Life on Board Ship, May 11

MAYFLOWER MAIL

Monday, 6th May. In Brixham, Villiers had told me I was to be Mail Officer. I found that I was responsible for the postmarking of thirty thousand stamped letters with a “Mayflower II - Maiden Voyage 1957” franking, and, in addition, there were one hundred thousand more unstamped envelopes which had to be stamped and then similarly postmarked. 

For ten days practically all hands spent two hours of their watch below as well as all the time that could be spared from their watch on deck stamping and franking letters. The ‘tween decks became a disorder of boxes containing envelopes in various conditions, virgin, stamped, or stamped and franked. The phrase “virgins please” became familiar and meaningless to thirty-five solitary males.

Soon we had production lines going. One man would spend his entire time tearing sheets of 250 stamps into strips to be handed to someone else who fed them into a sticker-oner, where they met a damp pad and an envelope. The stamped envelope would then be flung in a box and a sorter would stack it neatly, the same way up as previous ones and hand them to a feeder for the man who was postmarking with a rhythmic “thump-thump, thump-thump” – and afterwards more sorting.

We had a party when the final letter had been packed away, spliced the mainbrace in honour of the occasion and sang lustily into the night.

Peter Padfield (Voyage of the Bark Mayflower)

Now that all the café and other vital jobs have been done on board, we learn to our sorrow that we have to start stamping letters. This has all the promise of proving to be a really pestilential job. There are about 100,000 “Mayflower” envelopes to be cancelled with a special franking: “Mayflower II - Maiden voyage 1957,” for philatelists. It is a handsome design, and we are all promised three copies. All hands on board are turned to the task. In the ‘tween decks, we find that the best rhythm to stamp to is a singing de-dah, de-dah, to the Anvil Chorus.

Doctor Stevens (Journal, 9 May 1957) 

The “Postmistress,” Peter Padfield greeted us with the news that the 100,000 blank envelopes we have on board have to be stamped and franked by next Sunday. Having just sat back and congratulated ourselves on doing the 32,000 this came as rather a shock. To add impetus to our flagging spirits the Captain announced that a team of six workers would be chosen to accomplish this feat, each to receive a twenty dollar bonus on completion of the job.

John Winslow (Journal, 13 May 1957) 

Peter Padfield looks after all the mail and envelope stamping. He is known as the Village Postmistress, which title was to baffle the American public when we arrived in Massachusetts. 
           
The Captain gives permission for us to use the Great Cabin for the work. This is much pleasanter than doing it below. Mike Ford, Fred Edwards, Scotty Bell (as Andrew Anderson-Bell has become), David Thorpe and myself, all settle down to knock off our quota. One tears the stamps, another joins them in an endless band, yet another sticks on the envelope, when they are stamped and boxed in lots of five hundred. Like Tom Sawyer’s friends working on the fence, we soon find the work enjoyable in spite of ourselves. The Postmistress comes round to spur us on with the offer of fruit juice and biscuits if we hurry. Soon, there are four work groups around the ship vying with each other.

Doctor Stevens (Journal, 14 May 1957)

Fired off in the morning with post office work. We had to stick the stamps on blank envelopes and then frank them. After a while we had quite an assembly line going; some tearing the stamps into strips, others sticking them on, more sorting them preparatory to franking, some more doing the franking and more sorting after this.

John Winslow (Journal, 14 May 1957)


FOOD

The cook is the sort of sworn enemy of all crews. The crews believe that he holds back the good food and never like what he serves. On the Mayflower this was a more friendly affair.

John Winslow (9 February 1996)

Walter Godfrey, a former sea-going Chief Steward, took his place presiding over the stores, the tiny galley and our sea-fresh appetites. He was assisted by Dick Brennan, who normally ran a club on the Strand, and Jack Scarr, a schoolmaster from Oxford, took some time off from his sailoring to help peel the potatoes and guard the stores.

Peter Padfield (Voyage of the Bark Mayflower

One of my many jobs was that of food storeman. Every day I had to bring the day’s food up two ladders and deliver them to the small larder opposite the galley. This could be hazardous and tiring work especially when I was seasick. Among other stores, I had to bring three dozen eggs up every day. This called for the skills and cunning of an acrobat, especially when the sea was rough. I would carry the egg rack in my left hand and cling to the ladder with my right. I became highly skilled at this, claiming that I had never broken an egg, until one disastrous morning when the ship’s bow plunged sharply, and threw me forward. I never realized what sticky things eggs were until that moment. When I tried to clean myself, I became covered with egg mess. As I took off my jersey, the mess clung lovingly to my hair, face and body. This was the moment when Wally Godfrey, the cook, bawled out ‘Jack - where’s me eggs?’

