony-drawn milk float containing traditionally shaped milk churns from which the milk was ladled in aluminium half or one pint measures and poured into the housewife's jug or receptacle.
I have happy memories of Beech House but Mother once told me that, for her as a housewife, it was an uncomfortable draughty old place.
Father was the youngest of a large family and Mother was his second wife some twenty-five years his junior. I do not think Father's numerous sisters and sisters-in-law, all very staid and Victorian, ever really approved of her, possibly thinking that she was far too young and modern and had taken advantage of him when his first wife, their friend and contemporary, had died. With hindsight I am sure that I did not help her cause and I must have been a sore trial and embarrassment to her on many occasions.
Three examples spring to mind:
Senior sister, very formal and correct with a Victorian 'we are not amused' manner, brought her young grandson, my age, to tea. When tea was ready we were missing. A search found two little boys standing side by side up to a wall in the garden seeing who could pee the highest on it. I, of course, was blamed for leading her young hopeful astray.
Youngest sister-in-law brought her three teenage daughters to tea. Mother prepared me in the latest sailor suit fashion, but when they arrived I was missing and was eventually found in Father's hen house sitting on a perch covered in hen droppings.
Another, and probably the hardest for Mother to bear, was when the new Methodist Minister came to tea and I, remembering my Mother's exhortations to be polite, went over to her and, amid approving nods and smiles from the assembled Aunts said "May I be excused please, Mummy". Fine, if I had just left it at that and not got a bit above myself on my return and gone and stood in front of the rather bashful young Minister and asked him "Can you go all by yourself, and button yourself up afterwards?"
Mother came from seafaring stock and her family were much more to my liking. I never knew her Father, my grandfather. He was the Master and owner of his own small ship trading to the Mediterranean and he lost his life at sea before I was born. His wife, my grandmother, who used to sail with him, I remember only as a very old Lady in a voluminous black dress with white lace cuffs and collar, sitting dozing by the fire. Many years later my wife and I, reminiscing about our youth, tried to work out her age and decided it could not have been more than about 65. Young by today's standards, but old then.
Mother's two brothers were both at sea. The elder, Wilma, had been in the RNR in the Great War and lost his life when the Prince Line ship of which he was Master was bombed and sunk off Ireland in WW2. In the 1920s he lived at Whitley Bay near Tyneside and, on one occasion when we were staying with him, the old four funnelled Mauretania, the Blue Riband holder of the North Atlantic, returned to the Tyne - presumably for a major overhaul - and he took me aboard her. Regrettably I remember nothing of the visit except that when we were down below standing in one of the four propeller shaft tunnels I was very impressed, and I think a little scared to learn that we were well below the surface of the sea outside.
Edgar, the younger, stayed with us several times at York when on leave. Once he brought me a bow and arrow and, while demonstrating it, shot an arrow over the roof into next door's where it frightened the Lady who lived there. Mother insisted that we both went and apologised to her. On another leave he had a Harley-Davidson motorcycle on which he took me for pillion rides. On one occasion we went to Whitwell Bank, a steep hill in the East Riding. At the top we stopped and ate our sandwiches so that, as Uncle said, we would have the hill to run down to restart the motorcycle. However it would not start so we stopped half way down and Uncle started, unsuccessfully, to tinker with it. Just then an identical Harley-Davidson came up the hill and the rider stopped saying, "Having trouble, let me help, I know these machines". After half an hour's unsuccessful efforts he remembered an important appointment and left us. Uncle replaced the bits as best he could and we free wheeled down the rest of the hill to where, in those pre Dr. Beeching days, there was a railway station, so we travelled home to York by train.
Mother's younger sister Dorothy often stayed with us. She must I think have found Father rather old-fashioned and used to tease him a lot. I remember her trying to convince him that as one washed ones hands in hot water in order to get them clean, one should also clean ones teeth in hot water. I also remember though her screams and the excitement in the middle of the night when she woke up to find the cat giving birth to kittens on her bed She was a good sport though and years later on my 21st birthday, gave me a Bradbury, one of those large white five pound notes then in use - the first one I had ever had, and very welcome it was too at that time as I was sitting for my 2nd Mate’s certificate in Newcastle and was running short of funds.
I have many other memories of those times, like when Mother asked Father to kill one of his hens for the table. I don't think he had ever killed one before. What he did, and of course I was not supposed to be watching, was to hold it with one hand over the wooden block on which firewood was chopped and then, with an axe, cut it's head off. This was done cleanly at the first blow and Father relaxed and stood back with a sigh of relief. I can still see the look of amazed horror on his face when the headless carcass got up and flew away over the garden wall. It was recovered but I wonder if he enjoyed his dinner next day?
