My Life in China

William Elmgreen

© John Elmgreen 2007

26 Feb 07 / 1245am

Editor's Note: The following is an extract from the autobiography of my late father, William Elmgreen, which he wrote in the late 1970s and early 1980s but which has never previously been published in whole or in part. It has been edited by me.

My father was born on 1 March 1902 in Denmark, grew up in Lemvig in Jutland, and qualified as an engineer in Denmark. In the 1920s, he worked initially for the Scandanavian American Line on Atlantic crossings, before returning to Denmark to gain higher engineering qualifications, for which he studied in 1926. In 1927, he took a job with the Danish Great Northern Telegraph Company in Shanghai, where he was based until 1940, with two home leaves (1933 and 1939). During the war, he went to Australia where he met and married my mother Marjorie and settled for the rest of his life, in Sydney. He died there on 8 May 1990.

This tells of his life in Shanghai, but omits (out of respect for my mother, who died in 2002) reference to his first wife Luba Elmgreen (a White Russian, born 25 June 1904 in Siberia) and a daughter Rebecca Elmgreen who was born in Shanghai on 30 July 1926. This was before my father went there, and she is therefore assumed to have been from an earlier marriage of Luba.

1927: A job with the Great Northern Telegraph Company in Shanghai

On the last day of our exams, when we were doing eight hours of engine drawing, an ad appeared in the biggest Copenhagen paper:

Positions open for a fourth and fifth engineer in the Great Northern Telegraph Company's two Cable Steamers, stationed at Shanghai, China. Contact the Chief Personnel Officer from 9 am for interview at our Office, Kongens Nytorv.

Unfortunately, I was one of 85 hopefuls prevented from calling on the day the ad appeared, but I was at the office before any of my colleagues, ready to face the much too well known Chief.

I looked at him when I was called in: he was a great man, with personality to suit: a man on whose toes no-one would deliberately tread - including me. The interview was long and thorough.

"What number were you?", was his first question. "Number five of 85", I answered proudly - no comment. Then he examined my Higher School Certificate and my Technical Qualifications. "Not bad", he said, when all of a sudden a reference from my High School headmaster turned up. "That is the worst reference I have ever seen!" was his reaction - no wonder! He looked at me: "Were you really as bad as that? or would you say he was a bit unfair?" he added. "No, I don't think it was unfair," I admitted. "Then you must have been a very bad boy!" was his next comment. "In the Headmaster's opinion, yes.", I said. I added: "I would rather not go into any further details, Sir, if you don't mind.". I was surprised when he replied, "Very well, we shall change the subject - I am not in favour of references anyway." Ten seconds later, I thought I would fall off my chair, when he said: "But I think you are the kind of man we can use in our company. You will have to sign your contract now. I have interviewed no less than 57 applicants yesterday and I want it finished now." I signed the contract, half unconsciously. "I wish you luck!" he said, when he shook my hand. I staggered out of his office, passing a tall man sitting in the outer office. I found out later that he had been accepted as fourth engineer ahead of me. This was not dificult to accept when I learned that he was a year older than I was, had already sailed as a Chief Engineer on a small steamer, and had been No 3 of 85. When I met my colleague the next day, we both laughed at our appointments as 4th and 5th engineers on the cable steamers They were still the best jobs in the world, we both agreed. I have never changed my mind about that.

The following day, we received our degrees and were loudly cheered by our colleagues when they heard about our good luck. I looked at the two who had called us the 'two brothers from the bush'.

Afterwards, we had to appear before our Personnel Chief again, this time to show our latest credentials. We were told we would be sent to Shanghai by ship from Marseilles. I had the nerve to ask our new superior for an advance to see us through the following fortnight. The boss gave each of us a cheque for 200 Kr, quite a sum, which we cashed downstairs in the private bank.

My father was pleased when I rang him and told him about my good fortune, but my sister was in tears, because I had signed on for three years in China.

I returned to Lemvig for a fortnight's holiday. I was mentioned in dispatches in the local papers. I did not then realize that my new appointment with The Great Northern would many years later give me the key to the gateway of Australia, where I finally settled for life.

My holidays had gone in a flash and soon my colleague and I were on our way by train to Paris, where we spent nearly our entire travelling allowance having a wonderful time. Next stop, Marseilles, where in a restaurant we both pretended we were drunk. We were immediately surrounded by lovely girls, who wanted Champagne. They went real mad when they realized we had been financially sterilized in Paris. The manager was very polite about it. He promised he would not call the Police if we would leave quietly. One of the girls showed her tongue, when we left without a sound.

S/S Kamo Maru of Japan was our next home, the following month, carrying us all the way to Shanghai. Onboard, we could drink as much as we liked by signing our names and this we did to such an extent, that our combined debt had swollen to ¡ê80 when we arrived.

Having beaten all previous records in the history of the Great Northern, a kind cableman, by the name of Caruso - the funniest man, I have known - took a rickshaw to the Hong Kong Shanghai Bank and later proudly produced the cash. He said, "We are greatly honoured, being able to help two champions out of their troubles."

