Ronald Hayters story

I started my life in the merchant navy on 24-12-1929 as a Deck Boy on the Union Castle Line, East and South Africa. After 44 trips on Union Castle vessels, I decided to see a bit more of the world. A trip to Australia and then to the West Indies followed with two other companies before I returned to the Union Castle Line for eight more voyages. By now I was signing as a Bosun’s Mate.

On the 18th June, 1939, I signed on the S.S. Mataroa for a trip to New Zealand. On the way home, war was declared on September 3rd while we were loading a videos pornograficos cargo in the West Indies. Seventeen days later after a trip across the Atlantic, we were home.

Two more trips in convoys to Australia, then on my fifty eight trip I joined the Ben line and signed on the S.S. Bennevis. (Description of Voyage: Foreign. 4-9-40. Signed on in Poplar, London.) I didn’t sign as Bosun on this trip but as the Bosun was taken ill, I was asked by the chief Officer to deputise for him. So it came about that I was able to order members of the crew to stay aboard ship while I went ashore for the evening. (Richard, you have a report of this and know the result*). A friend and I went to the cinema in Leicester Square and while we were talking during the interval, one of a group of gentlemen in front of us turned around and said, “You are doing a good job, lads. Keep it up.” It was Winston Churchill. About half an hour after that, the first night of the Blitz started. My friend and I walked back to the docks and found the Bennevis had been bombed.

(*Damaged by air attack while in Port of London – 7th Sept 1940, 9 crew lost their lives. Richard)

We sailed from London to Newcastle for repairs to the ship and on the way we were attacked again by German aircraft but were lucky not to be hit. We all bedded down in the holds.

When the repairs were done we set sail for the Far East via Australia and Singapore. I remember the incident with the mine off of the Australian coast mentioned in one of Val Harland’s letters. (By the way, we didn’t sink that mine – I think that happened on the next and last trip we all made).

We arrived back in London in June 1941. According to my discharge book, which I still have today, the Bennevis sailed for Japan on the 1st July 1941. This cannot, in fact, be correct as I was married on the 4th July 1941 and sailed from Leith on 6th July. I was now Bosun of the Bennevis. We arrived in Hong Kong at the beginning of December 1941. After unloading our cargo, we were rushed out by the Navy to tow a large Admiralty barge to Singapore. Off the coast of Hainan Island, two Japanese destroyers sailed up, one on each side of us at about 3am in the morning and we were prisoners of war. My discharge has the date as 9th December, 1941 though I always thought we were captured the day before Pearl Harbour as we had not had any news of war being declared on our wireless since departure from Hong Kong. At that time, Japan was at war with China and often stopped ships sailing down the coast to see if they were carrying arms for the Chinese forces. We thought at the time that was the reason why we had been arrested and didn’t think we had become POWs, or maybe it was just me who thought that. In one of Val Harland’s letters, he said we were captured on the December 8th.

The Japanese navy took us to Hainan Island and turned us over to the Imperial Army as prisoners of war. We had to wait there until the Navy sent somebody from Hong Kong to question us and decide what to do with us. If I remember correctly, the army let the Chinese crew members go and told us we were not prisoners of war because we were on a Scottish ship and Japan was not at war with Scotland. (Enclosed find a copy of a photo that was taken on Hainan and was sent to me after the war, I think by Gilbert Naysmith who was Chief Officer on the Bennevis).

Eventually the Japanese navy officers arrived from Hong Kong and we were shipped to a POW camp in Wooshung (spelling?) and Shanghai on the mainland. This camp had a lot of prisoners and had been running for some time with mostly US prisoners from Wake Island, Guam, Pekin Marines and the sailors from the British gunboat Petrel which had fought a one-sided battle with the Japanese Navy on the river at Shanghai. The governor of Hong Kong, Sir mark Young was also there. In this camp, the crew of the Bennevis stayed together mainly but after this we got split up to different camps, or if in the same camp, in different barracks. In Shanghai camp we worked on a project which the Japanese claimed was going to be a war memorial. We also made a burial ground. We were lucky in this camp because the British Internees in Shanghai managed to send some food in. I can’t recall the dates of changing from one camp to another.

From Shanghai we were shipped to Hong Kong and then to the Tsumari camp in Osaka, Japan. In the Osaka camp we worked long hours in a shipyard. With walking back and forth from the yard, it was about sixteen hours a day. Val Harland died in this camp as you know. I wouldn’t agree with the cause of death being pneumonia but more likely overwork and malnutrition.

