lifeatsea

STORM AND COMPANY

Leaves from the Scrap-book of a Life at Sea

by

WILLIAM RIFLE FORSTER (1885-1957), Master Mariner, of North Shields.

Every seaman, homeward bound, dreams of having a good, long and pleasant watch ashore. Sometimes it comes off and sometimes it doesn’t. I remember arriving at Rosyth on a Saturday morning after a voyage of thirteen months. I was Second Mate and it was my watch ashore. After all the usual formalities were completed it was late afternoon when my train left Edinburgh for home. The ship was sailing the next night and so I had exactly sixteen hours at home before sailing on another voyage, this time of twelve months. On another occasion my ship - I was Master then - arrived in the Tyne to bunker at 5 p.m. on a Christmas Eve. All hands in my mainly Tyneside crew were in no doubt that they would spend Christmas with their families. But they didn’t; for we sailed at midnight. The Custom House at Newcastle was kept open for me to do the usual ship’s business, and I was in my own home for exactly forty minutes. My wife wept, but whether in anguish or joy I am not prepared to say.

I believe that the nation was built by its seamen, but the vital importance of the Merchant Service seems to be brought forcefully to the notice of the public only when the war drums begin to roll. In the past, seamen have been a forgotten or neglected class, yet it cannot be denied that a strong and healthy Merchant Navy is just as essential for the prosperity of the country in peace as it is in war. Life at sea in the old days might have been better had there been organisations to take up the cause of promoting improvements in the conditions of the seaman.

This is not the Ritz! I am thinking of the time when I first went to sea, nearly fifty-two years ago. There was then no-one to whom to air grievances or to keep an eye on the seaman’s welfare; and conditions were deplorable. My first salary was ten shillings a month, and my first pay as an able seaman was 3 15s. Od. a month. The accommodation was atrocious, and the hours of work had no limit, often approximating a hundred hours a week at sea. In port we worked 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. every day except Sunday, and any other necessary work had to be done outside those hours. Believe me, necessary work was frequently found, particularly on Sundays, and there was no overtime paid. Overtime pay was unheard of in those days, but overwork was plentiful and frequent. On my first voyage as Second Mate I was paid 6 lOs. Od. a month, the Master of that ship received 12 a month, and there were many ship owners who paid less.

This century has seen tremendous improvements in ship construction, and thus in the circumstances in which seamen live and work. In my first ship - and it was no different from the majority of others - twelve of us lived in the fo’csle, which was little if at all bigger than the law demands for a bedroom in a common lodging house. Fortunately a sailor didn’t have many belongings to stow. it used to be said that his kit-bag contained fifty three articles, namely a pack of cards and a red handkerchief In fact many men came aboard with only the clothes they. stood up in. Out of an advance of pay they would then acquire a donkey’s breakfast for a bed, a blanket, a suit of dungarees, a suit of oilskins and a pair of sea-boots, and everyone wore a sheath-knife in his belt. A knife was needed when working aloft, and occasionally for settling differences of opinion, especially among some foreign seamen, who were often in the majority in the fo’csle. Some captains when a new crew joined mustered the men aft, took all their knives and broke the points. The fo’csle was lighted by a smoky paraffin lamp and heated by an equally smoky coal stove or bogie, and when owing to stress of weather it was necessary for ports, ventilators and door to be kept closed the air inside was foul. There was a small, fixed table at which one could just manage to get one’s food seated. In port half of the men squatted on the floor. The food itself was small in quantity and poor in quality, and yet strange to say the men throve on it. The drinking water, being kept in small, iron tanks for long periods, very often stank. These were typical conditions, often for very long voyages. My first trip to Australia, for instance, forty-four years ago, took one hundred and five days. I suppose that with altered conditions at sea the seamen too have altered, but it is quite wrong to say that wooden ships and iron men have been replaced by wooden men and iron ships, just as one would not say that the navy men who fought with cutlasses were any better than those behind the fourteen guns of a battleship.

Off to Sea. On 9th January, 1901, at the age of sixteen, I sailed from the North East coast in a three-masted Liverpool-owned barque bound for Iquique. My rank, style and title on the ship’s articles of agreement was Cabin Boy, better known in sailing ships as "Captain’s Tiger", and my stipend was that already referred to of ten shillings a month. We sailed at midnight. The wind was north-west and freshening and the tide was with us beyond the mouth of the Tees. We could see the north-bound craft having a much busier time of it than ourselves. Twenty-four hours after our departure, a very abject tiger indeed, I was sitting in the ship’s lifeboat, which was swaying and ready for lowering, holding the hands of the Captain’s little son, aged four. It was misty weather and we had grounded on a sand bank off the Humber, called the Dudgeon Shoal, but as the sea was smooth and the tide rising the vessel soon floated off and we proceeded on our voyage without having incurred any damage.