Once when Mother was out, a tramp came to the back door and, realising that the maid and I were alone in the house, tried to force his way in. At that time we had a bull mastiff called Bruce, who hearing the maid scream, broke his chain and came to the rescue. I have quite a vivid memory of the tramp, with Bruce in hot pursuit, running for his life and, some minutes later, of Bruce returning with a satisfied smirk on his face and a piece of trouser in his teeth.
There was the occasion when Mother got my kid sister Gwen and I ready in good time to go to a birthday party. That was her mistake. Whilst waiting for the cab to arrive, we were sent into the garden to play. We each had a balloon and kid sister burst mine. Outraged, I upped and poured a bucket of water all over her and her party dress. No party for either of us but I as the transgressor, was well beaten and sent to bed with no tea at all.
I remember going to the pantomime 'Robinson Crusoe', at the Theatre Royal in York and falling for the Principal Boy, a right buxom lass. I can still see her slapping her ample thighs. The two comics got me into trouble however. In one sketch they pulled away a chair as an elderly gentleman was about to sit down to send him sprawling. I thought it hilarious and when we got home I tried the same trick on my Father. My timing was immaculate but to my surprise he was not amused although I suspect Mother had a hard job suppressing her giggles.
Father used to suffer from lumbago and I can remember Mother ironing his back with a hot iron on brown paper, an old fashioned remedy in those days.
My memories of Beech House end when I had a bad illness of whooping cough and pneumonia. One of the downstairs rooms was turned into a sick room that I occupied for many weeks. I can remember breathing in the vapours from a bowl of Friars Balsam in hot water with my head enveloped in a towel, being rubbed with eucalyptus, and having Thermagene put on my chest. On my recovery, Doctor told Mother that I should have plenty of good fresh air in which to convalesce so she rented a farm cottage in the village of Speeton on Flambrough Head where she, my sister and I spent the whole of that summer.
The farmer had two sons. William the eldest had a job in Bridlington to which he went on his motorcycle each day, while the younger son Artie managed the farm for his father.
I remember the farmer's wife and her dairy at the back of the house, and also the big stone flagged farm kitchen with flitches of home cured bacon hanging from the ceiling.
Artie was very good to me. I must have been a nuisance at times but he tried to let me help whenever possible. In those early twenties, great shire horses did most of the work. Indeed I don't remember them having a tractor on the farm, and I was soon enjoying myself, riding home on the back of 'Daisy' after a day's work in the field, helping to herd the cows for milking etc. but I was always very wary of the gander and his flock of geese who lorded it over the farmyard.
One day we set off at about daybreak. Daisy and another horse all fancied up with ribbons and horse brasses, pulling one of the farm wagons, newly painted, for a day out at the nearby Hunmanby Fair.
Later in the year came the harvesting, with the great combine harvester and the excitement as the rats and rabbits scurried out of the last of the standing corn; making the stooks and then the threshing machine, driven by a good old fashioned steam traction engine so typical of those days.
I attended the village school for the summer term. Situated some two miles away and serving both Speeton and the next village Reighton, it was a typical one Ma'am school as so often graphically described in the 'Miss Read' novels. A teacher, one room and a couple of dozen assorted children. I walked to school through the fields with the other children from Speeton, including the coastguard's two sons, slightly older than me.
They must have thought me, a Townie from York, a queer fish. So innocent of all things rural but, apart from some initial teasing, we got on very well together and I soon became one of the gang and engaged in all manner of boyish activities - some quite questionable to say the least.
I think I first earned some brownie points when, together with the other boys, we played cricket and truant, refusing to hear the school bell until the game was over. When we eventually returned to school we were lined up in front of the whole school and soundly caned by an irate Teacher. It was remarked that I did not blub as one or two of the smaller ones did.
In those days a railway line ran from Seamer on the main line through Filey to Bridlington with a 'halt' station at Speeton, and I can remember putting half-pennies, probably only one or two as we were never that flush, on the railway line hoping that the train running over them would flatten them out to the size of a penny. I don't remember it being successful as a source of pocket money. Another rather vague memory is of being up a tree scrumping apples. The village Policeman is also in the picture but I have no recollection of any of us being caught - on that occasion at least.
I learned the hard lesson of political expediency that summer. It was an election year and three little boys, the coastguard's sons and I, were sitting on the playground wall when the Conservative candidate and his entourage, all bedecked with blue ribbons and rosettes passed. "And who does your father vote for" we were asked. "Oh, Conservative Sir" the other two wisely replied, and were rewarded with a sixpence each. "My father's a Liberal, Sir" I replied, and was very surprised when the proffered sixpence was quickly snatched away.
I still inwardly blush at an incident when the whole school went on a nature walk one afternoon and I was taken short. Unable to find a gorse bush behind which to relieve myself, I messed my trousers. Too embarrassed to tell the teacher I hid until they had passed on and then ran home to my mother. It must have caused the teacher a deal of worry when she found that she had lost one of her flock, and the new Townie so ignorant of country ways at that. I've no idea who sorted it all out but nothing was said next day at school, to my great relief.
