Richard Crow (Page 5 of 8)
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In the nineteenth century the principal port of what is now Tanzania, was Tanganyika and then was a coastal strip under the jurisdiction of the Sultan of Zanzibar, was Bagamoya, an open roadstead port a few miles north of Dar-es-Salaam. At that time Bagamoya was also the port of embarkation for the slaves brought down from upcountry by the Arab slavers. The ruins of the slave compounds are still visible and there are still many mango trees in the area which the slave traders used throughout the slave routes, spaced at a days march distance apart, to feed their human caravans.
In 1857 the Sultan decided to turn the sheltered landlocked harbour of Dar-es-Salaam into a port and trading centre. The popular myth is that he left his chief wife in charge in Zanzibar and took his favourite concubine with him, calling his new port Dar-es-Salaam or Haven of Peace. In fact, although he built a grand palace and other buildings the project did not prosper, the vested interests in Bagamoya and the narrow winding entrance channel with it's strong tidal currents which proved difficult for the Arab dhows and other sailing ships to navigate caused the scheme to be abandoned.
Nothing further was done until the advent of the German East Africa Company towards the end of the century to whom the Sultan granted (for about the equivalent of £200,000) the right to develop the port and raise custom dues. By now the advent of steam ships, which had no difficulty in navigating the entrance channel, made the sheltered harbour of Dar-es-Salaam much preferable to the open roadstead of Bagamoya as a port. This was amply demonstrated in 1892 when several large units of the German navy entered the inner harbour and again in 1905 when some large warships of the Russian fleet anchored in the harbour in an unsuccessful attempt to obtain supplies from a neutral Germany.
This fleet had been denied access to Suez Canal. It was later defeated by the Japanese Fleet at the Battle of Tsushima.
The start of the construction of the Railway from Dar-es-Salaam to Lake Tanganyika made port improvements imperative. Dar-es-Salaam quickly became a large and thriving port and an Administrative capital. The port facilities were improved by the provision of wharves, dockyards and a floating dry dock. The Secretariat and other large Government buildings were built and are still used for similar purposes by the present Administration today. The present New Africa Hotel, where I stayed for a few days when I first arrived in Tanganyika was, I believe, the German Officers club.
It is interesting to note that, on what in 1950 was a golf course, the Germans had a veterinary experimental station where they attempted to break in and train Zebras for riding and driving. In fact a young army lieutenant succeeded in riding one on safari and a burly sergeant major, at no small risk to himself and to the terror of the locals, drove a four in hand of Zebras through the streets.
In December 1914 the port was bombarded by British naval forces, not a great deal of damage was done although Government House on the sea front was destroyed and the port's signal station, where I lived during my first tour of duty in 1948, was hit and still has a shell hole in the wall of one of the store rooms in the basement. The Germans attempted to deny access to the port by sinking a dry dock in the entrance, this was unsuccessful although the sunken dock still remains to one side of the entrance, and the wreck of an 8,000-ton German ship, the Tabora, is in the south creek.
Early in 1919 the British Civil Administration took over, Government House being rebuilt on its original site in 1922. About this time the Port Department of the Tanganyika Railways and Ports Services took over the responsibilities for the Ports, lights, buoys and beacons on the Tanganyikan coast from Tanga in the north to Mtwara in the south just north of Cape Delgado, of which Dar-es-Salaam was the principal port.
During the period between the wars, steady progress was made to the town and port, new lighterage wharves were built and a dockyard established to deal with marine repairs etc. The Belgium Government established a base, Belbase, as a terminal for the shipment of goods to and from the Belgian Congo via the rail link to Lake Tanganyika. After WW2 a fillip was given to the ports of Tanganyika by the 'Ground nuts scheme' sponsored by the British Government which attempted to increase the production of ground nuts (for their oil content) in the Southern Province, necessitating the building of a new port, Mtwara, and a rail link. It was because of the need for an additional pilot for this port that I was fortunate to be appointed a pilot to the Ports Service in 1948.
Briefly, around 1949, Dar-es-Salaam harbour became a staging point in the British Overseas Airways Corporations Princess Flying Boat service from U K to South Africa. A mooring was established off the Customs House jetty and the flying boats landed and took off on the South Creek, shipping movements being controlled as necessary to allow the flying boats the right of way.
Since WW2 there has been a spectacular development of the town and port, with the provision of three deep-water quays at a cost of some £3 million, a modern airport and many other ancillary features including a modern International style hotel. That was the progress up to the time I left East Africa in 1960, no doubt there has been much more since!
Early Days of Piloting
When I arrived in Dar-es-Salaam to become a pilot, an old friend and shipmate of the cadetship Australia days, Bill Oliver, was the pilot and it fell to him to take me in hand, show me 'the ropes' and give me my initial training as a pilot. I had to go with him on all the ships he piloted, at first to watch and then as I became more familiar with the procedures, to take over from time to time under his supervision. It was necessary, also, to familiarise myself as soon as possible with the harbour, its approaches, lights, beacons, anchoring marks, berths, depths of water and the tidal streams. Another of my tasks, as the new boy, was to work out tide times and heights for each daylight hour of each day of the month. These were important as we were a tidal port i.e. entry and departure depended on the height of the tide and the draft of the ship, also at springs the tidal currents ran at up to 5 or 6 knots in the entrance and vessels had to stem the tide at such times.
I well remember the first ship I boarded with him, a modern American cargo vessel of the Farrell Line. The bridge was sited well abaft of amidships and to my horrified gaze the bow seemed to stretch forward for ever, it seemed to be almost touching the opposite side of the harbour and I could not imagine how he could ever possibly turn her to port and the harbour entrance.
Of course there was plenty of room, slow ahead and hard a port and she came round as sweetly as you like.
The harbour at Dar-es-Salaam is entirely landlocked, visualise a roughly oval shape, the long length being east and west, the entrance from the sea being at an angle from the north east at it's eastern extremity, necessitating (on entering) a starboard turn of nearly 90 degrees. There were five anchorage berths for large vessels (the maximum length accepted being 600 feet) in this part of the harbour. At its western end a navigable south creek extended southward and provided three more berths for smaller (450 ft) vessels. 'D' berth was a single anchor berth in the middle of the harbour and was used mostly for passenger and other short stay ships but all the others required a running moor with two anchors to limit the swinging circle to the length of the ship.
For the first eighteen months or so of my tour there was no harbour berthing tug at Dar-es-Salaam so ship handling was entirely in the hands of the ship, some were much more manoeuvrable than others. After that the tug Empire Linden was stationed at Dar, which greatly expedited pilotage movements. Also, now that tug assistance was available, a trot of mooring buoys was laid in the South Creek which enabled us to moor larger and deeper draft vessels there than previously with the former anchor moorings. In addition, in order to meet the growing use of oil fuel by the railways, a tanker berth was established at the head of the creek.