After I had settled down on the cable steamer Pacific, the bigger of the two, our colleagues put us through a kind of drinking test, starting in the morning and continuing almost until the next morning. "Old Tradition", said Caruso, the Second Engineer. He thought it was a good way of finding out what we were really like. He also told us there were no drinking restrictions onboard, as long as it did not interfere with our work, and we did not behave like idiots. We didn't, although we consumed a lot more than we wanted. Later, Caruso said, "You passed your initiation test like grown men. You should make good cablemen - we don't repeat a test like the one you passed". It gave me the impression that we had joined a crowd of heavy drinkers, but after many cable years I would leave out the word: 'heavy'.

In the following few days, we became acquainted with the enormous cable machinery onboard, with water-cooled brake drums almost 6 ft in diameter, the most essential parts of the machinery. The dynamometers are equally important, showing the stress borne by either the cable being laid or by the grapnel rope, during grapling for the cable on the bottom of the ocean. The bottom was often far below the surface - on my last deep sea operation, 3.6 Nautical miles below. The brake blocks on the giant drums: English elmwood, nearly a foot square and about two inches thick. In order to polish the brake surfaces, if necessary, or to give the brakes more friction, we used something we called bath bricks, like pumice stone.

Many have asked me: "Do divers go down and find the cables?" The answer is: "Never. The Oceans are much too deep for divers to walk about in."

The other cable steamer, Store Nordiske - in English: Great Northern - was slightly smaller then the Pacific, but more modern and designed for cable-laying over hundreds of miles as well as repairs. Accommodation on both steamers was good and the food and service excellent. The Chinese usually served English dishes for dinner, but they knew quite a few Danish ones (since 1869?). The menu cards had pictures of the cable steamers on them and were typed daily by the Steward. The Store Nordiske was the most beautiful in any harbour, usually referred to as: The Millionaire's Yacht, snow white with a raked stem, like a yacht, well known in all Chinese ports. Laundry was cheap onboard. Every piece cost about one U.S.Cent, whether a pair of socks or a white uniform coat. It was all picked up and returned automatically.

The messroom on the Pacific was big and half of it was used as a lounge, where drinks were served. In the Store Nordiske, the messroom was smaller, but in addition, there was a large lobby outside. You cannot help getting the opinion that in any part of the Far East the most important places were where drinks were served.

The decks on the two cable steamers were teak and polished by the Chinese sailors, using sand and half coconuts which they pushed along with their bare feet (old imperial style?). The average Chinaman's pay was about ¡ê1 a month. The Fitter on the Store Nordiske would get three times that and be allowed to smoke. The Chinese kept their own cooks and supplied their own food.

If the Chinese had to work round the clock, which happened quite often at sea, they were given what they called Largie Chow, and the Company paid for it. The Chinese would be in a happy mood, laughing and eating lots of food and drinking rice-wine: their overtime pay!

Our Chinese were skilled and conscientious and didn't often make mistakes. The great grandfathers of some had been employed by our company years ago and I am sure some of our men were looking forward to getting their sons employed onboard.

From the day we arrived, we had to learn Pidgin English. No other language was ever used when we communicated with our Chinese.

Our crew numbered between 60 and 70 Chinese and 10 officers: five Engineers, Captain and four deck officers, plus two or three technicians - all Danish. Our technicians had been trained at the company's technical department in Copenhagen. They did all the testing at sea, when we had hooked the cable and connected. Their instruments were located in a large test room on deck, where their mirror Galvanometer was installed with the large mirror situated directly opposite in the other end of the test room.

I should like to tell you about an ordinary cable repair. Our Danish, Shanghai-Nagasaki cable has broken down near Japan. The cable steamer, C/S Store Nordiske is moored at two large buoys in the middle of Shanghai Harbour, the Whangpoo River. A deck officer and an engineer are on night duty onboard when the ship's phone rings. It is connected from the cable steamer to our Shanghai office. An official on duty there informs us of a break and orders us to get ready to leave within 24 hours. The engineer sends for No 1 fireman and tells him to raise steam and get the engine ready. The deck officer rings the Captain and several colleagues, and instructs the boatswain to have his sailors ready to go to sea.

Next morning, the motor launch leaves to pick up the Captain and others on the Bund bordering the City of Shanghai on the river. Many sampans bring officers and crew from Kungping Road jetty opposite. In the afternoon, officers and crew report: 'All Men Onboard. Engine and Boilers ready for departure', and we slowly move down the Whangpoo River. Towards nightfall, we are almost out of the Yangtse-Kiang into the East China Sea, heading for our destination, about two days away. The technicians and our navigators are soon engaged in pin-pointing the exact position of our repair job on a chart. Two days later, we slow down, stop and drop a marker buoy, to aid navigation during operations, and we payout the first grapnel, going dead slow ahead. Later, we hook the cable some distance from the break. Full Speed Astern! The dynamometer rises and shows increased stress on the grapnel rope and we have a 'bite'. The Chief Engineer is in charge of the cable machinery. He pulls the rope in slowly until the bite appears under the bow. The next operation is snouting: two chains are wound around the cable, one on each side of the grapnel, and both are pulled in very slowly by both the cable machines. After this the cable is cut near the grapnel, and both cable ends are pulled inboards for individual testing. After a short while, the main cable will probably prove to be O.K., testing all right both ways, from ship to shore and from shore to ship. The short cable length is usually tested too, to check the distance to the break (earth), thereby saving time for the next operation. If that length is very short it may beabandoned.

