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HOMEWARD BOUND TO
THE ADVENTURES OF KEN SAUNDERS
HOMEWARD BOUND TO OZ THE ADVENTURES OF KEN SAUNDERS
Who came to Australia to seek his fortune. He hasn’t found it yet but has had a lot of fun looking.
This story is firstly for Georgie, my wife and mate who has supported me and encouraged me to write this story. Also for my family, Linda, Wendy, Martin, Ryan, James, Liam and all my Aussie mates.
I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I have enjoyed living it.
Copyright © Ken Saunders 1993
This book is copyright. Other than for the purposes and subject to the conditions prescribed under the Copyright Act, no part of it may in any form or by any means (electronic, mechanical, microcopying, photocopying, recording or otherwise) be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted without prior written permission.
ISBN 0 646 141279
Printed in Australia by Fast Books, a division of Wild & Woolley Pty Ltd Glebe, NSW 3
Special EBook number 101
Like a lot of kids I didn't like my first day at school, Mum walked me to Mrs White’s private school before she went to work, and I let everyone know I didn't want to go. We had only just moved from Deptford London to our new home in West Drayton which is about 30 miles from London. I can't remember too much about Mrs White except that she seemed very tall she wore a long black dress and she carried a cane which she always kept where we could see it. From there I progressed to the proper school with all the other five year olds, where learning began in earnest, football ( soccer) was one of the major priorities, I liked that. When I was seven the Second World War broke out and that was fun for a seven year old, spending most of our school days in the air-raid shelter got us out of lot of school work, a fact I regretted in later life. My Dad was working as a metal polisher in a factory that made aircraft parts so he didn't go into the army ,his work was considered to be essential to the war effort. He was a lovely person my Dad, a real cockney. I loved my Dad even though he seemed to mix with some rather shady characters. I remember one night the piano had to be moved, the floorboards raised and some goods were placed under the floor. I never found out what it was, but Dad never seemed to be short of a drop of scotch. None of our family could play the piano but occasionally Dad would invite someone home who could play and we would have a good old sing along. One of the few regrets I have is that I never learnt to play the Piano, 3
Despite the fact that Mum sent me for lessons. Which I invariably missed to go and play football with my mates down the park. My sister Jean made her appearance in the world at this time. I remember she was born at home which caused a lot of excitement for the grown ups. Everyone reckoned my nose would be out of joint, I kept checking my nose but it didn't seem to grow any different, so I thought they didn't know what they were talking about.
Mum had a little dry cleaning agency shop, and Dad helped out by delivering the bag wash to the customers. Bag wash was a means of the working Mum getting her washing done very cheaply -about three shillings for the whole wash.
On occasions Dad was given a pig which had been illegally killed by one of his farmer mates. Dad would place the pig on the kitchen table and proceed to butcher it. The result being that some of the favoured bag wash customers would get a bonus with their washing, at a small extra charge. Of course.
My Grandad on Mums side was an excellent carpenter; he and my Grandmother lived in a little cottage on the edge of a canal that ran between West Drayton and Yiewsley. He converted one of the bedrooms into his workshop and in that workshop he made the counters for Mums shop, he wheeled them in his wheelbarrow up to the shop and installed them. He also made toys which he used to wheel around the shops in Yiewsley trying to sell them to the shop owners, and he was well into his seventies, a wonderful old man. Unfortunately none of his craftsmanship rubbed off on me. I liked to visit Grandad’s cottage often because as he lived right next to the canal I could take my fishing rod down there and do some fishing. We used bread as bait and surprisingly I was able to catch the odd fish, nearly always too small to eat but I would still take them home to show Mum. It was always interesting to see the barges go by being pulled by a big horse. Those horses seemed so big to me, I would always get well off the track
when they came by. The barges were painted with very bright colours. Grandma told me never to talk to the people on the barges, so I was always a little frightened of them. This was a shame. I am sure they were very interesting and nice people. One day I caught this huge fish -well to me it was huge. I was so excited I raced into Grandad; he said it was very nice now go and throw it back to its mummy. I was going to put it in my bag and sneak it home to show Mum but Grandad must have read my mind. He came outside and watched me throw it back. Anytime I caught a fish after that I never told him. If anyone came into the shop and wanted shirts laundered Mum would send the shirts with the bag wash then when they came back she would iron them in the little room she had upstairs, no one ever knew the difference. Mums shop seemed to be going very well but it kept her very busy and when she got home late at night she was so tired, even at that tender age I used to worry about my Mum.
Dad got me a job helping the milk lady on the milk cart; it was the only job I ever got the sack from. On about the second or third day she asked me to move the horse and cart a little further up the road. I got the horse by the bridal and pulled him forward, not leaving enough room to get past a parked car. Of course we scraped the car and she went off her brain and told me to go home in no uncertain tones. My next job was delivering newspapers before school. It was a good job although I wasn't very keen on getting up so early, especially in winter, but the money was good for a little kid.
I liked Sunday mornings because I was given a whole lot of papers to take down to the Air Force camp to sell. There were a lot of American Airman stationed there and they always had plenty of chewing gum. Any extra gum I had left on Monday I could swap for cigarette cards with the other boys at school. The war was hotting up and Hitler’s boys were throwing everything at London. It must have been terrible for our parents. Mum made up a bed for my sister and me under
the stairs that was considered to be the safest place in the house. We kids thought it was great after an air-raid to go out and pick up pieces of shrapnel from the bombs. We collected them and compared them at school the next day.
