"Joined PAMIR on way to London"

The above is the content of a radio-gram sent by Bob Howard to his father two days after the beginning of his first voyage aboard PAMIR.....indeed his first voyage as crew aboard any ship. This is Bob's story as related to me.

"When I left college I was apprenticed to a cabinet making firm. After about 6 months he declared bankruptcy and so the whole staff were put off. I never knew at the time, but by law he was compelled to find me another apprenticeship. I then went to work for a garage. That was only for 6 to 8 months as a new award came out stating only so many apprentices to so many tradesmen.

Another lad and myself were put off as we were the last ones employed by the garage. I had a brother 'Wally' at sea so I said to my Dad I would like to go to sea. It meant I would have to go to Wellington to join the Seaman's Union by myself. I had not long turned 16 so it was a bit of a challenge at that age in a strange city. My Father said it would be alright, provided I just stayed on the coastal boats and not an overseas ship.

While waiting for a job I boarded in a little two storeyed house in Walter Street. At present it is the house still standing as all the others have been demolished. Walter St was a quaint little lane and when I go to Wellington I usually walk to it as it is not far from Cuba St.

While boarding there the lady owner asked me if I would like her to read the tea leaves from my cup of tea. She up-ended the cup on the saucer, turned it around about three times then started to examine the leaves left in the cup. Well, she said, you are going on a very long voyage and it will be on a very tall ship. I thought to myself what a lot of nonsense as I did not know at the time the PAMIR was in Wellington.

One morning I was down at the shipping corner waiting for a job on any ship to come up when the mate from the PAMIR came in and asked for a Deck Boy. I stood up alongside of the eight other boys and was chosen. The Mate, Andrew Keyworth, took me in to the Shipping Office and checked to see that mu Union Book was paid up to and in order, then asked if I had my Fathers permission to leave New Zealand. Of course I said yes. He then said the ship would be leaving in the morning for London and that I was to report on-board at 1400hrs.

The time at the moment was 1100hrs, so that left me 3hrs to get back from the shipping corner to the boarding house, get what little gear I had, then go to a second hand shop and get a pair of sea boots and a rubbishy oilskin. as I had absolutely no wet weather gear. The husband of the lady who ran the boarding house, owned the shop so that helped a wee bit. I had quite a bit to do in that time but got on board PAMIR at five to two.

I was what they called "schooner rigged" and as soon as my primitive gear was stowed away, I was taken aloft to the Royal Yard, the one at the very top, and shown how to take sail in. I soon found out the Royals were always the Deck Boys job. Anyway I really did not take too much notice, as I was just hanging on for grim death and wondering what in the hell I was doing here.

The position came up for a Deck Boy because one of the boys was trying to light the copper up forward and could not get it going, so added some spirits of some kind. It went as soon as he struck the match. The flames shot out of the flue and, unlucky for him, the Mate was on deck at the time and sacked him straight away. The reason for the sacking of the boy was that if any of the foremast sails had been set they would have gone up in flames.

That night some of the boys and myself decided to go to the movies as it was to be our last night ashore for a long time. We walked from Aotea Quay to the Embassy Theatre, then back again. We must have been fit. The next day I got another fright as the Mate was giving everyone orders as we were about to sail and he said to me "Howard, you go to the wheel". I was greatly relieved to find and A.B. at the wheel and all I had to do was help him turn it.

I was on my way to London and two days out I sent my Father a radio-gram saying "Joined PAMIR on way to London".

Copyright: Denise & Peter 1999