This is a blog (at present), describing some of the experiences of going to sea when Britain carried much of the world's trade in its merchant ships, and a whole load of nautical colleges trained the officers who went to work on them. Back in the early 1960s if we went to sea we were exempted from National Service so in some ways it was a good thing. Anyone who had served an engineering apprenticeship would also be able get a job as a junior ship's engineer, so there were a lot of applicants. It was said that only one in ten of those who went to sea as apprentices actually made it to qualify as masters. But some did, and the stories contained here are from some of those who at the very least embarked on the journey.



Back in the middle of April 2017 I went to a dinner to celebrate the one hundredth anniversary on the opening of the Nautical College, Pangbourne. It was once a training establishment intending to send its pupils to sea in the British Merchant fleet, which up until the 1980s carried much of the world’s trade. I went there in 1956 and left at the end of 1959 joining the P&O. I was struck by the camaraderie which seemed to exist between those of us who had gone to sea in the merchant service, and we told stories and enjoyed each other’s company. So it struck me that there should be some way of commemorating the heyday of our service, when there were well over a hundred operating British shipping companies, hoovering up all the alumni of the various traing establishments around the UK. I recognise that there are numerous websites and Facebook pages which deal with aspects of the marine environment, but most address the history or the more formal aspects of shipping companies and the technical details and the statistics for the ships. There are some which attempt to reconstruct the crew lists of old ships, and get people to talk to each other, and people have written books containing details of fictional or factual voyages. But nowhere, as far as I can see are there people telling stories about what it was like to be on these ships on their quite lengthy voyages to the ends of the world, so this blog provides an opportunity.

In the formulation of this introduction I turn to a copy of the Merchant Shipping Act 1894, the regulations under which we went to sea, my copy was sold for “£1  10s (£1.50)” indicating that it was printed in about 1972, the year when Britain went for decimal currency. And I also happen to have a copy of “Brown’s Nautical Almanac 1962” which cost 21/6, picked up in an antique shop on the west coast of Canada. I turn to the latter in order to list a number of nautical training establishments some of which are advertised in the publication, they include:

The Nautical College, Pangbourne,

HMS Worcester

HMS Conway

Robert Gordon’s Technical Collage- School of Navigation

Dundee Technical College – School of Navigation

Fleetwood Navigation School

Kingston Upon Hull Education Committee – Nautical College

The Royal College of Science and Technology Glasgow – School of Navigation

The Watt Memorial College Greenock

Grimsby College of Further Education – Nautical Department

Hull Trinity House Navigation School

City of Liverpool College of Technology – Department of Navigation

King Edward VII Nautical College

Leith Nautical College

South Shields Marine and Technical College

Plymouth and Devonport Technical College – School of Navigation

The Welsh College of Advanced Technology – Department of Navigation

Reardon Smith Nautical College - Cardiff

Sir John Cass College – Department of Navigation

In addition, just for the search engines I am going to list all the foreign going shipping companies which I think existed in the 1960s – with the help of Wikipedia and other shipping industry sites, but if I’ve missed any let me know. Of course many of these companies ended up being owned by others, or during period in which we are interested were already subsibiaries of other organisations, but most were allowed to operate independently until towards armagedon, when shipowners were doing what-ever they could to remain viable.

Anchor Line, Australind Steam Navigation Company (Trinder Anderson), Atlantic Steam Naviation, Bank Line, Ben Line, Bibby Line, Blue Funnel (Alfrted Holt), Blue Star, Booths, Bowker and King, B.I (British India), Bowater Steamships, BP, Bristol City Line, T&J Broklebank, Cable & Wireless, China Navigation, Clan Line, Coast Lines, Common Brothers, Cunard, Denholms, Eagle Oil, Elder Dempster, Ellerman City Lines, Federal Steam, Furness Withy, Fyffes, General Steam, Glen Line, Hain-Nourse Line, T&J Harrison, Harrison Clyde, Hector Whaling, Hogarth & Co, Houlder Brothers, Hunting Steamships, King Line, Lamport & Holt, London & Overseas Tankers, Manchester Liners, Orient Steam, Palm Line, PSNC (Pacific Steam), P&O, Port Line, Prince Line, Reardon Smith, Ropners. Royal Mail, Scottish Tankers, Shaw Saville, Shell Tankers, Silver Line, South American Saint Line, Stag Line, Stephenson Clarke, Sugar Line, Trident Tankers, Union-Castle, United Baltic Corporation.

Hence I am hoping for contributions from alumni from one of the training colleges listed who went to work for one or more of the British shipping companies, and because I am also hoping that the stories will be narratives from under the radar, the authors (if there are to be any) will be listed as “contributors” at the beginning and the stories themselves will be accessible by a table of contents. Each of the stories should name the ship, the route or the company involved, or even all of the above. They should be about  what it was like to work on British merchant ships, the good and the bad and the unbelievable. We have all heard many of them, but if we are not careful they will disappear as those of us who were at sea go on, some would say, “to a better place”.

The submissions should be up to 3000 words and may be edited a bit if necessary.

If we get to 100,000 words then we could produce a print edition by means of a print on demand service.

There is no intention that there will be any cost involved unless people choose to buy a POD book, or an ebook. I am contributing my services for nothing and we are not advertising anything.

Email any submissions to me This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . If this idea works I will set up a separate website for a small annual fee (I have already found that my intention to make it all free is not possible for me, since I already have a number of sites - specifically one on wordpress and one on blogger).

Victor R Gibson


Victor R Gibson

Michael Grey

David Smiley

Robin Paine



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