GOING BACK to the late fifties, I was serving as Second Mate aboard one of the Ellerman Papayanni market boats, the pretty little mv Crosbian.
We had just returned to the usual east Hornby dock and loading again after discharging a full cargo of carabs, which were of course, rather smelly cattle food. Now we were re-loading again, and amongst the general cargo, we were to load a consignment of specie in the usual ammunition type of sealed steel boxes. Security and special care was essential.
Our Mate was counting the boxes on the quay, and third Mate on deck and yours truly was despatched below to supervise loading and stacking properly into a strong room area located in No 3 lower hold. During this loading process, I noticed a little man poking about in our bilges and his presence was perhaps both unwanted and suspicious.
It was strange. I promptly enquired from him his business in our lower hold, and his reply was perhaps “don’t worry young man, as my name is Ellerman?” My response was not so polite as I clearly recall telling the man that I was perhaps Winston bloody Churchill or maybe Gunga bloody Din, and pointing to the hatch ladder, I insisted upon his departure forthwith.
We duly completed loading of the cash, and I duly sealed and locked up the strong room then departed back into our cabins prior to lunch. I suppose I will always remember a message from our Captain which was an invitation to me to join him for a pre-lunch drink, which of course was unusual but acceptable. There sitting comfortably on the Captain’s sofa, sat that dirty little man in his grotty old Mackintosh, and our old man’s words which were something like “allow me to introduce Sir John Reeves Ellerman, and this is my second officer, Graham Forster”.
I obviously tried to apologise for my earlier behaviour, but I will forever recall the owner’s reactions, which were totally understanding and even congratulatory. Even the Captain smiled, and that was quite an achievement in itself. The late Sir “JRE” was a modest man, but I will always consider him to be a true gentleman in every respect. He had a great sense of humour too, which was a rare asset amongst ship-owners.
Incidentally, it was known that Sir John Ellerman was one of the world’s most expert people in the study of all things ‘rodent’. Rats and mice were his hunting ground apparently, and hence I realised his serious interest in our grotty bilges, after the previous carab cargo.
CAPT J GRAHAM FORSTER
The Penthouse, 51, The Cliff,
Wellington Road, Wallasey, CH45 2NL