A R M ‘Tony’ White

Dear Owen

I have just found this site, and how very interesting. I have distant and somewhat now vague memories of your good self?

I was one of those who joined Clan Line at the tender age of a rising 17 year old to find myself posted to the newly taken over King Line, and sent to the King Alfred for 10 months in 1957. There followed a period in the Clan's and after some fifteen months on the then new Matheson, was given a promotion in the eyes of the head office staff to the declining Rochester Castle as an unpaid cadet/4th officer under the command of Captain C. E. Lorains! Not one of the best periods of life at sea.

As was typical in B&C one served throughout the fleet. My best time outside of the Training Officer field was the new mini mail service on the Good Hope Castle with Des. Le-Strange or L'Strange, (if that is spelt correctly), before the two ships were converted to cover the Islands.

What happened after B&C is summarised at

Old Harlovians - Harlow College Old Boys

I initially went to LOF's after resigning from B&C LOF News. Andy Tyrell was quite persuasive in trying to get me to remain as I would have my command in about eight years time! Eight years on, and I believe he was working for either an insurance or loss adjusters firm somewhere near London Bridge.

I have contact with Richard Mennell, and see him fairly regularly. He went as super cargo on the East African Coast, and then finally to Dar during the container port development.

Richard Speight who was a 70's cadet is at Glasgow Nautical College : rw.speight@glasgow-nautical.ac.uk, and I understand is in contact with Sir William Codrington, Bill to all of us.

Jack Isbester I met about five years ago, and a quick Google search finds IsbesterJ@aol.com on an orienteering page. He took me on a days hike of about five miles before ascending a 3000 foot mountain outside of Port Pirie in Aus. Temperatures that day in the town reached 126F, so he has obviously still not lost the appetite.

There were quite a few ex B&C staff in the Port of London, but all have now retired. Bob Shand comes to mind as he sadly died while in service at a fairly young age, and Malcolm Whiteford was a colleague for a time during the building of the Flood Barrier.

I have buried somewhere virtually a full set of Clansman/Reviews from circa 1960 until they stopped sending them to me long after I had left. I'm sure the last one I received had about one page devoted to shipping.

I trust that this will find you in good health.

Regards and best wishes,


(A R M White 1957 to 1973)

E-mail August 2007

Dear Owen,

I have just been having a read and a chuckle regarding the writing on dear "Ackum" and his dress. To accompany the Long Johns, did he not also wear Sock Suspenders? I have a recollection of entering his cabin with a message while he was dressing, and seeing black suspenders, so ensuring that his socks would not part company with the bottom of the L J's?


Tony White

My partner in crime was gaining sea time in an agreement Clan Line had with the Mersey Pilot Service. The remainder of the engineers and crew were all drawn from the Liverpool shipping federation pool. And so we set forth on a ten month circumnavigation of the globe in a vessel powered by an ‘elastic banded’ Doxford engine which suffered frequent breakdowns, an environment which at times was King versus Clan, versus the rest who didn’t give a ------!  Happy times. There was however one financial advantage of being in King Line at the time. We received an additional £3/month in lieu of the King Line articles B agreement, where the apprentices were paid an hourly overtime rate, and so our monthly pay was boosted to a fantastic £12/month, but why was it considered necessary to pay us overtime? At the first landfall, crew went missing, and we cadets were drafted in to make up the watch keeping numbers. A 76 hour working week was common; 2 watches and 4 hours on deck Monday to Friday, plus 16 hours weekend watches. The label that apprentices were used as slave labour was in this instance pretty close to the truth. Thankfully at the end of that voyage I did enjoy and appreciate being within the Clans until the latter part of my cadetship, when from the office came the exciting news that they were going to give me the opportunity to gain 4th officer experience on the Rochester Castle whilst still a cadet!

I had been on the new Matheson carrying passengers where Captain Frederick Thornton often had me relieve Alistair Sillars during his afternoon watch so that he could concentrate on other work. I had already gained far more experience with Freddy than I ever gained on what proved something of a hellish voyage on the Rochester; it was a return to the King Alfred experience, only worse, as I knew life was better. One thing I did learn on the Rochester was how to operate a Cossor Radar – when all else fails hit it with a hammer! The final months of my cadetship were spent on the Roxburgh Castle where sanity was restored. The accommodation, even for that time one might describe as tired and behind the times, but I was thankfully blessed with the experience of serving under the command of A.C.M. Black, an absolute gentleman, and a person never to be phased by mishaps. I recall going into the locks in Antwerp, the tug pulled in the wrong direction and we clobbered the knuckle at the lock entrance and punched a hole in the side of No 2. It needed the replacement of three frames and area of shell plating. His comment at the time of the crunch, ---- a calming “Oh dear”!