The good cable is buoyed so it can be picked up again after the final cable-laying, and joined and spliced to the other cable. We now proceed to the other side of the break, lower the grapnel again and go on grapling until we get another bite. When we have pulled it up under the bow, we cut it and go for the main cable and we often abandon the short length. After long testing again, the good cable is joined and spliced to new cable from our cable tank and laid all the way to the buoyed cable a few miles away. Both cables are now pulled on deck and, after testing, they are joined together and finally spliced. The bite is now lowered carefully to the bottom of the ocean. Joining, by soldering, is done by our Chinese specialists - they are V.I.Ps. After we have lost contact by cable with our two cable stations, Nagasaki and Shanghai, our technicians resort to two-way radio for final testing. It can take quite a long time before they report to our Captain that the repair was successful.

This was my story of ordinary cab1e work, carried out in a few hundred fathoms of water.

The work carried out at a depth of several miles is much like an ordinary repair in principle. Here is my example. The American Shanghai-Manila cable has ruptured, parted company with its northern half. So our technicians at No 4 Avenue Edward VII, or Avenue Eduoard Septieme on the French side of the Avenue, had been testing the northern section, checking and re-checking their findings, to get as close as possible to the correct measurements in the core to the break - or to earth. Meanwhile, their opposite numbers at Manila have been working overtime on their cable end. The depth of the break has been estimated at 3.5 nautical miles, so we shall need quite a few half-mile long sections of grapnel rope, probably 10 to 12 half-mile lengths (5 to 6 miles). The grapnel rope used is made in France of hemp and piano wire and looks like old hemp rope, but is re-inforced by miles and miles of piano wire - a very strong and resilient combination. We start our deep sea echo sounding gear - maximum range 10 nautical miles, the only one outside the British Navy. Our sounder registered on the bridge, writing a continuous graph of the contour of the bottom and the depth in nautical miles.

When we reached our destination, north of the break, the echo sounder registered 3.6 nautical miles in depth. We stopped and prepared to lower the Lucas grapnel. When we hooked the cable, it was designed to hold it firmly on one side of the grapnel and cut it on the other side. Thereby only one end would be lifted, instead of the usual bite which would increase the strain enormously and almost certainly break the cable. I think I should mention that on one occasion, during an earlier deep sea repair, Lucas arrived at the surface, with a bite hanging on to his shackle. It worked out all right fortunately and was quickly entered under 'cable jokes' in the annals of the Great Northern.

Lucas was lowered to the bottom of the ocean. It took many hours before the calculated five ar six miles of grapnel rope had gone over the bow wheels. Like all other operations in deep sea, it is slow work and it takes a long time before we start to graple for the cable far down - going dead slow ahead. The dynamometers are in top position, out of action, the strain encountered on deep sea far exceeding their capacity. The only way the Commander will know if we have hooked the cable is when the ship loses its ability to steer, or tries to run around in circles. Then he goes full speed astern until the ship is stationary and we are kept in that position while we slowly pull in the grapnel. This takes up to 24 hours on some jobs, depending on wind and weather and swell. Under favourable conditions picking up and coiling the grapnel rope can be done faster. When the cable is finally on deck, we notice how thin it is, armoured with piano wire, light and strong. When the good cable has been tested and found O.K., it is bouyed to an enormous buoy, big enough to carry miles of cable.

The buoy is then carefully lowered overboard and left there securely fastened to the cable, pending arrival a couple of days later of cable from the southern section. We now head for the southern job and the next couple of days we go through the same type of operation we completed in the northern section: grapling and testing. But in the south, we finally splice new cable to the old one and lay the new, heading north, until we finally locate the flashing AGA gas light on the buoy at a distance. From then on we go through a lot of manoeuvering, picking up and paying out cable to get near enough to the buoy to hook it, hoist it up in the rigging and transfer the cable to the empty bow wheel. Finally, we have both cables securely tied on deck. Afterwards, we pull in and pay out cable and manoeuver back and forth, in order to shorten the enormous bite.

The final testing takes long (it must be perfect) before we splice through, or we can start all over again. The weather could throw a spanner in the works at any stage of a big operation. The Commander is usually impatient towards the end, walking up and down on the bridge during final testing.

Finally,the result is satisfactory - or so they say - and the ends are joined together. A big crowd of sailors start the long splice. The technicians get in touch with both Shanghai and Manila on the radio, still O.K.? The cable is still not on the bottom, 3.6 miles down: it takes a long time to lower the bite, slowly, finally pull the release mechanism on the bottom and coil the grapnel rope in on deck - about 5-6 miles or so in all. After many more hours we head for Shanghai - the Chief Technician says O.K.

After fifteen cable years, I still found it interesting to watch ordinary repairs, although towards the end it looked more and more as if both men and machinery were fully automatic. Deep sea was another cup of tea, it was not nearly as entertaining, because of the slowness and long waits from one operation to another. But I must admit I was always impressed by the entire operation: find the cable several miles down, pull part of it onboard, test it, repair it and finally leave it down there to perform its normal functions, miles below the surface, after a few days' concentrated effort. It requires great skill and determination from all participants, not least the decision-makers. Officers and crew had to be always 100% right - there was no allowance for compromise.

