In the fifties and sixties the fishing industry was booming after six long years of warfare. Men who had served in the war returned to the job they knew and whole families were involved, particularly those of Hessle Road; it was a growth industry.
At this time it was not unusual for young boys to sail on ships during the school summer holiday doing what was called a ‘pleasure’ trip. Normally it would be with a family member, perhaps a dad, uncle or brother. These trips were encouraged by the owners as it provided readily available recruitment, although after a bout of sea sickness I guess a lot of potential fishermen were lost to the job.
My elder brother, Jim did such a trip at the age of ten after stowing away on the trawler, ‘Loch Monteith‘ on which our dad was sailing.I also did a trip as a pupil of the Boulevard Nautical School. The trips were arranged through the school and pairs of pupils were sent together. These trips were not meant to make us into potential fishermen but to make sure a career at sea was for us, although the trawler owners probably saw it differently.
In the Summer of 1959 Neil Stacey, from Riccall, near Leeds, and myself climbed aboard the, trawler, ‘Lord Cunningham‘ to do our trip. I had been aboard trawlers before with my dad but not at sea so, after finding the Mate and giving him the letter from school, he put Neil and I in one of the spare cabins aft (towards the stern (back) of the trawler) and told us not to get in the way too much as they prepared to sail. As luck would have it, one of the spare hands was a neighbour and friend of my dad so he looked out for us during the next three weeks.
The Skipper of the ship was Ben Abbey, a well known family in the fishing industry. The trip was to be to Iceland and both Neil and I were very excited as the ship left the dock and began the journey down the Humber towards the North Sea. We asked if we could visit the bridge (wheelhouse) but we were told to wait until the ship was clear of the River Humber and on our way to Iceland.
It was to be a few days later that we felt well enough to do anything – sea sickness at its worst which left us feeling very ‘green’! Weather conditions were good but even in fairly calm seas a trawler will gently roll. Of course, the crew were keen to give us plenty of advice such as eating greasy bacon and plenty of fresh air!! Even standing under a tree?? Needless to say, none of their unhelpful suggestions worked! Thankfully, we improved and began to take an active role in life on board. We helped the Cook and the Galley Boy by peeling potatoes or washing dishes and by cleaning the mess rooms. We were also asked to deliver tea to the bridge – not easy when your sea legs don’t work properly.
It was during one of these deliveries that my mate, Neil fell foul of an old superstition. Looking back I am sure the Cook knew what was going to happen but decided to sit back and watch. Neil took the tea to the Skipper wearing a green jumper (considered unlucky!). Both Neil and the tea were thrown out a long with a few rude words! The strange thing about this superstition is that all the Lord Line trawlers and trawlers from two other companies had green hulls.
During the time the crew were fishing we were introduced to some hard work – cracking ice down in the fish room using a large axe. This was tough for a fourteen year old, I can say. We were also shown how to fill net mending needles, how to splice soft rope and how to tie some knots although we both had some knowledge of this from being at school. Gutting fish was another task we were taught although sticking plasters were in plentiful supply – sharp knives, soft fingers and wriggly fish take a bit of getting the hang of! All the crew were very patient with us and gave up as much time as they could as long as we were willing to learn.
We also got to spend some time on the bridge. At school we had been learning all about navigation so it was great to see it in practice. Being shown round the engines by an engineer was great; engines were not taught about at school so it was fascinating to watch the pistons going up and down in rhythm.
Throughout the twelve days the crew were fishing, the weather had stayed good and we enjoyed it. When it was time to head off back to Hull, the fishing gear was hauled for the last time and full steam ahead was telegraphed to the engine room. Due to our seasickness, we had not seen much of the routine outward bound. However, on the way home we saw that the deck crew had an easier routine; instead of working up to eighteen hours a day, they were on watches of around four to six hours. Nevertheless, the work continued as the fishing gear was prepared ready for the next trip and the ship was cleaned from top to bottom so that, when we docked after three to four days, the trawler sparkled! This was a job both Neil and I helped with.
Neil stayed over at my house on the first night home and then we went down the dock with our neighbour to the Office where all the crew picked up their pay. We were both given backhanders (money) for helping on board. This was something that fishermen did – they were a generous bunch of men!
What an adventure! My pal, Neil joined the Merchant Navy and the seeds for following in my dad’s and my brother’s footsteps had been planted too.