Robert Royan
Back to alumni stories

Robert Royan - Aberdovey, Wales, 1945

At this time a group of cadets from the 4th term at Conway were sent to Aberdovey numbering around 12. Others came from shipping companies prior to going to sea, most of whom were from Alfred Holt, the company that owned the Blue Funnel Shipping Company. There was also a group of boys from the London area who had appeared before the magistrate for some misdemeanour and been sent to Aberdovey for training prior to being found employment, possibly at sea. You will see that we were quite a diverse group from all parts of the UK and from a variety of backgrounds.

I was at Aberdovey from the 24th November until the 20th December 1945. When we arrived at the sea school, I, along with others was housed in the manor house of the estate. We were 6-8 boys in a room, each will a bunk and a small locker. On arrival we were mustered and told of our routine and the rules we had to follow. No smoking and no alcohol of any kind. As I remember, Saturday afternoon was free time to go to the village if we had any money to spend or just for a look around.

Turn to time was 06.30am and then in a vest and shorts we ran down the drive from the house to the entrance gates and back again, urged on by two merchant navy officers in uniform and wearing duffel coats against the cold! At the end of the run we proceeded to the Old Stables where each stall, of which there was six as I recall, each was fitted with a shower head. The water supply came from a tank in the loft supplied directly from a mountain stream which ran nearby. In frosty weather, which was quite common, the ice in the tank has been broken to allow the water to flow. We boys in turn had to have a shower, supervised by these officers with stop watches to a set time. We all hated them!
After showering and dressing we proceeded to the mess room where we had breakfast. Here, I have to say, was the best part of the course. Plain, well cooked food in plenty for very hungry boys. After the food on “Conway”, it was heaven we thought.

After breakfast we were lined up to be given the day’s schedule. Each of us, as I recall, having to take a spoonful of cod liver oil. To keep well, I suppose. However, I do not remember anyone going sick or even having a cold. The daylight hours were taken up by physical exercise and athletics with a break for a midday meal. After the evening meal we went to evening classes on various subjects including seamanship and being able to read the ordnance survey maps, as well as how to use a pocket compass. One evening a week we had to in turn give a talk on where we came from, what we did for a hobby, if any, and what we hoped to achieve after leaving Aberdovey. This was very interesting as we all came from different backgrounds and quickly realised how fortunate we were compared to some of the boys who had been in trouble in the London area. In general, these London lads revelled in the physical and were better than most of us at the sea training.

There was a Captain Fuller in overall charge and in charge of athletics there was a father and son team (The Zimmerman’s) from Gordonstoun School which during the war was situated in Wales. After the war it returned to Elgin in Morayshire which was my home town. The Zimmerman’s had to flee Germany when Hitler came to power. When the opportunity arose, they would tell me how much they looked forward to returning to Morayshire.

Our group did a spell on the “Prince Louis” which belonged to Gordonstoun School. It had been a sailing pilot boat in the Baltic at the turn of the century. Our trip was in very bad weather and we had to pull in to Fishguard for shelter one evening. Most of us had been seasick and hunched about and were quite unsteady when we stepped on to the quayside.I had been away on fishing boats before joining the “Conway” so was not as affected as some of the others. A real taste of how the sea could be....

Our final task at Aberdovey was called the Land Expedition. The evening before we were made up of teams of eight and I was affronted leader of our team. Each team was given a route over the mountains, the ordnance survey map of the area, a compass and a torch with spare batteries. After an early breakfast next morning we were each given a packet of food and boarded an ancient bus and drove off in to the dark. Each team was dropped off at a different place, which we knew on the map, with the aim of returning to the school in the same route given the night before. By the time we left the bus it was just getting light. We headed off, fully aware of the long road ahead, over rough ground, and ready for the challenge.

About midday we were enclosed in a hill mist which was not ideal and at one stage were aware of a shepherd’s cottage which we decided to check our position from. No one answered the door when we knocked however I was suddenly aware of someone looking at us from behind a curtain. In fairness, we must have looked tough and the occupant probably only spoke Welsh. We resumed our track and the mist lifted and it did not rain. It was quite dark by the time we sighted the lights of the school and soon reported in. We were not the first but not the last either. Now warmed up, dry clothes and a good meal and we retired to bed very tired. Looking back it was quite a feat but I am sure there were monitors en route but we never saw them. In the present day it would not be allowed.

We all left the next day by train for home, the “Conway” team having ended. I then did my final challenge – Aberdovey to Bangor, to Llandudno Junction, Crewe station where I boarded the London to Inverness train and finally to Elgin home for Christmas.

I hope this will prove of some use to you about the early days of The Outward Bound Sea School. It has bought back memories for me.