One of the houses around the comer got hit by a bomb, no one was hurt, and luckily everyone was down the shelter. The Germans must have been looking for the Air-Force camp and were a little off course. It was good for us kids -there was plenty of shrapnel to collect. Things were going OK at school, in between air raids we managed to get a few games of soccer in and the teacher made me captain of the house team which carried a certain amount of prestige ( I later found out that he was a drinking mate of Dads) . After school we used to go down the common and play football. We used coats and jumpers as goal posts and we had some great games. I was getting a bit of a reputation as a goalkeeper this news must have reached Dad because he decided to give up some of his darts/drinking time to come and watch me play one day. He got our little van out put my sister in the front seat beside him and drove down to the common.
Unfortunately the passenger door wasn't closed properly and when he turned a comer Jean fell out. Fortunately she wasn't badly hurt but Dad never ever came to see me play again. My mate Billy Christmas who lived next door was very keen on photography and he also heard that I would soon be playing for England in Goal (I think I told him), so he brought his camera down to the common to take my photo. We arranged that the first goal kick I took he would take the picture. The big moment arrived, Billy lined up the camera I lined up the ball, completely missed it and fell on my backside. Everyone thought it was funny, except me. Another game we liked to play was conkers, a very hard game to explain. Firstly you had to find a tree with nuts on it which we knew as conkers.
You drilled a hole in the nut with one of Mums meat skewers, put a piece of string through the hole and tied a knot. You were then ready to challenge another boy
to a game of conkers. The opposition would hold their conker out for you to try and belt it with your conker you each took a turn until one was broken. The boy with the conker still in tact was the winner and could then challenge someone else. We got a bit cunning with this we found that by baking the conker nut in Mums oven it would become as hard as cement and very hard to break. One of my baked conkers had seventy five victories before it finally succumbed. Scrumping was another favourite pastime, there was an apple orchard just down the road from our place and when the trees were full we used to raid them. There was a team of six of us boys. We would split up into two lots of three and climb trees on either side of the small orchard. When the farmer came out to chase us away he could only chase one lot of us, the other three would pick as many apples as they could, then run for it. We would then meet the other three, split up our haul and take them home to our Mums. Well organised and Mum never asked where we got them. Food was always a problem, we probably did a little better than some families because of Dads connections, but it was still tough. Mum used to make bread pudding. She would make huge trays of it I loved it .It certainly was a good filler. One day on the way to school I remembered that Mum had made a big bread pudding the day before. The temptation was too great for me. I turned around and ran back home, but the place was all locked up. I was so desperate that I broke the pantry window to get at it. I ate half of it and took some to school with me. On the way home from school I realised I was in big trouble so I did the right thing I confessed. I got a good wallop behind the ear and told that I would have to pay for the window out of my pocket money. On another occasion one of my mates had come upon five shillings, I think he nicked it. He spent it all on cough lollies and a packet of five woodbines. Being a good mate I helped him out we were both looking a bit green when we had finished them. The reason he bought cough lollies of course was that is all he could buy.
The shops didn't have ordinary lollies or ice cream or other lovely things that us kids yearned for.
Mum had to go to work before I left for school so I would have to go to Aunty Betty's place for breakfast. Auntie Betty lived just up the road next to the Cherry Tree Pub. All we got for breakfast every day was a bowl of porridge I hated it. I often complained that it was too hot, only to be told to eat the edges, to which I replied "I've already eaten the edges". I was now going to Cherry Tree Lane School, a brand new school, with brand new air raid shelters. The air raid shelters almost became our class rooms the teachers had a most difficult job to keep us under control. I was always in awe of the teachers; they seemed to have eyes in the back of their head. One teacher in particular, Miss Wilson would be writing on the blackboard and without turning around she knew it was me that was playing up. She would say "Kenny stop doing that" and I would think how did she see me. One day she sent me up to the Headmaster and without asking me what I had done wrong he got the stick out and gave me six of the best. I was a hero for a couple of days, but boy was my hand sore. I behaved myself for quite a while after that. We had mental arithmetic each morning to get us going.
It was about the only subject I was any good at, mainly because of Dad. He used to encourage me to be good at it; his reason was that if you can add up the boss can't cheat you on pay day. There were two occasions I came home soaking wet and got into trouble. There was a gravel pit not far from home that was full of water. Extremely deep and extremely dangerous, it was like a magnet to us boys.
We managed to get hold of some empty oil drums and we strapped them together and made a sort of raft out of them. We found an old door and used it as a deck.
We then made a couple of oars out of pieces of wood and had a great time paddling around this big gravel pit. Another group of boys had done the same thing and we had races. Of course eventually there was a collision and a couple of us fell in, we were wet and cold. I ran home and 8
tried to sneak upstairs without Mum seeing me, to no avail I got a hiding and sent to bed without tea. I managed to pinch a jam sandwich later when no one was around. There was another occasion that really made Mum mad, but surprisingly not with me. Between our house and next door there was a narrow passageway and there was a Welsh family living next door who we didn't get on with. I was coming home from soccer one night and the kids were waiting in the upstairs room overlooking the alley, when I was directly under the window they emptied the family chamber pot over me, it was a good shot -not one drop of the stinking contents missed me. When Mum saw me she saw red, she raced in next door and really gave them a piece of her mind. Out came the old tin bath and I was given a thorough scrubbing. Mum gave me an extra big tea that night. I think it was one of the very few times that she gave me a cuddle. She really did love me but emotions were not shown in those days.
