John V. H. Drummond

There were many stories related about John amongst the Harbour Service fraternity, always good natured, and that is the mark of a truly great personality.  There are so many so I will relate just two, I'm sure John Woodend will not mind my telling the first.

John Drummond was the master of Cape Town's 'queen bee' tug, the "Danie Hugo", one of the trio of last steam tugs buit for the Administration.  They were much larger than almost all the previous tugs Built and somewhat heavier.  John Woodend had been promoted to tug master from Port Elizabeth, Deployed to be the next master of the "Danie Hugo".  Woodend had been warned to make allowances for the 'Hugo's larger and heavier size, he having until then been used only to the smaller coal burning tugs; it was Woodend's first day on the 'Hugo'.

"Well, as you are going to be the master, John", said Drummond, "You may as well take her away."

John Drummond remained in the master's cabin, whilst Woodend went to the bridge, rang down on the telegraphs 'stand by', and, began slipping the 'Hugo' from her berth.

Tinkle tinkle, - tinkle, John D. sitting below listened to the monotonous ring of the engine room telegraphs.  Finally he couldn't stand it any longer, going quietly to the bridge he watched John Woodend ringing 'dead slow ahead', dead slow astern' - stop -then repeat the performance over again.

Tapping John Woodend on the shoulder, Drummond said, not unkindly, "Tell me, do you mean that, or do you have nervous twitch"?

This story, told so many times, it probably gained embellishment with every telling.

My second story concerns myself.  I was one of those who 'drive by the seat of their pants', the finer mathematics of the job I never understood, nor the science.  John was a master of both.

I had docked a large, heavily laden bulk carrier, coming along the entrance channel, she had been all over the place.  Back in the wardroom I told John of the problems I had had.

"It was the Bernoulli effect", John told me in that matter of fact way he had.

"The WHAT"?  I asked.

"The Bernoulli principle Owen".

"What's that John"?

John looked at me with genuine amazement.

"Good heavens Owen, do you mean to tell me, that you, a senior pilot don't know about the Bernoulli effect"?

When I was in Cape Town, John and I would meet up once a week for breakfast at Kirstenbosch Garden's, I'm not sure what others thought about two old men taking not the slightest interest in the flowers, but only about ships and the sea.  Kirstenbosch will never be quite the same to me again, John died June 25th, 2011.


John Drummond’s Union-Castle career:

John did his pre sea training at Pangbourne Nautical College after which he joined the Union-Castle line.

‘Roxburgh Castle’, Captain Gorringe, Chief Officer Mr. Stevenson.  Cadets Beadon, Hinton and Drummond.   Appointed 2nd December 1941, paid off 16th April 1942.

(This was the first ‘Roxburgh’ sunk 22nd February 1943 off the Azores.)

Whilst on leave John fell from a horse and broke his arm.

‘Windsor Castle’, Captain J.C. Brown.   Signed on 10th July 1942 – signed off 3rd September 1942

(Sunk 23rd March 1943)

‘Athlone Castle’, Captain Williams (poss. Captain Appleby)  Signed on 24th October 1942 – signed off 3rd September 1943.  (31st January 1943 in New York embarking U.S. troops)

‘Llandovery Castle’, Captain ‘Cocky Pace.  Signed on 11th December 1943 – signed off 11th December 1944 as 4th Officer.

Last three months spent at anchor in the Solent.

After leaving ‘Llandovery’ John studied at Warsash for his 2nd Mates Certificate, he took the exam in London during the flying bomb raids.

‘Carnarvon Castle’, Captain M.H. Williams.   Signed on as 4th Officer 29th March 1945 – signed off 30th May 1945.

‘Sandown Castle’, Captain J. Sowden.    Signed on as 3rd Officer 23rd June 1945 – signed off 10th November 1946.

‘Capetown Castle’,  Captain J.C. Brown.   Signed on as 4th Officer 27th December 1946 – signed off 13th June 1947.   July to September study leave for 1st Mate

‘Warwick Castle’,  Captain R. Wren.   Signed on as 3rd officer 22nd October 1947 – signed off 6th December 1947.   (The ‘Warwick’ although an Intermediate was on the Mail run)

‘Rowallan Castle’,  Captain A.C.M. Black.   Signed on as 2nd Officer 13th February 1948 – signed off 13th June 1948.

‘Kenilworth Castle’, Captain James Wilford, Chief Officer Bob Kerr,  Signed on as 2nd Officer 20th August 1948 – signed off 13th February 1949.

