BURIES MARKES OLD BOYS
We were transported to the huge docks complex by coach and to the quay where our new home, the MONTCALM was moored. She was, by any standards, a fine looking ship, well maintained and painted to a high standard.
Over on the opposite quays were the new and magnificent Italian ocean liners Raffaello and Michelangelo, beautiful white painted streamlined ships with latticework funnels, both being prepared for their maiden voyages after many teething troubles. The Italians certainly new how to design ships with style and grace.
We boarded our ship, all quite tired and stressed after our journey and then I was directed to a two berth cabin on the starboard side accommodation. This was a pleasant cabin with white Formica panelling and varnished wood trim, the bench seat and desk chair was blue padded leather. Two highly polished brass ports let in a good amount of light. One was facing aft over the after deck and the other was facing outboard over the starboard side.
I was greeted by another apprentice who was seated at the desk. His first words were, “Don’t suppose you have a clean shirt I can borrow have you?” “Oh, and some aftershave? I handed over a white shirt and a bottle of ‘Old Spice’ before he introduced himself as ‘Monty’ He was fairly tall, slim with light fair hair and some fluff around his chin.
Once I’d settled in he gave me a conducted tour of the ship. He told me that she was a hard working ship and sometimes worked three ports in one day. She had five Macgregor steel hatches and fourteen derricks………and don’t cross the chief officer (mate)! She had a total complement of thirty-nine crew and had a speed of seventeen knots. As strict as things were he said she was a happy ship. There were five apprentices but one, Warburton; a Welsh lad had been promoted to fourth mate.
The ship’s master (The Old Man) was a young man of about 26 years and had been promoted from chief officer after the LAKONIA incident. The LAKONIA was a Greek passenger ship that had departed for Southampton on December 19th 1963 for a Christmas cruise to Madeira. On the fourth night during a fancy dress party a fire started in a hair salon and quickly spread through the accommodation. The captain ordered abandon ship and chaos ensued with her 646 passengers and 376 crew trying to get into the lifeboats. These soon became over crowded and some tipped their passengers into the sea. Others climbed down ropes or ladders into the water. With most in fancy dress the whole scene looked very surreal and people were being scattered over a large area of ocean, shouting and crying for help.
The MONTCALM was about sixty miles distant when her radio officer picked up the Mayday calls. Captain Peter Kempton altered course and dashed to her aid at maximum speed. When the MONTCALM arrived the LAKONIA could be seen glowing on the horizon in the darkness and as they approached, she steamed as close as possible to the mass of survivors. Two ships lifeboats were lowered and were quickly filled with passengers and transported back to the MONTCALM.
Many people perished and fifteen corpses were laid out on the MONTCALM’s hatch covers. In all she rescued 227 people and the crew gave up their own clothes to help keep them warm. One of the survivors was a young singer, Susan Maugham of ‘Bobby’s Girl’ fame. These poor souls were taken to Casablanca where they disembarked, ever grateful to their saviours! Sadly, a total of 128 people lost their lives, 95 passengers and 33 crew members.
One of the deck apprentices took a full roll of colour film on his 35mm camera and captured the incident which Life magazine bought and published on 3rd January 1964. After this incident Captain E. Kempton was promoted to commodore of the fleet and the mate, Peter Macleod was made master.
The following Christmas, we received hundreds of Christmas cards from survivors and their grateful relatives……they didn’t forget!
Please be aware that I have no log book records for any of BM's vessels or any personal discharge books other than my own. The information on this website has been obtained through my own research & is purely for nostalgic purposes only. The copying of photographs from this site is stricktly forbidden unless you have obtained permission from me & the owner of the photograph.