Updated: Apr 5, 2019
By Chris R. Pownall
I wrote about my experiences in the Merchant Navy in my memoirs entitled ‘Funny How Things Work Out’ but wished to record more specific details about the ship on which I sailed. Iserved on the S.S. Talthybius in 1967, when she was operated by the Ocean Steam Ship Co, owners of the famous Blue Funnel Line. In those days Blue Funnel had a fleet of 82 vessels and ran schedule cargo services from the UK to Australia, and the Far East. They also ran similar services out of New York. Until the end of 1966, they carried up to 20 passengers per ship; these were generally very wealthy people that would stay with the ship for the entire voyage, which generally meant, three and a half months away from the UK.
S.S. Talthybius was built as a ‘Victory’ ship, by the United States Maritime Commission, and at the time of her launch in 1944, she was named S.S. Salina. Victory ships were designed and built to replace merchant cargo vessels that had been sunk during WW2. They were some of the first ships to be manufactured with all welded hulls. They were constructed as modular units and assembled in a matter of six weeks, start to finish. Everything about them was very basic as their life expectancy was quite short. In the main, they were used to convoy supplies to Europe and unfortunately, many never completed the Atlantic crossing, falling victim to enemy torpedoes. At the end of the war, Blue Funnel purchased six Victory ships from the US Maritime Commission for what was believed to be £1m. Originally, Talthybius was purchased by the Dutch Blue Funnel Company and renamed S.S. Polydorus. In 1960, she was transferred to the UK Blue Funnel line, at which time she was again renamed, this time to ‘Talthybius’. All Blue Funnel ships where named after characters from Greek Mythology. Talthybius would never have carried passengers, as her accommodation was very small. A typical officers cabin had a small bunk, a single wardrobe, a small settee, a table, and a single chair. There was a small wash basin but no toilet or shower facility. Due to the all welded construction, many of these Victory ships suffered severe damage in heavy seas, and in fact some vessels even sank due to fractured hulls. The Blue Funnel line never lost a ship in peacetime, and received an excellent reference in Winston Churchill’s memoirs.
I joined the Blue Funnel Line as an Assistant Engineering Officer, and following initial training and coasting two main-line vessels, the ‘Hector’ and the ‘Pyrrhus’, I was offered either to sail supernumerary to New York on the Queen Mary, and join a Blue Funnel ship named