‘Rochester Castle’,  Captain J.M. Rayner. Relieved on 18 Nov. ’49 by Captain T.H. Whatley.   Signed on as 2nd Officer 10th June 1949 – signed off 10th September 1950.

John now had his sea-time in for Master’s which he studied for at Warsash.

Whilst on the "Capetown Castle" John met the very pretty daughter of a prominent Cape Town doctor, Annette.   Dr. Sichel was a friend of Captain J.C. Brown, Annette visited the bridge whilst John was on watch, life at sea suddenly became less attractive!  


The East African Ports Service (Crown Agency):

On the 31st of May 1951 John left England to join the East African Port Service, his first posting was as Port Officer under the Harbour Master at Lindi which was the provincial capital of Southern Province of Tanganyika and covered the ports of Kilwa, Lindi, Mikindani and Mtwara where a new deep water quay was under construction using 50 ton blocks, for the export of ground nuts.   Here John found himself pilot, lighthouse maintenance, surveying, harbour tugs, lighters, pilot boats and navigation buoys.

In December 1951 John flew to Cape Town, married Annette  on the 8th. and flew back to Lindi.

On 15th April 1952 Lindi was struck by a cyclone in the early hours of the evening.   The local met station recorded wind speeds of 120 knots before it collapsed.   The needle of the barograph on a local coaster approaching Lindi went off the paper and the Drummond's house was demolished.   They lived on a nearby Doctor's verandah until the house was rebuilt.

About 50 craft, some 20 lighters, fishing boats, yachts and launches were swept out to sea and beached about 6 to 8 feet above the high water mark on the coast north of Lindi.   John spent some months, helped by convict labour jacking up and re-floating many of the lighters.

Bringing the first ocean going ship to enter Lindi after the cyclone, whilst on the leading lights, John felt her touch bottom.  He was horrified but the master said "Don't worry pilot, we are always doing this in South America!"   After taking soundings it was found the sand bar had shifted and required a change of buoyage.

A Royal Navy cruiser called at Lindi whilst John was pilot, his brother Spencer was the navigator.

"What's the next course pilot?"   Both Drummond's replied in unison.

"How far to the anchorage Drummond?"  Both Drummond's replied in unison.

Exasperated with this duet the Captain turned to John, "What's your Christian name?" and to all on the bridge amusement called each by their Christian names.

When the cruiser sailed from Lindi bound for Mtwara John piloted her out, down below in the Admiral's suite was Annette taking passage with John.

After the cyclone it  was found that buoys outside Mtwara and Mikindani were out of position, Annette accompanied John in the pilot boat to replace them.   Living in the cabin forward of the wheelhouse, it had a loo and shower, they took a primus stove to cook on.   None of the crew could swim so John did the diving himself, attaching a hook as far down as possible on the anchor chain to tow the buoy back into position.

After one operation, whilst John was in the cabin dressing, Annette called from the wheelhouse "Have a look at the beans".   Just as John's arm was over the pan the tin exploded, blowing the burning primus off the shelf landing at his feet  and covering his arm and side with super-heated beans.   John cannot remember much of the trip back to Lindi and hospital.

After 30 months in Lindi John went on leave before being appointed Pilot in Mombassa in 1954.   After more leave another change of port, to Dar-es-Salaam in 1956, here a new deep water quay was reaching completion and pilots with berthing ships were needed.

For John and Annette the writing was on the wall.  Their son Anthony had been born In 1954, Amanda followed in 1956.  With independence drawing close (in 1962) so conditions ashore deteriorated, but what was for John the final straw, they wanted him to act as Harbour Master, an office job!

It must have been very difficult for John to join the South African Harbour Service. Having been tug master then pilot in East Africa he now became a very junior mate in Cape Town.   Why had he taken such a downward step in his career?   At the time promotion within the Service was almost stagnant, you could expect to be a mate for up to fourteen years and tug master   Very simply for Annette to be with her family again.


South African Railways & Harbours

John joined the Harbour Service at Cape Town (Table Bay Harbour) in 1960 as a mate.   To say the least it must have been difficult for him to find himself in a position where he was not officially allowed to touch the engine room telegraphs.   After being pilot and harbour master he had to content himself with relaying the whistle or hand signals of the pilots instructions for the tug. Not only did John accept this humiliating position, he consciously prolonged it by turning down promotion that involved leaving Cape Town.   This sacrifice (my choice of word, it would not be John’s) he made because Annette’s father lived in Cape Town.