We had an air raid shelter delivered to us and we dug a big hole in the back yard and put this air raid shelter up. The first time it rained it filled up with water. We would have been safe from the bombs but we would have drowned. We never used that shelter in fact Dad pulled it down and filled the hole up again. The Doodle bugs or VI and VII were the worst. We could hear them coming then after the motor cut out we would wait for it to explode. Dad always said if you can hear them explode you are OK. I firmly believe that every Mum and Dad that brought kids up at that time should have all got a medal of some sort.
We had a bathroom at home but us kids very seldom used it. We had a tin bath which Mum would place in front of the kitchen fire and fill it up with hot water from the kettle.
Not very private but nice and warm. It was a huge kitchen and most of our living was done in that room. The front room was only for Sundays or when we had visitors, it too was a large room with a three quarter size billiard table a piano and radiogram. Grandad Saunders was staying with us on and off.
I remember watching him playing Dad billiards one day and every time Dad turned to put his score up Grandad would knock the balls into the pocket with his hand and then claim the points. I'm sure Dad knew but let him get away with it.
My Grandad fascinated me he would stand with his back to the fire and rock back and forwards with his eyes closed, I'm sure he went to sleep sometimes. On occasions he would turn and spit into the fire and watch it sizzle on the hot coals.
Mum would really go mad at him if she caught him doing that. I liked Sundays!
Mum would open up the front room and I was allowed to play records on the radiogram. Glen Miller was my favourite and we also had Ted heath and Fats Waller. Every now and then Mum would poke her head around the corner and yell at me to turn the volume down a bit (nothing changes). Also on a Sunday evening Dad would bring some Perry Winkles home from the pub and Mum would give us a sewing needle each to get the winkles out of their shells to eat them, yum!
We had an allotment down on the council land, which was a small plot of ground where we could grow vegetables. I would go down with Dad and help him pull out the weeds and tend to the vegies. We were very proud of our allotment and we would have competitions with our neighbours to see who could grow the biggest onions or carrots. Dad nearly always won, he said he had green fingers which I didn't believe. They looked brown to me from all the cigarettes he smoked. The allotment was very close to the Cherry Tree pub and Dad would often sneak away for a quick pint. He wouldn't be away long and he would bring me back a packet of Smiths chips so that I wouldn't tell Mum. One day he must have had more than one pint because he had to have a wee. He did it near the onions and said we would win for sure this time, I watched them grow over the next few weeks, I thought he might be right, so every time I went down there I gave them a little fertilising of my own.
My big brother Jim joined the army and went to the Middle East. I was very proud of him and I thought he was the main reason that we won the war. The other kids asked me how many Germans he had killed if my answers were accurate he should have received several Victoria Crosses. Dad promised me that he would buy me a bike for Christmas if I behaved myself; I was almost the perfect child for a long while. As Christmas got closer I would search all the places they could have hidden it and couldn't find a thing, When the big day arrived there was a beautiful bike at the foot of my bed well I thought it was beautiful. It was fairly old and in need of a bit of cleaning up, but it was all mine.
That bike was my pride and joy for quite a few years. I polished it and oiled it and gave it a lot of love and care. We built a sort of speedway track on a piece of vacant land and raced our bikes around it often having pile-ups and going home with skin off elbows and knees all good fun. Some of the boys had old jumpers on which they would paint names like "Bronco" or "Flash", so not to be outdone I got an old jumper of Dads and wrote on the back "Tiger Saunders", I used one of Mums lipsticks to do it. I put the jumper back in the cupboard where Mum kept all that sort of thing; Dad had not worn this jumper for years. Of course he decided he would wear it one day without looking at it. He couldn't understand why everyone was saying "Hello Tiger" or "How you going Tiger". And giving him a bit of a smile. I got grounded for quite a while over that.
During the summer holidays of that year I was allowed to ride my bike down to visit Auntie Flo who lived on a farm in Farnham about thirty miles from where we lived. I had some great holidays down there, my cousin David was a good mate and we had some great adventures. Uncle Bob, David and I went out rabbit shooting on many occasions. We used a ferret to get them out of their burrows I don't think Uncle Bob ever came home empty handed. There was a country railway line near the farm and David and I would go down there and watch the big steam trains go by. We each had a book which
had all the train numbers in it and as they went by we would mark our books to show that we had seen that particular train. We would sit there for hours just to get a big 38 as she went by it didn't take much to keep us amused in those days. The hills around Auntie Flo's house were covered in blue bells when they were in season and us kids were made to go out and pick them. David and I would sneak away and explore the caves in that area. There were some fantastic caves and when I think back on it, it is a wonder we never got lost. On one occasion the girls had gone home with their bunches of bluebells and we were still in the caves. When we got home Auntie Flo said she was going to tell Uncle Bob when he got home from the local and he would get the strap to us. She never did -she was a bit of a softie. We knew that and used to play up to it a bit.