The move from the camp in Osaka to another already established camp in Aomori, in northern Honshu. This camp has US and British POWs. Some of the work was digging ore from quarries but I worked in a steel foundry. The hours were about the same as in Osaka but here it was 4pm till 8 am with a walk there and back. The first residents had named the camp Aomori hall.

I have read of POWs in Japan being paid for their work but I never knew of anyone getting paid.

When the war ended the Japanese guards just left the camp and warned us all not to go walkabout. American planes flew over the area dropping food and medical supplies. Most missed the camp so we did indeed go walkabout. The locals were mostly friendly and helped us gather the parachutes and loads scattered around in the hills.

Aftrer about three days, I think, the Americans arrived and we had an all night train trip to Yokohama. Here we were deloused, medically examined, fed and clothed. A friend and I were included in the first plane load of POWs to be repatriated to Britain. We were flown to Okinawa and a plane was waiting there to take us home. On take off, the front landing wheel fell off so the pilot had to fly on to Karachi and do a crash landing there. When we got there, there were ambulances and fire engines waiting but the pilot made a good landing. What an anti-climax but great relief all round. We waited in Karachi for two weeks before a replacement plane was sent so we didn’t end up being the first POWs back from Japan.

My last trip to see was one I never meant to make. I sailed on the S.S. Empire Kent from 2-9-46 to 25-11-46. When I was married in 1941, I agreed with my wife that if I survived the war, I wouldn’t go to sea again but after I returned from Japan we had a disagreement and I went on one last trip while my wife cooled off!

The old days in Benmhor

I have been thinking about the old days on the Benmhor and wonder if you are aware of the following snippets of information which I believe to be true.
Alan Ladd starred in a movie called Hell Below Zero and some action scenes were filmed onboard the Benmhor, to be specific it was a chase through the ER, which was in almost complete darkness. I saw the movie and I could not have told where it was filmed.

The other fact is that the Benmhor developed more power in relation to the volume of the machinery spaces than any other ship in the British fleet, I do not know if you were or are familiar with the machinery lay out but the boilers were installed high up in the ER and at the after end of the space. In fact the Second and Third Engineers cabins were only a very few feet from the boilers steam drums, a nice arrangement in the Arctic but not so good in Singapore, I remember once remarking that the ventilation system in the Thirds cabin left a lot to be desired. there was one punkah, and it could not have been further from the bunk if the designer had tried, and to make matter worse the vent was at the very end of the trunking system, all you got out of it at the best of times was a very gentle flow of air, not enough to disturb a mosquito. The Third had made a tube of rolled up charts and stuck it in the punkah in a vain attempt to get some air blowing on his pillow. The paper tube was suspended with pieces of string tied to screws which had been backed off out of the deckhead lining, a real Heath Robinson arrangement.

The location of the boilers, which were actually over the turbine & gearing made for a very short ER
The entrance to the ER from the Engineers alleyway was actually lower than the boiler steam drums, you had to ascend a ladder, three or four steps, to get over to the ladder going down to the plates, it could be rather confusing to say the least. One time I was going off watch and found a Deck Cadet wandering around the boiler tops, he had been down below to drop the pitot head for the log and could not find his way out of the ER. He was very glad to see me I can tell you.

On my first trip one of the Chinese painters, we had four, collapsed into Jimmy Traills arm just after turning to on the morning 8 to !2,the poor fellow died and we buried him off Socotra, rather a sobering experience.

The ER was painted every trip, at least around the control platform, Ivan was very keen on that sort of thing and one morning ,homeward bound in the Red Sea, I was on the 4 to 8 with Ivan I was standing on a small grease or paint drum on the plates polishing a copper pipe when the drum slipped and my foot hit the turbine trip and the plant shut down. We got it going pronto, of course the Chief turned out and all hands as well, nothing was said to me but would you believe that exactly 24 hours later Ivan decided to put the low vacuum trip into service, it was normally gagged, he put it in use, and Bingo the plant shut down again. I met the Chief at the top of the ER on my way to open the Main Stops and he looked decidedly annoyed, he asked me what had happened and I told him I had no idea, by the time I got back down below everything was running again and I never found out what Ivan told the Chief.
We had a Junior Engineer from the NE coast and during the painting operation on one trip this nit wit scraped the beeswax out of the engraving on the plates on the manoeuvring wheels, that really delighted Ivan.

