Capt. C R ‘Reg’ Kelso


During my final term in “Conway” – in March 1946 – I decided that I would serve my seafaring cadetship with The Union-Castle Mail Steamship Company and, despite the reservations of the majority of the academic and administrative staff with regard to my ability, I applied for an interview, travelled to Glasgow, had an enjoyable interview and was offered employment, returned to “Conway”, packed my gear and, missing the final examinations, went home to Ireland to prepare for my new career.

A few weeks later, fully kitted-out and not a little apprehensive I took the overnight sailing from Belfast to Glasgow and, on April 3rd. 1946 at 0850 I climbed up the steep gangway of “Good Hope Castle” berthed at No.2 Ballasting Crane, Queen’s Dock. As I stepped aboard a young man in a white jacket appeared from a doorway and said ” Good morning, Sir, have you had breakfast?”  Nobody had ever called me “sir” before and very few (other than my mother) had enquired about my breakfast. I was mightily impressed and I was immediately aware of a feeling of welcome and friendliness – a feeling that was to remain with me for the next 42 happy years.

The ship – an Empire Victory type – had recently been taken over from another company as the “Empire Life” and she was still painted in wartime grey but a few days later – resplendent in a lavender hull (later to be changed to black) and a Union-Castle funnel she sailed out of the Clyde for St.John, New Brunswick, New York, Boston, Baltimore, Philadelphia, Trinidad, South and East Africa, The Suez Canal, Genoa, Barcelona and home to Avonmouth - 5 months almost to the day since we left Glasgow.

My fellow-cadet was an ex “Worcester”, Rodney (Rockie) McNeill and we formed a friendship that survived until his death a few years ago.

I served most of my “time” in “Good Hope Castle” and then after a short trip in “Rowallan Castle” to get the requisite sea time I studied, and in June 1949, sat for my Second Mates Certificate of Competency in Liverpool.

After a brief period on Southampton “Staff” (shore based duties) I joined “Cape Town Castle” as Junior Fourth Officer in early August.

First Mates was taken in Liverpool in 1952 and after further Southampton “Staff” I joined “Bloemfontein Castle” in London as Third Officer, being promoted to Extra Second Officer in 1955. During that brief period of Southampton Staff duties I had cause to experience the care and consideration that the Company extended to its employees. One Saturday afternoon I was Duty Officer in Arundel Castle when I got a message telling me that my father had been seriously injured in an accident in Belfast. I telephoned the “digs” of many of my brother Officers but, to a man, they were either out of town or unobtainable. Finally, in desperation I rang Captain Keen, the Marine Superintendent and told him of my problem. Within an hour Captain Keen and the Assistant Marine Superintendent, Captain Hodson, boarded the ship. I look back on my 42 years in the industry with pride and happiness and today I am still in touch with very many of those –ashore and afloat - whose loyalty and friendship contributed so much to that happiness.

Captain Hodson relieved me as Duty Officer and Captain Keen drove me to my “digs” to collect some gear. He then drove me to the airport, bought me a ticket and I was in Belfast that night. Never did I forget the kindness and consideration of these two very fine gentlemen and, some years later, when I was at home in Ireland anticipating my first Christmas at home for many years I had no hesitation in responding to a gentle request to return to “Kenya Castle – on December 23rd - as my relief had gone down with an illness.

Back to the mail ships “Pretoria Castle” and “Edinburgh Castle” as Second Officer and then back to Liverpool in August 1956 to study for my Masters Certificate of Competency.

I passed the examination in November 1956 and after my first long leave for years I joined “Rochester Castle” as Chief Officer, in Liverpool, on a very cold morning in January 1957.

After service in “Rochester Castle” and “Kenilworth Castle” I was appointed to stand by new buildings in Greenock and sailed out as Chief Officer in “Rotherwick Castle” on her maiden voyage in December 1959. I was meant to make one voyage in her and then return to commission her sistership “Rothesay Castle” but the plan was changed and I joined “Carnarvon Castle” as First Officer in July 61 – a few days after my wedding!

After further spells in “Rotherwick Castle” I returned to the mail ships – “Capetown”,”Edinburgh” and “Windsor” – as First Officer and then transferred to London as Chief Officer of “Kenya Castle”.

And so my career progressed on reasonably “traditional” lines – Staff Commander of “Pendennis Castle” and “Edinburgh Castle” was followed by a period of secondment to the London Office and then a three month secondment to the British Rail Board Centre in Watford for a Work Study Course. In late 1966 I led a team of Officers undertaking a study of the Fire and Emergency Procedures in the passenger vessels. Based in Southampton we made voyages in each mail vessel in turn and our final recommendations were accepted and implemented throughout the Company.

On August 15th. 1967 I was appointed Master of “Gladys Bowater” and proceeded to Northfleet on the 22nd to take up my appointment. We moved from Northfleet to Ridham to finish discharge of cargo and then headed off for Charleston, S.Carolina for another load of newsprint. I made a further voyage to Holmsund and Risor and was on the verge of departing for Charleston again when I was told that I wa