Eric had left the College before me because he had accepted a cadetship with a firm of shipping, T & J Harrison, that ran a service mainly to the West Indies and the USA.
He left to join his first ship shortly after we had moved to Manchester, where my father had joined a large chemical and engineering works. It was the first time in seventeen years that Eric and I had been separated.
I was thoroughly miserable with life on a respectable estate with respectable neighbours and yearned to return to Ireland to my friends and a carefree way of life, but of course, that was impossible.
Eventually, I commenced work as an apprentice engineer with the intention of following my father’s footsteps and loathed every minute of it, but could not find an alternative. There were, of course, the three services I could join when I became eligible but I couldn’t visualise a career in any of them. Having said that, a school chum of mine joined the RAF and, long after the war, I saw him on the television. He had worked his way up through the ranks, to become an Air Vice Marshal!
The solution came with my brother’s return from his first trip. He painted a glowing picture of life at sea; well, not so much at sea, but his adventures ashore in places with exotic names like Kingston, Jamaica, New Orleans, Galveston and Batten Rouge, and that to me was like a door with a large ‘exit’ sign over it so I went for it.
The next day I applied to one of the most distinguished shipping companies in the UK; Cunard Brocklebanks.
My brother left home to re-join his ship and sadly it was the last time I saw him. He did come home again on leave after his ship had been bombed and sunk just off the North West coast of Ireland but I was away from home. He was lost when his next ship was torpedoed in the Atlantic. There were no survivors from a crew of sixty eight.
After an interview with Cunard in Liverpool I received a letter informing me that I had been accepted as a cadet officer and I was instructed to join a vessel in Glasgow. Thus began my sea going career.
The ship was brand new, straight from the builder’s yard, a very fine twin screw motor vessel loading a full cargo, including two railway locomotives for Calcutta.
It was a strange new world for me, but I quickly settled in. My very first task was to help the Navy gunners clean the 4 inch gun on the poop deck. Because I was a fit and strong young man, I was appointed loader and had to attend many gunnery courses.
Days passed quickly until suddenly we were ready to leave .The growing submarine menace meant we were routed up towards Iceland, across to the American sea board before sailing south towards Cape Town, our first port of call for bunkers.
I can still vividly recall the first ten days. We cleared the North Channel then ran slap into a mid-Winter Atlantic storm. For over a week I could only crawl on my hands and knees to the toilet to retch, scared I was going to die, and later, scared that I wouldn’t!
But the weather, and my stomach, eventually settled down and as far as the war was concerned, I got a totally false impression of it all. With the superb accommodation, abundant food and warm weather, the trip was literally a cruise.
Cape Town, was our first port of call and from there it was up to Calcutta to load a cargo of tea, ground nuts and jute for the mills in Dundee. The return trip was also ‘a doddle’, unlike my next appointment which was a very different kettle of fish!