I had my 2nd Mates ticket by mid 1961, and Masters by mid 1966. In that period I had served in the Clan twin screws, taking both the Lamont and Chatten to the far east for scrapping, the Mc L’s, Mc N’s and F class, King Arthur, Sarah Bowater, and an entertaining voyage on the St Rosario where, amongst other events on the homeward voyage, one heating element in the Arma Brown gyro had failed and it wouldn’t reach it’s working temperature. Brown’s engineer in B.A. suggested wrapping it up, in what one may ask?  Closest to hand was the flag locker which provided a ready supply to vary the layers and keep the beast going – flags H E L P were well used!

Having completed my Masters, my thoughts went to doing Extras, but the office refused to release me at the time. As something of a carrot, I was promised to be released in a year’s time, but they wanted a second officer on the Good Hope Castle. We also need you to do a radar simulator course next week before joining her, and as you have already have been at the college and commuting from home you are just the man! I joined her on either the first or second return voyage after the 1966 seaman’s strike, which is perhaps the only time the mail service was disrupted. That year still remains as the best that deep sea life could offer, superb living conditions, and to know where and when you would be at any time.

There were a couple of notable near incidents in that year aboard her. We were arriving off Durban to embark the Pilot and in plenty of open water, but the pilot had great difficulty in boarding and took for ever and an age. We got to a point where we had drifted into the path of one anchored vessel, no less than one of ours sporting two red bands. We were heading directly towards the accommodation and getting too dammed close for comfort when we got the pilot on deck, and at which point, rang full astern. As is typical in these situations, it always seems to take an age to get a reaction and I asked the Master if he wanted a double full, to which he agreed. That shook the sleep out of the eyes of those in the control room and we had a mountain of white water flashing past the bridge, and she was shooting astern at one hell of a rate! It must have been a first, and perhaps a last for the good lady. At breakfast, one very irate Sparks appeared – what the B hell has happened to my aerials? The action of that double ring had parted all the radio aerials, and he spent the next couple of days in Durban making new ones!

On another voyage we were homeward with a rather unwell Master confined to his bed for much of that passage. Then to add to the medial problem aboard, one of the crew had a suspected appendicitis. On medical advice we were directed to take him to Dakar, and entered the port to land him ashore. On departure, once clear of the breakwater on a beautifully flat calm day with a mirror like sea, the hammers went down to make up for lost time, and she was up and running to build up to around 24 kts. Because of these super calm conditions, we were about to discover that the local fishermen in their dug out type craft had gone for a day offshore, and they needed their rest. From our perspective on the bridge some flotsam and jetsam came into view on the water ahead, and we adjusted course slightly to get us through this debris. It was not until we were almost onto the first pieces that sleepy heads started appearing and springing to life!  Far too late to slow down, we gave great and resounding blasts on the siren to awaken the rest of the sleeping fleet, and then went into destroyer mode weaving our way through these groups of fleeing craft, thankfully missing all, and giving those guys the fairground ride of their lives in our wash. In the middle of this, the wheelhouse door opened and a very sick Master appeared demanding to know what was going on! Everything under control now Sir – go back to your bed.

At the end of that period I started study for Extras, but with a years break away from the classroom the brain never really got back into the groove. There followed medical problems which required surgery and it seemed that study was not to be.

There are times in life when it is stated that being in the right place at the right time then doors open, and so it was to be while I was recovering from surgery. The phone rang, and it was Captain C.E.C. Windram. Can you make it into the office, Captain Hart would like to have a chat. The chat was an invitation to become one of the cadet training officers. A period of preparation for this post started with three months at Warsash as a staff member, a course at Plymouth and Portsmouth followed, just for good measure by two weeks at the Royal Naval College Greenwich, which had nothing to do with cadets. I was just available to represent B & C and to join with Masters and Mates from other companies, an extension of the RN-MN liaison thinking of the time. Our Mess Bills were to be sent to us at the end of the course. I’m still waiting, but say a thank you to the R.N. on every visit I make to the painted hall.

