You know what it’s like when spending a few idle minutes “browsing” the internet.
A thought pops into one’s head, a few clicks, and before you know it a bit more lost history returns top of mind. Such was the case when a few minutes ago I came across ‘SS Mapledore...The Unhappy Ship’. Roll back the clock 61 years, and there was I, a newly minted 16 years young cabin boy fresh out of the Sharpness Sea Training School. Having graduated top of my class, I was surely going to be awarded a posting aboard one of the Queen’s or similarly luxurious liners of the day. After a week or two at home, the telegram arrived, “Report with seagoing gear to SS Mapledore at Newport” which, with much disappointment, I did, arriving the afternoon of 29 April 1957.
I was awakened early next morning with an urgent message to get along to the galley to help sort out the distribution of breakfasts. Reason being the cook had returned a few hours earlier after a too long night ashore and was not handling the situation well. Between then and my discharge from the ship in Port Talbot, 21 November 1957, I experienced far more adventures than anticipated by an innocent young lad from Somerset.
Based in Sydney, Nova Scotia, we delivered coal to cities along the St Laurence River. Just after midnight, probably late October, I was thrown out of my bunk, immediately awakened by the rapid blasting on the ship’s whistle. Dressed only in pjs, I and other crew members, rushed to boat stations while pulling on life jackets. There we remained shivering, enshrouded in sleet and dense fog for what seemed like an eternity as Chippie took soundings to determine if we were taking on water. We were not. Only after being towed into a dry dock opposite Quebec City were we told Mapledore had been in collision with a smaller German tanker which had suffered more considerable damage. Our only casualty (apart from a large gash close to the anchors) was an engineer who, apparently unable through confusion to exit his cabin, suffered a breakdown and was immediately shipped home.
During our stay in Canada, a young officer cadet was badly beaten in his cabin by one or more crew. He was also returned to England, and our elderly Third Mate was discovered early one morning, dead on a park bench, I believe either in Montreal or Quebec City. Our return to Port Talbot with a cargo of iron ore was, according to more experienced ship mates, “an unusually nasty roller coaster”, placing severe stresses on the aging rusting hull. Just a few more reasons why Mapledore was referred to as “The Unhappy Ship”?
I left the British MN after only one more posting, preferring instead to emigrate to Australia, where I joined the army, eventually enjoying a posting aboard an LSM bound for an exciting tour throughout much of SE Asia. Another connection with the sea came a few years later when Sydney (NSW) based as marketing representative for the grand Matson liners Mariposa and Monterey.
Thank you for prompting me to recall an important episode as I transitioned (rather too quickly perhaps?) from boy to man.