After three trips on the M/V Baron Kinnaird from Liverpool to Tampa and back, Marconi’s gave me a months leave.
My parents were of course suitably impressed and my status rose higher. The pedestal was raised a few more notches. I bought them a new fridge and a new colour TV replacing the old B&W contraption which you could hardly see.
I also bought a second hand Austin mini van and got my L plates. I started driving as much as possible with my father so I could pass the test as soon as possible.
However before I could make any further plans, I received a telegram from my employer advising me to join the Empress of Canada in Liverpool. A passenger ship, wow!
Empress of Canada
We hadn’t even left Liverpool and the passengers had not embarked yet and it was my first morning on board sitting in the 1st Class dining room eating breakfast off the 1st Class breakfast menu, when who should saunter up and slap me on the back but Jim Thompson from Woodies Academy. What a coincidence that we were both signed on to the same ship.
There were six radio officers on the Empress and as I was the last to join, I signed on as sixth R/O, even though I had more sea time than the fourth and fifth R/O’s. It was just the way it worked. Jim was 5th R/O.
As we radio officers were breakfasting and chatting away, the Chief walked in and shook hands all round. Mr McNab a tall, thick set Irish man shook my hand with a crusher-like grip and I knew we had to toe the line with him. However Mr McNab never stood a watch but was mostly engaged in hob-nobbing with the passengers and other officers. He also took care of the office, where passengers could lodge telegrams and book radiotelephone calls.
The radio room was pretty large compared to some I’d seen and especially the Baron Kinnaird. We had all the latest Marconi equipment including a very powerful 1.5KW radiotelephone transmitter. We had three 4-hour watches with two R/O’s on duty on each watch. My watch was from 0100-0500, 0900-1300 and 1700-2100. I was on with the 3rd R/O whose job it was to take the press broadcast for the onboard newspaper.
The press came from Rugby GBR and Chatham WCC at up to 30 words per minute. The 3rd had all his sheets of paper arranged with carbon paper and he would slide them one at a time into his typewriter, underlining as he went. Headphones would be dangling round his neck with the volume full up, a cigarette hanging from his bottom lip.
My job was to keep watch on 500 Kc/s and also to copy the baseball results which came in a lot faster than the normal press. I used a large reel-to-reel tape recorder in case I missed anything. The American passengers wanted their newspaper on the breakfast table and needed to keep up with their favourite teams so if we missed it, there would be complaints.
During our off duty time, we would stroll around the decks, occasionally talking to passengers or other crew members. Of course we wore our uniforms all the time which was mandatory. I occasionally went onto the bridge with weather reports and navigation warnings for the deck officers and had the chance to look around.
We ate in the officers mess room and had the same menu as the 1st Class passengers. The radio officers, deck officers and the engineers all had their own tables.
She was a beautiful ship and the flag ship of the Canadian Pacific Line. During the cruising season she would cruise through the Caribbean Islands and back to New York. Otherwise the normal run would be from Liverpool and Greenock to Montreal and Quebec.
I was hoping to see my Aunt Jessie and Aunt Dora and Uncle John who lived in Montreal. I had written them to say that I was on the way and they were very excited to be able to meet me for the first time.
It was the middle of August 1965 and our track took us into the north Atlantic through the Saint Lawrence River to Quebec, Trois-Rivieres (three rivers) then on to Montreal.
My Aunt Jessie (my father’s sister) was waiting on the dock and had sent a message via one of the stewards for me to come down and meet her. Jim Thompson and I went down and of course she was very excited and couldn’t stop talking. “Everything has been prepared for you”, she said and we followed her to the bus depot where we boarded a bus for her home.
Actually it was Aunt Dora and Uncle John’s home as Jessie lived in a small apartment. We met lots of cousins and other distant relatives and friends who I’d never even heard of and they had put an a huge dinner for us.
Later Uncle John took us to a real Canadian bar where we sunk a few beers. Oddly the Canadians would sprinkle salt in their beer and it would create tiny bubbles and froth up.
I found out much later that my Aunt Dora was actually Aunt Jessie’s daughter so technically speaking Dora was my cousin. Curiouser and couriouser!
I made three trips on the Empress of Canada and the final one was made just before the St Lawrence River was closed for the approaching winter. It was so cold, there were warnings signs telling us not to touch the ships railings as our hands would stick to them like dry ice in a fridge.
I loved the ship but not the politics in the radio room as there was considerable petty ego trips happening. For example we weren’t allowed to change the settings on the Morse key. For me the spring was too tight and the gap was too narrow. Imagine if you weren’t allowed to change the position of the seat or the mirrors in your car? Ridiculous!
So I spent the next few weeks at home with family and fishing out in our little boat in Fishguard Bay and waiting for my next posting. fortunately I didn’t have to wait long.