Eric Simpson Stewart
In 1932, while an electrical apprentice at the yard, one of the older ships, I think it was the WALMER CASTLE, ( 906grt. Built by Harland & Wolfe, Belfast, 1902: 336 First Class, 174 Second class, 244 Third class. Broken up, Blyth 1932 )was destined to be broken up. During the process, it was quite normal to remove everything that was portable, including furniture, china, lifeboats etc. Well in such a situation, I bought a lifeboat from the Company. It was 32 feet long, with a beam of 8 1/2 feet. It was a clinker type boat, with cross thwarts and all teak. However when we dropped it into the RIVER LEA, it leaked so bad, that it sank up to the gunwale. A Mr. Richardson, the CHIEF SHIPWRIGHT, said do not worry, in an hour or so she will swell out and tighten up. For the run down the THAMES, I had plenty of help. My Dad, Dick Mills, Tommy Clarke and Vic Randle, but the only one who knew what he was doing Dad. In a short time, he had a sail up, and therefore we went down the Thames under sail. We moored it at the town quay in Barking, and it was not long before it carried the name ELECTRA. We had a great deal of help from a manager of a plant close to the town quay named JOHNSON. Among other things, he cast a new propeller. We fitted it out as a sleeper and ultimately it had 4 bunks, a toilet and even a small range.
After spending the years 1929-1934 at the yard, by which time I had rewound some hundreds of armatures, our boss called me into his office, and told me that he had a ship for me, it is building in BELFAST and it is called ROSLIN CASTLE. ( 7017grt. Harland & Wolfe, Belfast, 1935: Broken up Kaohsiung 1971 ) Plan to go up there during the next few weeks. We will pay your expenses. In some ways, I was sorry to leave the yard, and all the good men there. Up until this time, we had been living at 166 Perth Road. I think in a mild sort of sense, we were seen as a MARINE FAMILY. Dad had spent many years at sea, my brother JAMES also spent years at sea, and I of course spent the years 1934-1946 at sea.
Dad was a wonderful gardener and spent hours in the garden, but all this apart, I never really liked Perth Road.
So in the year 1934, off I go to Belfast shipyard. New suit, new tie and an old suitcase. From the year 1934 I was on the ROSLIN CASTLE. It had interesting runs. ANTWERP, HAMBURG, NEW YORK, SOUTH AMERICA, EAST AFRICA, BIERA, CUBA and a good deal more of other places.
In 1937, however, I was transferred to a new mail passenger vessel then building in Belfast. It was to be called the CAPETOWN CASTLE. ( 27002grt. Built by Harland & Wolfe, Belfast, 1938 290 First class, 500 Cabin class: broken up in Spezia 1967 ) In some ways, I was sorry to, leave the ROSLIN.
It had been a very good crowd on board including SAMUAL GRAHAM MCDOWELL, your mothers brother. We nearly always went ashore together. He was a good fellow and we took to each other quickly. I believe he was the forth engineer. From 1937-1939 I was on the CAPETOWN. It was quite different in many ways. For example, dress was very important. Meals were a first class menu. All that sort of thing.
In 1939 I was sent again to Belfast where another new vessel, the PRETORIA CASTLE, ( 17, 383grt: Built by Harland & Wolfe, Belfast: 220 First, 335 Cabin class: 1942 bought by the Admiralty and converted to an aircraft carrier: 1946 Bought back by Union-Castle renamed WARWICK CASTLE and re-converted to passenger: broken up Barcelona 1962 )was being constructed.
In the mean time, everything was going ahead, and when war was declared, we were in CAPE TOWN, SOUTH AFRICA. By December of that year, we were married in what is known as SEVEN KINGS. The following day, I was required to return to my ship, which was down in a south coast port (PORTLAND BILL)
During the early years of the war, we were on convoy duty from what was known as the ATLANTIC approaches, and then down to FREETOWN, SIERRA LEON. From the WESTERN approaches, we would sail round the north of IRELAND, and then down to Freetown. In 1942, we went up to NEWCASTLE to convert to an AIRCRAFT CARRIER. This took about 8 months, during which the only permanent staff were the Captain, the Engineer Commander and myself. There was a lot involved. One of my secondary jobs was the anti-magnetic mine or torpedo that the Germans would fire at the convoys.
All in all, I was on the PRETORIA CASTLE from 1939 to 1946, at which time I was released from the vessel and Union Castle Line. I left with the rank of Lieutenant (RNVR).