Many years ago, we completed an ordinary repair in what we believed was record time: 8 hours, when another cable - only ten miles away - broke down. We hurried to the spot and beat our first record, but before the bite went overboard, orders came through by radio: Proceed to another operation, the third! This one was also successful and all three repairs were completed in less than 24 hours. We received a special telegram from the boss, on the way home: 'Good Work, when badly needed - thanks, Bahnson' - addressed to officers and men, C/S Pacific. We were all very proud, the Commander and Chief Technician with most reason. A fair bit of good luck and weather had been essential for such an outstanding performance.

Shanghai Rowing Club:

Shanghai Rowing Club, founded 1866, was a big Club with six Eights and about the same number of Fours and Pairs, also a few Tooth Picks - Single Sculls, one of which I often took out on the Whangpoo River on Sunday mornings. I rowed up to a Japanese cruiser and listened to the Sunday concert, only a few yards from where I sat, paddling slowly against a weak current. The Japanese Admirality Orchestra was of high standard and played all the well-known classical favourites. It was an ideal way of spending a Sunday morning. The Rowing Club had a large restaurant on top, where both drinks and dinners were served. On the ground floor was a gymnasium and an enormous dressing and shower room and at the end a large swimming pool. Some of the boats had fixed seats, they were for Griffins (beginners). We had to win a race on fixed seats before we could take part in senior competition on sliding seats.

An experienced rower from our office offered to coach us if we could make up a team to man a Four, which we soon did. Simon,our Second Officer, had been a member of Kvik, a Copenhagen Club, a Mr Bush from the East Asiatic Co. and I joined, and Tiny, 6ft 3", from our office rushed onboard the Pacific to be in it. We soon announced we had a Danish Griffin Four, in which we intended to compete at the Spring regatta. Our fellow club members wondered why we were taking part at this early stage. One suggested we would be in it for the experience, as we wouldn't have a chance. At the Spring Carnival, five Griffin boats started, one beat the gun, so we all had to go back and start all over again. We noticed we were well in front when the starter blew his whistle. Next start: O.K. - we shot ahead and won easily.

One of the old members said, "I hope you realize you aren't champions yet. Your opposition will be ten times tougher when you really train and compete in the Senior Races, such as the International Fours over a mile and a half [the Griffin Race was over 3/4 mile]. The one you will have to beat is the English Four. Your rowing style will never be as good as theirs. You have the weight and perhaps the strength - it is very important - more so in Fours, they are much harder to pull through the water than the Eights." We never forgot his advice, and as we got nearer to Autumn, we began seven weeks' intensive training.

In order to row in calm weather, we got up at four in the morning and rowed long trips on the Whangpoo River. We tried hard to improve our style and our coach trained his voice. It was hard work, and our health as well as our style improved with every trip we made. We knew we would never reach perfection. We didn't drink or smoke and we went to bed every night after dinner. On a trip of ten miles, I remember I lost six pounds in weight, but had it on again before evening (water). A few weeks before the Autumn Carnival, we announced we would compete in all three main events.

Sunday afternoon on the opening day, that information was received with much amusement by our opponents. I remember the first race was Hong Fours, when we rowed for The Great Northern Telegraph Company and won. I have forgotten the name of the second race, but the third was International Fours, against England, America, Germany and Scotland, with little Denmark as the challenger. When we had won the first two, our opponents suggested we call it a day (with a big grin). We rowed towards the starting line again.

"On Line!" - you could hear his voice a mile away, "I say, get ready! Are you ready? And then a gun will be fired." BANG - Half a dozen short paddles, increasing rapidly in length - then deeper and longer and finally we're under way: One-two-three-four-five-six-seven-eight-nine-ten - keep it up! - one-two-three-four-five-six-seven-eight-nine-ten . . . after a minute, every struggling oarsman could see in a flash how his boat was doing. We had left America, Germany and Scotland behind early and were neck and neck with England, but she slowly and surely pulled ahead of us the next half a mile. We had to be satisfied with second place, England was a canvas ahead of us. Jonah - our cox- - was undisturbed, he was sure they couldn't keep it up to the finish. So he let them keep ahead until 100m from the finishing line, when he roared: "Now! you Galley Slaves! - one-two-three-four-five-six-seven-eight-nine-ten - and again - one-two-three-four-five-six- seven-eight-nine-ten - and again boys!" he roared. "We are beating them!" We weren't, not yet, but we were neck and neck "Now or never!" he roared ¨C "one-two-three-four-five-six-seven-eight-nine-ten" - and again. He didn't stop counting until we had passed the finishing line, half a canvas ahead of England! Incredible! Both boat crews were half dead. We heard a roar from the banks of Hen-Lie Creek. Never again against England! we all agreed. Our brave opponents shook hands with us, as only the best can do. The Germans clicked their heels together and congratulated us. The Yanks shouted: "You are a lot of bums, professional sailors! We protest! Gee, you bums were jolly good!"

In the years following our successes in rowing our luck gave out almost completely: we were unplaced in all but one race, the ten mile Marathon Fours. It took place on the Whangpoo River through Shanghai Harbour, one Sunday afternoon, with finish at the Public Gardens / Soochow Creek intersection in front of an enormous crowd of spectators of all nationalities. The four Fours taking part were two English Fours, one with two English and two German rowers (the favourite): Woodhead, stroke, Ginger, No 3, Schuster No 2 and K¨¹hne, bow. Our boat, with the only Danish rowers available in China: Tiny Jensen, stroke, Simondson no. 3, M?ller Nielsen no. 2, and Elmgreen, bow. There would be three minutes between starts. The first boat to start was an all English one, No 2 the English-German Four, we were No 3 starter and last, another all English Four.

