Frank saw an advert for Seafarers Link in a seafarers’ magazine several years ago and has been a keen regular ever since.
Frank went to sea with the Merchant Navy as a radio operator in 1941, leaving in 1953 to work in coastal communications. Promoted to headquarters, he tested and wrote schedules for new equipment, then went on to become a shipping surveyor, issuing shipping certificates. Frank later chaired SOLAS (Safety of Life at Sea), helping to update internationally agreed standards.
He says: “I live alone. I’m solitary, but not lonely. I’ll be 90 in June and I still use my bicycle. In fact, I’d say the secret to a long life is the two Bs – beer and bicycle! “But once you’ve been in the Merchant Navy, you’re not really fit for other company. The group is excellent – we share seafarers’ stories.”
Rudy, in his 60s, first joined the Merchant Navy as a Catering Boy in 1965, setting off on his first ship, MV Adventurer calling at Port Said, through the Suez Canal, and visiting eleven ports around the coast of Africa.
Being at sea played a major part in shaping Rudy’s life and remains important to him.
“Had I not decided to join my life would have led a very different path & one that I would have not been proud of. It gave me a purpose & most of all satisfaction that I was doing a worthwhile & very enjoyable job.”
He was the youngest in his company to reach the rank of Assistant Purser Catering officer, only later leaving the Merchant Navy to be with his new wife.
Rudy recalls how friendships were formed offshore and when in port with shipmates.
“You did view other crew members as part of a family, especially those who you kept meeting on various ships.”
Rudy has been a member of Seafarers Link for a year and says it fills a space in his life.
“Sharing your past life with family & friends is ok, but at times you feel you are really boring them as they don’t understand, plus the fact you can’t really tell all your tales. Some things you can only share with ex-seafarers who know and will have a good joke and laugh.”
His Seafarers Link group offers banter, laughter and sometimes has a more serious side. Some of the stories the older members tell have brought him to tears especially when talk has turned to the Russian Convoy ships.
“What they had to do & the conditions they were in really bring it home. They were there & lived to tell the true story, just wonderful.”
Rudy would wholeheartedly recommend Seafarers Link to other ex-seafarers. It has helped him feel part of a group of seafarers and like many of the members he really looks forward to his fortnightly call.
Seafarers Link is important to 92-year-old widower George Humphries, who is a wheelchair user. “I find the group lovely, because I’m disabled. I’m on my own a lot of the time and I really appreciate what the group has done for me,” he says.
George was in the Royal Navy during the war. “I joined up in December 1941. I had to join up because I was 19 and I preferred to go into the Navy, because I couldn’t bear the idea I might have to shoot another person. I wasn’t clever enough to be a conscientious objector!”
Although he trained as a telegraphist, George was posted onto a landing craft and spent the rest of the war as a signalman. After the war, he returned to his job as a milkman for the Co-op, clocking up 38 years with them.
Like many ex-servicemen, George is haunted by some of the things he saw during the war. “When you experience things that cannot be talked about, what do you do?” he asks.
George has been campaigning to get one particular story heard, but in the meantime is hugely grateful to the seafarers’ group.
“They’re lovely people. I think they get fed up with me sometimes, because I can’t stop myself talking – I must tell these stories. But you learn so much from these people about what they experienced. I realise I experienced a small amount compared to them.”