Another event, with a nautical flavour, was when the coastguards held a practice firing of the breeches buoy apparatus. The rocket with its attached line was fired at a post (representing a ship's mast) on an adjacent hillock. The line was hauled across and made fast, and then a survivor (one of the coastguards' sons) was hauled to safety in the breeches. I don't know how, but I managed to acquire the empty rocket casing which was a prized possession for some years.
During that summer they were building a Methodist Chapel at Speeton. My father, a staunch Methodist, arranged for me to lay a brick in the building and I still have the ornamental 'gavel?' I used and was presented with after the ceremony.
Speeton's Anglican church is said to be one of the oldest and smallest in Yorkshire. It is certainly the smallest one I have ever seen. In that summer of the early 1920s the tiny stone built church with it's pointed early gothic style windows was situated alone and forlorn in an open field between the village and the cliff top and did not appear to be used. Some forty years later however my wife and I were touring that part of Yorkshire and we found that the little church was now obviously cared for and in regular use. A protective fence had been erected all round it with an approach drive and small car park. The church was open for viewing and it was pleasing to be able to make a donation in the offertory box with a note referring to my stay in Speeton as a little boy so many years previously.
The cliffs on the north side of Flambrough Head and along towards Bempton are mostly sheer and some 400 feet high but then, as the coast reaches Filey Bay, they decrease in height and became more broken up so that at Speeton it was possible to clamber down through gullies on to the sandy beach. At that point there was the wreck of a small iron steamer. All that remained at that time was the sternpost, with propeller aperture standing proud in the sands with the remains of the boilers nearby. It might have been at Whitley Bay but I think it was here at Speeton, but further along towards Flambrough Head, that there was the wreck of a German U-Boat wedged amidst the rocks at the base of the sheer cliff. I seem to remember being told that it had been under tow after the First World War and had broken adrift in a storm.
On returning to York fully recovered at the end of the summer, I was entered at Archbishop Holgate's Grammar School, a 16th century school founded by an Archbishop of York of that name. At that time the school was in Lord Mayor's Walk just outside the city walls. It must have taken on many new pupils since the war as the junior classes were held in wartime wooden army huts behind the main buildings.
The Headmaster, Dr. Vintner, with his white imperial beard was an imposing figure in his cap and gown. But on the other hand, the chemistry master, 'Tich' Worth, was so small that it looked as though a pile of text books was entering the room unaided until it was realised he was carrying them. The French master, Monsieur Delacroix, with his tubby figure and flamboyant moustaches was the spitting image of Agatha Christie's detective Hercule Poirot, but all I can remember of the music master was that, as the new boys were given an audition, he tapped me on the shoulder and quietly suggested that perhaps it would be better if I did not join in with the singing.
The best and most charismatic of all the Masters was 'Boney' Thompson, the form master of class 4a. He had been an army officer in the war and he and his lessons were always stimulating. One day he spent a whole period of mathematics or maybe geometry, proving step by successive step, each step being agreed as correct and valid by the whole class, that a figure (I think possibly a triangle) was, in fact not a triangle at all but was another figure (possibly a pentagram). I'm no mathematician but some of the class were, any way in an 'A' form - we were all supposed to be bright and we were all fooled. When the chorus of bewildered "Oh Sir", and "But Sir", had died down, he drew our attention to that morning's date, APRIL the FIRST!
About this time in the late twenties it became the fashion for young ladies to wear very short frocks - although they were not, as far as I know, called minis in those days. The York Public Library of which I was a member, had a pretty young assistant who favoured such frocks. I was now just about the age when such things were beginning to interest me so I, with no doubt many of the other male subscribers, used to watch her as she returned books to the shelves. When she bent down to a lower shelf, or reached up to a top shelf, her garters could be seen, and sometimes a glimpse of frilly knickers. However her frocks, short as they were, could not compare with a mini dress I saw in the early 1960's while on home leave from East Africa. I had taken my wife and her sister out for an afternoon's drive in the car, and returning home was held up by the traffic lights in the middle of Henley-on-Thames. Whilst sitting waiting for the RED light to change, a very attractive young lady wearing the miniest mini I have ever seen walked past. She had very good legs, a neat little bottom, and her dress was so short that even just walking there were tantalising glimpses of her white panties. I was absolutely transfixed and when she arrived at the corner and turned out of sight. I gave a deep sigh and glanced up just in time to see the GREEN light turn back to RED. I had, in fact missed a whole phase of a GREEN. Looking round guiltily, (my wife and her sister were in the back seat), I was relieved to see that they were so busy talking that they had not noticed a thing. But I also saw that behind me some three or four cars were queued up. As there had not been one single peep of protest from them I assumed that all the drivers were males and had been as fascinated by the show as I. On that note it is probably wise to call a halt before I inadvertently reveal any further examples of my misspent youth.