When No 1 and No 2 starters were on their way, the German Four passed No 1 starter half way, came in first and was received with thunderous applause by the spectators: everybody thought they had won the race. But with three minutes between the starting times, we had started 6 minutes after the English-German boat and we arrived about 5 minutes after her, winning by a margin of one minute. On the way, we had in our minds the four Sterling Silver cups, it kept us going! The applause told us we had won, in 58 minutes and 10 seconds. The experts insisted the distance was not ten miles, rowed in less than an hour! - me too!

Ease the oars! We stopped dumbfounded, we just sat there: For'd Oars! We had not regained consciousness - once more our cox bellowed: For'd Oars! We came back to reality: PADDLE!

I have a picture of my beautiful silver cup, but lost the cup.

1930- Shanghai - Royal Visit from Danish Crown Prince:

I was a young officer onboard the Danish Cable Steamer the Store Nordiske (Great Northern), owned by the Great Northern Telegraph Company of Copenhagen, stationed at Shanghai. In 1929, we were told permission to keep our Danish, English and American cable landings on Chinese soil would not be renewed by the Chinese Nationalist Government when they expired. Knowing the Chinese, we thought the idea behind this ultimatum could possibly be a forerunner to demands for enormous increases in renewal fees or downright refusals. Our Danish cables had been on Chinese soil since 1869 and the British and American landings were almost as old. I was only a tiny cog in the wheels of the machinery, providing overseas telegraphic communication between China and the outside world. Of course, we were vitally interested in the negotiations: our good jobs were at stake.

I have no doubt several members of the diplomatic corps representing the three nations were involved and very busy, giving expert advice to the heads of the telegraph companies.

Some time later, we learned our company had offered to try to arrange a visit by a Danish Royal party on a goodwill mission to President Chiang-Kai-shek and his Nanking Government. This was apparently agreed to by the British and American companies. Permission for the Royal visit was later granted by the Danish Government. The new motorship the M/V Se1andia, owned by the East Asiatic Company, was made available for the voyage from Copenhagen to Shanghai. She bore the famous name of the first motorship to circumnavigate the globe in 1912. She was renovated, redecorated and made ready for the Royal party, the Danish Crown Prince Frederik (later King Frederik IX), his brother Prince Knud, Prince Axel and Princess Margrethe, his wife. They left early in 1930, called at several East Asiatic ports on the way, and were finally expected at Shanghai on the 7th March 1930.

Long before Selandia arrived, my two colleagues Ingwersen and Simondsen and I had a long discussion with Tom the tailor, an old Chinaman, who had supplied officers on the two cable steamers with any kind of apparel, from underwear to uniforms and dinner suits, for at least two generations. Tom was a very generous person, who didn't need our money right away, so we all owed him a small fortune. We asked him for some advice regarding formal wear required for the great events to which we had all been invited. We all had to wear white tie and tails when dining with Royalty.

We all had dinner suits, both for summer and winter. This was all we needed on most occasions, as we didn't usually mix with Royalty. Our senior officers owned tails, but used them only on very special occasions to which we were not likely to be invited. We thought we would have to buy the tails, but Tom helped us out and gave us the address of an old friend of his, Henry the Tailor, who hired out any kind formal wear. The next day, when we called on Henry, we were received with open arms by the man himself and we were soon disguised as Kings and Dukes? We were delighted with his perfectly fitting suits. Henry had about five dozen on the hook! The price? Ten Shanghai dollars, nearly 25s, for three days' hire, so we made arrangements to pick them up on the first day we were invited to a Royal dinner party in the exclusive French Club in the Concession Francaise.

Two weeks before the Royal visitors arrived, our Captain came down to our messroom inquiring if anybody was going to attend the parties to which we were all invited. Ingwersen. Simondson and I told him we were coming to all parties. "You realize it's tails?" he said. We told him we knew and he entered us on his list. When he was half way out of the messroom, he turned around and had another look at us - his face was one large question mark! We had a quiet giggle when he left.

Our two cable steamers, the Pacific and the Store Nordiske, were still working on the high seas a couple of days before the parties were due and we just managed to arrive the day before the great events. Both Chinese crews were immediately put to work cleaning and scrubbing the white hulls that would face the the Selandia when she passed down the river.

It was a hot day in Shanghai, our sailors were ready to paint the starboard sides of both cable steamers gleaming white, dry after the scrubbing the day before, when they both arrived. Only the Chinese could do it and and hang an enormous Danish flag, about 20 ft long - red with a white cross - the oldest in the world, born 1219. I have never seen our ships look better.

The Selandia arrived on time. I am sure the Royalty and others admired the handsome white ships, with their raked stems, looking like large yachts in the sunlight. The Selandia later moored at buoys in the middle of the river opposite The Bund, a few miles farther up.

