Cabin boy in the merchant navy
Flora Bain meets the veterans of the Arctic Convoys who recount their memories off their experiences.
Flora Bain: So Mr. Long thank you for coming along to the National Maritime Museum today for our event on veterans of the Artic Convoys.
Mr. Long: Today I thought it was a wonderful reception that we got. But it was also wonderful so many people were interested and either they had had relations that were originally on the convoys and no longer with us but they were all so interested. And even the younger generations.
Flora Bain: How old were you when you joined the Merchant Navy?
Mr. Long: I was only 16 and I actually, still only 16 when I first set foot in Russia in November 1942. So I had my 17th birthday in Russia and on my next voyage I had my 18th birthday on the way home from Russia. I was a cabin boy. I’d done three months training at the Gravesend Sea School.
Flora Bain: Did you know you were going to Russia when you set off on the convoy?
Mr. Long: Well me first voyage we didn’t go in convoy. See we sailed and we were asked to volunteer to sail independently and my money as a cabin boy straight from the sea school was only £5 a month. And we were all offered, the crew £50 bonus and the Officers were offered £100 bonus to sail independently.
At that age I’d never been to sea before, you don’t realise the danger and it’s more or less a thought well it might happen to others but it can’t happen to us. One thing that I’ve never forgotten that we, sailing independently it was up to the Skipper to try and get the ship to Russia. Five were on the sea lost, 10, 3 returned twice and actually 13 had volunteered.
We went up into the ice edge. We were actually cutting through ice but the ice was moving very, very slowly, a lazy, what we call a lazy roll on it but as far as you could see was the ice and it was that little movement on it but it wasn’t breaking. And yet as we were sailing through it we were breaking it.
We were in, under the bridge actually where most of the Officers’ cabins were and that, like that I used to have to clean and everything. See the first time the cabin boy gets his ears boxed because I took tea up on the bridge and the Officer on the four, the eight watch wanted a slice of toast.
You go there, the cooks either shouting at you because he wants to get breakfast ready and you want to toast a slice of bread because in those days electric toasters had never been thought of. So I used to have to toast it by fire sort of business.
Flora Bain: And you say when you went to Russia you went on shore?
Mr. Long: The first time not so much but the second time I was up there for 10 months. In Murmansk a lot depended on…each area had a Commissar and the people were actually frightened to, I’m talking about the younger generation now. They wanted to talk to you but they frightened to talk to you because of getting in trouble as soon as your back’s turned.
To get away from the bombing because Murmansk was getting bombed night and day because they were very close to the fighting and our turn came the beginning of May. Landed in Murmansk in the February and we laid, once we’d discharged our cargo, our anchor until the May.
Then we went round to Archangel and slowly all the ships went round there in small convoys. The atmosphere there was totally different along the River Dvina up to Archangel but there were all like self contained villages producing planks and everything like that. And the only way that you could get up to Archangel anyway, the only transport was through a ferry boat.
All the time I was there I only went up into Archangel itself on two occasions and we were lucky, on board we had two lads, one could play the guitar and one could play the mandolin. They, you could get through a packet of cigarettes in Russia at that time. There was nothing else that you could get but musical instruments were 10 a penny but we didn’t use money because money was no good to anybody.
Those two lads used to be in big demand because other than that all the hall had was some old ancient records, all badly scratched and everything like that, well that was the best they could offer. But having the two lads they were playing all the modern songs so the younger generation were lapping it up.
So every night there was either a film show put on or a dance put on. In Archangel and that the time was a lot more relaxed and although as I said we were up there for 10 months all told before we came home. We didn’t come home again until the end of November. We had a good voyage home.
Flora Bain: Mr Long thank you so much for talking to us today and for coming into the museum.