My bike was getting a bit past it what with the long trips to Farnham and the speedway track, so I started to drop hints to Dad. My dad mentioned it to Jim who was home on leave and he gave me thirty pound to go out and buy myself a brand new bike. With my brand new bike I was the envy of the neighbourhood I spent all of my spare time in the shed looking after it. It leads me to my next adventure. I decided to take a holiday ride around southern England including the Isle of Wight. I stayed at Youth Hostels on the way around and everyone was amazed that one so young should undertake such a trip. I remember standing in a queue one evening for supper and all of a sudden I passed out -from then on some very concerned young member’s of a cycle club took me under their wing and looked after me. They made sure I ate properly and drank water whilst I was riding and generally looked after me like a young brother. That trip was a good education for me, it taught me that sometimes you do need the help of others, that you can't always do things on your own and most people enjoy helping someone else. I am indeed grateful to that group of riders and I am sure I did not thank them enough at the time.
One summer holiday Dad got out the old motorbike and sidecar and took us down to the seaside for a quick holiday. The place we went to was called Littlestone one of the few sandy beaches to be found. We had to go down through Romney marshes to get there and I remember thinking what a scary place, it was misty and really spooky. We erected a sort of lean-to tent next to the motorbike and camped on the beach, it was great.
Making sandcastles and getting wet up to our ankles, very exciting stuff. I didn't even notice the barbed wire and the concrete fortifications· it was still the seaside and Hitler could go to blazes -we were going to have fun for a few hours. It was soon time to go back home and back to reality. When I think back I realise that Mum and Dad just wanted a few hours to enjoy their kids and forget about the war for a while. The war ended when I was thirteen, there was so much excitement and celebrations went on for days. It was such a relief for all the grown ups that they had successfully got through it must have been hard for them to realise that it was all over. As for us kids we really couldn't see what all the fuss was about. We knew we were going to win -especially with my brother in the army. There were street parties and bonfires and much hugging and kissing. I liked the bonfires but didn't think much of all this hugging and kissing. It was about this time that my soccer started to improve so I decided to try out for the local team. I was going to try and get a start with their junior side. They were holding trial games on Saturday so I put my boots in a bag and rather nervously took myself down to the ground. The junior team coach got me to show my stuff and in reflection I don't think he was very impressed in fact he told me to come back next year when I put a bit of weight on. So it was back to my mates and our improvised goalposts. We decided that we should try and get our own team in some sort of competition and after getting a couple of older people interested we managed to do just that. I remember our first game was a disaster. We got thrashed something like 8-0 and we started to wonder if we had made a
Wise move. Our next game we were up against a team almost as bad as us and we managed a 1-1 draw, which was promising. In fact at the end of the season we had managed a couple of wins and finished about halfway up the competition ladder, not bad for a team of young school kids. Saturday morning pictures at Yiewsley were great it cost sixpence to get in upstairs or three pence downstairs. The noise was unbelievable but we thought it was terrific. It was about that time that I started to notice that girls were a bit different than they used to be, I always thought they were a bit yucky. I fell head over heels in love with a girl who lived in the council houses estate around the comer. Our one and only date was to the pictures to see Jane Russell in The Outlaw .She reckoned I was a bit mean for not paying for her ticket and not buying her a soft drink at interval. The next girl friend I had was much more interesting. She was a contortionist from a vaudeville family her name was Avis Daignton. I would feel quite important when I went to watch her perform. She would make sure I got a good seat in the front stalls. What made it even better was that I didn't have to pay for the tickets. None of these romances lasted long because my real love was football and girls didn't play soccer in those days. It was a pity I wasn't very good but what I lacked in talent I made up for in enthusiasm. That applied to football as well as romance. The football at school was much easier as we were up against kids of our own age and also the teachers saw to it that not too much rough stuff took place. One school game we were up against a team from a neighbouring school and it turned into a bit of a grudge match. The match sticks in my memory because one of our defenders fouled one of their players in the penalty area and they were awarded a penalty.
It was one ofthe very few penalties I ever saved. It was, I must admit a complete fluke. I dived long before he kicked the ball and fortunately I picked the right way to dive and much to my surprise the ball hit my hands and went round the goal posts for a comer. A hero! The young bloke who took
the comer sent over a fantastic ball, which to cut a long story short curled into the top of the net I never laid a hand on it. A villain! After the game (which we lost) our teacher tried to cheer me up by saying things like, "it's not your fault, there are ten other players in the team," it didn't help much I blamed myself for the defeat. I started to support Fulham Football team and I used to go and watch all their home games played at Craven Cottage the name of the ground at Fulham. They had a centre forward who was my hero his name was Ronnie Rooke, I managed to get his autograph one day after the game I was so excited I kept that program for years. I was very much a loner around this time going to the games on my own; it was a fair sort of trip for a young boy. I had to catch the steam train from West Drayton to Paddington station then the underground to Fulham, but I considered it well worth the trip. Another of my favourite pastimes was to go and watch the speedway at Wembley stadium. My favourite rider was a guy by the name of Bronco Johnson; he could really bum the track up. I went to the speedway one night when Wembley were up against West Ham. I was all armed with my red and white scarf and my ex gas rattle, a wooden contraption which made a hell of a noise when spun around vigorously. These rattle’s where originally designed to warn people that there was gas in the air during the war so we had to find some use for them in peace time. My heroes were all there Bronco Johnson and Bill Kitchen just to name two and this was billed as the grudge match to end all grudge matches. The smell of high grade fuel and the dust from the cinder track made for an exciting match and my team never let me down. It was to be one of Bill Kitchens last matches and he proved a great captain by scoring top points for the night, he certainly went out in style. The only disappointment was that Bronco crashed in an early race and was removed from the track on a stretcher but we still won and that was the main thing. After the last race I made sure I was near the pits and I was lucky enough to get a
couple of autographs on my program. I was well satisfied eating my hot dog on the long train trip home.