Gradually, as I became more familiar with piloting I was allowed to take over myself more and more, but still under Bill's supervision, until he considered that I was ready to be passed over to the Harbour Master. At this point the Harbour Master came with me and watched me pilot selected ships both inwards and outward. When he was satisfied that I was proficient the Superintendent of Ports issued me with a pilot's certificate.
The first ship I piloted on my own was an old Union Castle cargo ship, I suppose the Union Castle's equivalent of the BI's 'G' class, inwards to one of the south creek berths. Every thing went fine, we ended up smack in the middle of the berth with 3 shackles of each cable on deck, all according to the book.
The same could not be said for my first ship outward, a Prince Line motor ship in ballast from the first of the south creek berths. It was an afternoon sailing on the ebb tide assisted by a fresh southeasterly breeze. Had I been an experienced pilot I would have known that in ballast and those conditions it would have been a simple matter, with a touch or two of slow ahead and full port rudder to turn her the 90 plus degrees to port to head for the harbour entrance. But I was not yet so experienced and opted to go by the textbook and turn short round to starboard. I misjudged the effect of the ebb tide and breeze so that eventually, in order to force her bow up into the wind towards the entrance I had to use full ahead power and hard a starboard rudder, and then only just made it! A most unsafe manoeuvre as the Captain pointed out to me.
As I suspect happens to many new pilots, after several months of uneventful piloting I went through a bad patch of nerves and loss of confidence, it all came to a head one afternoon when I was scheduled to pilot a BI ship, the Amra, to sea. I was working in the port office and every time I looked out of the window, there she was, waiting for me. At last, when it was time to go I knew that I couldn't do it and stood up to tell the Harbour Master so. At that moment his telephone rang and the moment had past, (you might say I was saved by the bell)! I went off and piloted the Amra to sea, a perfectly normal and easy job. That seemed to be the turning point for me and I started to enjoy piloting again. Many months later I told the Harbour Master about my crisis of nerves on that afternoon. He smiled and said "I know just how you felt, a very similar thing happened to me when I was a new pilot."
Piloting was not all hard graft, on most occasions it was a delight to be up there handling a responsive ship, especially in the cool at daybreak when one felt superior to all those slugabeds still to get up. Of course there were the odd nail-biting moments such as the time I was piloting a handy little twin-screw motor ship in. When the anchor came aweigh the order 'Half ahead both engines and starboard ten' had her swinging nicely up to the fairway buoy. Lined up on the channel and 'midships and steady as you go' but she still kept swinging to starboard. 'Port your helm' then 'hard a port' but still no response. Finally 'Full astern both engines, let go both anchors' and we ended up athwart the channel with our nose embedded in the sand. Fortunately we were not going too fast and by heaving in on the anchors and astern on the engines she came off with no trouble. It transpired that her steering gear was electrically controlled and that the 3rd. Officer, when testing the controls, had simply forgotten to switch it on.
Such incidents were more than off set by the many moments of light relief.
Once, piloting an American ship to sea, we had just got started and heading for the entrance when a very large and very drunk seaman arrived on the bridge escorting a very small and equally drunk shipmate, saying "Tich here hasn't done any work today he must do his trick at the wheel". Fortunately the Captain was even larger than the large seaman, he merely walked slowly towards him and when their stomachs touched kept right on walking so that the seaman was slowly forced off the bridge, much, I might say, to my relief.
On another occasion, bringing a ship out of the south creek, as soon as the main engines were started the steering engine packed up and we could not steer. After several fruitless attempts I was able to drop the anchor in a vacant berth while the engineers investigated. After a while it was reported to be all well, apparently, or so I was told, they had been working on the steering engine in port and had somehow put the piping back crossed so that instead of pumping steam in it sucked it out. Whatever, the steering gear now worked and I was able to take her to sea, and glad to be rid of her! I was always a bit dubious of the explanation given and put it to the Mistri Sahibs on the BI Website who were unanimous in thinking it rather phoney too. As one said, it's difficult enough to put the pipes back the right way round, it would be practically impossible to put them back crossed! The consensus of opinion was that the steam pressure was too low so that the main engines used all that was available leaving none for the more remote steering engine. Perhaps the duty Engineer had not raised enough steam pressure and was trying to pass the buck to another, possibly more junior colleague on day work.
Another occasion involved that well-known B.I. character Captain Claude Fellers. His ship, the Mantola was one of two that had arrived during the night and both required a pilot to enter at daybreak. The other was a collier fully laden with coal for the railways. I was duty pilot and had to call in the stand-by pilot Bill Oliver to do one of them. As stand-by he had the choice and naturally chose the easier and well-known Mantola, leaving me the collier. She, because of her deep draft had to enter at the very top of high water, which was at daybreak that day. Capt. Fellers, a very experienced shipmaster and familiar with the port had anchored close to the fairway buoy and when he saw the pilot boat approaching was weighing anchor ready to move in. You can imagine his chagrin when Bill told him he had to wait and allow a dirty old collier in ahead of him. As I steamed slowly past I was surprised to see Claude on Mantola's bridge give me a wave, but I gaily waved back. Later, in the office, I commented on this to Bill, "He was not waving" replied Bill, "he was shaking his fist at you and when you waved back we all thought he would do himself a mischief."
Around 1949/50 the British Airways Princess Flying Boat service between U K and S. Africa landed at Dar-es-Salaam. A mooring was laid for the flying boats off the Customs Jetty, which landed and took off along the South Creek. I well remember waiting on the bridge of a ship in the creek until the aircraft had taken off before leaving our moorings. By the time it had reached us it had gained height to about the level of our bridge and in my minds eye it seems as if I could have reached out and touched it's wing tip as it roared by on full throttle.
Towards the end of my tour of duty another ex BI officer, Dudley Wash, his last ship being Landaura as 2/O, was scheduled to relieve me. His first tour in East Africa had been in command of the Administrations ship Liemba on Lake Tanganyika so he had no piloting experience and I had to train him, as Bill Oliver had had to train me.
We were both very similar in appearance and when in pilot’s uniform were real look-alikes. In fact one Captain said he had never before been piloted by two brothers (I don't know which of us felt the most insulted!) and once, during a period of beer rationing, Stewarts Stores, where we both shopped, refused Dudley his ration saying that he had had it. I had to go in with him to prove that there were two of us.
