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Tales of a "Vindi Boy", Part Two:
Ghost Ship


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Continued from Part One

INTRODUCTION

Dennis Crosby served aboard the SS Samlorian from July 1944 until December 1945, a total of seventeen months. He next signed aboard the SS Hazelbank, but as he relates in the following story, his time aboard her was cut short after only two weeks because of highly unusual circumstances. A J.O.S. is a Junior Ordinary Seaman. The Manchester Ship Canal was built in 1894 and it connected Eastham, across the Mersey River from Liverpool, with the inland textile manufacturing centre of Manchester. The thirty-six mile long canal made it possible for ocean-going vessels of up to 12,500 GRT to service Manchester.







GHOST SHIP

by Dennis M. Crosby

In January 1946, as an eighteen year old J.O.S., I joined a ship in Salford Docks, Manchester . The ship was the S/S Hazelbank, sailing to New York and onward to New Zealand. After a few days we set sail to traverse the Manchester Ship Canal, which usually was pretty much a full days work, around eight hours, and required passing through four to five locks.
Manchester Ship Canal
During our passage, we were involved in a slight collision with another vessel. However, no serious damage was sustained, except that it caused us to lose time. Eventually because darkness was falling, the Captain decided to tie-up for the night at a place called Partington. A short walk across a field from the ship was a public house which a great many of the crew made for to spend the last evening having a few pints. The following morning it was discovered that the Third Engineer was missing -- the last anyone remembered was seeing him staggering out of the pub at the end of the evening. We never heard anything of him again. Perhaps he fell into the canal, who knows?

Liver Building
Upon reaching Liverpool, the ship anchored off the Liver Buildings and sea watches were set while we waited for a new 3rd engineer to arrive from the shore. This took some time due to it being a Saturday. However, eventually a tug bearing the new engineer came out to the ship. He climbed up a Jacobs ladder on the ships side and as he stepped over onto the deck, he stumbled and fell, breaking his glasses, without which he could hardly see. He was immediately dispatched ashore and another engineer was requested. Of course, all this took time and it became late afternoon. My two watchmates and myself were passing our watch 12-4 pm on the afterdeck when one of the A.B.'s came talking to us, informing us that the other A.B. with whom he was sharing a cabin, intended to smash his head with a hammer just as soon as he fell asleep. As he told us this -- incidently, his name was Michael Finn (Mickey Finn) -- he began to climb over the ship's side informing us that he was not afraid to jump. This was in January and of course, the Mersey was somewhat cold, not exactly recommended for a swim. We pulled this fellow back inboard and the two A.B.'s from the watch reported the incident to the Captain -- his comment being... "Why did you stop him? "

After the evening meal, with me being the youngest of the Deck crew and the "Peggy", it was my job was to clean up the mess and wash the plates and dishes. I had nearly finished doing this when Mickey Finn walked into the messroom and asked me if I could give to him a sheet of writing paper and an envelope. I did so, and then left, leaving him alone in the mess to write his letter, thinking that he intended to perhaps give it to the Pilot when he went ashore. Several of us were in a cabin sharing stories, when about ten minutes later, there was a bloodcurdling scream and a loud splash. Someone shouted, "He has done it!" Everyone immediately scrambled topside to look over the stern, and there was Mickey Finn splashing in the water. We threw several
news clipping seaman missing
news clipping searchlight
life belts to him, but he made no effort to grab one. Several men ran to report to the Captain with a request to lower a boat, which was refused. Instead, the Captain radioed for a Coast Guard boat to come out. In the meantime, Mickey Finn drifted away and eventually he sank below the waves. I never heard whether he was ever recovered.

Later, during our second watch, 12-4 am, it was eerie walking alone on lookout on the pitch dark foredeck, with the anchor light casting strange shadows and all the creaks and groans from the blocks and running tackle. The vision of this fellow drowning was very fresh in one's mind. The next morning, the crew held a meeting and it was decided to refuse to sail in this ship. When informed, the Captain sent ashore for a Union representative, and several from the Shipping Office. We were confronted with these people and asked why we refused to sail in the ship. We explained that too many incidents had happened in the short time since leaving Manchester and it was felt that this was not a lucky ship. It was said that one could feel the presence of Mickey Finn still.

news clipping ghost walked deck
The following morning a tug came alongside and took us all off with our luggage. We then reported to the Shipping Office where we were "Paid Off" and each handed a summons to appear immediately in court. There we were lined before a Magistrate and asked how we pleaded. We were then informed that we could be jailed for three months, or fined. Then we were advised to obtain a lawyer and were bound over until the following week. The next day there was quite a large item in the newspaper regarding the incident. However, when the Sunday News Of The World appeared, it carried large screaming headlines.... "Ghost Walks Ship's Deck,
news clipping haunted ship men discharged
Crew Refuses To Sail" and of course, the tale was greatly embellished. When later we all appeared in court again, the Judge found us all guilty, but bound us over under the under the Probationers Act. Each of us however, was given a bad discharge by the Master of the ship.

THE END





Tales of a "Vindi Boy" is continued in Part Three: MV Pontfield Memories


Return to Tales of a Vindi Boy, Part One


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Dennis' pages are maintained by Maureen Venzi and are part of The Allied Merchant Navy of WWII website.