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Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Laertes with ALFRED HOLT & Co’s
AUGUST 1958 to JULY 1959
As a Junior Engineer

The understanding when joining Holt’s is you will be offered a “Long Jag”. After a year with the company I was offered a trip on the Orestes who traded from Malaya and Indonesia to the North & East Coast of Australia, after previously doing two trips to Malaya, Siam, China, Korea and Japan on Glenlochy 05/09/57 to 29/01/58 and 25/02/58 to 18/06/58. Following shore leave and working by in Liverpool and Birkenhead, I signed on Laertes in Liverpool as supernumerary 18/08/58 for a trip to Singapore where I was to join Orestes.

Laertes, Oceaan NV Nederlandsche, Stoomvaart, Mij Dutch flagged with Dutch officers (Chinese crew, deck and engineroom). Laertes was built in 1949 by Vickers Armstrong Newcastle, engines B & W by J G Kincaid Greenock, an “A” class motor-ship.

Sailing from Birkenhead, we ran into very rough weather through the Irish Sea down through the bay until we `Turned the Corner` into the Med, where the weather was A1. My duties included ‘day work’ (06:00 hrs to noon) which consisted of stripping, for de-coking and overhauling the 5 cyl Allen Generators (220 v DC @ 430 rp) with two Chinese fitters (Liverpool based) who I must say were first class. All pistons, heads, top and bottom ends, new exhaust valves etc finished off before Port Said. I found the Dutch Engineers were more easy going in some respects.

Holts ‘A’ boats, introduced in 1947 as cargo / passenger (12) to build up fleet after crippling war losses (42) were about 7,700 gross, with a service speed of 16 knots. On Laertes we had a few passengers, a police inspector going to Hong Kong, a big chap, claiming to be related to Jack Dempsey the boxer, a Norwegian family going to Japan as missionary’s, three kids and a mother expecting another, a newly married couple who caused us some amusement as they always appeared to be in bed! Also a chap going out to Singapore. The doctor on board was from the UK and I met him for pre-dinner drinks and chats after work, “Tom Collins” cocktails go down well! Doc was in the RAF during WWII (joined up aged 18 and the average age of his crew was 20 years old) flying Lancaster Bombers, until he was shot down by a US Lightning gun-happy pilot, over the North Sea, as they were going back after a raid and crash-landed back in UK. He told me his flying jacket saved him, keeping his body together, the scars on his body are awful, it was a young man’s war. He told me he had started on Spitfires but couldn’t navigate and kept getting lost and as the flight time was only about 11/2 hours they transferred him to bombers as they have a bigger crew plus a navigator!

As I said, we had it rough on the way to Gibraltar - the expectant mother was very seasick and Doc thought she could give birth prematurely. I learnt a bit more about medicine watching Doc testing her urine for sugar and salt. His other duties included giving the crew injections and monitoring their health. Suez Canal transit was uneventful except for some fog, the weather is now very hot in Gulf of Suez and Red Sea. Deck Tennis is going full swing and the Chinese are playing their music on deck on violins (A bit of a row).

Rumour is that Communist China is going to “Liberate Formosa” and the presence in the canal of a US carrier and a few destroyers going South confirms that there could be trouble, as they left Suez in a hell of a hurry! Today a company message on radio. ‘All company ships to keep clear of the Formosa area!’ (The company must have had ‘tip off’ so they say, as they did when China fell to the Communists. They were one of the few companies that were compensated by the Communist Government).

Today an emergency, one of the Chinese fitters has dysentery, apparently got some watermelons in Port Said (we are warned not to buy any sort of Fruit there). Poor bloke, it was ‘touch and go’ according to Doc! A bloody good bloke as I have been working with him on the generators.

Bumboat SUEZ >>> ADEN

Red Sea, it’s stinking hot, sea temp 97°F and a Dutch Junior is ill with heat prostration and salt poisoning. Taking too many salt pills and is also dehydrated - another patient for Doc (once in Med, Holts provide salt and mepacrine tablets on the table at meal times, normally breakfast). As he was unable to work the 2nd asked me to take over the poor chaps watch, while Doc flushed him out, desalinating his blood; so I now have a few days watch keeping on a “two stroke”. Oh! And one of the Norwegian kids has toothache.


Aden is now behind and weather cooler 85°F. Across the Indian; the sea took a turn for the worse as it got pretty rough, it has now calmed down, I’ve gone back on ‘day work’ as our Dutchman is better. In Aden I priced up a pair of binoculars for you, £6 for a Japanese pair and £8 for a Zeiss, I didn’t bother this time. Weekend off did some washing and ironing, all in about an hour! We`re not far off Penang, should get in tomorrow night. Three company ships passed us today homeward bound, Glengyle, Radnorshire and Elpenor - saw the latter two but missed the ‘gyle at 08:00 as I was working!

Coming across the ‘Indian’ we finished another generator. Shut down the Aux boiler and I did some work on steam pipes, worked all one day so 2nd said I could start next day at 09:00 instead of 06:00. Up to now trip is OK. Food a little strange being Dutch, also we get fresh milk frozen because we have passengers, but good for your figure, I’m now 12 stone, but maybe it’s the heat. As from Penang the 2nd said I could go ashore in Penang and Port Swettenham as my work was more or less finished, I thought that was pretty good of him. Had a day out in Penang, went to the pictures twice! Once in the morning and again in afternoon, lovely sitting in air conditioning. Had a haircut. Short, sat on a chair outside on the pavement, out here they also give you a head and shoulder massage with Bay Rum and click your neck, feels good! As Swettenham has not much going for it, I stayed on board and got a few things together and wrote to you, ready to post in Singapore.


September 14th.
Signed off Laertes today and will sign on Orestes tomorrow, 15th.

VOYAGE 36, m/v Orestes 7,845grt. Twin screw, B&W 8 cyl 4 stroke, built Workman & Clark, Belfast, 1926, Ocean Steamship Co, Liverpool. British officers and cadets, Chinese deck and engine crew.

First impressions! A good and happy ship, with a great bunch of lads. There`s a gramophone in the smoke room so we can play records. I`ve sailed with one of the lads before so settled into the job after being shown the ropes pretty quickly. We are due to sail for Djakarta Thursday 18th and are due in Sydney around about October 1st. While in Singapore I went swimming, played football for ship (lost 11–3, sounds like a rugby score) and I’ve been promised a game of rugby when we return in December, one of the senior cadets plays for Waterloo when home and has contacts in ocean building out here.

Read the rest of this article with additional pictures in Sea Breezes Magazine - February 2015 Issue
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