So to working afloat in the cadet units, firstly on the UK coast as a relief on the Kinnaird, Malcolm, Matheson and Sutherland. On one of those coastal voyages we were joined be a few R.N. midshipmen, again part of the RN-MN liaison scheme. On the Kinnaird, I probably had the first unit just of engineer cadets. They were midway through the Plymouth course, and Jo Mabbot, the Engineer Personnel Super wanted to give them experience afloat over the Easter vacation. How well that was received on board by the Sen. Second you can imagine – can’t move in this engine room for bodies, but we worked it out and the young men went back to Plymouth with an idea of what was ahead of them, and how the whole vessel worked.

The deep sea appointment was to the cadet unit on the Menzies, where I spent 21 months, first with Alec Mair as master, renowned for his love of chittagong sampans. We once thought he had got lost off Dar. where we were anchored. He had set out with his British Seagull powered sampan in the early afternoon, taking three cadets to go exploring the reefs. As dusk approached, he hadn’t returned, and a stiff breeze had built along with quite a chop. We were preparing to launch the lifeboat with a search party, when out of the gloom his beast appeared, more air borne than in the water, and then he ‘bollocked’ the C.O. and I for being concerned – just good training! One thing was for sure, life was never dull with Alec. In Mombasa he arrived back from his morning visit to the agents with the news of an organised two day safari in Tsavo for the cadets. Quite how he’d arranged the trip we never knew, but it cost us virtually nothing, and an experience not to be forgotten.  Lyn Kirby, with his wife Peggy succeeded Alec, and life on board changed to a more relaxed form. We celebrated their Silver Wedding, which required an unexpected hunt ashore for silverware while bunkering in Tenerife. In Port Louis, while trying to escape a cyclone we had a tug assisted very gentle grounding in the harbour, where we sat quietly for the duration. No damage was done, and we were the first ship back in!

There was an interesting mix of cadets aboard in that 21 month period, and at one stage we had a combination of both deck and engineer cadets in the unit. Some of the names still leap out of publications to this day, most recently John Guy, who has now turned author after a reportedly varied and interesting career in shipping. (http://www.johnguybooks.com/author/)

B & C policy of the day was to bring staff ashore for a two year period when opportunities arose. When I started as T.O., Sir William Codrington, known to all as Bill had just taken over the mantle of Training Officer in head office from Keith Parker, and his tenure was coming to an end. How could I refuse the opportunity to go to head office when it was offered.  I lived 40 minutes away, had a young growing family at home, and I’d hardly seen anything of my younger 18 month old son. Having said yes to this appointment, I was not surprised to receive a phone call a couple of days later, but this was the call none us wanted. We’ve lost the chief officer on the Matheson, you know the ship, off you go, she’ll be back in four months!

It was November 1970 that I entered the marine department, then situated around the corner from Cayzer House on the fourth floor of the Hobbs Padget Building, at 3-4 Bevis Marks.  I was to work alongside many familiar names to those serving afloat, and some come to mind, Captain Andy Tyrell, Captain (Keith?) Windram, Les Morgan, Keith Burtenshaw, Roy Jordon, Cliff Snell, Keith Parker and Jack Elliot, widely known on board many vessels on pay-off day to check the voyage accounts, an absolute wiz of dealing with figures. There were others, whose names I have forgotten in the midst of time.

What did my job involve at head office? Firstly I was the contact point in the office for all deck cadets who had commenced training, and any matters arising. Cliff Snell was the anchor man of all things to do with cadet recruiting, and the day to day cadet administration. He had served in the R N for 27 years, mostly as a Writer if my memory is correct, and his attention to detail and admin skills were second to none, so between us we planned where and when cadets would go. Les Morgan and Keith Burtenshaw would often become involved when they had manning gaps elsewhere in the fleet, and it was my responsibility to access who of those available was best suited to appoint. Cliff was so often the person talking to cadet parents, and with his love of amateur dramatics he was able to turn on that calm reassuring tone when on the phone. What he muttered when he came off the phone was at times not to be repeated. There were a very few instances where problems arose, and some young men did raise problems. Trying to console a mother sobbing into the phone, who is some 300 miles away and whose son has disappeared in a far off land is a most harrowing experience. This was one very sad incident we had to deal with. Cliff was also the person who replied to enquiries about going to sea, sent out wads of info, and when application forms came in, did all the donkey work of arranging interview days in the office, usually chaired by Andy Tyrell.