I left school at the age of fourteen and launched myself on the unsuspecting working force. My first job was in a department store called Caleys in Windsor.
Caleys was situated opposite
Windsor Castle and on occasions the Queen herself would come across to visit the shop but all us youngsters were made to go in the store room out of sight. My education continued at Caleys. They had a young lady who gave elocution lessons and she picked me out for special consideration. I thought she was sweet on me. The fact that I used to say firty, free and fousand instead of thirty, three and thousand had nothing to do with it. She used to keep me in after the class had finished to practice saying "Thirty three thousand thrushes on a thistle" I still have some difficulty with that! I worked in the linen department and the man in charge of our section was a small man with glasses that he wore on the end of his nose. I had the feeling that he didn't like me very much he seemed to be able to find me the most boring jobs to do. One day the other boys came in and we had a bit of a pillow fight -the mess we made was unbelievable. I was
sure that I was going to get the sack, surprisingly I survived. I was only earning one pound seven and sixpence a week (about $3) and my train fare took most of that, so there was not much left for the luxuries of life. My brother told me that he had heard there was a job available at the factory where Mum had her shops cleaning and bag wash done and the pay
was about three times what I was getting at Caleys so I decided it was a change of career path for me. It was an interesting job I had to check in and weigh the bag wash as
the agents drivers brought it in. My figures were used by the accounts department to debit the agents -so Mum was not very happy when I left that job!
One of the men working in
the wash house was a top amateur boxer and used his work to enhance his training. He would throw the heavy wet bags of washing from a distance into the machine used to spin dry the 16
My first suit.
clothes. It certainly developed his muscles. I went to one of his fights while I was working there. He won quite easily. I was impressed but not enough to take it up myself. A couple of other jobs followed, which didn't last, but then came the decision which was to change my whole life and launch me on a great adventure.
SHIP AHOY APRIL 1948
I saw an advertisement in the newspapers inviting young men to join the Merchant Navy and see the world, this fired my imagination. I asked Mum in could join and to my surprise she agreed. I caught the train from West Drayton to Cardiff and when I arrived at the training ship I suddenly felt very lonely and a little scared. Here I was 15 years old and a long way from home. It was raining very hard; I didn't have any rain gear. The officer who greeted me at the camp must have wondered what he had when he saw this frightened, skinny and wet young cockney. He must have been good at his job because he soon had me in dry clothes and feeling more than a little proud of my new uniform. My hut number was AI; I shared this hut with seventeen other boys who were seeking adventure on the high seas. I found that I had a flair for Morse code and semaphore and concentrated on this aspect of the course with some success. We learnt how to tie all sorts of knots, like bowline on the bight and cowslip and Turks head all part of becoming a seaman. We all had a sense of achievement when we had successfully completed the
training course and hurried back to our homes to show our parents our certificates. Mum and Dad were very impressed.
Dad was so impressed he took me down the pub to show me off to his darts team. I felt I was now a man being allowed in the Pub.
Finally a letter arrived telling me to join my first ship in Cardiff, so it was back to where it had started but this time I was a fully fledged JOS (Junior Ordinal)' Seaman) . It was a dirty IO, OOOton coal burner and was on a short trip to Freetown in West Africa to pick up iron ore and return. My pay was $14 a month and my duties were mainly to get tea or coffee for the AB's and clean up the mess (cabin where we all ate). Going through the Bay of Biscay was very rough and this was my first experience of sea sickness, I really didn't care if the ship sank or not. When we arrived in Freetown most of the men went ashore to enjoy the pleasures the town had to offer. I and the other two young JOS had to stay on board and work. We thought this to be most unfair until we saw the state of the older sailors when they came on board. In the next few days we sat in awe with wide eyes listening to some of the stories they told of their adventures ashore. We were anchored out in the harbour and I was told I had to help one of the AB's do a bit of painting over the side. We rigged up a stage as I had been taught at the training school, put it over the side and climbed on it, with our paint and brushes, all set for a hard mornings work. I was sitting up one end of the stage and the older chap at the other, painting away. We had to move the stage lower down which entailed loosening the ropes and lowering away by holding the running ropes. I held the wrong rope and my end of the stage went flying down, his paint pouring all over me, we both held on and started yelling for help. I looked down at the water and saw a white pointer shark circling under us. I nearly messed my pants -I think the older chap did. We yelled for what seemed an eternity before anyone heard us and pulled us back on deck.
The AB went straight to his cabin for a stiff drink of rum. I was just embarrassed. We were soon on our way back 19
to England and I was sick again when we went back through the Bay of Biscay, so I was still very skinny when I returned to West Drayton. I was at home for a few days before my next ship and Dad's darts team was to play the Air Force team at the Air Force camp in West Drayton. Dad asked me if! Would like to come along. I jumped at the offer. It was a nice setup the Air Force had it was a sort of bar with a huge log fire burning. Dad introduced me to a couple of young Air Force ladies and then excused himself saying he was involved in the darts match. Dad had bought me a coke and when I had finished it one of the young ladies said she would get me another. I thought it tasted a little different and that my shyness was starting to disappear. I found out later it was laced with rum -naughty girls. Dad soon woke up to what was going on when I started barracking for his darts team in a fairly loud manner. I always fancied myself as a fairly good table tennis player and when it was suggested that four of us have a game I thought here is my chance to shine. The only trouble is that alcohol and sport don't mix and I think I had a hole in my bat.
