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.