In the evening, the Royal Party was ferried ashore by motor launch, standing on deck while a Chinese Regimental Band, on the wharf, played the Danish National Anthem, adopting a rhythm more suited for dancing an Irish Jig. His Royal Highness, Crown Prince Frederik, stood to attention onboard the launch, saluting. About a hundred Danish residents of Shanghai were assembled on the wharf to see their Royal Highnesses arrive. We waved and cheered them on, as they continued up the city in cars to an official party waiting for them. After they had left, we had a chat with some of our countrymen assembled We were all pleased with the great welcome given our Princes and lovely Princess and thought the performance by the Chinese Military Band had been unforgetable! - to say the least.

The next afternoon we shaved and showered early, to make sure we didn't look too scrubbed when we appeared in all our fineries at the Danish dinner party in the French Club. When we were fully dressed, we all thought we looked quite glamorous.

When the time had come to leave for the French Club, we hired a taxi at Kungping Garage and signed a chit for our fare on arrival at our destination. The driver said "Cumsha" (tip) and I gave: him a small piece of paper torn off a newspaper, wrote "20 cents" on it and initialled it. The two documents would be presented with many like them on Number One Day, when payments of chits were due and would be collected by a Compradore (collector).

We walked towards the entrance to the French Club and were admitted after showing our cards. What a lovely place! Decorated in typical French styling, and the kind of service provided was something at which the Chinese were masters. We entered the large hall and joined a long queue, moving slowly past our Royal guests of honour. One by one, we were introduced to the Crown Prince of Denmark, Princes Knud and Axel and the lovely Princess Margrethe. They spoke Danish unless the introduction was in English.

Afterwards, drinks were served. We favoured Dry Martini cocktails and noticed how cold and dry they were and that the olives were particularly delicious (French?). We agreed at this early stage to subject ourselves to some degree of self denial, bearing in mind the long and glamorous evening ahead. After an informal and quite interesting conversation, during which it was obvious our Royal Guests had already begun to feel at home in China, among their beaming countrymen, I am sure they felt they could look forward to a wonderful time. An announcer invited us all to take our seats at the tables and the boys directed everyone to his or her place.

Naturally, the choice of wines for the various dishes served was made with great talent by connoisseurs whose judgement we greatly admired. As the night wore on, it certainly gave us great satisfaction to dine with Royalty, where every minor detail regarding food and wine had been attended to by experts. I can recall a few other occasions when the choice of wine was decided by some inexperienced organizers, who did not realize what bad effects an unsuitable wine can have on a lovely dish. I think we agreed the dinner was worthy of Royalty and certainly appreciated by everyone. All speeches were in English, as a few wives of Danes did not understand Danish. The rule among Danes in China allowed no Danish spoken if one person present was of another nationality. Many speakers welcomed our Royal Visitors to China. A well known Danish businessman spoke in honour of Princess Margrethe and compared her beauty to that of a Fairy Princess: "We have all heard and read about Fairy Princesses, when we were children, how beautiful they were, but none is as lovely as our guest here tonight, Princess Margrethe," he said. Her husband, Prince Axel was beaming when Her Royal Highness insisted she didn't think she was quite as beautiful as that. During the evening, we met many of our older friends whose tails had been in mothballs a decade or more, and whose measurements had entered the Fourth Dimension, for which their tailors had made no allowance. They were envious of our well-fitting suits, they said. His Royal Highness, Crown Prince Frederik of Denmark rose to his full light, 6ft 4in, and made a speech in well-chosen words, thanking us all for our overwhelming kindness and hospitality.

Later, Prince Knud and Prince Axel spoke and many toasts were drunk during an excellent evening, with lovely music, food and drink. Chinese photographers were busy all evening, taking photos of the great party and a few years later, when I was on home leave in Copenhagen, I was having a look at a book by his Royal Highness, My tour of the Far East, in a bookshop and found a lovely picture of myself in tails, having dinner with our Royal guests.

When we were back home again (onboard), we talked almost all night about our experience in the French Club. We all agreed it had been fantastic. Two days later, the biggest event of all was to take place in the Hotel Majestic's beautiful Italian Marble Gardens, a Soir¨¦e, dinner and ball, 880 guests, invitation by Mrs Bahnson, the English wife of our Managing Director, Captain Bahnson.

The day after the glorious dinner in the French Club, Danish males living in Shanghai were all invited to a Stag Lunch at the Shanghai Club. It had the longest bar in the world. Our guests of honour were, of course, our three charming Danish Princes. We were all introduced again, so we felt we had known them a long time. The usual stories one tells at a bar were told and laughed at, especially the genuine Princely jokes. The good old Danish snaps, Aqvavit, with a dash of the famous Venezuelan Angustra Bitters, was apparently the accepted and very popular Danish aperitif, preferred by Danish Royalty and served before a lovely hors d'oeuvre, with a typical French accent.

We were soon seated and enjoying our lunch, the wines were good, chosen with talent and taste, and the food was fit for a King. Just as well! Officers on cable steamers in China at the time, when no import duty or excise tax was paid on wines and spirits, had acquired fairly expensive tastes and were spoiled, following old cable traditions from well back in the 19th century.

Ingwersen and I had a chat with Prince Axel, a charming person, with a delightful sense of humour. I think he was one of the Directors of The East Asiatic Company. He complained about the gorgeous dresses the ladies had worn in the French Club and which he and the Princess had greatly admired. "I shall have to go shopping with Margrethe this afternoon and try to find something beautiful for her to wear at the Soir¨¦e tomorrow night in the Majestic Marble Gardens. It will probably cost me a small fortune!" he said. "We didn't expect the ladies in Shanghai to be wearing such beautiful Parisian models" (Dernier Cri?). He promised to try to get time to visit us onboard the Store Nordiske and have a drink with us, before he had to leave for Nanking and the Generalissimo Chiang-Kai-shek. We were told later it had not been possible for him to come.

