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PS Royal Eagle

Royal Eagle reminiscences 1948 from John Nicholls.

After completing a course at the Outward Bound sea school at the tender age of 15 I tried my very best to join the Merchant Navy. I found a way in with the help of a shipping agent by the name of Captain Brown. He told me that by completing a period on the Royal Eagle I would then qualify via my discharge certificate to hold a union card and to join a shipping pool. I followed his advice and joined the Royal Eagle in March 1948 at Tower Pier,Pool of London. Prior to starting the season of carrying day trippers to Southend, Margate and Ramsgate there was a very important operation to carry out ,That was to sail down the river to Chatham dockyard to have the wartime de-gaussing gear removed. This was a series of thick wires wrapped around the ships hull acting as neutraliser against magnetic mines. After that it was all about preparation for the Summer season.

My first job as a lowly deck boy was to count passengers on, using a click meter. In the very busy periods (and there were many of them) two gangways were in use. After setting sail my next job was to be on the bridge writing down the times of passing certain points down the Thames. The skipper seemed to give this job a great deal of importance, he himself explained to me that the Thames lighterman would blame the Eagle for causing too much wash and would then attempt to claim insurance damages. The idea of time keeping was to counter their claims. My other jobs were placing deck chairs around the decks and then collecting and stacking them after use. When docking at the piers of Greenwich (first stop) Southend,Margate and Ramsgate was to help getting the gangways aboard. Depending on the tide any one of three decks could be used,this included the sponson on very high tides. In most cases the ship followed the deep Thames Estuary channels but when the tide was right the skipper took her across the flats from Southend to Margate, past old wartime wrecks one of which was an American liberty ship supposedly full of high explosives, I do believe it is still there. (This is the Richard Montgomery and indeed is still there. Ed.) The flats of course were very shallow sandbanks (which were like the Goodwin Sands) visible at low water.The Royal Eagle like most Paddle Steamers had a very shallow draught. Other notable points of interest in the Thames estuary were the wartime gunforts which were easily visible from the ship. Two events which worth noting during that season, a B.B.C radio broadcast of a programme called Down Your Way with Richard Dimbleby and Wynford Vaughan Thomas ,and an annual event where the mothers and fathers of Merchant and Royal Navy cadets visited the training ship Worcester which was moored next to the Cutty Sark Downstream. I watched Dimbleby and Vaughan Thomas in action using their huge microphones. The comment that the ship and passengers were passing through the Pearly Gates when going under Tower Bridge was re-broadcast a number of times. The Mothers and Fathers visit to the Worcester was interesting as a good proportion of the people were V.I.Ps Lords and Ladies, Knights of the Realm and their Ladies and many other well dressed people. The crew of the ship were allowed on board the Cutty Sark, so at least I had the priviledge of being on board while she was still afloat.

A large proportion of the deck crew were men from the Western isles of Scotland. They nearly all came from Stornaway and they all seemed to be named Macdonald. They were very fine seamen.If there was ever a competition for throwing heaving lines a long distance I am sure they would win hands down. Besides having strong arms they would load the Turks Head on the throwing end of the line with lead slugs to give them extra weight. The deck crew would eat and sleep in the foc’sle head .this became too crowded and halfway through the season I was moved to the seamans mission in Dock street which I commuted to and from every evening and morning. Every sailing day the ‘Sparks’ would give his announcements and then play music there and back. His favourite seemed to be ‘This my Lovely Day’sung by Georges Guetary, from the musical ‘Bless the Bride’. His consistent playing of it even enabled me to remember it from that long time ago. I paid off the Royal Eagle in September 1948.

My thanks go to John Nicholls for recordings his memories of Royal Eagle and for allowing me to sheare them with you here.

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