Luckily we were all in the same condition so it didn't matter much.
The warm fire and the warm rum soon combined to put me to sleep and by the time Dad had finished his darts match I was well into the land of nod. He let me sleep until he was ready to go home then picked me up and carried me home, took me to my room and put me to bed and never said a word to Mum. How do I know? He told me the next day. Jimmy was sweet on a girl who lived about three houses up the street and he invited me to join him and his girl friend and
. her sister at a local club. Jim had a good mate who was a top drummer and his band was playing at this club. The music was great and the warm English beer flowed like water, I even got up and had a dance, most unusual. During a break in the dancing a game of darts was organised. Jim fancied himself as a good darts player, what he didn't know was that dad had been coaching me I think I may have ruffled his feathers a
Little but he laughed it off saying beginners luck. We rode home on Jims motorbike, all four of us, at the same time. Not a very sensible thing to do. How we got home in one piece is a miracle.
My next ship was the S.S Kingsbury which sailed out of London to West Africa then across to Buenos Aires. It was during the time of Peron and Buenos Aires was a very interesting town at that time, and I was allowed ashore. It was very exciting going ashore in a foreign country. We had to bribe the police with a few cigarettes to get out of the gate on the dock and on our return we had to make sure we had some left to get back on board. Our first night there the younger men decided to go to the stadium to see the wrestling while the AB's went looking for bars and houses of il fame. We enjoyed the wrestling and yelled ourselves hoarse. It seemed very real to me but I must admit I wondered why there was never any blood after all that mayhem. We arrived back in the dock and after trying to communicate with the police on the dock gate we handed over our last few cigarettes and went back to our cabin. The third mate who was on duty on the gangway seemed very pleased that we had behaved ourselves and had a good time, I don't think he expected us to be so good .It was a different story when the rest of the crew arrived back -they were very noisy and more than a little drunk. The first mate gave them a little lecture the next morning. Something about setting a good example to the younger members of the crew and upholding the image of the English, I don't think anyone listened. The next night we all went to the bars the younger men thought they were missing out on something so we had to taste some of this exciting night life. The first bar we went to was very noisy and smoky and there were lots of ladies who seemed to be falling out of their dresses, much to the delight of the AB’s. Greg and I soon got bored watching the sailors getting drunker and drunker, all we could afford were a couple of cokes , so we went for a walk around town. Greg was a little older than me and had been to Buenos Aires once before he showed me some of the 21
more important sights of the town and then we made our way back to the ship. We once again got past the heavy smoking Police on the gate and back to our cabin to await the return of the rest of the crew and the stories they had to tell Two of the sailors didn't make it back with the rest of the crew. They had been involved in a bar brawl and had been arrested. One of the officers had to go and bail them out, it seemed he was used to the routine; he had done this type of thing on many occasions. The next day we sailed for Montevideo to pick up some more cargo before sailing back to England. The security was not as strict as in Buenos Aires and the Police seemed to be easier going so we were able to relax a little more. There is an old saying in the Merchant Navy "Gear before beer" which most AB's seem to ignore. I was determined to go back home with something I had bought in a foreign country so I went shopping while all the other guys were boozing and bought a pair of jeans. When I wore them back home I was very proud of them, they were all the way from Montevideo.
No one else knew but I knew and that was important. We sailed back to London and I was sea sick again and again. I was beginning to wonder if this life at sea was all it was cracked up to be. Boat and fire drills were carried out on all the ships I served on in the Merchant Navy. They were taken very seriously by the officers but the crews didn't seem so keen. Each sailor had a boat and fire drill position designated to them. My position was on the wheel in the wheelhouse. I thought I was pretty big time, the only problem was I got sea sick quite often and wheelhouses are varnished I now know a good way of getting varnish off. I was allowed to take the wheel coming into dock in London. This was a big thrill for me and a great experience to relate to mum and dad when I got home. I packed my seabag, went and saw the third mate got the little bit of money that was due to me and almost ran to the railway station in my brand new jeans. I caught the train to West Drayton and hurried home to Thornton Avenue, only
At the wheel coming in to London Docks.
to find the house empty. Only then did I remember that it was a working day and everyone was at work. I went up to the Cherry Tree Pub on the comer of our street in case dad may be there, the pub was almost empty, so I had a half pint of shandy. I was just about to go home when in walked dad, I was so excited and I tried to tell him all my experiences in two minutes. He had to tell me to slow down, he bought me a pint of real beer for once I took preference over the darts team. I talked and talked and he listened and when his mates came in he said "This son Kenny -he is in the merchant navy you know!” I felt very close to my dad that day. When dad finally took me home to mum and Jean I was a little the worse for wear, in fact the lounge room was rolling around like a ship in the Bay of Biscay. Mum had to wait until the next morning to get any sense out of me. I suspect that dad may have got his ankles caned for letting me get that way, but all was forgiven next morning when I related all my experiences. A few days later I got a letter from London telling me that I had been accepted to sit for the Efficient Deck Hands examination.