The Soir¨¦e, the following evening in the famous Majestic Marble Gardens, was the most important event of all. We were among 880 guests invited. In addition to the guests of honour, there were Ambassadors, Consuls-General of many nationalities, also English and American Admirals and Generals and scores of other high-ranking officers. One important guest was the Chinese Finance Minister, Mr Soong, Mrs Chiang-Kai-shek's brother.

The Foreign Minister of China was also representing President Chiang-Kai-shek and his Government. All the most honourable members of the community of Shanghai, with their wives, were there, many of them wearing the latest from Paris. We thought our hostess wore the most beautiful dress of all, with the wife of the Danish Minister to China a close second - she was beautiful. My colleagues and I had never seen Ambassadors in full dress before, with heavy gold and glamour, almost covered in gold braid.

But with all the beauty and glamour concentrated in the Marble Gardens, that unforgettable night, one person towered over all the people, the handsome giant, Crown Prince Frederik of Denmark. His dignity and charming personality conquered the hearts of all present. He was wearing his Admiral's uniform with the blue sash across his manly chest, a fairy tale Prince if ever we saw one!

At one time, Ingwersen and I had settled at one of the bars, when Crown Prince Frederik came over with one of the officers of the Green Howards. He stood beside us and had a chat with what appeared to be an old friend. Two high-ranking American naval officers approached and stood, unobserved, behind the Crown Prince, measuring the width of his shoulders. They apparently both agreed he was Kingsize! Whitey Smith's band was very popular and there were only short intervals between dances: everyone seemed to have decided: This is it! and they were going to make the best of a great opportunity!

The buffet dinners were arranged on scores of tables, gaily decorated with enormous flower arrangements and the hot and cold delicacies were served by a hundred Chinese servants.

We spent much of the evening drinking cold French Champagne, smoking Havana Cigars - the only brand available - walking around, and watching the fabulous crowds dancing, eating and drinking. Later, we had an opportunity to dance with some of the wives of our superior officers and again our partners commented on our glamorous tails.

The dinners were undoubtedly the best the Hotel Majestic's French Chef could produce. The dinner concert had been played by the Military Orchestra of the Green Howards, of which His Royal Highness was Honorary Colonel. Later in the evening, Whitey Smith's famous American jazz band had taken over and continued until the early hours of the morning.

When the clock struck twelve midnight, Crown Prince Frederik's birthday had arrived. The Green Howards played the Danish National Anthem, 300 bottles of French Champagne popped almost simultaneously and everybody drank to the health and future of His Royal Highness. We all sang For He's a Jolly Good Fellow. The Russian Ballet appeared almost immediately after and danced The Chocolate Soldier to the tunes of Whitey Smith's Band. It was beautiful, ending with all dancers falling backwards on top of one another. The applause was deafening and a standing ovation brought the ballet back to repeat their performance - again all ending up on the floor.

1933: Home Leave in Denmark

In 1933, I was due for my first six months home leave from China to Europe via Suez. My travelling expenses by ship and train in Europe and return were paid in full. During my six months' vacation, I got full salary plus 85% and before my departure from Shanghai, an annual gratuity of ¡ê30 was paid and a bonus for renewing my 3 year contract with the company, ?40. It all helped.

On the day of departure, a large crowd of friends turned up, hours before the ship was due to leave. They had to be wined and filled up with Scotch, whatever was necessary to wish me bon voyage. This went on until the ship's big fog horn bellowed the third time, hours later, indicating the ship's immediate departure. It was with a gasp of relief I finally waved them all goodbye when they were safely back on the wharf.

I travelled to Venice on the Italian Liner, Conte Rosso (the Red Count). She called at Hong Kong, Singapore, Colombo, Bombay, Suez and Port Said on the way. When you spend an entire month travelling by ship, you can be sure to meet a lot of interesting people onboard. One lucky incident was meeting Giuseppe, the waiter, who every day served delicious food at my table and a fair amount of good Italian wine with it. Giuseppi grew up in a small Italian town, Romagna, where the Mussolini family lived, including Edda, the eldest of six. She and Giuseppe were good friends. Edda was now Countess Ciano and she and the Count, Galeazzo Ciano, Italian minister to Chiana, were travelling First Class on the Conte Rosso with their little son.

Giuseppi asked me one day, if I would like to meet Edda. "I will introduce you, just to say hello to her", he said. I told him I would like to meet her, if it were possible and Giuseppe said, "O.K., when I get a chance". *** A week later there was a ball on First Class and we Tourist Class underdogs were invited to take part in the festivities - as usual. I went there with a couple of friends and had a few drinks and watched the show, when Giuseppe grabbed my arm, "O.K. now?", he said, "Sure", I mumbled, taken by surprise. He then escorted me to a table opposite and introduced me to Count Ciano and the Countess, he pushed a chair under me and I sat and talked with the Countess about two minutes. She was very charming without a trace of arrogance - and they both smiled, when I said: "Nice meeting you Count and Countess - good night". My friends were quite impressed by my famous acquaintances.