Eventually our leave arrived and we sailed for home in the Bibby Lines Leicestershire on charter to the B. I. In those days ones leave did not commence until arrival in the U K, which meant a pleasant three weeks sea voyage as part of ones tour of duty. Nowadays, with the advent of air travel, that pleasant interlude is a thing of the past.
Prior to joining Sirdhana, I had been on leave and had met up once more with my old friend from cadetship days aboard Australia, Bill Oliver. Bill told me that he was now working in Dar-es-Salaam for the Tanganyika Railways and Port Services as a Marine Officer; he also added that a vacancy had recently occurred and suggested I apply immediately. Not needing second bidding I applied immediately and was fortunately accepted.
On Sirdhana's return to Calcutta from Japan, BI relieved me and I travelled to Bombay by rail to join Tairea for passage to Dar-es-Salaam. I arrived on the 25th of June 1948 and immediately took up my appointment as Marine Officer for T.R.&P.S. This administration amalgamated with the Kenya & Uganda Railways & Harbours becoming East African Railways & Harbours, my rank of Marine Officer was also changed to that of Pilot. I completed my pilots training with Bill Oliver and after about four weeks became licensed in my own right. At that time there were many BI ships, both Home Line and Coast calling at East African ports so I by no means lost touch with either the company or my friends, of course my added bonus was that I got to sleep in my own bed every night, well almost.
Hippos in her garden et al.
One of the principal reasons for my leaving the B.I. and taking up piloting was so that my wife, Bonkie, and I could enjoy a settled home life together. That was fine from my point view but I have since often wondered what my wife must have thought about giving up all the urban amenities of West Kensington to come and live in what amounted to rural East Africa.
As I was the junior pilot we were housed in the Signal Station flat on the other side of the entrance to the harbour so that, although we could see the bright lights of Dar-es-Salaam across the water we were cut off once the ferry had stopped running at dusk. Our nearest neighbour on that side was a retired Colonel some two miles down the road towards Mjimwema, who had recently had his dog snatched from the verandah by a leopard!
The Signal Station, built by the Germans at the beginning of the century, had no mains power, light or water and, of course, in those days there was no air conditioning so that the Aladdin kerosene pressure lamp made the room even hotter.
Our African cook cooked on a kuni (wood) fired Dover stove. We did buy a Valor oil cooker for my wife but it was not very successful as the sea breezes kept causing it to blackout. We had no refrigerator either until the last year of my tour when the PWD were able to provide us with an Electrolux kerosene refrigerator which was a great boon.
On the other hand the Signal Station was sited in a beautiful position overlooking the harbour and the entrance channel with it's own private beach. While it was handy for my piloting duties I also had to keep an eye on the ferry to the mainland nearby with it's occasional problems such as when a car ran off the pontoon into the harbour on the evening I was due to take my wife out for our anniversary dinner.
The private beach also had it's flip side, being Government, my wife's friends in the Education Department sometimes asked her to host a beach party for the teachers and children which entailed an anxious afternoon for her counting heads to make sure none had gone missing.
In those days, with no TV Video's and such like modern gadgets we had to make our own entertainment, which often were small dinner parties for our friends, on a reciprocal basis over the months, with a dance at the Club in between, these were the usual diversions.
At the end of dinner it was customary for the Ladies to retire to the bedrooms for nose powdering etc. while we men folk went into the garden to water Africa.
I recall one such party at the Signal Station. When the men were out in the garden, frantic screams were heard from the ladies bedroom, rushing back to see what was wrong, we found the Ladies clustered round the washbasin pointing to a little black hand with yellow spots poking through the grille of the overflow drain. Investigation shewed that the overflow pipe outside was open to the ground and a little frog had climbed up the pipe and was only trying to get out at the top.
One Sunday afternoon I decided to take our little harbour boat (called Sara Jane after a favourite niece) up the south creek to examine the leading beacons at the head of the creek for possible maintenance and painting. It being a fine pleasant day my wife came too with the makings for a picnic. On the way up the creek, my wife placidly knitting and I smoking my pipe and minding my own business, the Cox' swain suddenly gave an exclamation and the boat veered off sharply. Looking up to see what was going on I found myself staring, at very short range, into the eyes of three large hippos in the water. Fortunately they took no action and we were able to carry on.
The following Monday morning I sent a working party off to paint the beacons. That evening about sunset a very wet and bedraggled working party reported back. They too had met the hippos but had not been so lucky as we were on Sunday, their boat was overturned and they were forced to walk back as best they could overland.
The following Sunday, having no early shipping movement, I had a lie in and about 7 am let the dogs out. Almost immediately there was a great deal of barking and kerfuffle, the biggest, Sam, a spaniel guest who was staying with us while his owners were on leave, shot back in and under the bed, Velvet, our own dachshund, came in and stood close behind me while Davy Jones, a cocky little Sealyham, another guest, stayed barking at the foot of the steps.
Thinking an African fishing boat had stopped off on our Signal Station beach to sort out their nets after a nights fishing as they sometimes did, I went down just in time to see a large hippo take off into the channel and head for the mangrove trees.
Monday morning and my job was to service the outer channel leading lights. It being low water I landed from our boat at the edge of the reef and waded to the nearest beacon. On returning I discovered that my boat had moved quite a long way off and, on being called for, kept replying 'kiboko' 'kiboko' the Swahili for hippo. Swearing to my self I started towards the edge of the reef when, to my great astonishment and no little alarm a hippo rose up out of the water at the edge of the reef right in front of me. You can imagine I changed course very rapidly to where my boat had gone.
That afternoon, piloting an American Robin Line vessel to sea I told the Captain that there was a hippo in the channel just about where we were. "Ah Gee pilot" he replied, "I guess that is just another of your East African yarns." But, right on cue, disturbed by the beat of the ships propeller the hippo rose up at the edge of the reef as we passed. I refrained from commenting!
The Government's game wardens told us that it was most unusual for hippos to be in the harbour, they put it down to an exceptional dry season with the hippos following the failing fresh water streams until they ended up in the harbour to keep cool. They were not usually dangerous, only if they had young with them or their retreat was cut off.
Personally, with hindsight, I am inclined to think that my wife, Bonkie, might have had something to do with it as well as any dry season. She seemed to attract more than her fair share of wild life stories!
Apart from hippos in her garden, she had only been out a few weeks before a lion was sighted near the signal station and she was told to stay indoors until the all clear was given.
And then a large male baboon came to stay one Friday evening. We were told to ignore him and avoid eye contact as that might lead to a dangerous confrontation. An uneasy weekend ensued but then, fortunately, he took the hint and left on Monday morning as mysteriously as he had arrived.