Mine was a queer sort of job, and although according to the articles I was just Cabin Boy, that classification ought really to have been altered with almost every hour of the day. At two bells in the morning watch, or 5 a.m., I was a kitchen maid serving out coffee from the galley to the watch on deck. At four bells (6 a.m.) I was a housemaid, scrubbing floors and polishing brass. At six bells I was some sort of farm hand, attending to livestock. We had a good number of poultry on board and four pigs. It was my job to clean out the pigsty, no-one having made any enquiry concerning my religious scruples. At eight bells I became a waiter, assisting the steward to waft on the saloon table. Part of the time between meals 1 was a dry nurse, looking after the Captain’s little boy and keeping him out of mischief. But at all times of the day or night, when the call was for all hands on deck, to set or shorten sail, then I was a sailor.

It was the practice on sailing ships for the youngest to be sent the highest, which is not so hard as it may sound, for the further you go up the mast the lighter the sails become, and the easier to handle. I was first sent aloft shortly after leaving the English Channel, with an apprentice who had made the previous voyage in the ship. We were to loosen the gaskets from the main royal yard, the highest sail in the ship, which was to be set for the first time that voyage. The gaskets, I should mention, were the lines that secured the canvas to the spar when the sail was not in use. Some days before this the Mate, who was a hard-case, bluenose Nova Scotia man, had given me some words of warning and advice. I still remember a few of the things he taught me. One was that I would never be a sailor until I had rounded the Horn thirteen times, and by that time every hair on my head would be a rope yarn, every finger a marlin spike, and every drop of blood Stockholm tar. He said that when working aloft I must always remember that my two hands had been hired by the ship’s owners and had to be used only for the owners, and if I needed anything to hang on with for my own safety then I could use my eyelashes. But to get back to settling that royal yard: as you may or may not know to get from the lower rigging to the topmost rigging there were two ways of passing the intervening crosstrees. The quick way is over the futtock shrouds when you are climbing, high above the deck and at the same time lying backwards. The other slow but safer route is through a hole in the centre of the crosstrees called the lubber’s hole. As the name implies no sailor worthy of the name used the lubber’s hole, but then I wasn’t a sailor, and in consequence when I reached the royal yard the apprentice, who as I have already mentioned had sailed in the ship before, had the gaskets loosened on his side of the yard and was sitting astride the yardarm laughing and jeering at me. The Mate had evidently been watching my performance for on my return to the deck he greeted me with language which will not bear repeating here.

Off the Portuguese coast we picked up the north-east trade wind which carried us right into the tropics. This wind is so called because it blows steadily from that direction, to carry a sailing ship almost two thousand miles on one course without the necessity of changing the sails. Once you picked up the trade wind the braces could be coiled in the rigging and would not be needed any more.

In the tropics we entered the doldrums, a belt of calms stretching right across the Atlantic, wedge-shaped and narrower at the American side and broader at the African side. We were becalmed for days on end and the heat was unbearable - so great that the pitch boiled and oozed out of the seams between the planks of the deck. The sails hung limply, not even flapping, and the crew just lay around the deck when off watch, taking advantage of whatever shade the loosely-hanging sails afforded. Everyone suffered from thirst, for even on a long voyage a sailing ship carried only a very limited supply of water, and this had to be rationed out at three quarts per man per day for all purposes, including drinking, cooking and washing. it was not unusual to see half-a-dozen men take turns at washing in three or four inches of water in a bucket. It was an old joke among sailors that if you took a handful of water and it could run through your fingers then it must still be clean.

All this delay in the doldrums meant financial loss to the owners of the ship, but to the very young members of the crew it seemed a holiday, with no work to do aloft. I decided that if the owners could stand it, then so could I.

Eventually, after some three weeks’ delay, eased by only an occasional puff of wind, we picked up the south-east trade wind, and except for a pampero which caught us unawares off the River Plate and blew a topgallant sail out of its bolt ropes and into shreds, we reached the region of Cape Horn, the southern tip of South America, without further incident.

