Chapter 11

Over the years, I had become somewhat restive. I had seen Greenland, visited Iceland a little, and of course Norway, but my horizons were restricted and I did not relish spending the rest of my life in these circumstances. A real social life was impossible - two nights ashore each month was not conducive to home life, sex life, girl friends or anything. And I felt cut off from the rest of the world. The newspapers were weeks old by the time I read them, and the BBC bulletins gave only a superficial view of the world's activities. I was beginning to query the conventional reasons for the world's economic depression - what did this rise of Hitlerism mean, what was really happening in the Far East, and I had a desire to know and understand more. My wireless certificate had limited application, that is on the type and size of ship on which I could serve, so to see more of the world, which I wanted to do, I would have to sail on ocean-going cargo vessels, and to do this meant a higher rated certificate. With some difficulty I had saved up the princely sum of thirty five pounds, and I reckoned that with the I2/6d a week dole money which I could claim as a student, I could last out three months or so. Having obtained unpaid leave, I enrolled at the Hull Municipal Technical College, and joined a friend, Jimmy Jubb, at a boarding house kept by a lady I can only remember as Emma, where there was a floating population of boarders, male and female. Although I had to work really hard seeing that I was cramming a year's work into one term, it was quite good fun - apart from being hard-up.

On Fridays I went home on the ferry boat to save digs money, and for recreation went to a Local on Wednesday evenings and had a half pint of cyder. That was all I could afford. A little later on I became friendly with a girl who was trying to run her own business, and sometimes on Fridays we would listen to the orchestra in a cafe for half an hour while we sipped a coffee. That cost four pence halfpenny per cup, and we each paid our own. I couldn't even afford to treat her! Or she me. At Emma's, with a mixture of male and female boarders, there was obviously going to be a certain amount of skylarking about, although nothing else, as Emma was rather strict on morals. Eileen, one of the girls, was a great one for leaving things rather late as she went off to work each morning. She jabbed on the lipstick as she dashed down the stairs, and with a quick survey in the hall mirror was away. For some reason or other, one of the males thought that it would be funny to smear her lipstick with soot from the chimney. The next morning Eileen was later than ever, and had no time to even glance in the mirror an she rushed by. It was only in response to some hard looks in the bus that she found out. He who did it was not in the least popular.

One of the transient males was a deckhand, who rather fancied himself with the ladies. It so happened that among a group of us at college who walked home in the same direction was a girl whose cousin, Edith, knew a fellow called Blackie who was a fellow lodger of ours. One evening as Jimmy and myself were in the sitting room studying (?), Agnes, Emma's daughter, came in and said something like Can't anyone stop him? All we can hear is the number of women who are after him. Him being Blackie. Quickly, Jimmy and I clambered out of the window and ran to a phone box on the corner. Having called up the house, I asked for Blackie in a squeaky voice, the intention being to say Ever been had? when he spoke. Instead, quite on the spur of the moment and still in my squeaky voice, I said This is Edith. Would you like to take me out tonight? He would indeed. About half past seven ? We scrambled back through the window just in time for Agnes to come in and exclaim Well. Did you hear that ? They really are after him. Then we all rallied round the lucky fellow, searching everybody's wardrobe for a natty and clean shirt, then a tie to match together with a clean handkerchief, tried on several sports coats until we found one to fit, and sent him on his way. But nary a word to anyone.

The next day I heard the story of what had happened, told to me in all innocence by my student friend . By chance, it was Edith's birthday and there was a small hen party in progress when Blackie arrived. Apparently Edith didn't particularly like him, and her father actively did not. So when be arrived uninvited, the welcome was somewhat chilly. Eventually, getting somewhat fed up, Blackie came out with Well, when are we going out? You asked me. Then there was a frozen silence. Oddly enough, although he knew that someone at the digs had a hand in the affair, he never thought of my tenuous connection with Edith and blamed another lodger. Why we did not know, for this one was a very dour Scot from Aberdeen, with voice to match! Eventually I passed the story on to Edith, who, to my relief, thought it quite funny.