One day we had a lunch engagement in Dar and I sent a boat over to the signal station for her at the agreed time. She was almost an hour late arriving and explained that the delay was because Kombo, the head signalman had insisted she remain shut up in her flat while he and the other boys, with much excited shouting, caught and killed a particularly venomous snake. Andy, the Harbourmaster, commented "Oh, they say all snakes are kali (bad), that's just Africa". Afterwards, when we were alone, Bonkie was quite indignant and said "it's all very well for Andy to say that's Africa, but it WAS a bad snake, after they had killed it they cut off it's head and then buried the two parts separately and far apart because, they said, if they didn't the two would join up at sunset, come alive again and chase them for killing it."
The Mumiani were something else again. One morning our kitchen Toto (boy), who lived in a village just down the road, failed to turn up for work. On enquiry my wife was told it was because he was afraid of the MUMIANI. My Swahili was not very good, Bonkie's was better but not much, fortunately Kombo spoke fair English, from all sources we gathered that the Mumiani were bloodsuckers, a sort of East African Dracula legend, that stemmed from the 16th Century era of the Portuguese in East Africa. The explanation of all the fuss, it later transpired, was that the Red Cross in conjunction with the Sewa Haji native hospital had launched a drive for blood donors, hence the bloodsuckers. We could not persuade our superstitious village boy otherwise, however, and remained totoless until it was over.
Another of Bonkie's wild life adventures took place during our next tour of duty when I was pilot I/C Tanga.
She had been ill and went to convalesce in the cooler climate of the Lawns Hotel at the up country hill station of Lushoto.
'The Lawns', like most traditional East African hotels of the time, had a main building of dining room, lounges, bars etc. but the guests rooms were en suite 'bandas' scattered about the grounds. My wife, being a convalescent, was given a quiet secluded banda where she lived quite happily with our dog Velvet. One evening she opened the door to allow the dog out for it's final run before retiring but Velvet refused to go out and, with her hair on end, took refuge under the bed. To see what was wrong my wife went out and seeing a few yards away what she thought was a large 'ridgeback', or lion dog as they were called, stepped forward and indignantly shooed it away. Imagine her surprise when it turned and looked at her over its shoulder and she realised it was not a lion dog at all but a real full-blooded lioness. She very quickly joined her dog, not under the bed, but in the rather dubious safety of her room. When I visited the next weekend the local game warden told me that it was the first time for some fifteen years that they had lions up in the hills at Lushoto.
Another aspect of life at the Signal Station was that we had a first aid box to deal with the occasional cuts and bruises sustained by the signal men, boat boys and ferry staff, Bonkie usually dealt with that sort of thing as she was on the spot and in consequence was regarded by all the staff as a sort of universal mother under the name of Mama Mem Sahib. At first there was the occasional faux pas, for example when Ali our houseboy reported his wife had a bad cough and was given some cough mixture for her. He misunderstood my wife's instructions in her elementary Swahili and took the mixture himself, next day saying that it was mzuri sana (very good), and his wife's cough was much better!
After the amalgamation of the three railway systems into the East African Railways and Harbours, Dar-es-Salaam was often referred to by those at Headquarters in the bigger port of Mombasa as "The sleepy hollow." Nevertheless we always looked back on our first tour in Dar as one of our happiest.
The Loss of Slemmestad
This is an eyewitness account of the loss of the Slemmestad by fire off Dar-es-Salaam on 27th. March 1951.
The Slemmestad, a Norwegian cargo vessel, was built in 1928 by Burmeister and Wain at Copenhagen for A.F. Klaveness & Co. A/S. She was powered by an early type of diesel engine.
When I boarded to pilot her to sea she was lying to a single anchor in Dar-es-Salaam harbour. As the anchor came aweigh she was facing the entrance so that only one engine movement was necessary, "half ahead." The engine started with a great clatter of bangs and backfires, blowing smoke rings up the funnel and I remember saying, "My goodness, Captain, I don't like the sound of your engines" to which he replied "It's all right Pilot, they are always like this."
I disembarked as usual at the Fairway buoy and returned home but had no sooner got in my bath when the duty signalman telephoned through to say that the ship that had just left port was on fire.
After alerting the Harbourmaster I turned out the pilot boat's crew and set off to see what assistance we could give.
The Slemmestad had been southbound so that by the time we arrived the northerly current had swept her back to almost abreast of the port.
We learnt afterwards that the fire was caused by a fuel pipe fracturing and spraying burning oil around the engine room which had to be evacuated. In consequence it was not possible to start the pumps for the fire hoses and the fire spread rapidly and unchecked to the adjoining cargo compartments.
She was carrying general cargo, much of which was highly combustible including 400 tons of safety matches in the 'tween decks and Bitumen in 40 gallon drums on deck.
By the time we arrived she was well alight, fore and aft and the drums of bitumen on the fore deck were exploding with the heat and throwing great gouts of burning bitumen into the air and overside rather like gigantic "Roman Candle" fireworks.
The crew had managed to rig a makeshift accommodation ladder well forward near the break of the fo'c's'le head and were all waiting on it and I was able to tuck the pilot boat in under the shelter of the bow so that the burning bitumen was falling into the sea clear of us. It looked horrendous and was hot but the pilot boat was in no real danger and we were able to reach the ladder and embark all the crew on it, including the Captain and his wife.
After safely backing off it was discovered that six of the crew were not on the pilot boat but were said to have escaped over the stern on a liferaft.
By this time the port tug Empire Linden had arrived with the Port Manager and Harbourmaster onboard. The Captain, Chief Officer and Chief Engineer were transferred to the tug and I was instructed to land the other survivors, including two engine room crew who had been injured and required hospitalisation, refuel the pilot boat and return as soon as possible to search for the missing liferaft with the six missing crewmen.
By the time of the pilot boats return, about midnight, the tug had managed to get a line aboard the burning ship and had towed her to a position just north of the port where she had been beached and was now blazing furiously aided by a consignment of oxyacetylene gas cylinders which were exploding sporadically like 12 pdr. gun shots.
We then commenced a search of the Zanzibar Channel for the missing liferaft which continued, unsuccessfully, until 11.30 the next morning when the pilot boats engine broke down. It was ironical that, only some half an hour later, an inward bound Arab dhow found them about a mile ahead of us and carried them safely into Dar-es-Salaam. The pilot boat was later towed, ignominiously, back by one of the small harbour TID tugs.
The Slemmestad was, of course, a total constructive loss. She burned on the beach for many days and people drove from up country and miles around to park on the cliff top to look. After dusk she was an amazing sight, the whole hull glowed red hot with the beams and frames shewing through like the ribs of a skeleton.