We always carried, outbound, cargo which had to be carried semi refrigerated, I think this stuff was canned goods and were cooled just to keep the labels from coming off the cans, we had a Refrigeration Engineer, a little Welshman, who made a great mystery of his plant, he used to spend most of his time drinking beer in his cabin. He only worked outward bound we did not have any chilled cargo homeward. Funny thing is when I sailed with the BI the Second was responsible for the freezers and I picked up the operation of the system in about five minutes.

The Galley was on the other side of the inboard bulkhead of the Engineers Alleway right next to my cabin, all the pots and pans were hung on the other side of the bulkhead, in bad weather the noise of pans swinging around and clattering one against the other would add to the general misery and discomfort.

Of course we did not have access to a refrigerator in those days, things were really primitive, and if we wanted a semi cool beer we had to put some in the scuppers before going on watch porno gratis, warm beer was never my favourite drink! Still there were compensations, one night after coming off watch Davey and I were sitting on No4 hatch when we noticed that a meteorite shower was in full swing, we had a grand stand seat for it with nothing to obscure our view, a wonderful sight.

Another amusing incident, we had had a condenser trouble and had been using fluorescent dye to locate the leaks, I was on the 8 to 12 with Jimmy Traill and our Oiler, who was a tall lanky Chinese made our tea as usual and brought it down to us. He rinsed a cup with tea and threw some of it on the plates, in a flash everything turned yellow, the plates were coated with the remains of the dye we had been using. The look on the Oilers face was something to be seen, he poured a little more tea on the plates with similar results and then, before we could stop him dumped the rest of the potful into the bilges, Jimmy was really annoyed and asked me why I had not stopped the Oiler from dumping the tea, though what I could have done beats me.

Mariners’ tales: The story of Robert Hannan

I joined the Benreoch in London on the 2nd August 1955 and from there went to the Benmhor by way of Bencleuch, the Mhor was supposed to be another coastal trip but the fellow I relieved came down with TB and I was kept on to replace him. I see from my book that I joined Benmhor on the 10th Oct 1955 and stayed with her until the 5th Nov 1956. During this time she was running between London and Singapore, twentythree days out, fourteen days in Singapore and then straight back to London. Outward bound the cargo was mainly stuff for the Army in Malaya, this was at the height of the Communist inspired guerilla campaign for control of Malaya. What we carried home I cannot remember if ever I knew, probably rubber and other exotic goods. One trip we had a load of animals on deck bound for London zoo courtesy of the Sultan of Johore, this lot included several tigers among other species, that was quite interesting.

I always liked Singapore, in those days it still had a real colonial flavour, not as it is now, like Manhattan moved to the tropics, we used to frequent the Anson Bar which was right across the street from the Straights Cabaret, if you know where that was. The Anson was more like a public lavatory than anything else, it was a tiny place and was all tiled with white porcelain, still the beer was cold and it had a juke box which passed the time and lastly it was within easy reach of Keppel Harbour,a taxi was not too expensive which was important since I could only afford to draw Ten pounds to cover the fourteen day stay.

The Chief was ? Hall and the Second for most of my time on board was Ivan Lloyd, commonly known as the “Black Rat” and if ever you had met him you would know why, the Third was Davey Davidson, from Glasgow and the Fourth was Jimmy Traill from Aberdeen. Ivan was a real little bastard, we, the Juniors did something to annoy him outward bound one trip and he promised to “get” us in Singapore this he did in the following manner: the boilers were Foster Wheelers and the Air Heaters had to be
cleaned at both ends of the trip. So on arrival at Singapore Ivan had the outer casing access doors for the heaters removed and left orders that the the night watch Juniors were to remove the internal access doors to let the cleaners into the Airheaters. There were two of these doors each held in place by thirty-six half inch setpins (the number is burned into my memory) the lower door was at head height when you stood on the boiler floor but the other one was high up and could only be reached by climbing up several rungs welded to the casing, and to make matters worse the casing broke inboard just below the door so that it was overhead and just about touching your nose and you had to lean back against the generating tubes to remove the pins(36 off). Anyway to get on with the tale I got into the bottom of the boiler which had several inches of soot in it and looked okay but when I stood in it it proved to be red hot under the top half inch. To let you see how stupid I was in those days I went and got a ladder and put it flat on the boiler floor and stood on it while I removed the lower door this took a long time as I had to take a lot of breaks to stick my head into the ER to get some relatively cool air. When I finally got the door removed I was so buggered that I went up to the showers and sat under a blast of cold water until I had somewhat cooled off, it was then that I made my second mistake of the evening, I went back into the boiler wearing my soaking boiler suit and climbed up to remove the top door, the minute I leaned back and my wet gear touched the tubes the water flashed to steam and scalded me. I got out of the boiler once more and found a piece of wood to which I hung around my neck across my back so that I could lean on it rather than directly on the tubes. Well I finally got both doors off though it almost killed me, I shudder to think what might have happened had I not been young and fit, I was twenty three years old and weighed ten stone with my work boots on. That was the kind of crap we had to put up with in those days when unfortunate enough to come up against a little prick like Ivan, I wonder where the bugger is today, probably dead by now. Davey Davidson was promoted to Second for the last couple of trips I did and what a difference, it was a pleasure to sail with him.Oh,I forgot to mention that both boilers lay for almost our full stay in port before another living soul entered them to do the cleaning.

