For Grand Reunion 2011, section 1, click here

For Grand Reunion 2011, section 2, click here

For Grand Reunion 2011, section 3, click here

For Grand Reunion 2011, section 4 (The dinner) click here

 

 

Text of speech by George Swaine to Furness Bermuda Line Grand Reunion dinner on Saturday 14 May 2011

“You should be proud to have played an important part in the operation of the finest ships in the finest merchant marine at the finest time in history.” George Swaine, 14 May 2011

 

“Ladies and gentlemen, former shipmates, honoured guests, welcome to the second Furness Bermuda Line fest to be held in these hospitable surroundings and, before I get underway, I would like to thank the staff of Satchel Court , ably led by Trevor Goacher.

Following the remarkable success of the previous reunion, it is evident by the number of attendees this time that the organisers’ unfailing energy in arranging the many necessary details has paid off yet again.  We all owe Bob White, Bill Cox, Peter Manley and Alva James, a huge debt of gratitude for their unstinting efforts in arranging this event – no longer unique, following the success of the first reunion.  In addition, Alva has performed miracles in establishing and maintaining the unique and informative website, to which so many of you have contributed.  Thank you.

Where these gentlemen took a huge risk is to ask me, once again, to drone my way through something similar to the informal pre-prandial address I gave last time.  Well, everyone seemed to survive and it can’t be as bad as a Thursday matinee at the Glasgow Empire, so here goes.

Forgive me if I don’t mention everyone – I have spoken to many of you, including old shipmates from Queen of Bermuda and elsewhere, some of whom I haven’t seen for over forty years.  I note the usual amazing quota of overseas attendees – about one third of you have taken the time and trouble to get here from the USA, Canada, Australasia, South Africa, Ireland and, of course, Bermuda. There is also a fair geographical dispersion of UK guests – of course, since Surrey revoked the Schengen agreement, it is far easier for those residing in Cornwall and north of Watford to obtain visas.

I should, however, mention Allan Davidson and Allen Soares, both of whom have provided us with the most interesting and evocative shows and talks on various aspects of Furness Withy.  I must also mention Allan Davidson’s evocative foreword to the definitive history of Queen of Bermuda and the Furness Bermuda Line by Stephen Card (of whom more in a moment) and Piers Plowman.  I must not fail to mention the doyen of the Furness Bermuda Line, Mr Fred Burney from Ipswich, on what must be his 92nd birthday and unable to be with us.  Please join me in wishing him well and (also) expressing your appreciation of all these people in making this such an enjoyable occasion.

We are also honoured to have a very special guest here tonight – one of the finest marine artists working today, Stephen Card.  Speaking as a rank amateur with a very tenuous connection to marine art via 18th century forebears, one can recognise the spark of talent that inspires his work.  Many of the great sea artists may be singled out from their contemporaries by the fact that they actually served at sea. In the words of Longfellow

                                                                    ‘Wouldst thou – so the helmsman answered

                                                                    Learn the secrets of the sea,

                                                                    Only those who brave its danger

                                                                    Comprehend its mystery’.

 

This vital understanding of the sea shows in Card’s work and he may, with justification, join the ranks of those artists who served at sea or sailed extensively and subsequently portrayed ships of their day at ease with the sea in all its moods;  men such as Pocock, Somerscales, Wyllie, Dawson, Marin-Marie, Shoesmith, masters of their art, whom Stephen Card rightfully joins.

Nobody knows better than me how difficult it is to get everything right and how, sometimes, things are hidden under the cloak of ‘artistic licence’.  Stephen never falls into that trap but if he can spare me a word afterwards, I want to talk to him about a small unimportant detail in ‘Winter Crossing’.

Now, the year before last, I spoke a little about the special pride and relationship that these ships engendered, so much so. That is certainly true.  I have written elsewhere extensively on the maritime history of the UK but I don’t intend to expand on that this evening.  However, without considering the present for once, I must tell you that all of you should be proud to have played an important part in the operation of the finest ships in the finest merchant marine at the finest time in history – truly a golden age, which remarkably disappeared in the space of a few years.

Tonight, instead, I want to talk about two or three people on Queen of Bermuda during my service in that magnificent ship who, in different ways, epitomised the spirit that made that enormous disparate collection of ships and men, known as the merchant marine, so efficient and competent long before the computer age, jumbo jets and containers radically altered the landscape (or, more correctly, the seascape) for ever.

· Magnus Musson, of whom I shall not talk as everyone knows him.

· James Baston. I was pleased to learn that reports of his passing were greatly exaggerated. As senior cadet, I was the Chief Officer’s writer.  Therefore, I did not keep watches and this enabled me to spend longer in my pit.  One day he caught me but I won’t tell you what he said.  On the day he left, his cadets stood on the end of Pier 95 with a banner which read, ‘Goodbye Grim Jim from the Hawks’, at which he pointed his finger and said, ‘I’ll see you!’.

· Percy Bray.  Allan Davidson reminded us this afternoon of Percy who was bosun in my time.  He once saved me from serious injury, when a Belfast seaman didn’t quite see it my way.  Many of you will remember when Lord Martonmere, the new Governor of Bermuda, travelled down with his wife from New York.  Muss decided that the new Governor should leave the ship by Royal Naval launch from ‘C’ deck and I was deputised to organise the reception party on ‘C’ Deck Square, officers, Sparks and Clerks, all in white and Percy Bray behind me.  As Lord Martonmere, exited the elevator in ceremonial attire – large feathered hat, sword etc  -  Percy was heard to say, ‘Blimy, he looks like a Saints supporter!’.

Last time, I closed with a quote from Conrad.  This time, I chose a less well-known author but great Scots seaman, Captain Sir David Bone of the Anchor Line.  Bone (who interestingly had a brother, Muirhead, a very well-known artist), wrote quite a few books, including a minor classic ‘The Brassbounder’, recounting the life of a deck apprentice in the dying days of sail.  The book ends recounting a calm evening in harbour with an old sailor by a dockside:

                                  ‘… what links to the chain of memory may he not forge …

                                  Who knows what kindly ghosts of bygone shipmates walk with him in the night watches

                                  When the dock lies silent and the flickering harbour lights are shimmering

                                  Reflected in a broad expanse?’

 

Please raise your glasses to ‘absent shipmates and the Furness Bermuda Line’.”

 

Copyright, George Swaine, 14 May 2011