|In 1948 there were five coastal craft in the 'alkali' fleet, taking goods from Winnington, Wallerscote or Fleetwood to large ports such as Glasgow and Dublin, or carrying limestone from the North Wales Quarries. They, and their sister ships saw the worst of the second World War - the "Weston" and the "Beeston" were in the ferry services to the Normandy Beach Heads - and 'there are many tales of gallantry still to be told.' Here are three such stories related by Capt. Griffiths, Marine Superintendant in 1948.
The "Jolley Days"
The "Jolley Days" was lying in Liverpool during the heavy blitz. The crew did not, as many would have done, seek shelter, but remained on board knowing that a hit or near miss would have meant death to all owing to the smallness of the vessel.
They not only fought fires on their own vessel, but also put out fires on other craft in dock, after the crews of these other craft had gone to cover. These fires were tackled when the fire brigades were more than fully occupied with major fires in the immediate area. The "Jolley Days" was saved, but larger and better manned vessels were gutted.
The "Jolley Days" later on a trip around the coast, in foul weather, with a rough sea, sighted a seaplane in distress, which had made a crash landing on what was understood to be a mined area. Without thought of danger the "Jolley Days" steamed into the mine field, launched a boat and took off survivors, one with a broken leg. The rescue was carried out with great difficulty in a rough sea. In order to give every assistance the lifeboat was manned with the whole of the deck department, leaving only the Captain with two engineers on board to handle the vessel and pick up the lifeboat. An added difficulty was fading light.
The Captain of the "Jolley Days" has been awarded the M.B.E. for this exploit.
The Last Voyage of the "Calcium"
The "Calcium" and "Sodium" left port for a voyage from Fleetwood to North Wales, knowing that a number of mines had been dropped off the Welsh coast during the night, and some part of their route lay off the beaten track, in a channel which could only be swept after the deeper channels had been cleared for Atlantic Convoys.
While en route the "Calcium" set off an acoustic mine which, owing to her size, meant that there was no chance of her remaining afloat. The "Sodium" at once went to her assistance, rescuing the crew of whom some were injured.
It was found on the check-up that the Fireman was missing. The Captain of the "Calcium," although injured, crawled along the dark alley way in an attmept to rescue the Fireman. He eventually found the Fireman apparently dead in the Bunker, but would not leave the body on board, as there might have been the chance of a spark of life remaining. In any case, he wanted to bring the Fireman home to his people.
The Chief Engineer reboarded from the "Sodium," which had remained alongside in spite of a choppy sea. He assisted the Captain of the "Calcium" to drag the Fireman onto the deck from which he was transferred to the "Sodium".
The Captain and Chief Engineer of the "Calcium" were awarded George Medals for this exploit.
The End of a Carrier
The "Lithium" left port on a fine summer afternoon in 1943, her crew thinking of little except the catching of the tide at home port next day, picturing a night at home and the fresh, sweet cabbages and peas in their gardens. The Captain had finished his Pilotage and lingered on the Bridge, talking to the Mate. The sun was warm and there seemed no reason for going below. Besides, there was an Aircraft Carrier passing with planes operating above her. A plane circled and landed on the flight deck. In an instant a terrific explosion occurred ; the Carrier became a mass of flames, her men jumping into the sea as she burned.
The "Lithium" was at once turned round and approached this inferno, dropping a boat clear of the now burning sea. The Captain of the "Lithium" placed his ship between the swimming survivors and the flames in an attempt to cut them off from the fire. The smoke and heat were sometimes so intense that navigating could only be done from the lower deck.
The only survivors picked up were those the "Lithium" saved. Although numbering 60 odd, they were but a fraction of the number lost.
"Let us ask the survivors what they thought of the "Lithium".......They will never forget the men who rescued them, tended their burns, lent them clothes, cleaned them of fuel oil and filled them with tea- men who considered that they had only done a normal job of work."