Jack Scarr (Journal, 9 April 1957)

Breakfast of porridge, two bangers (sausages), baked beans, bread and marmalade with coffee.

Warwick Charlton, The Second Mayflower Adventure

Meals have been fairly good up to now – considering the size of that galley and the severity of the weather. For lunch we have canned soup – usually strengthened with vegetables and then steak and kidney pie - with a crust – a rhubarb and custard for sweet – and the usual [Ben Truman’s] – bottled for Mayflower – beer.  We do as usual exceed our issue of condensed milk butter – bread and jam & sugar.

David Cauvin (Journal, 27 April 1957)

The bread, which was baked at Wembley on Maundy Thursday, 13 days ago, is now beginning to go mouldy. I don’t look forward to the idea of baking bread, which will make the galley even hotter. We were issued with our official quota of lime juice today, so we are now Limeys in every sense of the word. (It was the custom in English sailing ships to give the crew lime juice to protect them from scurvy. Hence the name Limeys)!

Jack Scarr (Journal, 1 May 1957) 

At 16:00 – there is a daily issue of our rum as a special treat – rum & lime for those who choose. Being greedy I thrust forward a cup in each hand and Wally in the following confusion gives a cup of each. He baked his first bread today. The smell of it was tantalizing and for hours I could visualize a hot crust with butter melting into it. At 20:00 – it is ready and being fairly well in with the old bastard (“We old sailors must keep together – matie”) I get that crust & thick butter.  As Wally carves up the first soft loaf – his Galley reminds me of a Cape Farmhouse Kitchen – oh lovely. He looks up at me as I take the first bite “All right mate?” –  “Lovely Wally,” I assure him and his eyes light up.

David Cauvin (Journal, 4 May 1957)

Lunch was excellent. We have canned chicken on Sundays – with canned peas – gravy and potatoes and carrots. This was preceded by chicken broth and followed by canned peaches and cream. Supper on Sunday is – canned salmon. At this stage of the trip it is interesting to note how long fresh foods have lasted. The bread though mouldy is still quite edible. It will last for about three days more and will then be completely finished without waste. Eggs one of which we have daily – are quite fresh. Onions are beginning to sprout as too the potatoes in the dark and dank. An orange, lemon or apple will appear – shriveled looking but good good and I curse them for not having brought more.

David Cauvin (Journal, 5 May 1957) 

On watch we stole a tin of Heinz Orange Juice. How good that was too – we never see it though plenty was put on board. This one came from the pantry – which is now left open to keep it cooler. Wally – crafty as usual – leaves nothing of any value there but this – one of his private store – I found hidden behind some pickles. As is the custom with our watch – we share it out.

David Cauvin (Journal, 14 May 1957) 

For lunch we had salt beef from the authentic-type wooden casks on deck – very cheap stuff, mostly fat and stringy gristle and salt, but it will be something to talk about when we have to make up stories of incredible hardships. The conversations nowadays – when they are in any way serious – often hinge on the food that is going to be eaten when we arrive in the States.

Peter Padfield (Voyage, 16 May 1957) 

Today we started on the tinned butter. Some people have complained about the fresh butter being rancid. It’s not surprising after six weeks in a hot store. The amazing thing is that people are still eating the eggs, which must by now be anything up to two months old!  I haven’t touched one for a fortnight.

Jack Scarr (Journal, 29 May 1957)

There was always something to keep the spirits of the crew up. It was always said that anything lying loose from the galley was “fair game”, such as a bottle of beer, a can of peaches, or anything of that nature, and, consequently, when a few bottles of beer “disappeared”, there was a great uproar, and when a can of peaches vanished, the cook decided he would do something. He put a peach can label on a can of turnips. Fortunately, we “caught on” before the can was opened, and the plan is to send the can of turnips to the cook for a Christmas present, label and all. Imagine his surprise when he opens it.

Charles Church (Journal, 1 June 1957)

We lunched on deck again – Tomato juice – (made from watered [word missing] with added salt, pepper & Worcester sauce), peas & beans were all I had, for these meals have gained a monotonous similarity to the days before…Tea on deck again. I am beginning to loathe these canned meals and I now live on coffee (which is horrible) & lifeboat biscuits, butter & Marmite or Bovril. These latter are very tasty though a little hard and seeing as that there are plenty aboard…[we] seem to be putting on weight.