I had to make ship visits, the mail ships on a regular basis, combined with seeing the cadets at Warsash, the cadet unit ships as time and place dictated most usually on arrival back and before departure from the UK, and for the bun fight aboard when parents were invited. There were other colleges where our cadets attended, and these guys had to be visited along with their tutors, so quite an amount of time was spent moving around the country, and then chasing the pile of paper in the office awaiting one’s return.

Outside of the day to day internal running of events, there was our involvement in the shipping industry to be addressed. I used to regularly meet with other cadet training officers, from P&0 and B I in particular, and the Underwriter was a convenient venue away from the office environment where we could discuss mutual points of interest. There were cadet recruiting days around the country organised by the British Shipping Federation, where T.O.’s and reps. from shipping company’s would attend and give advice. Schools would have career advice days, and Cliff was excellent at keeping his finger on the pulse. I can remember many instances of bringing the car into town, loading display boards in the back along with piles of glossy literature to head off to some venue. We drove to Canterbury late one afternoon for an evening event, returning back that night, this was part of life. Then there were seminars on training, organised on a regular basis by the MNTB, looking at the industry’s way ahead, and discussions on how the DTI exams should be structured. It was at one of these meetings when I stuck my oar in and stated that if I hadn’t achieved 100% in my master’s navigation paper, then I didn’t deserve to have the ticket. The paper set for that exam was basically a normal day’s bridge work that I’d been doing for the best part of the last five years, and in that time hadn’t put a vessel ashore! At the end of that meeting the Chief Examiner of Masters and Mates came up to me and asked for my telephone number, not one of the more usual requests! I’ll phone you on Monday morning, which he did with the news I could hold on to my ticket. While I have your results before me, do you want the rest, at which point I said Ship Master’s Business is bottom of the pile, which was confirmed. I must be one of an exceptional few to have obtained exam results out of the then DTI.

There was quite a social life attached to the head office, and although the facilities of the Tendimus Society were available to all, I think more use was made by the shore based members of the company. I had two splendid family holidays with the children and dog, one in Winchelsea, and the other in Red Wharf Bay on Anglesey. I recall attending a company dinner for staff and their partners held in no less a splendid venue as the Grosvenor Hotel on Park Lane. There was the company restaurant in the basement of Greenly House which served at least two, if not three course lunches. I never quite understood why many office staff insisted on having a portion of chips with their curry and rice – perhaps more attention should have been paid to dining office staff afloat under the two traditional red bands. Then there were the trickle of VIP visitors to the office who had to be wined and dined in one of the many city restaurants, in fact life was not only challenging, it was good.

Towards the end of 1972 was the realisation that two years had gone and within some months I would be leaving this good life of being a family man and returning to those long ocean passages - decision time. Most probably in Lloyds I found an ad., Training Officer required, so I applied and received a reply stating I would be contacted in the new year. At the end of January I was handing a letter of resignation to Andy Tyrell, who tried to be quite persuasive in dangling carrots --- in 6 years I see you having your command etc. I’m not sure of the exact time scale of the events that followed, but I believe Andy and many more in the office were seeking employment elsewhere just beyond that timescale. I’m glad I moved when I did.

