Memories of Donald Mitchinson

The river at this time was bursting at the seams with ships carrying cargo or being repaired

My first visit to the Tyne was on a wintery Sunday afternoon in 1947. I crossed on the small passenger ferry with a school friend. We were visiting a ship at Smiths Dock where his brother was an engineer. We clambered all over this rusty coal burning tramp ship and were later served tea by a white-coated steward in an oak-panelled saloon. I was hooked for life.

While serving on a tiny 400-ton tanker in the summer of 1953 we loaded petrol and gas oil at Jarrow for such exotic places as Sunderland. It was a delightful change to long sea voyages.

In 1956 while attending a radio course at the Marine School; I took a trip as a supernumerary on an old steam trawler out of North Shields called Lynne Purdy. It had a large Woodbine funnel. I paid ten shillings for insurance. I spent three profitable days fishing on the Dogger Bank and got back in time for the Easter market. I was really seasick and suffered heartburn for six weeks afterwards.

In 1957 I sailed from Smiths on a nine-month voyage, carrying refined oil from the West Indies to Brazil, Ecuador and the U.S.A. I joined another tanker at Smiths in 1959 for a journey to Mexico; it was a real modern ship.

The river at this time was bursting at the seams with ships carrying cargo or being repaired. It would be hard to estimate the number of men employed on or near the waterside. There was no shortage of jobs. I again sailed from the Tyne on a general cargo ship bound for Chicago via Middlesborough and London.

Next followed a spell working out of North Shields repairing and servicing ships radio equipment. On the odd occasion, I went to sea with pilot and compass adjuster to calibrate the direction finder. One time the sea was too bad to disembark on the pilot cutter, so we all sailed to the next port of call – Middlesbrough.

There were times when I travelled to the north bank on the long-gone mid-Tyne ferry.

My next and final ship was a collier taking gas coal to London. Loading places on the Tyne were Harton, Tyne Dock and Pelaw.

During the winter of 1960 — 61 a big storm prevented all sailings from the Tyne for a few days. We were lying at Redheads Buoys. When the weather moderated, we were the second ship to sail with another twenty-four behind us.

The demise of coal exports and ship repairing almost made me weep. But whether anything could have been done to arrest this decline is another matter.

These days we cross on the ferry, have fish and chips at the fish quay and go back again to the car at Mill Dam.

In the past two years, I have walked both banks of the Tyne up as far as Corbridge, noting all the good pubs on the way. But it is the lower reaches with all its youthful memories that are forever etched on my mind.

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