Sailing round Cape Horn. Cape Horn is the place dreaded by all sailing-ship seamen, for the seas there are the mightiest on earth and the wind blows from a westerly direction almost the whole year round, more often than not at gale force or over. The latitude of Cape Horn is exactly the same in the southern hemisphere as the lighthouse on Tynemouth pier is in the northern hemisphere, that is to, say, fifty-five degrees. But what a difference! There is no Gulf Stream in the southern hemisphere to temper the wind, and it was a tremendous task for an outward-bound sailing vessel to beat to westward to round the Cape. To make a westing against strong contrary winds has to be carried out by means of long tacks under shortened sail, usually jibs, staysails and lower topsails, the ship running to the southward for perhaps fifty to a hundred miles, and incurring the danger of meeting icebergs, with the Captain hoping to make a few miles to the westward on the change to the northward tack. Few, if any, shore people, and for that matter, few steamship sailors, can properly appreciate the real hardships the crew had to undergo to make that passage. Our ship was like a half-tide rock, the seas continually sweeping over the decks, and she would lie over with her gunwales almost under water. Whenever braces had to be hauled - and that was frequently enough - the men hauling the lee braces were up to their waists in freezing water, and those attending the weather braces were being drenched with icy spray and washed off their feet by every sea that came aboard. The fo’csle was awash most of the time and it was impossible to keep a fire going in the galley so that there was no dry clothing, and warm food or drink was a rare luxury. With every alteration in the strength or direction of the wind the lower topsails had to be reefed, furled or reset, and with the ship rolling or pitching violently it was a difficult and dangerous job to furl the sail on a swaying yardarm fifty feet above the deck. The canvas, with the extreme cold and the continuous drenching by spray, was as hard as a board and extremely difficult to handle, and it was not uncommon to lose fingernails trying to keep a hold on it.

On that occasion of my first voyage it took us ten days to make a hundred miles to the westward, to win us sufficient sea room to round the Cape with safety, and that would have made a sailor of me had I been given that way.

But we have short memories, and once into the warm water and fine weather of the Pacific we soon forgot our trials off Cape Horn. Then came Iquique, the great nitrate port in Chile, where it never rains, and which isn’t a port at all but just a geographical expression. The ships lay at anchor in the open sea, and the nitrate came off in small lighters or barges, from which the bags were hauled aboard the ships by the crew.

Sunday was liberty day for the crew who were taken ashore at ten in the morning in the ship’s longboat, and brought back again at ten at night. A ferry service could not be run because of the danger to boats of the heavy surf. Of course I took advantage of the chance to go ashore, and that Sunday night I had a strange experience. I wonder if there are now in the town any old enough to remember a tall, thin, old man, a veteran of the Crimean War, who used to sell watercress in North Shields. He cried his ware in a peculiar, high-pitched monotone which we boys used to imitate. I was walking about the dark Chilean streets, anxiously waiting for ten o’ clock - for I was nervous of the people slouching along, wrapped in their ponchos and each with a long knife in his belt - when I heard ahead of me the cry. "Any water cress, fresh water cress?" My heart stood still. I expected to see a ghost, and then I aimost collided with two drunken sailors. They were from Shields, and the local vino had made them think of home, and watercress.

Such was my introduction to the sailor’s life. Some time later, when 1 had become an Able Seaman, one of my fo’csle shipmates was a very old man who had in his younger days commanded sailing ships. His Board of Trade Certificate had been cancelled because he had shot dead a seaman who he alleged was inciting the crew to mutiny. The courts disagreed with his action and he was demoted. It was this old man who persuaded me to study navigation and seamanship, and acting on his advice I bought the necessary books, to make my way by examination to Second Mate and Mate, and eventually to pass for Master, without having had the advantage of going through a formal apprenticeship.

"There is nowt so strange as folk"! In my subsequent wanderings I met many peculiar people with strange customs. One ship I was in was held up at Basra on the Euphrates because of the failure of the date crop. I struck up a friendship with a young Arab called Ali Bash whose father was headman of a Bedouin village a few miles out of Basra. He was an ambitious young man who wanted to learn to speak English, and he was using me as a tutor. Obviously he didn’t know the difference between an Englishman and a Tynesider, but he was quick. One day he invited me to the house of his father, a flat-topped building of mud with large, unglazed and barred windows. A meal was prepared for several guests, with food consisting of some sort of curry in a great brass dish some three feet in diameter. We ate outside, squatting on mats. Each took a small handful, using the right hand to press it into a ball and shoot it into the mouth using the thumb as a lever. The others scored a bull every time, but my face soon resembled that of a child learning to feed itself with a spoon. I learnt afterwards that parts of a sheep that most people would throw away, including the eyes, are put into these concoctions. The hubble-bubble was brought out, a live charcoal was dropped onto the tobacco and the apparatus was passed around for everybody to have a few draws. The tobacco wasn’t bad, but I couldn’t help looking round the bearded faces and wondering which brand of ailment each diner favoured.