I was particularly sorry for the Captain, it was, I believe, his first voyage in command and, through no fault of his own, had lost his ship. Fortunately no lives were lost and that must have been some consolation to him.
Southern Province Safari
The Port Department of the East African Railways and Harbours Administration is responsible for the navigational buoys, beacons and lights on the East African coast from the Kenyan port of Lamu in the north to the Tanzanian port of Mtwara in the south. The necessary maintenance and servicing being carried out by Mombasa for the northern section and by Dar-es-Salaam for the southern province.
In the pre-war days The Tanganyika Railways and Ports Services had it's own coastal steamer, the Azania, which had accommodation for passengers and before the advent of aircraft took the Governor or other Officials on safari up and down the coast. It also undertook the necessary maintenance and servicing of the navigational aids each year. The Azania was finally withdrawn from service in 1949.
During the 1950s the Port Department used the small port tug Nguvu (Swahili for strong) towing a lighter with the necessary replacement buoys and equipment to mount the Southern Province safari in the charge of one of the pilots.
Always a popular assignment for the chosen pilot and Dockyard Engineer, not only a three weeks break from the normal routine but three weeks of independent command on an interesting coastal safari on which they could, if they so wished, take their wives.
My turn came in 1950, I was able to take my wife and small dog, the Chief Engineer appointed was Bob Dewar from the dockyard but his wife could not come. Our houseboy Ali also came at his especial request as his parents were in Lindi and it would be an opportunity for him to see them. He said he would do all our washing etc. but in the event he was seasick from the time he boarded in Dar to arrival in Lindi, where he made a miraculous recovery and went ashore. He was seasick again all the way back.
Before sailing my wife and I had dinner at the Dar Club and then boarded the Nguvu at 10 p.m. at which time I had arranged to depart Dar-es-Salaam so that we would arrive off the Mafia Archipelago at daybreak.
That first night at sea I, the professional seaman, was seasick, my dog was seasick but my wife, who didn't really like the sea, was not sick and enjoyed a good night’s sleep. There's no justice in this world!
I should not wish anyone to be fooled or mislead by my late dear wife's name or the fact that she was a nine stone, five foot nothing blue eyed blonde.
As a busy and energetic child, she was nicknamed 'Bonkie' and it stuck and she was so known to all her family and friends for the rest of her life.
Bonkie was quite a lady, she was in London for the worst of the blitz, she flew out to join me in Dar-es-Salaam when flying was very much the exception rather than the rule (in a York, the civilian version of the Lancaster bomber) and she looked after me and ran my household to my great contentment for the best part of fifty-three years of happy marriage.
The large inhabited island of Mafia and the many small islets and coral reefs lying between it and the mainland comprising the Mafia Archipelago are situated off the delta of the Rufiji River. The channels through the reefs are buoyed but unlit and provide a daylight route which avoids the strong northerly current on this part of the coast. The local coastal vessels such as the B.I.'s Mombasa and Tabora and the Holland Afrika's line Tayari regularly used it when conditions were suitable. I was told that Captain Cleeve had taken the Matiana through it on one occasion.
We had several buoys to change here and all of them to check for position, which occupied us for several days.
In WW1, the German cruiser Konigsberg, after sinking H.M.S. Pegasus at Zanzibar on the 20th. September 1914 took refuge from the pursuing British Naval forces in the delta of the Rufiji River where she was eventually trapped. The accompanying snapshots of the wreck of the Konigsberg and one of her attendant supply ships the Somali were taken after WW2 in the late 1940s.
The Konigsberg had arrived in Dar-es-Salaam in June 1914 where she created quite a sensation. With three funnels she was known to the Africans as the "manowari wa tomba tatu" (the warship with three funnels) and was thought to be all powerful, a reputation that the fate of H.M.S. Pegasus (only two funnels) at her hands amply demonstrated, they were not to know that the simile would come full circle when she herself was eventually destroyed by a naval force which included H.M.S. Chatham with four funnels.
Kevin Patience in his book 'Konigsberg, A German East African Raider' gives a detailed account of the episode. The Konigsberg withdrew to a position some fifteen miles up stream, out of range of the guns of the blockading British ships until two monitors, the Mersey and the Severn arrived and were able to enter the delta to within range, where, with aircraft spotting their fall of shot, they were able to hit Konigsberg and put her out of action. Some of the Konigsberg's crew and heavy guns were landed and joined the German land forces in East Africa under the command of Lt. Col. Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck who, after defeating a British force at Tanga in November 1914, succeeded in leading the Allied forces a wild goose chase around East Africa until after the Armistice was signed in 1918.
It seems to have been the fashion in the early 20th. Century for the indigenous travelling public to grade the importance of ships by the number of funnels they had. The great four funnelled North Atlantic liners such as the Titanic and the Blue Riband holder Mauretania are examples as are the two and three funnelled "T" class vessels of the B.I's Apcar Line on the China run in the East.
Before leaving Dar I had had prepared a large sand box for the use of our small Dachshund dog, Velvet. In the event she simply refused to use it so every day when anchored for the evening you would see either myself, my wife or possibly the Chief Engineer rowing one small dog to the nearest sandbank to perform her business. At least we picked up some very fine ornamental seashells on the reefs on these occasions.
Bob Dewar, the Chief Engineer was a keen fisherman, how keen I had not realised until that safari. The first intimation that this was in part, a fishing trip, came that morning when the engines suddenly stopped, on enquiry it was no break down, merely that Bob, trolling a line, had hooked a large king fish and wished to bring it safely aboard. He fished at every opportunity and provided us with more than ample fish dinners to last us a lifetime. The refrigerator was full of fish, so much so that my wife grumbled that even the eggs began to taste of fish. On one occasion at least, however, he did not land his catch. Hauling a fish in, predator fish (piranha)? got there first and by the time it was inboard only the head remained, the body having been eaten as it struggled on the hook.
Those waters were full of fish, I believe that, some years later when tourists started to come to East Africa, a game fishing enterprise was mounted based on Mafia Island at the small township of Kidandoni.
The southern most island of the group is Fanjove, a typical coral island with sparkling white sandy beaches. The Germans built a lighthouse here in 1896. The light is now an automatic gas powered light controlled by a sunvalve and it was my task to service the light, replacing the gas cylinders with full ones capable of running for a full year and generally seeing that all was well.
Although the light was automatic there was an African lighthouse keeper whose job was to keep the windows clean and generally oversee the light, he had no technical knowledge, however and if the light should fail he had to report it immediately to the District Officer at the nearby mainland port of Kilwa.
