Cooking on a Flat Iron

With her being a coal burner there was soot and smoke everywhere!

I was a ship’s cook when I was at sea and SS Tyndall was the second and last coaster I sailed on. She was what was called a Flat Iron, so called because when we went under the bridges on the Thames to reach the power stations such as Battersea, the masts telescoped down and the funnel was pulled flush with the deck.

With her being a coal burner there was soot and smoke everywhere. She was built in 1932 so she was old even when I sailed on her. The accommodation for the crew was poor and consisted of what was called open fo’c’s’le. This meant that the 6 deck hands ate and slept in the same cabin as did the engine room ratings in their cabin, and the catering ratings, including myself, in our cabin. Not the conditions I was used to on the deep sea ships I normally sailed on. She was also one of the worst sea ships I sailed on, the saying being that she would “roll on wet grass.” I have never been seasick but on the Tyndall I was pretty close on quite a few occasions.

In the one man galley I cooked for 18 officers and men. When I took over, I cleaned it up as well as I could, but nobody seemed to care. We had a coal burning stove, but the bread was bought ashore. I would learn enough to be asked to join a deep sea ship as chief and ships cook.

I had not intended to stay on this vessel for more than a couple of months – life on a coaster is quite boring, as I was a deep sea man and I wanted off, but was on her for over six months eventually. I was still only 21 so I suppose I had plenty time, also, with never being at sea for more than one night at a time I couldn’t get enough money together to afford to leave. Going ashore every night didn’t help.

We often reached the Thames to be told that our cargo wasn’t needed yet, so we tied up at buoys near Bermondsey and waited until we were needed. Our best friends during this layover were the Thames River Police who gave us lifts ashore on their fast police launches. Without their help we would have been stuck aboard. Very often all the crew went home for the weekends so there was only me and a watchman aboard. The crew all came from the Grimsby area and were all married, so I had to go ashore on my own both in London and up north.

I signed on as a cook in September 1955, did two voyages and signed off completely in March 1956. We did trips between Grimsby, London, Dunkirk, Antwerp, Immingham and Hull. My weekly pay was £8.17.11d, allotment home £16 p/m and pay off £15. The captains at that time were F. Crouch and J. Smith. M. Fisher was the steward.

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