Veteran Stories:
George McBain

Merchant Navy

  • George McBain's Merchant Navy identification card showing his photo and fingerprints. Collection courtesy of Mr. McBain's daughter, Jean Cameron.

  • George McBain started sailing at the age of thirteen on his father schooner Gladstone. He did not like being an apprentice on this ship but spent a career on the seas.

  • George McBain's continuous certificate of discharge from the period 1912-1941. During World War I, George worked on transport service between the United States and the UK.

  • George's continuous certificate of discharge from the period 1941-1953 shows that he was working on transports between England and Europe.

  • From 1953 to 1961, when he ended his Merchant Navy career, George was doing trips to England and Scotland.

    From 1953 to 1961, when he ended his Merchant Navy career, George was doing trips to England and Scotland.
  • The cover of one of George McBain's continuous certificates of discharge.

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"He served all through the First World War, and twice he left ships and they were torpedoed on the next voyage, so he felt very lucky."

Transcript

I'm Jean Cameron, and my father was George McBain, who was born in 1890. He went to sea in about 1903, when he was about thirteen, with his father who had a sailing ship, and they used to sail around Cape Horn to Chile to collect nitrates, which is what seagulls leave behind.

His father was something of a tyrant, so he left the sailing ship and went to school and became an engineer, and went to sea for the first time in 1912. He was twenty-two, and he was a Fourth Engineer. He served all through the First World War, and twice he had left ships and they were torpedoed on the next voyage, so he felt very lucky.

In 1939, when the Second World War broke out, he joined the Royal Fleet Auxiliary as a First Engineer Officer – Chief Engineer – and he served with them right through the war on tankers and explosives/munitions ships.

Right through the war, and on into the '50s when he would have been in his sixties, and one thing I do remember: He was at (Terminal Leave?) and the Admiralty called him in a rush to go to Barrie, which was a south Wales port. The Chief on the – I think it was the Wave Victor – had suddenly taken sick, and the ship was sailing that night for the Persian Gulf. So it was a great rush by taxis and trains to get to Barrie, and he took over the ship just as she was leaving, as Chief Engineer. My mother and I had gone to bed, and I heard on the radio that night that an Admiralty tanker was ablaze in the Bristol Channel. So we phoned the Admiralty and they didn't know, but as it turned out, it was the Wave Victor, which he had just joined. He stayed onboard. The Captain and the crew all abandoned ship. My father stayed aboard and wouldn't let the private salvage companies put a line on the ship, which would have cost the Admiralty millions of pounds, until the Admiralty tug came and towed the ship back. He should have had a medal, but instead there was a call of inquiry, of which he was totally exonerated, because he hadn't been in charge of the engine room when it caught fire – he'd only just arrived. Then he retired when he was sixty-five from the Admiralty and went to a shipping company that sailed to the Mediterranean. A Chief Engineer, and he carried on until he was seventy-one or seventy-two, doing that, and then he retired and he lived to be ninety.

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