The only other thing that I can remember is that on another outward voyage we carried a number of Army guard dogs, they were in kennels on No5 hatch cover, there was one whose kennel was on the aft outboard corner of the cover, right where I had to pass to get to the steering gear at the end of the watch. This dog was a coal black Alsatian, and when I passed he would come out of his kennel and go nuts trying to get to me, his chain would be bar tight and there he would be snarling and generally voicing his displeasure at my presence.

I left the Benmhor as I said and went home to get married, I never sailed deep-sea with the Ben Line again I did a number of coastal trips ,got my Seconds ticket and left to join the BI in April 58.With the benefit sight I might have been better staying with Ben Line but the BI was not a bad company to sail with either.

Voyage Report TSL: Ramsgate-Oostende day trip report

Departure to Oostende

Checked in at 06.00 at terminal for the 0700 larkspur (ex sally sky).
Had a chat with the girls at the terminal and chatted also with
Mr Nigel castle md of tef uk , a very pleasant and approachable man.
My car was security checked very thoroughly throughout before
boarding. We left on time and arrived to schedule too.
This is the first time I have been on this since sally direct ,
and wow the standard of décor , furnishing , furniture on board I
would liken to travelling on a first class liner in the past.
Antique and repro designs everywhere , leather sofas , marble floors,
The ship internally is well worth a visit.
As soon as you boarded every crew member acknowledged you.
Real plants everywhere ,it felt like you were in someones home.
It all reminded me of when the fins arrived at the start of sally the
Viking line all those years ago. We had a continental breakfast on board , which was fresh hot rolls, ham ,cheese,croissants, expresso coffee etc again of a very good standard.
Arrived in oostende and spent 5 hours shopping got desiel ,cigarettes etc

Departure to Ramsgate

Checked in at 1700 for the 1800 oleander (ex pride of free enterprise / pride of bruges /posl picardy). We boarded 30 minutes before departure again on time , the ship was
packed with freight.
Again the personnel on board were really friendly and
helpful ,whatever we wanted Was`nt a problem.
With this ship the upper passenger deck is for freight drivers only
and the deck below for cars drivers so you only have the one deck
for roaming about , also there is only a small outside area at the
stern for siting outside , unlike the larkspur where you can roam
over the whole exterior.
There is a duty paid shop on this ship unlike the larkspur (closed at
present) , but I understand from the crew they are waiting for their
licence to sell cigs / alcohol etc which is expected next week.
There wasn’t so much to do on the oleander ie walkaround etc ,
take in the sea air etc.
The ship has loads of reminders of its possible life , ie signage around
the ship especially in the restaurant (world food court !!)
It also felt very dated in its décor / furniture etc except for
the main bars that were well appointed , one with sony vega plasma tv dvd.
We arrived late in Ramsgate at 2125 , once we were all-fast alongside
embarkation was quick and we were at the customs / immigration boths
in no time.
A quick check of our passports ans look in the boot and we were on
our way back to broadstairs via the military road which is now open
to the town oneway.

Me and chris had a great day out , I personally preferred the sailing
out on the larkspur best. It is a long day we were up at 0430 and got home 2140 but we did get 5.5 hours clear in oostende which is ample.
The sailing cost of £50 for a car plus five is not expensive for a friend a few days before went Dover-Calais and paid
£41.00 !!!! (compare a 22 mile crossing of 1 hour to a 60+ mile
crossing of 4 hours and tef is much better value) Oh by the way , I was very impressed with the water tight doors on the car deck of both ships , I hadn’t seen these since the Prince Filip and they give you a sense of real vessel safety.

Well I hope I haven’t bored you too much , I have a love of ferry
travel (am I so sad!) My advice take the plunge and have a day trip with tef, if we don’t use it we may lose it , and nobody except maybe another operator would want that.