My study plan was to try and obtain a Second Class Certificate, an insurance really for my efforts, as that one was fairly easy - then go for the First Class. Normally, group examinations were held at the college a few weeks after commencement of term, but as there were two others as hard up as myself and who could not afford, either in time or money to wait so long, the examination was held just before the end of term. That would permit me, if successful, to go London quite quickly and sit for the First at the GPO itself. At college, there was some talk of some odd certificate called the Air Operators' Licence, and sometime previously a couple of mature students had even obtained one.

All the information available was contained in some pencilled notes - special operating procedures, a lot of strange O codes and a very large diagram that had to be leaned by heart. As I was going to London in any case, and seeing that the fee for this licence was only ten bob, I determined to have a crack at it, just for fun. Being successful in the Second Class examination, arrangements were made to go down to the GPO. The examination took two days, and on the next, by arrangement with the Marconi Company, I went to Croydon Aerodrome where they had a maintenance depot. At least as the result of this visit, I was able to see the equipment on which I was to be examined, always a useful advantage I felt. And I was able to actually touch a real live aeroplane, one of the type I was told that had recently won an air race to Australia. On presenting myself on the morrow for the examination, I was treated with a certain amount of amusement, as the examiner should also have been named Finch, and there was much speculation about the issue of a licence with the same name twice. However, a Mr Hilton actually examined me.

On arrival back home, I was delighted to find that I had passed the First Class examination, and on the Monday morning, the Air Licence also arrived, All this was very convenient, as I had arranged with Charlie Whiting to rejoin him, now in the Cayton Wyke, a slightly newer and larger vessel, and he was then in dock. So on Tuesday morning, it was across to Hull, back on the payroll and sign articles. That evening at the digs, I said to Emma I owe you a pound. Here it is, and it's all I've got. Being big hearted, she returned ten bob, saying Pay me when you get back. Go out and have a good time. You've earned it. Later, I met up with some other operators who were all agog at my obtaining two certificates, one being quite unknown to them, and it was on this evening that I discovered that cyder was indeed not non-intoxicating. Needless to say, I was in a rough old state when I lurched aboard the Cayton Wyke. Tromso, here we come!

Having got my advanced licences, what to do was the question. A non-- seafaring life had great appeal, and this air business seemed to offer some possibilities. I wrote to Imperial Airways, and went to London for an interview with a chap called Air Vice Marshall Sir Tom Webb-Bowen. This seemed very impressive, but when I actually met him, be appeared to be a bit of a ditherer. A job was offered, probably in Egypt, but as it was Saturday morning, and although I was given a free trunk telephone call to the office in Hull, in itself an exciting thing, I was told that there was no chance of me obtaining a relief as the ship was sailing again on Monday. Later I saw another company, but nothing came of that. My imagination was now fired! There was, it seemed, a possibility of getting away from it all.

At Bear Island, in early March, I read in a fortnight old newspaper that Imperial Airways had ordered some gigantic flying boats, for which they would require a number of new crews, and were setting up a school to train them. This was my chance. In order not to give away any information, I sent a telegram, at a time when all good operators should have been in their bunks, in which I offered my services, emphasising that I had a licence and that they had already interviewed me. A couple of days later, on the message broadcast schedule from Wick, a reply was received, signed Impairlim London, offering me a training course. Why a training course when I already had a licence? But I didn't know Sir Tom! Quickly word got around that something was in the wind. What's that chap on Cayton up to? Who's Impairlim ? and so forth. But I kept Mum, and it was only when we were halfway home that I telegraphed my resignation and told Cbarlie. He said that he would be sorry to lose me, but did appreciate my more than heartfelt desire to leave the sea.

Looking back on things, the experience I gained stood me in good stead during my later life, and in fact was a distinct advantage in the next stage of it. Little did I realise that the seas I had sailed so peacefully, even if not comfortably, would be the scenes of the terrible battles of the Murmansk convoys in which the trawlers rendered such invaluable service, some commanded by Skippers I knew.

We must have docked on a Sunday for a Monday's market, for I signed off articles on Monday 23rd March I936, and wasting no time, caught the Yorkshire Pullman to London the next day. Whilst saying farewells at the office Mr. Snow, the local Branch Secretary of our Association of Wireless and Cable Telegraphists, told me that members at Croydon were unhappy at the conditions and were endeavouring to start a branch there, so I had better make contact. Little did I know what those words foretold.