I must say that there are many sailors among the most interesting people that I remember best. I was once in command of a ship whose Chief Engineer was an ardent philatelist. He possessed a collection, which he valued very highly. One night in the Atlantic in very stormy weather, with the ship moving violently and heavy seas breaking aboard, I made my way with much difficulty to the Chief's cabin to discuss with him the advisability of reducing speed in order to conserve fuel. I found him sifting at his desk, hanging on as best he could, with a magnifying glass, such as a watchmaker might use, secured to one eye, as he studied the markings on his stamps.

My first command was one of His Majesty’s ships, a minesweeper, in August, 1914. In this post I had many tussles with mines,and in two cases the mines won and I lost several of my men. Once when I had handed to me sailing orders to proceed to a position off the Belgian coast, near the German submarine base at Zeebrugge, I said to my superior officer, "But that means going over our own minefield’. His reply was that if they meant going to hell those were my orders. That was the first and last time I queried an order. I deserved the rebuke, for I should have known better. After a spell in hospital at Chatham I was invalided out of the Navy, to return to the Merchant Navy in 1918.

Getting on with the job. A shipmaster is a Jack-of-all-trades, but unlike his counterpart ashore he must be master of some. He must be a master of navigation for one, and also of seamanship, for on occasion with only seconds to make up his mind, the safety of the lives of the crew, the vessel and the cargo may depend on him. Against that he must attempt to do things at which he is the veriest novice. The most important of these is acting as the ship’s doctor. I always dreaded the possibility of having to deal with men who had fallen from aloft, or into one of the holds, and who, if alive, would be suffering from multiple injuries. Fortunately, in twenty-two years of command this never came my way. Twice in my time men fell from a great height, and in each case death was instant. Lesser injuries or illnesses were very frequent, and ships carry the equipment to deal with them. One of the worst accidents I had to cope with happened to an Arab fireman. He was heaving ashes up from the stokehold in very bad weather, with the ship rolling and pitching heavily. Ashes were in round, large buckets, weighing about a hundredweight, and they were hoisted by a hand winch up the ventilator shaft. On this occasion, as the bucket was nearing the top a heavy roll caused the man’s feet to slip and he let go of the iron handle of the winch, which reversed with lightning speed and struck the man violently across the forehead just a fraction above the eyebrows. The bone was not broken, but the skin was completely torn away and actually folded back over his eyes. To stitch was beyond my capabilities. Controlling the bleeding as best I could, working my way from one side to the other I drew the skin together and kept it in position using short strips of surgical adhesive tape, and then applied a tight pad and bandages. The man was put to bed and we kept constant watch on him for a while, in case the bleeding resumed. It didn’t, and in a few weeks the wound was nicely healed. Had he been a white man he would have cursed me for ever after, for there would have been a nasty scar. On his brown face the scar was barely noticeable from a couple of feet away.

Another case involved an old carpenter who was with me for many years. We sailed from the Tyne on one voyage, after being in dry-dock for several weeks, during which time the crew had all been paid off and sent home. I did not know until later that the old carpenter bad been ill at home and under the doctor. He had not mentioned the matter as he did not want to be left behind, and out of a job, but on the second day out he had to report sick. I diagnosed his illness as pleurisy, and on opening the drug locker to mix the appropriate medicine I found that the rough weather had jerked several bottles out of the racks and broken them, including some that were needed in the case in hand. 1 was left with no alternative but to change the complaint to suit the medicine available. The carpenter made a very good recovery and ever after swore that I was a better doctor than the one who had been treating him in South Shields.

Ice Cold Working. In peace-time I was for several years in command of ships chartered by the Soviet Union, taking stores from Murmansk to the settlements along the north coast of Siberia, and bringing back Siberian produce to European countries. This of course could only be done in summer months, and only one voyage could be made in each season, which is short in such high latitudes. We usually sailed in June and returned in October, under the command of a navigator called by the Russians the Ice Pilot. From Murmansk we would sail in convoy, a Russian being in overall command in the first year. In the second year, having evidently created a favourable impression, I was called to a conference at Murmansk, given a lot of vodka and a little instruction and ordered to take command of the convoy.

