In an attempt to discover more about my late father’s seagoing career of almost 40 years, I set about trawling through memorabilia collected by my late mother.
Answers to my many queries could have been provided in minutes had I asked him a few more questions when he was alive, but this didn’t happen and he didn’t talk much about his life in the Merchant Navy, especially during WWII, unless specifically requested to do so. That was in the past, and only the present and future seemed to matter.
The collection of photographs, letters and other documentation were mostly stuck in a blank cash book in lieu of a proper album, which probably wasn’t readily available in WWII, when the couple met and became engaged. Two less conventional, but equally interesting items, were a couple of printed on board ship menus which together spanned his entire career. The first was a breakfast menu from January 2nd 1940 for mv Raby Castle (built 1925 – 4,996grt), belonging to Chambers of Liverpool, (Lancashire Shipping Co). My father, Adrian Moore, was one of four cadets on this vessel, having joined the company in 1938. I knew little about this shipping company, so some research utilising copies of Sea Breezes in 1973 and 1994 revealed that they had owned a fleet of medium sized cargo vessels, most with accommodation for a few 1st class passengers, which may explain the very colourful menu format. They were named after northern “castles”, not to be confused with those of Union Castle Line.
Some of the vessels were employed on a round the world voyage lasting about 130 days, marketed by Barber Steamship Lines of New York. This may explain the presence of two house flags on a blank menu card stuck in the same “cash book” album. As well as Chamber’s house flag and the ship name, there is also a striped blue flag with a “B” inset. Barber Steamship Lines? The breakfast menu was presumably brought back for my mother, who was then working for the Post Office Bank in London, possibly to reassure her that he was being fed well whilst away from home, or maybe there was an element of teasing involved. In 1940 food rationing was in force and breakfasts such as this would be almost unobtainable in the UK. One story told to me is of my mother “sharing” an egg with her brother on the occasions when real eggs were available.
However, the good times were not to last, and in May 1941 father was acting 3rd officer on the mv Wray Castle (built 1938- 4,253grt) when the vessel was torpedoed and sunk about 200 miles west of Freetown. One person was lost, and an entire cargo of sugar was sent to the bottom. The following year in 1942 he was on the dreaded Arctic Convoys run to Russia, serving as certified 3rd mate on mv Lancaster Castle (built 1937- 5172grt). Having reached Murmansk in one piece, the vessel was bombed and sunk in the harbour during April, resulting in about half the crew being killed. He returned home via Leith on a Royal Navy vessel, which itself was attacked en route. According to his youngest brother, he was visibly shaken on arrival. No doubt printed menus didn’t feature on that trip.
By the end of WWII Chambers had lost many of its ships in conflict, and the remainder were sold, some keeping their “castle” names for a few years. By 1946 the company had ceased trading.
About then, father joined the well established Bibby Line of Liverpool, which operated a regular liner service of passenger/cargo vessels from the UK to Burma and Ceylon, as well as troopships under government contract. Vessels were named after English Counties, and some of the earlier ships he served on included Herefordshire (1944 – 8,158grt), Cheshire (1927 – 10,550grt), Somersetshire (1921 – 9,468grt), Derbyshire (1935 – 11,660grt), Dorsetshire (1920 – 9,345grt), and Devonshire (1939 – 11,275grt). The last named was a troopship with accommodation for 1,300 troops and 212 cabin passengers, on which he was chief officer for a number of consecutive voyages, including her final one with Bibby Line in 1962, before being sold to British India Line for conversion to the school ship Devonia.
Fast forward to the Christmas Day menu of 1970 on board mv Yorkshire, also on her final voyage with Bibby’s. By then Adrian Moore was captain, with another seven years to go before taking retirement. The Empire was contracting, many countries including Burma and Ceylon had become independent and so the company’s regular route to the East was no more.