John was promoted to tug master, to the "Danie Hugo", Cape Town's newest and by far largest tug.   Here I must tell you a story, it concerns a man who would in time become Port Captain of Cape Town.   John Woodend had been promoted to master and was to take over from John who would be leaving for Walvis Bay.  John  told John Woodend that as he was to be master he may as well start right there when the tug was given a job.   Woodend went up to the bridge, John remained below in his cabin.   Woodend had heard all about these new and much heavier oil burning tugs, he would take things slowly.

Down in his cabin John listened to the ring of the telegraphs, then again, then again.   What was Woodend doing?   At last John could bear it no more and quietly went up to the bridge.  he stood behind watching as Woodend rang dead slow - stop - dead slow - stop - dead slow -stop.   John tapped Woodend on the shoulder and asked in a solicitous voice, "Tell me, do you mean that, or do you have a nervous twitch?"

(Before you think I am unkind let me also tell you John Woodend was the master of the "Hugo" when I was sailing my first container ship from a very difficult berth.  Scared out of my wits I told John to put up his tow wire.   "Take her away slow on two John."   Nothing happened.  "She's not moving John give her half on two."  She still did not budge, now in a panicky voice, "give her full John, she's stuck!"

A calm quiet voice of the berthing master came over the radio, "You've not let go the moorings yet pilot!")

Eventually in 1970 John was able to take promotion to pilot, he with his family (his family included Zorba, an Alsatian dog of large proportion and bad attitude to match and an unspecified number of budgerigars) arrived in Walvis and a friendship of going on now for forty years began.

Annette at once came out in her true colours, Meals on Wheels!   Anyone who for whatever reason was having a hard time, sickness, family away on holiday, wife or husband ill could expect a knock on the door, there would be either John or Annette with a tray of hot freshly cooked food.

Walvis Bay is a very isolated place, everyone knows everyone else, entertainment in those days meant going to the cinema or drive-in cinema.   By necessity we in the Harbour Service, tug mates and masters, pilots, the assistant port captain and port captain all formed a close social circle, with friends from the Sea Fishery Department we frequently made up parties to go into the desert for barbeques or an evening meal at the one and only restaurant.   Here we would take over the back room, sitting round a very large round table.   One such evening Annette who was seated beside me whispered “I’m just going for a nap” with which she quietly slipped under the table for forty winks.   Unusual?   Not a bit of it, Annette’s waking hours were legendry, spending all night keeping up with her correspondence and cooking meant that she existed on cat naps at any time, in any place during the day.   Often with John and Annette visiting for the evening one found oneself talking to two sound asleep people.

John I very quickly learned was not simply an expert ship handler, he knew his theory of ship handling and was over our entire time together in the Service aghast at my complete ignorance on the subject.   How often he looked down from his lofty heights at me “oh come now Owen, you surely know about that!”

In 1974 we were both transferred to Cape Town, here John came to dominate the pilot’s wardroom, no mean feat when I say that the senior pilot Willy Rowe was himself a legend for reliability and ability.   Of course came the day when John, reaching the age of sixty-three was obliged to retire.   I put it this way because John wrote to the Administration offering his services free if they would allow him to continue piloting ships.  

In 2004 after years of ill health only those who knew Annette well would have known about, she died, I think John summed up his feelings totally, “Owen, don’t let anyone tell you reaching eighty is good, it’s not, life’s bloody awful!”



I called on Captain John Drummond, a retired harbour pilot with whom I had a most enjoyable chat the other morning. An unassuming man with a kindly twinkle in his eye, he is a former Union-Castle officer who would have been aboard the ill-fated Roxburgh Castle had he not broken his arm in a motor accident.  Several days after the reefer ship had sailed from Glasgow in February 1943 - sans the injured Drummond - she was torpedoed by U107 off the Azores.

For a brief period, he was on Windsor Castle - then a troopship - and within days of his transfer to the hospital ship Llandovery Castle, the mailship was sunk by aerial torpedo in the Mediterranean.

Clutching a new master's ticket, he took a piloting position in East Africa as the pilot for three ports, including Mtwara that became quite busy as project cargo for the extensive groundnut scheme moved through the port, mostly in American-flagged ships.  He moved later to Mombassa and then Dar es Salaam.

