Sea Stories

The Deck Boy who Made History

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When in 1959 Michael Walsh was offered a deck boy’s job on the MV Britannic it never entered his head that he had been chosen by fate to be the final link in an ocean-going epic.

Fresh out of sea training school the 16-year-old cadet leaning slightly forward placed his signature on the ship’s articles. Returning the pen to the ship’s officer he thus became the last deck boy on the last ocean liner in the colours of the White Star Line.

TOP. Michael Walsh a sea cadet at Sharpness Sea Training School in Gloucestershire. BELOW: A few months later as a deck boy at the fo’cs’le bell of MV Britannic whilst moored at New York’s Pier 92. At just 16-years of age he was co-opted to lead the junior seamen’s gang of toughies touring the bars and saloons of Hell’s Kitchen situated on Manhatton’s West Side.

From the liner’s rain-soaked mooring at Liverpool’s Pier Head, he could see Albion House. The former head office of the Oceanic Steamship Company otherwise known as the White Star Line. In 1912, from the building’s windows were tossed scrawled notes bearing the names of survivors from the RMS Titanic catastrophe. It was a crude way to inform wailing relatives but Albion House those fateful days was besieged by hysterical people.

Still standing today Albion House HQ of White Star Line from which building’s windows were thrown scraps of paper with the names of survivors from the RMS Titanic catastrophe were thrown to hysterical crowds below. 

Albion House remains today as it did then but the MV Britannic, the last of the company’s great ocean liners has since gone to the scrapyards.

When on New Year’s Eve, the deck boy now a Junior Ordinary Seaman (JOS) signed off the Britannic it had completed its final transatlantic regular voyage after three decades of service.

During his 10 months as a rating on the RMS Britannic ~ the liner was licenced to carry Royal Mail, Michael had acquired his Steering Ticket and his Lifeboat Ticket.

Life on board for Michael and other of the ship’s crew was far from routine. Under officer’s orders he had risked the wrath of the gods by literally skimming at full speed the Irish coast; an equivalent to a pilot flying under Tower Bridge. He had also sliced an Atlantic whale in half, had fought with bare knuckles, and been befriended by legends of the liner.

The audacious and precocious ship’s rating earned a reputation as a gang leader in the notoriously tough Hell’s Kitchen situated on the West Side of Manhattan. He was mentored by Bosun’s Mate the Manxman Joe Kieg who routinely decked the toughest seamen as they drank in waterfront saloons. He had watched aghast as the same buccaneering bosun smashed to pulp a notorious fighting cook whilst the Cunard’s Commodore and liner’s captain looked on and then looked away.

Was it a good time to be alive? Michael Walsh smiles: ‘Just being alive was enough.’

The great liners and the golden days of oceangoing superliners are now gone as have their crews and they have taken their stories with them. For this reason, the recollections of one of the last and indeed possibly the last living witness to tell his story is a last testament to the White Star Line.

The famous and for some infamous shipping line had endured the worst maritime disasters in history at the time. The White Star Line had grown rich carrying prospectors to the Australian and Yukon gold rushes.

The MV Britannic had sailed across the graves of mariners, shipwrecks and the last resting place of the ill-fated RMS Titanic. In his true story, the appropriately titled BRITANNIC WAIVES THE RULES, Michael Walsh has penned a very fitting tribute to the one shipping line that made history more than did any other shipping company.

Related books: The Leaving of Liverpool, Britannic Waives the Rules: Last of the White Star Liners, UNTOLD SAGAS OF THE SEA Volume I (The USAThe UK), UNTOLD SAGAS OF THE SEA Vol II (The USAThe UK), UNTOLD SAGAS OF THE SEA VOL. III ( The USA and The UK) UNTOLD SAGAS OF THE SEA VOL. IV ( The USA and The UK) and All I Ask is a Tall Ship by Liverpool writer Michael Walsh

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