While I was up the tower checking over the lighting apparatus my wife was chatting to the lighthouse keeper who told her a long tale of woe. There he was, a poor old man, all alone on the island, no friends and to crown it all he had a bad back. We had a bottle of Sloan's liniment on the tug, which my wife sent for, and it was applied to his back by one of the sailors much to his delight.
When I came down from the tower I was told all this and decided to question him further for my voyage report. No friends? But who were those women I had seen from the top of the lighthouse sitting round a cooking pot at the back? "Oh, those are not friends, they are my wives" he replied. His wage he told me was 10/- per month, his last increment, he had never had one? When had he last had leave? Leave; what was that, he had never had any as far as he knew.
All this was entered in my report with a great deal of scepticism but, believe it or not, when the personnel department back in Dar-es-Salaam investigated, it was all perfectly true. He was in fact a forgotten man.
When the Germans built the lighthouse in 1896 they had installed two German lighthouse keepers and employed an African boy as a helper.
When the British took over after WW1 in 1919 they installed two Chinese lighthouse keepers who were the responsibility of the District Officer Kilwa. The African boy was retained.
In about 1922 when the Port Dept. of the Railways and Ports Services had taken over responsibility for the buoys and lights on the coast the light was made automatic and the Chinese keepers dispensed with, but not the African boy, who seems to have been forgotten and still remained on the books of the District Officer Kilwa.
That same African boy, now an elderly man had, all the years between, been paid his original 10/- per month by the D. O. Kilwa, quite unknown to the Railways Administration.
Of course he was due quite a sum of back pay and leave not taken, all in all he was retired with a handsome bonus. Was he pleased? I'm not so sure, for there is a twist to the tale.
I had not been entirely happy that the light was working properly so decided that on our way back north bound we would night stop at Fanjove to check it again. On arrival in the evening I went ashore but could not find the lighthouse keeper and enquired about him from some fishermen whose boat was on the beach. "The Mzee? (Old man) oh, he has gone home" they said, "he was here last week, he had come for the Bwana's (that was me) annual inspection but now that's over for another year he has gone back home to Songa Songa, the large island to the northward, where he has a farm and lives."
Well, there you have it, I'm not so sure but that things were quite well organised before I interfered with my report. The Administration had a watcher, albeit a distant one, ready to report any malfunction of the light, at no cost to themselves, and the lighthouse keeper had a regular remuneration of 10/- per month for doing nothing except take a fortnights holiday on a coral island with his wives once a year. The only gainer would appear to be the District Officer Kilwa, who was better off by 10/- per month, but then he had been paying that out for some thirty years without complaint and what's 10/- per month to the Government?
In 1497 Vasco da Gama, the Portuguese navigator, rounded the Cape of Good Hope and sailed up the East African coast. In 1498 he crossed the Indian Ocean and landed at Calicut on the West coast of India. The Portuguese maintained a presence on the East African coast until the 18th. Century. Fort Jesus in Mombasa is probably the most well known of their fortresses but there are similar though smaller forts along the coast, the ruins of one in one of the Kilwa's, I think from memory Kilwa Kiswani but it might be Kilwa Kivinje, are still very much visible.
When I joined my last ship in the B I, the Sirdhana in London in 1948, the Chief Officer was 'Haji' Reid and he showed my wife and I a plaque from a David Livingstone Society that he was going to affix to the house in Mikindani that the great explorer had lived in prior to one of his expeditions. Now here we were at Mikindani servicing the buoys of that small port, so we went ashore to find Livingstone's house and to see again the plaque that Haji, now Chief Officer of the B.I.'s coastal steamer Mombasa, had recently placed in position. This was the first time that my wife had been ashore for a couple of weeks, whereas I was seasick on my first night at sea, she was now land sick and had to sit on the steps of the local hospital for a while to recover.
Prior to the recent building of the new port Mtwara, Lindi had been the principal port of the Southern Province and still handled the traditional trade. There were a number of buoys to be replaced here and an evening ashore with Jimmy Campbell and his wife, the resident pilot at Lindi to give them all the news of the outside world at Dar before we moved on to our final destination, the new port of Mtwara, where, apart from replacing a couple of buoys, we had to place in a position predetermined by the pilot at Mtwara, a navigational beacon that had been prefabricated by the Dockyard in Dar-es-Salaam.
This completed our safari and we now headed northward bound for Dar-es-Salaam, stopping as previously described for one night at Fanjove Is.
All in all a most enjoyable three weeks safari for us all, including, I'm sure, our dog.
In the early 1950’s a small cargo vessel flying the Chilean flag arrived at Dar-es-Salaam and, as she was expected to sail the next day, was given a short stay single anchor berth in the body of the harbour.
Next day, at the appointed time, I boarded her to pilot her to sea. All appeared in order, the Captain was on the bridge, the Chief Officer and Carpenter at stations on the fo’c’sle and a man at the wheel, the only thing that appeared to be unusual was that the Captain seemed to be wearing lipstick. But I was only the pilot and it was not my place to query the idiosyncrasies of a Chilean Shipmaster so, "If you are ready Captain, would you put the engines on stand by and weigh the anchor". The Captain put the engine room telegraph to "Stand by" and ordered the Chief Officer to start weighing the anchor. Nothing happened, there was no response from the engine room and the windlass remained silent, in fact the only response was that the man at the wheel behind me muttered, as an aside, "the ship no go". After a few moments the Captain tried again, once more ringing stand by on the engine room telegraph and ordering the anchor to be weighed with the same negative results except that the man at the wheel kept re-iterating, rather like a Greek chorus, "the ship no go".
And the ship did not go. It transpired that the Captain had had a fight with the Chief Engineer, it was not lipstick but blood on his lips, and as a result the whole crew, deck and engineroom, had mutinied.
I returned ashore and reported to the Harbour Master who contacted the ship's Agents and we all went back aboard. The crew, in the persons of the Chief Officer and Chief Engineer were adament that they would not sail the ship. They agreed, however, at the Harbourmaster's insistence, that they would allow us to shift her to a smaller berth up the creek where she could lie indefinitely without interferring with other ship movements.
You can imagine that the wires were humming between the Dar-es-Salaam Agents and the Owners in Santiago. The Chilean Consul in South Africa was flown up from Johannesburg and negotiations went on for some days.
The dispute was eventually resolved by relieving the Captain of his command and appointing the Chief Officer in his place.
I must admit that, with hindsight, my sympathies lay with the Captain. The Agent told me that the Chief Officer and the Chief Engineer were closely related and it looked to us as though the pair of them had engineered the whole episode to get rid of the Captain so that the Chief Officer could take his place. Whatever the final outcome when she returned to Chile we were quite pleased when I was able to pilot her away to sea, my first and, as it was to prove, my last occasion to handle a Chilean ship.