In the Barents Sea the water is warm enough to be clear of ice right up to the west coast of Novaya Zemlya, but eventually ice makes it impossible to go round the northern end of that land, and to get into the Kara Sea it is necessary to pass through either the Yugorsky Strait in the south - a relatively easy bit of navigation - or through the Matochkin Shar, which splits Novaya Zemlya in two. On my first voyage in charge of the convoy I was steaming due east on the parallel 70 degrees north when I received wireless orders from Moscow to proceed via Matochkin because the lower part of the Kara Sea was blocked with ice. Nova Zemlya is just a mountainous mass covered with snow and ice, and it is most difficult to find the entrance. However, we found it and went through. I had heard about this channel, and what I saw bore out its reputation. There were no aids to navigation, not even marks to show where there were submerged rocks. My nerve stood it, but only just. The strait for the most part is no broader than the Tyne between the quays at Newcastle and (Iateshead, and the dark green glaciers reach right down to the water. The mountains rise so high and sheer that ships move in gloom. Fortunately there are few submerged obstructions, and it is almost possible to rub the crabs off the rocks at the side without damaging the ship - if there are any crabs, which I doubt

The report had been right. The Kara Sea was full of ice. I stopped the convoy at the end of the strait and called the captains on board for final instructions. None had had experience of ice and my most difficult task was to convince them that the greatest danger in ice navigation is to suffer from over-caution. To negotiate sharp bends in the open lanes speed is essential, for the slower the speed the greater the arc in which the ship will turn, and in our situation there was no room for wide arcs. I had to impress on everybody as firmly as I could that speed must be maintained unless I gave the signal to the contrary. My advice was to fall on stony ground.

I was congratulating myself on making good progress when after steaming fifty or sixty miles an acute turn, which my ship took safely, made my next astern slow down and so fail to take it. She had to come full astern, and then she lay right across the channel, and of course the rest were obliged to do the same. I couldn’t leave the convoy, and also had to stop. Before the ships could square themselves up again the ice closed in. Had the weather not been calm we would all have been crushed like eggshells, but as it was we were all jammed in pack ice, rearing anything from a few feet to fifteen or sixteen feet above the water.

It has to be remembered that in fresh water seven-eighths of ice is below water, which is to say that much of it around us would be more than a hundred feet thick. The uneven thickness is what causes lanes to form, the ocean currents having different effects on different thicknesses. We lay there for five days, hoping a strong wind would not spring up to crush the ice against the ships, before a lane opened up, but there was plenty to occupy our minds. The top of the ice was for the most part fairly flat, and sometimes as extensive as a football field, and the effect of the sun, which in midsummer shines practically the whole twenty-four hours when the sky is without cloud, was to make pools in the surface of the ice. These pools swarmed with little fish. Seals abounded, being mostly babies at that season. They waddled over the ice, dived into the pools and caught the fish. But we never knew how the fish got into the pools. There were many kinds of bird, and one of them having black and white stripes was immediately identified as Newcastle United.

It is too long a story to tell you about the rest of that voyage, and about the Siberial settlements, but events such as I have described occurred fairly frequently. On a subsequent voyage my ship was all but finally crushed. The workers in the settlements were for the most part political prisoners, enemies of the state, whose crime may have been no more than a mild criticism of the government.

After my last Siberian voyage of a series, 1 returned to England in October 1935, and received orders to proceed to the Bristol Channel to load stores for the Admiralty. After loading I was handed sealed orders to be opened at a given position at sea. These told me that when nearing Gibraltar I was to communicate by wireless with the Admiral commanding there. He instructed me to proceed towards Malta and follow the same procedure. From Admiral Pound, commanding the Mediterranean Fleet, I received orders to continue to Port Said. There a boat from the battleship "Valiant" collected me, and her commanding officer told me I had to join the Eastern Command at Aden, reporting to Admiral Rose in the flagship "Norfolk".

Some like it hot! 1 knew the Red Sea. An incident I regret occurred at one of the ports. There was a case of pilfering from the ship, and when the culprit was discovered he was unthinkingly handed over to his people ashore. He was led down to the shore and when I saw what they did to him I wished I had kept silent about the matter.

