In the late 1950s, I was 2nd officer in the General Steam Navigation Co Ltd.
During that time, I spent two years on the Bordeaux wine trade, sometimes with calls at Southampton to transfer wool to Cunard ships and often calls at Tonnay Charante for Cognac.
The ship I was on at the time, was the MV Heron, built by Charles Hill. Sometimes we ran inside Ushant if the weather and tides were suitable, via the Chenal du Four. It had been said that the Germans would not be able to slip inside to Brest, but the Scharnnorst, 40,000 tons, did. On one trip on the way back, we steamed outside Ushant and the weather was so foul we were hove to and the forecast was for force 15. This did not exist on the Beaufort scale, but had been increased due to hurricane force winds.
Nearly all of those years, the Master was Captain E C Painter – A great skipper to sail with. Captain Painter had been Master of the Goldfinch (454 tons) – a ‘tosher’, built for the hone trade, ie between Elbe and Brest. A short while ago, there was a TV programme on Channel 4 called Dunkirk – The Forgotten Heroes. This programme referred to those that were left behind, namely the 51st Highland Division, which became surrounded by the enemy around St Valery en Caux. The Admiral at Portsmouth, Admiral Williams James, had managed to get together a small flotilla of approximately 200 vessels to go to the rescue similar to Dunkirk. This was in June 1940, but due to constant attacks and weather conditions, including fog, it was not achieved.
Captain Painter was Master of the Goldfinch and went into St Valery and managed to get a good number off the beach. I would not know if he was part of the small flotilla of ships assembled off shore. It was this action that secured him the DSC and DSO. I have very fond memories of Bordeaux and Captain Painter showed me some of the ‘highlights’.
In passing, I am always amazed by those who say they have crossed the Bay of Biscay. I used to cross it every week in a ship of under 1,000 tons. It only got a bad name since it is on a lee shore and sailing vessels could come unstuck in a westerly gale. I attach one of the many distance tables I have made (print edition only) – this one of London to Bordeaux.
P H LEWIS