|Continued from Bill Taylor's Memoir, Preface|
My adventures started when I was fifteen years old. My parents,
and Fred Taylor moved
to Folkestone, England from
I had been attending would have insisted
that I stay at school until I was eighteen, but by moving I managed
to slip through the cracks and managed to finish with school. I will
say that during the four years I was there, I received an excellent
education which was a big help in later years. I now felt free to
make my own destiny.
My older brother, Kenneth, got a
position as Deck Engineer on a
Canadian Pacific liner,
Montcalm, sailing to Canada.
Ken was on leave, he would tell me of his experiences and this made me
more determined to try my luck at sea.
I wrote to the Canadian Pacific offices in
London to see if I could
get work on one of their ships. I received a reply and went for an
Shore Superintendent of the
Catering Department told
me I could join the
Empress of Britain at
on the 29th of July 1939. I felt now I was on my way and reported
On arrival, I was told I would be a Comme-waiter, a trainee, but first I would have to buy my uniforms. A Ship's Chandler came on board and measured me, took my order, and supplied me with blue pants and some white jackets to keep me working until my uniforms were ready. The arrangement was each trip we paid some money according to what we could afford to clear our accounts.
I soon found out there were very few rules regarding how many hours we worked. When we sailed we had to start work at 5:30 am for scrub out. This meant scrubbing a section of the hallways every morning before breakfast. Breakfast over, which had to be fast, temporally I had to work in the Silver Room, cleaning silver and supplying the galley with what they needed for serving the meals. Every meal was served silver service. All this was happening and I started being sea sick, not helped by the fact that our accommodation was in the stern under the laundry and over the propellers. The combination of the ship rolling and the vibration of the propellers really took its toll. I felt it would be easier to jump over than suffer, but I was not alone, and had others to commiserate with--all for three pounds, nineteen shillings per month. Illness did not allow you to avoid work, so I carried on. When we entered the Saint Lawrence River, Canada, I suddenly felt much better and was never sea sick again no matter how rough the sea was.
Arriving in Quebec we tied up at the new Empress of Britain dock. After the passengers disembarked, we were allowed to go ashore, so with some friends I had made, we went to explore the town. Although we had very little money we quite enjoyed ourselves. Cake was 5 cents and hot dogs 5 cents. One of the boys who had been on the ship for some time told me we could make extra money by showing people around the ship as the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth (later the "Queen Mum") of England had just previously sailed on her.
One of my early show rounds I was given consisted of six nuns and four other tourists. Not a very promising group. The Master at Arms and I did not see eye to eye so I had been given the worst crowd--I thought they would be a dead loss. However, being as pleasant as I could, I gave them a really good time. While I was answering their questions and giving them any information they asked for, they were very pleasant. On the way to the gangway one of the nuns thanked me and slipped me a ten-dollar bill (that was a fortune to me in those days)! The tourists gave me another six dollars. I was now rich! I hid the ten and after saying goodbye to them at the gangway I gave the Master at Arms three dollars and me seemed very pleased. I had now found the method of survival.
We were sailing backwards and forwards across the Atlantic: Southampton - Le Havre, France - Quebec, every week one way, Saturday to Thursday. On my next trip I had my uniforms so I was put to work in the first class dining room to help the waiter, "Tilly" (his proper name was Alfred H. Till). Tilly was one of the best waiters and he had served the King and Queen when they were aboard. He instructed me at what I had to do and warned me to be careful with the passengers as they were all very sick and could at times be very finicky and awkward. One passenger was Lord Beaverbrook, the Canadian newspaper magnate, who later worked in the wartime British Ministry of Aircraft Production. There were various happenings on board, far too numerous to mention. When not working in the dining room, I had to work the elevators during the afternoon so I was kept very busy, but some of the passengers were very nice and gave me tips. I still had lessons every night. Every trip, to Canada or back to England, Tilly always gave me a share of the tips. He was really generous. (I was very saddened to learn some time later that Tilly was killed when the Empress of Britain was bombed by a German aircraft on October 26th, 1940. I heard that Tilly was courageously attempting to rescue some children at the time of his death.)
Then came the last peacetime voyage. When we loaded passengers in
Southampton, we noted
that the dockside was full of gun
emplacements, so we knew war was imminent. We loaded far more
passengers than we had accommodation for in first class, as all
cabins were full. Passengers were to sleep in the gym and squash
court and anywhere we could accommodate them and they were only too
pleased to have gotten on board to leave England.
We sailed on the 2nd of September 1939. We went to the
Le Havre, took on more
passengers who arrived by tender,
and then headed out to sea. The next day
I was sent to
Bridge Officer's Steward who
told me that war had just been
Sunday, September 3rd, 1939.
We sailed full speed and headed off far to the
north of our usual route, into
the iceberg zone. You could feel the cold penetrate the ship like
a refrigerator. The Captain maneuvered his way through them and
finally arrived in
Quebec late but safe on Friday,
September the 8th. By that time, quite
ships, of which the
was the first,
had already been sunk in the Atlantic by submarine.
We sailed immediately to Halifax, Nova Scotia. On arrival we anchored in the inner harbour, Bedford Basin. Nobody seemed to know what was going to happen next. We stayed six weeks--no one was allowed ashore for leave and we soon got really bored. I heard we were waiting to join a
The crossing appeared to go fairly easy and we eventually arrived in Liverpool, England in November. The passengers disembarked and we were paid what they said were our wages and given tickets to Southampton, our port of sailing. I received five pounds. I do not think we were paid in full for the time spent on the Duchess of Richmond. (ie. not paid the money owed for being classed as "DBS"--Distressed British Seamen).
I was lucky that a fellow a lot older than I, befriended me and told
me that he
knew Liverpool and that as he was going to
London, would show me where to go.
The blackout had started and we could
see nothing, but he found the way to the railway station. After
hours of waiting we got on a train going south, but we were told we
would have to change trains at
Crewe. We looked for our next train--
the station was crowded and chaotic. When we found the train it
was packed like sardines. My friend was a big fellow, so he was able
to force a space for us in a carriage and we managed to get some
sleep. We had been on the go for 24 hours a least.
London station he took me to the ticket
office and had them
change my ticket for
Then he found my station where my
train would leave from and then left me. He had been a very good
friend. We parted company here and I travelled on and finally
reached my home.
After having been at sea, other work seemed to bore me. I tried several jobs but could not settle. I went eventually to the Southern Railway offices in Folkestone and got a job on some cargo boats, SS Tunbridgeand SS Deal, sailing from Folkestone to Boulogne, France and Dover to Calais, France.
We were warned the Germans were dropping
magnetic mines in the Channel and some
ships were getting sunk, so it was getting dangerous for us crossing.
Eventually they came and fitted the ship with
degaussing cables, which reversed
the magnetic field of the mines. Of course, it you hit one you would
still blow up. As the war in Europe heated up
there were many German planes strafing and bombing all over the coast.
By that time our regular sailings had been stopped and we had been
Then our coaster was not deemed to be of much
use anymore, and we were discharged in April 1940, shortly before the
Battle for Dunkirk and the
Fall of France.