Ed Dickinson
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Ed Dickinson - Aberdovey, Wales, 1952


Having applied, straight from Grammar School, to be an Apprentice Deck Officer with the Elder Dempster Shipping Line of Liverpool, successful completion of a course at Aberdovey was required before final acceptance. The cost of £20, together with a pair of stout walking boots was borne by my long suffering parents and I was duly assigned to Course 121 in October of 1952.

My experience was as described by Tony Matthews, even to the rowing of the Master and Engineer ashore, from the Ketch Warspite, at anchor off Abersoch and the instructions to look out for a flashing light, after closing time, which meant that they were ready to by picked up and transported back. Inexperienced young boys, negotiating the rocky approach on a pitch black night would surely be prohibited by the Health and Safety police half a century later.

Another strong memory was of Mr Fuller, fondly nicknamed "Springheel Jack" for his ability to bound up the steepest hill, causing laughter of disbelief when he suggested, as we inspected our blisters after an 8 mile hike, that we would be doing 35 miles in a day before we left Aberdovey. We did just that, including a climb to the top of Cader Idris on the final Sunday of the course. After a month at Aberdovey I was fitter than I had ever been, before or since!

The Outward Bound School was then run by the Blue Funnel Line of Liverpool who supplied Deck Officers and catering staff to help run things and they also owned my prospective employers as well as a Glasgow shipping company and had over 150 ocean going ships altogether. Sadly all are now gone, along with nearly all our old Shipping Lines.

I spent the next ten years serving as Apprentice and then Deck Officer for various shipping Lines before swallowing the anchor and getting married. After which I gained employment with a large Company engaged in the manufacture and worldwide supply of antifoulings etc.

It was over 13 years after Course 121 that I was passing through Aberdovey and called in to the sail loft, where I had spent many a happy hour preparing and then rigging the Warspite sails, to find Bo's'un Stan Hugill was still there.Still unmistakable with his beard and weather-beaten face, he pretended to recognise me and then recounted his experiences lecturing on and singing sea shanties, at various Universities around the country. This had come about at the invitation of someone who had attended an Aberdovey course and eventually, when asked where he had learned these shanties and where a book could be obtained, he was unable to oblige, as they had been learned on the job. On the promise that if he wrote them down, along with a description of the chore they were used to encourage, another Professor assured him that he would get the resulting book published.

Apparently, the resultant sales, on both sides of the Atlantic, resulted in repeat editions and a request from the publisher for another book. I was privileged to be shown the proofs of this book, which was entitled Sailor Town, about all the ports in the World that he had visited in his time at sea. The only subject he could think of to write about.

I never saw Stan Hugill again but read a newspaper critic's report, after it was published, which praised his colourful and descriptive turn of phrase. Many must have heard his BBC radio series, singing and discussing sea shanties and his exploits going aloft during the Tall Ships regatta when in his eighties. A truly remarkable ‘old sea dog’!

I am now retired and it was only after digging out the Aberdovey Course Photograph that I discovered that I was not the only boy from my Grammar School that had attended, though obviously in a different watch. Being a member of the Merseyside Master Mariners Club I have also recognised other faces who have turned out to be members and new friends, all with wonderful tales to tell, many of which have been published in our book called Lantern on The Stern, edited by our Padre, Canon Bob Evans, who is well known on the Merseyside waterfront as an author and for his good works for seafarers.