Home Leave 1951
My wife and I left Dar-es-Salaam for our first home leave in August 1951 aboard the S.S. Leicestershire, a Bibby Line vessel on charter to the B.I. We started the voyage on a high, by virtue of my local knowledge I won the sweep for the ships daily run for the first three days and Bonkie won the whist drive. That was our lot however, although we had a most enjoyable voyage and arrived at Tilbury on a Friday in the middle of September.
Bibby Line anticipated that its service to Ceylon and Burma would prosper after the war and to that end ordered both Warwickshire and Leicestershire to service the Colombo and Rangoon route. Both ships were slightly smaller than the company’s pre war tonnage on the route and were delivered in 1948/49 respectively. However with independence for Burma being granted in 1948 and Ceylon a short while later their services were first cut from fortnightly to monthly, this unfortunately also coincided with a downturn in Government Service passenger requirements and an upturn in air transport. In an effort to maintain some sort of service Bibby commenced chartering out its ships whilst keeping others on a tenuous and difficult ports of call rota. Leicestershire was chartered out to various companies, most notably British India from 1951 to 1955 after which she returned to her more normal services for Bibby Line. She was eventually sold out of the fleet to Typaldos of Piraeus, Greece becoming Heraklion and as such capsized in 1968.
Before leaving Dar I had purchased a new Morris Minor car on the Home Delivery scheme. i.e. The car was ordered from the Dar-es-Salaam garage and was made available on arrival in the U.K. for the period of leave, before returning it was handed back to the Agents in the U.K. who then shipped it out to East Africa where one took final delivery. An excellent idea, which meant one, had the use of a car for one’s leave.
We disembarked in Tilbury on Friday morning and arrived at my Sister-in-laws in West Kensington by about noon, After lunch I said that I would go to the Morris Agents, who were out Uxbridge way, on I suppose the present A40, and let them know we had arrived so that, I thought, thinking in terms of East African speed, we might be able to pick up our car next week. But when I arrived they produced all the papers, took me to the garage and shewed me my car, shook me by the hand and wished me happy motoring and pushed me off into one of the busiest approach roads to London.
It might be of interest to 21st century readers to know that the new Morris Minor, in 1951, cost just £482.
I had never driven in the U.K. let alone London, nor had I ever been in that part of London before and, to cap it all they had pulled out the choke to start her so that as soon as the engine warmed up it started to stall. Fortunately I had gone there by bus so that I had a rough idea of the way back and knew that I had to turn right off the main road fairly soon. Creeping along in the nearside lane every time I plucked up courage to edge out for a right turn there would be hooting of horns and great lorries would go hurtling past me. Eventually, after about an hour, I made it to West Kensington with rather more grey hairs than I had started with, and there walking along the pavement was my loving wife with her niece, Sara. Oh look! They cried, there's Uncle Dick, how lucky, he can give us a lift the rest of the way. Actually by the end of our leave I became quite good in London traffic, Hyde Park corner, Trafalgar Square and all.
We decided that for the first month of our leave while the weather was still quite good we would tour around York and Yorkshire, my part of the country, taking my wife's nine-year-old niece Sara, with us. At that time, long before Motorways were built, the A1, the Great North road, was the main road North but unfortunately it was in the process of being up-graded to dual carriageways in many places causing long hold ups and to make matters worse my car was still being "run in" as was the custom in those days and I was restricted to not more than 30 m.p.h. In consequence I could not overtake anyone, even on clear stretches and it took me two days to reach York as we had to night stop at Lincoln.
On arrival at York we booked in to an old coaching inn, The Olde Starre, in Stonegate in the middle of the City for a week. Stonegate ran from near the River Ouse to the great gothic Minster in the centre of York and was so called because it was the route taken when transporting the stones from the river for building the Minster. The street was very old and quite narrow; in fact the Inn's sign was on a beam that spanned the road, being fixed to the Inn and to the building on the opposite side of the street. During our stay the Landlord shewed us the original agreement between the Inn and the other householder. It was couched in flowery medieval legalese but the gist of it was that the Inn could fix their beam to the other house in consideration of a sum of money per year (I forget how much, perhaps some groats) but on the understanding that the said sum of money should be spent in the Inn during the course of the year. A very satisfactory agreement for both parties!
The Landlord's wife normally did the catering but as she was on holiday he was able only to provide breakfast, an arrangement that suited us very well as we were out all day touring around and were able to enjoy a substantial "high tea" in Betty's, the well known York tea-rooms at the bottom of the street in the evening. We were given two rooms off a half landing with a bathroom between. The first night my wife and I took the double room while Sara had the smaller single room but, before long there was a tap on our door and a little voice said "Auntie, I don’t like my room, can I come in with you" so I was banished to the small room. I must admit it was a little eerie with low oak beams and the floor sloping quite perceptibly down to a small Dickensian casement window, but I slept well enough. The next morning the Chambermaid unfortunately told Sara she had been in the haunted room, so I was stuck with it for the rest of the week.
After a week in York we went to stay at a farm in Ebberston, a village on the edge of the North Yorkshire moors. It was run by three brothers and their sister, who had lost her husband at sea during the war, she kept house for them and ran the catering side of the business. We arrived on a Saturday afternoon and while I fussed around wiping down my new car my wife and Sara had a look around the farm. Bonkie soon came back and told me that they had met one of the brothers who was very fed up. Apparently the village cricket team was playing in the final of a local cup competition in the next village but one. The three brothers had drawn lots to see who had to stay behind to milk the cows, he had lost, the cows had proved awkward and he had missed the last bus so could not get over to see the end of the match. She had told him I was a cricketer and would take him so off we went and arrived just in time to see our last man go in to bat with ten runs needed for a win. After a few agonising scares the runs were made and the team had won. As soon as the cup had been presented he had to get back to finish off the cows and asked if I could takes some of his friends for the same reason. I don't know how but we managed to get some six young farmers into my Morris Minor and arrived back safely.
That night the village celebrated the victory at the village pub, 'The Bunch of Grapes' and as I had shewn interest in the match Bonkie and I were invited. It proved to be a really exceptional night; the local farmers had promised that if the village won they would fill the cup with the necessary refreshments. I can't remember how many times it circulated but I do remember that the last time it contained Black Velvet, (champagne and guinness.) At about half eleven I asked the Landlord what time was closing time and he replied "half past ten but not to worry, the local Policeman lives in the next village and he has been told not to come over tonight anyway, said the Landlord; we have closed one of the doors".
