Reg Kelso
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Reg Kelso - Aberdovey, Wales, 1945


The “Outward Bound” Sea School at Aberdovey in Wales was established in 1941
by two remarkable men, Kurt Hahn and Lawrence Holt. The former was the founder of Gordonstoun School (the precursor of Outward Bound) whose motto was “There is more in you than you think” and the latter was a Manager with Alfred Holt and Company, a Liverpool based steamship company. Hahn was a pioneer in “experience education” based on his firm belief that each of us has more courage, strength and compassion than we know –and Holt was a pioneer in shipboard education and training based, to a large degree, on Hahn’s philosophy.
In 1916, Holt responded to the shortage of qualified Deck officers in the United Kingdom’s Merchant Navy by introducing internal training facilities for those aspiring to be Deck Officers in Alfred Holt & Company (subsequently known as The Blue Funnel Line) and before going to sea these young men were sent to Aberdovey for a month’s course to prepare them for the relatively testing conditions of a seafaring career. Holt, and the Blue Funnel Line, also maintained a lifetime interest in the schoolship “HMS Conway” and, on completion of their two years aboard “Conway” many cadets elected to join that steamship company as “Midshipmen” and serve with them until retirement.
Subsequently, undoubtedly due to the influence of Lawrence Holt and The Blue Funnel Line all “Conway” Cadets attended a month long course at Aberdovey during their last year of training.
I joined HMS Conway in April 1944 and, insofar as I can recall with clarity the events of 65 years ago, I was dispatched to Aberdovey in October 1945 in company with a number of other cadets (6?) in my term. The war had finished some five months before but travel conditions were still Spartan and when we arrived at Penhelig station we were cold, tired and very hungry. I think we walked to the school (Bryneithyn?) and when we arrived we were greeted by a charming Scottish lady (Miss Hamilton?) who directed us to “the dining room” – an expression seldom used aboard ”Conway.”.
The memory of that evening meal lingered with me for many years thereafter –as indeed did the catering throughout our stay –and, after the frugal fare of the training ship’ meals at Aberdovey were invariably a delight. Despite the fact that wartime rationing was still in force Aberdovey boasted a plentiful supply of almost all the goodies we were deprived of in Bangor and the skills of the kitchen staff vastly exceeded those of the Blue Funnel Chinese caterers seconded to the ship.
After dinner we were shown our sleeping accommodation and when we arrived we found four others in occupation. They were not too friendly and I, for one, had the utmost difficulty in understanding anything they said. Subsequently, it transpired that they were from the east end of London and that they had been caught “nicking” from a blitzed building. Initially, they were positively hostile and on several occasions we nearly came to blows but, as the course progressed, their attitude changed, we became firm friends and, indeed, one of them (Eddie?) kept in touch with me for some months thereafter.
One of our supervisors was a young Third Officer from Blue Funnel (Barry Philips?) who had been torpedoed twice in quick succession although he never spoke of it. Another Officer was a tanker man (Mr.Crockett?) and we were told that he had been found frozen to a liferaft near to Murmansk: the sole survivor of a T2 tanker sunk by German aircraft.
Athletics were under the control of a Dr.Peter Zimmerman whose father, also a Doctor, was also on the Aberdovey staff and the administration of the school was undertaken by Captain Fuller – an ex Blue Funnel Chief Officer who had survived for more than a month in an open boat in the Atlantic. To a man – and woman – the staff was friendly and efficient and our evenings “discussion groups” were invariably interesting and educational, based on the concept “There is more in you than you think”.
The day started with a cold shower and I MEAN cold. The shower water flowed down from the hills behind Bryneithyn and there was no hot water supply to the showers.
Early each morning a pretty young lady (occasionally two) would appear from the farm further up the valley bringing the daily supply of fresh milk. I have a faint recollection that her name was Bronwyn but, despite our best efforts to engage her in conversation I never heard her utter a word!
The entire course was truly enjoyable but, for me, the highlight was the three day cruise in Cardigan Bay aboard the schooner “Prince Louis”. The weather was not always kind to us and our “Cockney” shipmates were “poor sailors” initially but they soon discovered that it was unwise to be sick over the windward side. We sailed into Abersoch and we rowed the Master ashore to visit friends who entertained him royally. The London lads loved going aloft and even when they were still being seasick they volunteered for every job aloft – but baulked at galley duties.
Our map reading skills were tested by being taken some miles from Aberdovey (by lorry?) in the early morning and then left to find our way home using a map and compass. I still recall the sense of unease (terror?) I experienced when we were chased by a huge black bull and became utterly disorientated in a thicket. We were very glad to see Bryneithyn loom out of the darkness of a Welsh winter evening and then sit down to a plate of real Irish stew.
A week later we returned to “Conway” with fond memories of our Aberdovey experience and I, for one, was totally convinced that there was MORE in ME than I had ever thought.

Captain C.R.Kelso, M.B.E, F.N.I.
Conway Cadet 1944-1946