My mother was born of Scottish parents in the Argentine in 1919 and lived in Buenos Aires until 1942 when she travelled to Britain in a wartime convoy to be married.
She witnessed increasing Nazi influence in neutral Argentina in the build up to war. Some neighbours ran up flag poles with Nazi flags in the grounds of their houses and she remembered once going to confession and finding that whoever was the other side of the grill was clearly not a priest when she was asked quite inappropriately for information about her expatriate friends and acquaintances.
It was in this rather sinister environment that she became a ship visitor. Buenos Aires was a major port for British trade and both Merchant and Royal Naval ships were regular visitors to the River Plate estuary where, in December 1939, The Battle of the River Plate saw three British and New Zealand Cruisers bring about the end of the German pocket battleship Graf Spee which had been preying on merchant shipping across the Atlantic.
With a rich cosmopolitan culture, parks, striking architecture, café society, night spots, wonderful food and music and of course the exotic tango, Buenos Aires had long been known as the Paris of South America. The contrast between this and the tedium and tension of shipboard life especially in wartime must have been quite astonishing for young seafarers. My mother would have known all about the refinements of the city, she was courageous with a great sense of humour so with her as a guide they would have had an excellent tour of the city.
Her itinerary included tea-dances in the most glamorous winter gardens, a pure joy. In these circumstances she remembered Royal Naval sailors enjoying themselves in the same venue as their counterparts from German ships. They didn’t come to blows but took the battle to their opponents through the medium of music. British sailors in her care would bribe the orchestra to play British music while on the other side of the hall the band would be taking payment to play German popular and patriotic tunes. This tunes happily with a seafarers sense of humour, enjoying life, detached for a while from harsh reality.
At the end of her story, she always remembered her greatest challenge was to get her charges back on board under the beady eye of the Officer of the Day, at the end of the afternoon, sober. That’s where courage and humour were needed most.
I have been a support of Stella Maris, the Apostleship
of the Sea for a number of years now. My
connection with the charity is a family one and stems from two quite separate
elements of family history.
Firstly, my family is connected with one of the founders of Stella Maris, Peter Anson. Amongst his many accomplishments, he was a prolific author and talented artist. In 1934, Peter determined to tour England and Scotland in a horse-drawn caravan and advertised for a farrier to accompany him and to look after the horses. The successful applicant for this role (from 200 who applied) was my great-uncle, Anthony Rowe, the brother of my paternal grandmother. Beginning their journey at St Augustine’s Datchet (where my father went to school and where two of Anthony’s brothers were priests and taught) on Ash Wednesday 1934, they travelled through England into Scotland, turning around at Fort William to begin their journey south. Two books emerged from this journey:
“The Caravan Pilgrim” by Peter Anson and “The Brown
Caravan – A Yorkshire Tyke’s Wanderings in the South” by Anthony Rowe (with
illustrations by Peter Anson).
As you might imagine, Anthony is something of a legend
in my family and from an early age I was keen to learn more about Peter
Anson. Doing so led me, in part, to
The other connection is closer to home. My paternal grandfather was a ship’s engineer
and worked on and around the Tyne. My
father developed an interest in ships and seafaring which has lasted throughout
his life. My formative years were spent
in Preston, Lancashire which at the time had a thriving dock. My father’s interest in ships led to he and I
spending many Saturday mornings watching the various ships arrive and unload,
load and leave and – from time to time – accepting invitations to board ships
and visit the captain in his cabin. My
father’s principal hobby is marine vexilology – the study of the flag and
funnel insignia of ships and shipping companies – and in his prime was
corresponding around the world in connection with his hobby. He still possesses one of the world’s largest
collections of ship’s flags and funnels and has himself been published on this
“Survey Of Mercantile Houseflags & Funnels” by J.L.Loughran (1979).
undertake ship visiting in the port of Falmouth, Cornwall. The port is
predominantly a repair yard, and our visits are to the crews of the ships who
remain on board. It is also the home to the Bay Class vessels of the Royal
Fleet Auxillary as well as RFA Argus, which is mistakenly referred to as a
Hospital Ship. It’s actual role is that of a Primary Casualty Receiving Ship
with a 100-bed medical complex on board and acts as a floating hospital in time
Royal Fleet Auxiliary (RFA) delivers worldwide logistic and operational support
to Royal Navy military operations. They are the uniformed civilian branch of
the Naval Service, staffed by UK merchant sailors. My son, Matthew, is employed
within the RFA and one of his recent deployments was on RFA Argus.
helps to remind me what Stella Maris does, in that it serves seafarers from
across the world, regardless of belief, nationality or race, meeting their
needs through the provision of help, support and advice. To that end it is
comforting to know that when Matt is away and may be in need of support I know
that someone across the world is looking after him as I look after other
families seafarers in the UK.
this particular evening, I undertook ship visiting with Falmouth’s Port
Chaplain, John Pinhay. Having visited some crews in the port, we then went to
Argus, and there met up with Matt. John also knows Matt through St Mary
Immaculate in Falmouth where Matt was an altar server with John. This visit
with Matt really brought it home to me the important and compassionate work
which Stella Maris undertakes and I am delighted to be a part of this global
family undertaking this work, which now has a personal side.
When my wife Pat and I first became ship visitors, we were
under the direction of our Port Chaplain.
I always remember one of the first visits we made on our own
which has taught me never to make quick judgements.
Pat & I went onboard a tanker that was in dry dock in Falmouth for repairs. We were welcomed by the crew member who was on watch, who showed us to the crew’s mess. We were asked to take a seat while 2 crew members were finishing off their evening meal. They were African and kept eating without saying a word or acknowledging our presence. I recall that there was a television on which we sat in front. After what felt like a long time, Pat & I started to question each other if we should leave. Eventually, one of these men stood up and approached us. He cut a very formidable figure as he was well over 6 feet tall and very muscular. We introduced ourselves and straight away said he knew Stella Maris. He said, “You are carrying out Gods work.” He then proceeded to talk about prayer and then burst into an African Lullaby.
As we sat and listened the 2nd African came over to say hello. He was of similar stature to his other crew member. He wore a very colourful sleeveless waistcoat. Pat told him that she liked his waistcoat and in the next moment, he started to take it off as he wanted to present Pat with this garment. He had no other garment covering the upper part of his body and Pat found herself pleading with him that the waistcoat would look better on him.
2 lovely spiritual men who taught us never to spring to
Now 12 years later as the Port Chaplain of Falmouth &
Fowey I always remember this encounter and never make quick judgements on the
stranger I meet when carrying out a ship visit.
I am a ship
visitor at Fowey, Cornwall. On 17th December 2018 I visited a general cargo ship, the
Burham Dizman-1, with my Port Chaplain John Pinhay. As we were approaching the
ship we told one of the crew that we were from the Apostleship of the Sea. By
the time we got to the top of the gangway we were delighted to be greeted by
the Chief Officer and some of the crew.
We were invited to
the galley and given a very pleasant Turkish coffee and had a chance to talk to
several crew members who were from India and Turkey. When we handed over some
Christmas packages from local supporters and Christmas cards from local primary
schools. The crew were delighted to think that local supporters and children
cared enough about them to provide the gifts and especially the cards which had
seasonal messages written by the children. Some even wanted to have their
photos taken with the cards to share with their families.