So it was off to London to show how hard I had been studying and after sailing a small boat around London docks, tying a few knots and answering many questions I successfully passed the exam and became a fully fledged E.D.H, which entitled me to almost the same pay as an AB.
How excited and proud I was, the same as an AB
unbelievable. I soon learnt that AB's didn't consider us to be anywhere near the same as them in fact they treated us with a certain amount of disdain. More excitement was to follow a telegram arrived telling me that I had been appointed as part of the crew for a brand new ship. I was to sign on for two years. The ship was the MV Afric; it was built in Scotland at a place called Burnt Island. I was to join the ship there sail down to London then off to South Africa and Australia. So I packed my sea bag, making sure I had plenty of beannies in case I was assigned to the wheelhouse. The big steam train sped to Scotland and seemed to get there in no time at all, I found my
way to the docks and there she was -Afric, she was beautiful. Brand new and all freshly painted, the crews’ cabins were so clean and modem, I couldn't believe my luck. We sailed down to London and I was allowed to go home for two days before sailing on my big adventure to Australia. I told mum and dad about the beautiful ship I was going to sail on and the fact that I would be away for about two years. I like to think they were a little sad about that, but I think they were pleased that I was going to have the chance to travel. When I said goodbye to mum and dad I did not dream that I would never see them again. I caught the train to London and went back to the docks and on board the Afric to meet the rest of the deck crew, it was then I met Eddie English who was to have a big influence on the next few years of my life.
Eddie was about seven years older than me, had been in the Royal Navy and transferred to the merchant navy. I also met my first Australian, the bosun, he was a very large man and I think the whole crew disliked him from the first moment. He seemed to be a very cranky person, giving out orders and expecting them to be obeyed immediately. Eddie advised me to stay out of the bosun way as much as I could, not an easy task but I certainly tried. The next day we sailed for South Africa and again I was assigned to the wheelhouse as helmsman when leaving and arriving at port. I was glad I had packed plenty of beanies. I used them so that I wouldn't take the varnish off. Our first port of call was Cairo, what a fascinating place. There was some security problem and we were not allowed ashore but I am sure some of the AB's managed to sneak off the ship some how. The locals came down to the ship to barter with the crew, pleading with them to buy some trinkets and souvenirs. Then it was through the Suez Canal and the Red Sea and down to Durban and Cape Town. I don't remember a great deal about either of these places as we had to work most of the time we were in port. I remember thinking it was very strange for the coloured people to have to get on different parts of the buses and sit in different parts of the movie houses
-in fact I still have trouble understanding that. Then it was off to Australia. We called into Sydney first -unloaded some cargo and then sailed for Brisbane and then back down the coast to Sydney.
In those few days we spent in both these places I fell in love with Australia. Sydney to me was a beautiful exciting city and the few days we were in port I went out on my own to see as much as I could. Eddie my mate was also impressed with Australia and he asked me how I felt about staying here. At first the idea excited then scared me. As mentioned before I had been sea sick on many occasions and the situation didn't seem to be improving, but jump ship? What a decision! We studied a map of New South Wales and picked Armidale as a likely looking place that might offer work. We found Central Railway station and bought two single tickets to Armidale, then went back to the ship to pack our gear.
News travels fast on board ship, the first mate called all crew to a meeting and said he had heard that certain crew members were considering jumping ship in Sydney. He warned us that he would hound anyone who did this and make sure they were sent back to England to face the music. I looked anxiously at Eddie -he just smiled and said he was only bluffing and that we had nothing to worry about.
So that evening when it was turning dusk a couple of the crew who were in the know lowered our sea bags over the side and down onto the dock. Eddie and I walked down the gangway spoke briefly to the third mate who was on duty and in the shadows of the ship picked up our gear and walked towards the gate to freedom. When we arrived at the gate the security guard asked us where we were going, we told him that we were going to Armidale for the weekend to see my Aunt. The security guard
said that he would have to check our gear because his mate had been flashing his torch to indicate that there maybe a problem.
Eddie started to put pressure on him saying that we would miss our train if we didn't hurry but the guard asked me to open my bag. He looked more than a little surprised when he saw my thick heavy duffle coat on top seeing it was the middle of summer. With a smile he asked if I was expecting a cold snap in Armidale. To my surprise he let us go; we raced to a waiting cab and told him to take us to Central Railway in a hurry. It was just like the movies. I had many furtive glances over my shoulder as we approached the train but we were soon safely seated and speeding towards Armidale.
Armidale is a beautiful city and the people we spoke to were very friendly but there wasn't any work for two out of work sailors. So it was out with the map again, this time we decided on Grafton as our next destination. Success! We found a job at a saw mill at Clouds Creek -a small settlement just outside Grafton. My job was to operate a winch to load the trucks to take the cut timber away.
While I was working with the truck drivers I paid careful attention to the Australian accent. I wanted to cover up the fact that I was a
"Pommy”. I heard this expression "fairdinkum" and I thought it meant good. When I was greeted "Goodday Blue how yer going", I would reply "fairdinkum mate, fairdinkum". I now know why I got some strange looks. Every Saturday night was party night at Clouds Creek and these parties would nearly always turn out to be singing talent contests. Most of the locals would either yodel or sing country and western, Eddie and I provided a little variety by singing in a sort of Flanagan and Allen style. Every Sunday there was a tennis tournament arranged on the very rough tennis court.