David Cauvin (Journal, 1 June 1957) 

The Cooks get their own back on us today. Onto two tins of tasteless turnips, they glue some fruit salad labels and leave them in a strategic place for someone to “win.” They soon disappear – but the culprit, whoever he is, doesn’t own up for fear of becoming the laughing stock of the ‘tween decks. I should love to have seen his face when the lid was pried open.

Doctor Stevens (Journal, 3 June 1957)


SINGING

In the evenings when it was pleasant on deck, which was most of the time, Beric Watson, who played a guitar and was most adapt at making up skits about the crew members on board, and John Winslow, who handled a banjo very well, would “get together” with their instruments, and, accompanied by any number of us banging on tin cans, would put on a couple hours entertainment for the crew. This was called the “Skiffle Group,” and believe me, some of the songs that were sung caused a lot of laughs, as they were directed to some member of the ship’s company, much to the consternation of that particular chap. But, all in all, everyone appreciated the “honour” of having his name included in the ditties.

Charles Church (Journal, 15 May 1957)

It was about this time that the ship’s pop group, or skiffle group as it was then called, decided to bring a little extra joy into our lives. Beric Watson and John Winslow produced their guitars and Scottie produced a large, empty oil drum. By putting thimbles on his fingers and banging the inside of the drum, he made enough noise to waken the dead, but fortunately there were no neighbors to complain and it was pleasant for the crew, or some of them anyway, to enjoy the full benefits of civilization.

Jack Scarr (Journal, 29 May 1957)

This group…had the refinement of Scottie knocking out the beat on a fire bucket. What they lacked in skill they made up for in determination. We were all in high spirits, a little drunk with those nor’east trades they were singing about:
Oh Blow ye nor’east trades, now blow the Mayflower on,
Oh Blow ye nor’east trades, now blow the Mayflower on,
Oh Blow ye nor’east trades, now blow the Mayflower on,

We’re bound for Massachusetts, that’s in the U-S-A,
And when we get there, Lord we will bless the day.

Warwick Charlton, The Second Mayflower Adventure


LEECHES

Occasionally I reflected how much luckier than my predecessor Dr. Samuel Fuller of the first Mayflower, I was. And to his memory I packed in a special jar of Suffolk pond water, 3 leeches, later to be named Apollonius, Warwick and Fred.

Doctor Stevens (Journal, p. 8)

Doc Stevens came up from ‘tween decks wearing a surgical mask and white linen cap. He carried some surgical instrument, forceps, scalpels, stethoscope, and laid them out carefully…[He] handed me a bottle which contained the reason so many of the crew had found jobs to do…”your time has come, boy,” said Doc. “Just lie down, and I’ll give the poor blighters their feed.” “They look quiet enough,” I said, peering at the black wormlike creatures which wriggled round the bottle. “Maybe they do now, man,” agreed the doctor. “They’re quiet and thin, but how would you feel if you hadn’t had a drop of decent blood to drink for twenty days?” I lay down on the blanket, my arms were seized by people I thought had become my friends, and Doc took the leeches with his forceps from the bottle and placed them on my stomach, which he had bared for the purpose. As they arched their slimy bodies, I felt sharp nips and they began to feed, amidst shouts of encouragement from the ship’s company.

Warwick Charlton, The Second Mayflower Adventure


FISH

Just before noon we had some excitement as a school of bonitos came swimming alongside. We all scrambled to the side as David Cauvin threw out a line to try and hook one. The suspense was riveting. The fish played coyly with the line, but none was hooked. Everybody shouted advice, most of it contradictory. The Captain called out, “Make sure you hang on tight, Dave, those damn fish will pull you into the sea.” Dave replied that he had his food secured in the shrouds, to which the Captain growled, “We don’t want your foot—we want all of you!” Finally the fish grew bored and drifted away astern.

Jack Scarr (Journal, 25 May 1957) 

During the forenoon there is an interlude of desperate excitement. The word goes round that a dolphin has been hooked. Everyone, except the poor helmsman, rushes up to see. The thrill of the sport is tinged with the gluttony of the gourmet, for dolphin is delicious and no one has tasted fresh fish for a month. The captive is a handsome beast, about 3’ 6” long. After some exciting play, he is hauled up the bulwarks. Halfway up, he gives his final thresh and breaks free. A sepulchral groan rises simultaneously from all of us, and we go back to work. David Cauvin is the most indefatigable fisherman on board. He baits his hook with a piece of flying fish and goes on trying.

Doctor Stevens (Journal, p. 61) 

Today a flying fish landed on deck and Dick caught it and cooked it and divided it among six of the crew. They said it tasted just like mackerel.

Warwick Charlton, The Second Mayflower Adventure

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