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News > Pangbournian Stories > OP Malcom MacKenzie remembers Pangbourne in the 1950's

OP Malcom MacKenzie remembers Pangbourne in the 1950's

OP Malcom Mackenzie (52-59) shares his memories of his time at the college at the start of a new Elizabethan era and the course he steered on leaving.
The College circa 1950
The College circa 1950


This is my contribution to the News of OP’s Section as I am a reminder, one of the few, of the college as it was – as it was created to be in fact, as a supplier of boys for service as trainee officers in the Royal Navy and the Merchant Fleet. I suppose my summer term entry of May 1952 had about 24 new boys or cadets as we were styled, of which 22 expressed an initial interest in joining the Royal Navy and just two of us, Erik Bjorkstrand and myself, opted for apprenticeships in the merchant service. Erik joined the Port Line and I chose the Shaw Savill and Albion Line (SS&A) both companies trading between Northern Europe and Australasia.

Our term spent its first year in Port Jackson Division at Croft House; this was the school’s standard practice. All the boys at the school wore white lanyards around their necks, under the jacked collar with the ends tucked into the top pocket of their uniform jackets which were worn on Sunday mornings for the church service and parade. Otherwise we wore a standard naval battle dress – always with the lanyard. At Croft House, the lanyard was worn horizontally between the jacket lapels. In the senior divisions, the lanyards were worn in an exposed loop almost down to the bottom of the jacket lapels.

A fashion developed amongst some of the more senior boys to wear their lanyards rather lower than intended; This could be achieved by undoing the fixed knot – a three part fixed wall and crown knot – and re-making it into a sliding knot to suit the wearer’s inclination. Undoing and re-making the sliding knot was beyond the skills of the Pangbourne boys as they lacked the training however it was something I could do quite quickly and well having been well taught. I charged a penny a lanyard for this conversion and thereby regularly doubled my income of ‘bursars’ bobs’.

My father had taught me much of rope work, knotting sand splicing – he had been the master of the sailing ship ‘DISCOVERY’ on her last Antarctic voyages of exploration and research (1929-1931): I’d had a good teacher. He died just before I went to Pangbourne. My fees at Pangbourne were wholly paid for by an assortment of charities and shipping companies as a mark of respect for my father’s life. We lived in Anglesey where my father served as the Holyhead harbour master and superintendent of the Irish Sea ferries. Shortly before he died, our family was invited to afternoon tea aboard HMS CONWAY by her master – Captain Hewitt. After we had been ceremoniously rowed ashore and were making our way out of the car park, my father remarked with great emphasis ‘My God, if I die, never let our boy go to a place like that’. He was very much opposed to any form of ‘pre-sea’ training believing the normal school curriculum was quite enough for any boy to master: sea training could be much better provided when the standard schooling was completed and the trainee was at sea. In my last terms at Pangbourne I was taught English by Mr Stephens; he went on to lead the school out of its pre-sea training practice into a concentration on a higher standard of general education – thereby ensuring the school’s active development and success. Of course my father’s words rang through my ears throughout my time at the school as I knew I was in the wrong place where the money raised for my school fees, as a memorial to my father, was being mis-spent.

With Chris Mann, I was the first of our term to leave the college to start my SS&A  mariner apprenticeship at sea. I suppose about a third of this term left the college to join the armed forces – mostly in the Royal Navy, a third joined the merchant fleet as indentured apprentices and the last third went on to some form of ‘further education’.

I sailed with the SS&A till I was a chief officer in 1963 when I chose to study for the Extra Master’s certificate which I passed in 1966 having taken almost a year off to sail as the master of a small Kuwaiti reefer ship (formerly HMS ‘M8’ successively re-named ‘MINER VIII’ and then ‘MINDFUL’). Thereafter I sailed for three busy years out of Mombasa as a master in the local Southern Line trading into the Red Sea, around the East African coastal ports and out to the Indian Ocean islands of Seychelles, Aldabra, Mauritius and Reunion aboard a variety of ships, mostly on oil tankers and a bulk cement carrier with time on some general cargo ships. I have happy memories of those years - of sailing with my wife and our first son who lived aboard with us for three years starting his life as a seafarer whilst only eleven weeks of age. Subsequently he was joined by our second son – two years younger.

By the time both sons were active, the sea life rather palled as ships are not the best of play-grounds; we went ashore in Montreal in the service of the Federal Commerce and Navigation Ltd, since renamed Fednav Limited, for twenty years involving a varied career with two years in Montreal, five in Tokyo, two in Montreal, four in London, two more in Montreal on business development and seven years in Frome (Somerset)  working on the development and the introduction into service of the aggregate quarry of Glensanda on Loch Linnhe – on land of which my grandfather had once been the factor. The five years in Japan were demanding as I was the company’s Far East representative for its liner services and other activities – we habitually loaded Great Lakes sized trip time chartered cargo ships usually with steel, plywood, containers and yachts in half a dozen Far Eastern ports for a half dozen East Coast US ports, the St Lawrence Seaway and the Great Lakes. These liner services involved about 25 sailings a year.  And during my 63 months in Japan, I took delivery of 63 new building ships (quite coincidently - one a month) for our company and its associates having been well involved in their construction supervision and delivery. On leaving Japan, I had six years managing the bulk carriers of this newly built fleet,

Subsequently I joined the Hellespont Steamship Corporation of Montreal’s Papachristidis family as chief marine superintendent in London followed by service in Piraeus as the Fleet Safety Officer. The fleet had tankers including six ULCCs of up to 420,000 dwt. Now I have worked in Piraeus for a third of a century, largely self employed as a consultant in safety, environmental care and teaching masters and mates and other shipping students in the Greek managed fleets on related matters.

Whilst 71 years have elapsed since entering Pangbourne, I have remained continuously in the shipping business and had the satisfaction of being kept busy. Presently I am teaching regularly up to twelve hours a day currently, I usually having two successive daily classes, one on bridge management and the other on polar navigation for the new LNG carriers plying the Russian ‘Northern Sea Route’. I also teach several other subjects. I represent a US oil spill environmental cleaner in Greece where they have the bulk of their clients. I also do some auditing of quality systems; I keep quite busy. It seems the Greeks have no hesitation employing the aged so long as they are well and enthused.

My wife of 59 years and I have three sons – all living in Canada and the USA where they prosper without any involvement with shipping. We find Greece a splendid place to live, especially as it warm, sunny and dry – and they have lots and lots of ships.

Malcolm MacKenzie

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