It was run on a sort of handicap system. I had never held a tennis racket in my hand before which was obvious to the handicapper.
He gave me a 40 love and 5 game start. I only had to win one point. I failed and was knocked out of the competition.
Every now and then we would venture into Grafton for the local bam dance where all the boys stood on one side of the hall and all the girls stood on the other. I quite often went to the bam dance and didn't even talk to a girl let alone have a dance. It was while we were in Grafton that we met the McDonald family.
They sort of took us under their wing and looked after us. Mr McDonald worked at the local abattoirs and trained greyhounds in his spare time. His wife was a wonderful cook. Their daughter was about my age and we called her "Mac”. They had a cockatoo that fascinated me he used to cry out "Get the paper Mac". They lived in a house in South Grafton which used to flood often; when the floods came they would move most of their furniture up the hill then when the floods were over go back to the house and clean up all the mess, with never a complaint. A wonderful family. I remember going to the dogs with Mr Mac one night, he told me one of his dogs had a chance. I walked over to a bookmaker and put two pound on it. The bookmaker changed the price from 10-1
to 5-2, I felt very powerful that night, until it got beat. The pubs in Grafton were nearly always out of beer, in fact if the word got around that the beer was on at such and such a pub all the blokes would be heading that way quick smart. If we were lucky enough to get a couple of bottles of beer on a Saturday we would take them with us to the bam dance and hide them in the grass outside the hall for later. Then after a while you would see some of the fellows sneak outside and search around in the grass for their precious beer, we would have a drink then go back into the hall with much more confidence. As the evening went on we would think we were budding Fred Astairs, but I think the girls would disagree with that and would have the bruised feet to prove it. It looked like our jobs at the saw mill were coming to an end, there was a bit of a slump in orders and things were not looking too good. Eddie suggested to the manager that his cottage was in need of a coat of paint and that he was very
fortunate that he had two expert painters on the payroll
-us. We made that paint job last as long as we could until the orders for timber started to come in again. On one of our weekend trips into Grafton the jacaranda Festival happened to be on and the excitement in town was at a very high level. There were lots of visitors in town and the locals were doing their level best to get them to spend as much money as possible. The Grafton races were on so we got together with the Macs and off we went to the races.
We were armed with all the local information and a little bit of spare cash so we were out to make a killing. Unfortunately the horses had other ideas and all the horses we backed seemed to like running at the rear of the field. So although we had a great afternoon as far as eating and drinking our pockets were a little empty when we went home. The Clarence River is a beautiful river and we had some fine picnics on its shore in South Grafton.
There was a small island in the river near the bridge and I heard a rumour that people used to get over to this island and do some skinny dipping. This fired our imagination so Eddie and I got ourselves over on the pretence of doing some fishing. We were disappointed -it was just a rumour. After about six months at the saw mill we were starting to get itchy feet so out came the map again. We heard a lot about Queensland and that it was a land of opportunity just waiting for us to make our fortune, so we picked out Charleville. We hitched a ride to Warwick then caught a cattle train from Warwick to Charleville. Our first night we camped in a dry creek bed, we had fold up stretchers and a blanket each, an old swaggie took pity on us and invited us to join him for a cup of his billy tea. He advised us to get rid of the fold up camp stretchers and sleep on the ground -we would be warmer. The next morning we placed the remainder of the bananas and bread we had in the branch of a tree and went off in search of work. We had learnt that the local stock and station agent was the place to go for work, so that is where we headed. On our
way Eddie suggested that maybe we should change or names in case the police were after us for being illegal immigrants and I agreed.
He was going to take the name Reagan the American cowboy actor.
At that moment we were passing some shops one of which was a saddlery. I said I would be known as Ken Saddler. We went into the office and the young lady said she had a couple of jobs available on the railway as fettlers. We accepted them without even asking what a fettler was. We had to give the young lady some information and she asked me how did I spell my surname? Was it one d or two? I said to Eddie "How do you spell that Ed is it one or two?"
Fortunately fettlers in those days were hard to find. We returned to our camp in the creek and went to recover our bananas and bread only to find the crows had beaten us to it. We spent a very cold and hungry night that night.
We soon found out that fettlering was very hard and demanding work. Our job was to remove any rotten wooden sleepers from the track and replace them with new ones, not an easy task in the hot Australian sun. We soon got the map out again to work out where we should go next. Cloncurry was the choice but this time we had a little bit of money so we stayed at a pub. We used to get in the bar in the evening and with a little prompting we would sing a few songs and earn a few small beers. We had only been at the pub a few days when the barmaid knocked on my door and told me there was someone in the bar looking for station hands. I spoke to the man who asked me if I could ride a horse. I assured him I could so he told me to go out to his ute and wait for him. I raced up to my room got my gear and sat in the back of the ute waiting for him.
After a while he came out and drove me to the sheep station which was about sixty or seventy miles out of town. On the drive out there my conscience was starting to bother me. I had never been close to a horse (apart from the milk horse) let alone rode one. He showed me where I was to sleep, where the kitchen was and then took me down to the saddle room. He handed me a saddle and bridle and
explained that because there was a drought I was to select six horses and ride a different one each day. The way I looked at the saddle and bridle soon conveyed to the station manager that I had no idea how to ride a horse. He said