On this occasion the mention of the Red Sea caused intense consternation among my crew, for we were fitted, both ship and men, for the Arctic. My ship had made history, for no one had heard of a steamer sailing through the Red Sea without an awning or an ice-chest. We could take only one day’s fresh meat at Port Said, for in two days of that heat it would have been rotten. We had to spread old tarpaulins over the derrick booms for the crew to sleep under, for the direct heat of the sun’s rays on an iron deck makes it impossible to sleep below. We must have made a pretty sight entering Aden and steaming through the lines of cruisers and destroyers, all painted white and with crews dressed in white shirts, shorts and sun helmets. Aden is one of the hottest places on earth, its entrance being known as Hell’s Gates. My ship was black, the crew wore all sorts of clothing, and there was not a pair of shorts among us. The Admiral sent his launch for me, and I would say that the sight of the "Scharnhorst", which the "Norfolk" sank in the late war, could not have created more astonishment to the hundreds of officers and men than me in my brown tweed suit and felt hat being escorted to their commander. You have to try to imagine the effect of a man walking in tropical whites on the promenade at Tynemouth, in January. I learned from the Admiral that war with Italy, which was fighting the Abyssinians, was not unlikely, and that if it was declared certain duties were allocated to my ship. These I cannot give in detail, but they seemed awfully like suicide to me. However, the war did not materialise.

The Navy treated me and my crew handsomely. The Admiral ordered the cruiser "Emerald" to look after us. She sent us every day fresh meat from her refrigerators, and fitted us up with awnings, and the crew were entertained almost every night by one cruiser or another. To relieve the monotony we occasionally made short cruises to better, but not cooler places, one of which was Berbera, just across the straits of Bab el Mandeb. The children there seem to spend all their time earning coppers thrown into the sea from the ships, with no fear of the sharks.

One day I went for a car ride into the country with a friend who lived in Berbera. After some miles on very rough roads we came upon a village of mud huts. I heard children’s voices and my friend told me there was a school in the place. It consisted of a framework of poles covered in leaves, and there squatted on the floor many smiling children, all counting very loudly and incessantly from one to ten. The time passed not unpleasantly for our seven months in the Red Sea.

On our return to England the Spanish Civil War was in frill swing, and 1 was sent to Franco’s Spain. There were a few incidents, too minor to report, and in the summer of 1936 1 made my last Siberian voyage, taking stores from Murmansk to Igarka, four hundred miles up the Yenesi river, stopping at several small places on the way. I noticed in Igarka that all the boys from about eleven to fourteen years of age worked all day on horseback, dragging logs from the river to the sawmills, and very expert horsemen they were.

One day at the meal hour two boys of about thirteen years came aboard the ship and I was surprised to find they spoke a little English. It appears they learned English at school, which they attended at night only. Each day they came aboard to try to improve their English. One evening I took a walk to see their school. It was built of rough logs by the riverside, and the spaces between the logs were filled with river mud.

The children were all heavily clad. Even in the summer the ground thaws only to a depth of about nine inches , and at the end of the summer the families left Igarka for towns further south. In February of the following year I decided that after thirty-six years I had given the sea a fair trial and was not really cut out to be a sailor, and I swallowed the anchor. A few months after I had come ashore two members of the Tynemouth County Borough Council called to persuade me to stand for election. I thought I knew something about men after working with all creeds and nationalities all round the world, but Council work has added greatly to my knowledge. My new colleagues, taking full advantage of my previous experience, in their choice of my first new specialised field, appointed me to the Farm Committee. Since then 1 have chaired six committees, including Education, and been deputy chairman of two others, and served as Mayor, all with the help and guidance of God and the Town Clerk.

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The foregoing is kindly provided by Berta Storm, daughter of Captain Forster, and copyright holder.

NOTE: The author’s family was not untypical of Tyneside in its heavy involvement with the sea. His wife was Berta Olsen, the daughter of a sailor from Bergen in Norway, and their daughter married the son (ALAN) of a Master Mariner. One brother was for many years a Chief Engineer, another a Master (who was for a time a commander in the Colombian Navy); one brother-in-law was a Chief Engineer, and another spent some time as a sea-going engineer. In World War II William Rifle Forster was Tynemouth’s Chief Air Raid Warden. For this service he would accept no remuneration and was thus able to continue his work as an elected member of the local Council becoming Mayor of the County Borough of Tynemouth. His membership of the Authority continued until his death in 1957.

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