There were several "characters" in the village. Walter the horsecoper who dealt in cash and always had a wad of banknotes in his back pocket. He had a unique way of playing darts, standing on the line he would lean forward until, just before he overbalanced at a angle of about forty five, he could then almost place the dart in the board. However, as he was never backward in paying his turn, nobody grumbled too much.
Then there was Charlie, the oldest inhabitant. He had a story about a daddy longlegs that got stuck in his throat. When telling the story to visitors it took one, sometimes two, pints to wash that daddy longlegs down.
During the evening a neighbouring farmer came in for a bucket full of beer slops. His sow had just had a litter but was being contrary and wouldn't let her milk down. He wanted the beer to relax her. About an hour later he rejoined the party, all was well, the sow was lying on her side snoring her head off and all the little piglets were enjoying themselves at her milk bars.
Finally, at some time after midnight, we were all singing carols. The village prided itself on its choir, they sounded good to me but whether we were as good as we all thought we were at that time is a moot point.
The following Saturday there was a match with a visiting team from Halifax. An annual affair, the visitors, with their wives and families arrived by coach which, after off-loading the cricket team took the wives and children on for a day on the beach at Scarborough. After the match and on the return of the families there was high tea and drinks before the coach left to return to Halifax. On this occasion the village team was short through the demands of hay making so I was invited to play. We were still one short so the Captain said to old Charlie, "Come on Charlie, you’ll have to play". "It's thirty years since I last played and any way I haven’t got my glasses" cried Charlie in alarm. "Never mind said the Captain when you come to bat you can borrow Walter’s glasses."
We batted last and when I went in at number ten there was still some time to go and my partner got out almost at once. In came Charlie and it turned out that Walter whose glasses he had to borrow was the umpire. Without his glasses the umpire couldn't see to give us out and Charlie and I batted on and were able to save the day.
The following week was the Scarborough cricket festival so I was able to emulate the Halifax men and take Bonkie and Sara to the beach and then spend the day watching Yorkshire play cricket.
Our return to London, with my car now run in, was much more expeditious until I became totally confused by an unusually complicated road works just outside London and found myself going the wrong way round a roundabout and meeting a motor cycle cop going the right way. Fortunately I was wearing a flat cap and, putting on a gormless expression (not too difficult for me) and using my broadest Yorkshire I was able to convince him I was only another thick yokel from up north sent to plague the smart southerners and thus get sent on my chastened way with a caution.
We were able to take a small flatlet nearby and the rest of our leave passed enjoyably but only too quickly. At Christmas we were able to join other members of Bonkie’s family who lived around London and all too soon it was February and time to return. By sacrificing a few days of our leave we were able to return on the Union Castle's S.S. Rhodesia Castle going southbound round the Cape. We joined her in Rotterdam and sailed in a snowstorm. She called at Las Palmas and at St. Helena where the sea was sufficiently calm to allow us to land by boat and visit Napoleon's grave and see the very old turtles.
It was some years since I had last visited South Africa and it was enjoyable to be able to shew my wife around.
At Durban we went on a day's safari by coach and were shewn the cliff from which a legendary Zulu Chieftain used to throw his prisoners taken in battle. At an Indian Temple we were told that, according to their reckoning, the world was due to be destroyed by fire in 1985. A forecast since proved wrong!
At Lourenço Marques it was very hot alongside the Quay and so that night we left our cabin door ajar on the latch. I was sleeping in the upper bunk and about midnight was awoken by my wife beating on the bunk board and the man in the next cabin banging on the bulkhead, finding myself outside in the alleyway I had to go back in to enquire what was happening. "You are chasing that man who was sitting on my bunk" my wife told me. Of course by then there was no man in sight. We heard afterwards through the grapevine what had happened. A couple of cabins along the alleyway was a woman travelling alone, apparently she had gone ashore to a night club or dance and met a man who had accompanied her back on board. Telling him where her cabin was it was arranged that she would leave her door on the latch and he would rejoin her later. Unfortunately he mistook our door on the latch for hers with the result that my wife was awakened by him sitting on her bunk with very obvious amorous intentions, hence the shindig.
Within a very few days we were back in Dar-es-Salaam and that was the end of our first home leave and, sadly, apart from our final voyage home for secondment to Malta, the last sea voyage as henceforth travel was to be by air.
Southern Province Safari 1953
My next Southern Province safari, in 1953, was not so successful. On this occasion my wife was at home in the U.K. for medical reasons but the Chief Engineer, Chris Flatstead had his wife with him. On our second or third night we were anchored off Kidandoni, Mafia Island when at about midnight the ship, s/t Nguvu, caught fire and the whole of the superstructure was destroyed. We obviously could not continue, indeed we were lucky not to have lost the ship, and I went ashore to contact the local District Officer to send a signal to Dar-es-Salaam reporting what had happened and that I was returning. When I told the District Officer his reply was most unexpected, "Yesterday was the Sheik's birthday and people all over the island lit bonfires to celebrate, we thought that that was what you were doing."
I eventually took the Nguvu back to her homeport of Mombasa where an enquiry was held. It was established that the fire was caused by water getting into the fuel for the kerosene powered refrigerator, it was the rainy season, which turned to steam at the burner and caused a blow back that burst into flames. There had been similar instances with shore-based refrigerators upcountry.
No blame was attributed to any of the ship's company but both The Chief Engineer, his wife and I had lost all our clothes and other personal possessions, including my sextant and my old B.I. blazer which was by then irreplaceable. My cabin was particularly burnt out as the ships distress rockets had been stored in a drawer under my bunk which, at the height of the blaze, went off with a spectacular roar of flames and sparks.
Richard transferred to Mombasa in 1955 as Assistant Port Manager and in 1960 was seconded to the Maltese Government for three years as Port Manager, Malta. This secondment was extended for a further year at the request of the Malta Government by which time Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda had acquired independence so that he decided to take early retirement from the Overseas Service.
After a couple of years with the Manchester Ship Canal Co. Richard and his wife purchased a holiday flatlet property in Bournemouth which they ran until finally retiring to Christchurch in 1980.
The photos displayed below show the birthday boy with Stephanie Johnson, a neighbour and fellow artist in the Christchurch Arts Guild who made and decorated both the cakes, the RMS Khandalla cake being copied from one of Richard’s original paintings of that ship. He reckons the copy was better than the original! And what is more is you can eat it too. It is now in his airing cupboard drying out for perpetuity.
Richard light-heartedly told us that every eventuality was covered and the guest list, of 80, included :-
A retired Police Officer
An Undertaker's daughter.
Fortunately all went well on the night and none of the above was required in their professional capacities.
Below are some photos of Richard’s 90th birthday bash held at Priory House, Christchurch on Tuesday 13th. Sept.2005.