A bad week at the office

Postcard of RMS Edinburgh Castle arriving at Capetown.

RMS Edinburgh Castle. Photo: Arthur English Colour Prints (PTY) Ltd.

The R.M.S. Edinburgh Castle (1948 – 1976) was one in a long list of Union-Castle liners that serviced the mail run from England to South Africa for three quarters of the 20th century. We can tell by the angle of the sun in this image, and the choice of berth, that she has just arrived at Cape Town “down coast” from Durban, East London and Port Elizabeth. The doors in her side are already open to receive the gangway and two tugs, unseen on her port side, are pushing her towards the dock. Along with other ‘Castles’ she ran to a regular timetable. Like a bus service. Most of the time.

The message on the back of this card, posted in 1970, reveals that life in a shipping company didn’t always run to plan. Some of the people mentioned here are possibly still alive so I’ll use their initials only.

Dear A.,
We leave Capetown at 4p.m. today. Much delayed arrival yesterday after floods and engine trouble in East London. Its been quite a week for our agents what with a fire on Clan Macinnes, all the mailboats late and someone overboard on the Vaal. Spent the evening with R. H. yesterday. Due to our late arrival N. and I have missed each other but hope to have a quick word with him before we sail. Please excuse writing. I’m standing in Heerengracht [Street, Cape Town] with this balanced on my hand. Regards, R.

Poor ‘R’ was so stressed he didn’t know what month it was. He dated the card 2/7/70 (2nd July) but it should have been 2/9/70 (2nd September). The events he mentions didn’t happen until the last week in August. The Clan Macinnes had a fire in a cargo of charcoal off the S.W. African coast but managed to reach Walvis Bay safely. The now legendary case of ‘man overboard’ happened on 26th August when a male passenger fell from the S.A. Vaal and, against all odds, was rescued 11½ hours later after he was reported missing and the captain retraced the ship’s course.

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