Aboard one of the Royal Naval vessels he piloted was his brother who as the navigator, bore the traditional naval nickname "pilot".  When the officer commanding called "pilot", both Drummonds responded, to the frustration of the OC.  "What's your first name?" he demanded of the harbour pilot, who, for the rest of the berthing operation, was addressed as John.

As winds of change blew through East Africa, Drummond moved to Cape Town as the "spare mate" aboard the harbour tugs, his East African piloting experience counting little amidst the strict pecking order in the Harbour Service.   "The old SAR&H," suggested a seasoned pilot to me once, "was the largest employer of holders of Master Foreign-going certificates in the world as all their tug mates, masters, pilots, and others further up the ladder had to have a master's ticket."

His competence was soon recognized with his appointment as master of the 1959-Built Danie Hugo, the harbour tug with pleasing lines and oil-fired engines that gave her 13 knots, a relative gallop for tugs of the day.  When compared to her coal-fired counterparts, Danie Hugo's power (3300 ihp) and her range of around 2000 nautical miles made her the obvious choice for salvage or deep-sea towing operations.

John Drummond had several during his time in command of that tug.  When others were focusing on their Christmas Eve festivities in 1962, Danie Hugo's crew were preparing their tug to tow in the freighter Caravello, disabled nearly 450 nautical miles north-west of Cape Town.

Drummond's log shows that the tug sailed at 1853 on Christmas Eve, and returned in time for New Year celebrations.

When the main engine of the high-sided Greek motorship Mautric went phutt during an unseasonable north-wester in October 1968, she bore down on Woodstock Beach.  Danie Hugo and TS McEwen hastened out, the former putting up a line and the latter attempting to push the bow into the wind to reduce windage.  Danie Hugo held the vessel long enough for the engineers to restart the engine, before the towing line parted.  The arbitration court awarded R12000 salvage to SAR&H!

Under Drummond's command, Danie Hugo (and the German tug Atlantic) refloated Sivella, the Shell tanker that grounded off the Green Point lighthouse in 1968 and for a few hours threatened to become a worse disaster than Torrey Canyon had been to the British coast a few years before.

Piloting, though, was Drummond's delight for which he shunned promotion. His scrapbook shows a particularly memorable sailing. When he came on duty one evening and noted that the Chandris passenger ship Ellenis had been windbound for the day, he offered to sail her, despite the south-east gale that had pinned her to the wharf.

All four harbour tugs assisted in an intrepid manoeuvre that saw the ship towed upwind, and with the engineroom telegraphs at full ahead, the liner shot through the harbour entrance.

Stepping onto the pilot launch from his last ship - an Oriental fishing vessel - this gentleman pilot concluded a fine career that involved piloting thousands of ships, including bringing QE2 into port in thick fog.

John Drummond was one of those rare and extraordinary men, best summed up by a sailor of my early days at sea, giving his opinion of the master who had just let him off a logging, “e’s a proper gentleman".  With John you know it immediately, you had met ‘a proper gentleman’

Very tall, well over six foot in height, with a rather large hooked nose over which he could look at you with devastating effect, John’s appearance was striking.  He was my close  friend from the day of our first meeting in Walvis Bay in 1970, when we were both promoted to marine pilot on the same day.   

When I decided to set up this web site I asked John to write down his Union-Castle CV, his first, and fully expected response was “Oh Owen, it was all so long ago!”  

Of course John made no mention of his very distinguished and remarkable family but I at last prized it out of him.   

Victoria Drummond, John's aunt was the first women to become a chief engineer albeit in a Greek ship as the British Department of Transport, whilst she had passed her Chief’s exam refused to issue her certificate.   If she were not formidable enough John's uncles must have been daunting, one being awarded the V.C. and Legion of Honour as a Lieutenant Commander R.N.V.R., another the M.C. and a third the O.B.E and D.S.C.  

John simply continued in the family tradition!

From Old Pangbournian Obituaries

Service Record



Roxburgh Castle




Windsor Castle




Athlone Castle




Llandovery Castle

4th Officer



Second Mate’s



Carnarvon Castle

4th Officer



Sandown Castle

3rd Officer



Capetown Castle

4th Officer



First Mate’s




Warwick Castle

3rd Officer



Rowallan Castle

2nd Officer



Kenilworth Castle

2nd Officer



Rochester Castle

2nd Officer





Left Company


July 2011

Obituary - 2011

Memories of John Drummond

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