So in February 1973 I walked forth, initially into a T O’s job that was just not cadets, but involved Masters, Mates, Engineers, Radio Officers and Electricians being retrained to become Electronics Officers to deal with the emerging developments of electronic systems afloat. Industry wise, I wore a hat on the MNTB and was elected to the Governors of Merchant Navy College Greenhithe. Although this was a small company, they had a greater awareness as to what lay ahead for shipping, and seemed to be way ahead of the thinking I’d left at B&C. Although a splendid firm, commuting in London was becoming a problem for me, and the realisation my health was suffering, I felt the need to get back afloat and started thinking of short sea trade work. Even closer to home was an ad. for working back on my routes associated on the Thames. Twenty six years on, I retired from a job that had included dock management, where I had the unwanted pleasure of boarding one of the Clan R’s which had ploughed into what was known as the Bomb Hole in the Royal Albert Dock. She had punched a hole in the forepeak, and oh, guess the date? The 23rd. December, we’ll get Christmas at home. No chance, in true fashion a mighty plug of cement secured the damage, and she was on her way on Christmas Eve, how typical!  I had mentally drafted an incident report before boarding the vessel having been witness to a similar incident in the West Float Birkenhead where we were berthed during the rebuilding of the Clan Line Terminal in Vittoria Dock. The Robertson had been engaged in dock trials at the head of West Float. I believe this is when they discovered a magic pin in the bridge control linkage could come adrift, and instead of the main engine being stopped it was accelerated, just what the doctor ordered. Now mooring lines in a dock are not designed to hold a vessel in place that is trying to do 17 knots! Ping and crunch come to mind, which is what happened. Sure enough, the contact with the Bomb Hole was another such incident. Traffic controlling through the Thames Barrier, when the one way system was in operation during its construction had some challenging moments in programming, ‘thou shalt not meet in the middle’, when you’re dealing with tows making 3 knots to Boeing Jetfoils approaching at 40+ knots. The “T.O. Hat” crept out of my past, and I was again involved with training courses. In 1980 the opportunity arose for a new challenge to step sideways into surveying all parts of the Thames and adjacent waters from Teddington to the outer limits, with the odd job out into the North Sea. These were 28 good years, built on and achieved by the experience gained during 16 years with B & C, and of the diversity that was offered by the various appointments in that period.

When you have spent such a period of time in one environment, friendships develop.  I had a couple of very close friends made in those good days afloat. David Wellstead was 2nd Officer when we sailed on the Chattan. He came ashore and worked in Southampton initially with our firm until that was merged to form another company. He sadly became ill and died in the 90’s. Another good friend is Richard Mennell, and we were together on the Malcolm and Menzies. He likewise joined the T O  brigade, before being seconded to work on the East African Coast as a super cargo for the consortium of which B & C was part. From there he spent a number of years in Dar. on the development of the container port. There were a surprising number of ex Clan personnel working on the Thames – Bob Shand, Malcolm Whiteford Len Woolgar and Robby Robertson come to mind. Robby came ashore to be part of our cargo superintendent team in the Royal Docks until it closed. We met again at the Thames Barrier, and when I stepped sideways, he followed and we worked alongside one and other until the late 90’s.

In the mid 80’s we, like many were being faced with manpower cuts, and I sat with a colleague chatting aboard our converted Ham Class minesweeper. She had a crew of usually eight, sometimes nine, plus two surveyors. My colleague had been with General Steam Navigation Company and was to take a redundancy package when he offered this observation, “You and I have seen the best years that there have ever been afloat, and are most likely to ever be”, and when I think back to the conditions, manning levels we had in B& C in my later years with the company, I would suggest never a truer word was spoken. Earlier this year I attended a presentation by a company building and fitting out unmanned craft that will do the work once done by that survey vessel – how soon before the present day deep sea vessels are without crew, and that expertise we all gained is lost in history?

Tony White           

(and as I’ve been recently been advised, known as “Gadget Man” by many cadets!)

‘Dated - October 2014, with apologies for any errors while trying to recall events of 40 plus years ago, especially to names and spellings thereof.’

 Life with Clan Line, or As It Transpired,  B & C

1957 to 1973, and Beyond

Why did I go to sea and why Clan Line?

Firstly family connections, in particular my Grandfather who started at sea in the tea clippers, was torpedoed twice in WW1, and retired in the 30’s. As soon as I could handle an oar I was introduced by family friends to the Thames where they had two boats at Hurlingham Yacht Club. With that background I was accepted and started pre-sea training at “King Teds”. At that time my mother was working for a Baltic Exchange broker whose office adjoined Cayzer House, so at home Clan Line was mentioned as the line next door.

During pre-sea we were offered impartial advice on all shipping companies, and Clan Line sounded a good idea. I was interviewed by Captain Mitchell, and accepted to join in the spring of 1957.  Roy Gooke, who came from a Lowestoft trawler family was a buddy at King Teds, also joined. However, there was a surprise in store,  no one had mentioned that Clan Line had a few strings attached.

The day dawned of that first appointment. “You will join the King Alfred in Liverpool.” Having studied Ian Allan’s book of cargo liners of the day, where did the King Alfred fit into this list of Clan Line vessels? That turned into an interesting trip to say the least -- a King Line - master, chief and second engineer plus chief steward, bosun and chief cook, and then Clan Line 1st, 2nd, 3rd officers and two first trip cadets.

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