One night on the Conte Rosso, a fancy dress ball was held, with prizes for best costumes. I won second prize, being dressed in a sheet from my bed and some headgear, designed and made for me by a man from the Middle East - I was dressed and made up like an Arab. The ball was a great success, showing the well-known Italian talent for shows and celebrations, helped in no small measure by large quantities of Italian champagne. During the festivities, I met the Count and Countessa again, they admired my costume, they said.

The voyage was a real pleasure-trip, with lots of entertainment, good food and wine, but not least a happy Italian atmosphere. After our visits to our six ports of call on the way, we finally entered the famous port of Venezia Eugania, the City built on islands in the Lagoon of Venice. I stayed in Venice until the following day and visited Piazzo San Marco and saw the sights there, including the Church of San Marks, the Doge Palace; and a lot of pigeons.

On my way to Denmark by train, I had to stay six hours in a hotel in Berlin, waiting for another train going North. Finally I arrived at a small town, fifteen miles from my hometown, Lemvig. I rang my father from there and told him I was broke, as the taxi driver wouldn't accept travellers' cheques. It was quite an experience to be home on long leave, after six years' absence, but my old friends were working all week, so it became a bit boring towards the end. Later I stayed quite a long time in Copenhagen: there I found lots of entertainment.

Alter four months in Denmark, I left for Venice, where I stayed a week on the Lido Island, a beautiful reef outside the Lagoon. It was a popular resort for Italian aristocracy, with lots of high-class entertainment, including famous singers and concerts by great orchestras in the evenings. During the day I swam and managed to be suitably tanned before I returned to the Conte Rosso pool and left on my return trip to Shanghai.

Onboard the Conte Rosso, I met an Italian marble merchant who owned a big factory in China, and I made arrangements to meet him at his works after we arrived back and pick up a few beautiful pieces of marble for my home made electric clock. This was driven by a small synchronized motor, made and wound by me, moving the gold plated brass hands, always showing the correct time. The rotor was fitted with two grammophone needles instead of bearings - they lasted for years.

1933: Return to Shanghai: Piggy, and Caruso's 40th Birthday

The usual crowd of friends was waiting patiently on the wharf when I arrived, ready to take me to the Palace Hotel bar for welcome-home drinks, which lasted till evening, an old and expensive tradition.

Soon I was back in harness again and a very great event was just becoming visible on the horizon: Caruso's 40th birthday. He was my colleague and superior, Second Engineer and often Chief. He was a good engineer, weighed over sixteen stone, was very popular and the funniest man I have known. He was not engaged in Grand Opera as you would expect, but was given his name because of his famous voice.

He often sang funny songs at parties and sometimes in clubs. It was easy to get him started, and almost impossible to turn him off. He was also a willing and very experienced Master of Ceremonies and loved to arrange celebrations for everyone on the slightest pretext. He was a very generous host himself and celebrated his birthdays and similar occasions with dinners and parties in grand style.

Big Peter, our Commander, had advanced fast, but he never changed, fortunately. Before he got his Command, he was a happy-go-lucky type with a fantastic sense of humour. As Commander, he knew what was expected of him and acted accordingly, but it was almost impossible for him to be serious about anything. To him, life was one great joke. We all met daily in the lobby before lunch and rolled dice on the bar to decide who was going to pay for the next round of Old Tom Gin and bitters. Often our Commander and the Chief Engineer managed one before the rest of us arrived. Big Peter was younger in the company than I was, but had been extremely lucky. Our engineers on top were too young either to die or retire, so I had a long way to go.

Of all the stories told and laughed at in the clubs or on ships in China, the story about Piggy was the most famous.

It began onboard the beautiful Store Nordiske. The day was approaching when Caruso was going to celebrate his 40th birthday. Peter came down to my cabin one afternoon and couldn't stop laughing at something he had planned for the great day, which, we both agreed, was going to be the event of the year. Caruso had invited all his friends for the great occasion.

This time Peter had a fantastic plan. He had already begun negotiations with the Chief Steward and tried again and again to persuade him to buy a live suckling pig for Caruso's birthday present It was top secret. We always had suckling pig for Christmas and New Year's dinners, an old tradition. But to buy a live pig out of season was apparently almost impossible, according to our steward. "It may cost a small fortune", he said. But off he went on a long journey up country and returned two days later, exhausted, with a lovely fellow, immediately christened 'Piggy', by Peter. The steward took him home secretly and kept him there, while the ship's carpenter began working overtime on a nice box for him. When it was ready, Peter and I pasted coloured pictures on all sides to make it look like a chocolate box. Inside it was lined with blue silk, and had a red ribbon put around it, sent by Peter's wife who did not know our secret.

The great day arrived and everybody was seated in the gaily decorated dining room. Dry Martinis for the men and Manhattans for the ladies were served by the boys, dressed in their spotless white coats. The conversation was lively, everyone was looking forward to the greatest celebration of all Caruso's anniversaries. Our host was beaming and had a permanent smile on his face. All of a sudden the boys appeared, carrying the box on their shoulders. Only Peter, the steward and I knew what was in it. There was not a word from Piggy inside - he seemed to realize the seriousness of the situation. Caruso's present was placed in front of him and his wife, Johanne. Our guest of honour opened the box - you could hear a pin drop.

A scream rang out in the dining room, then a roar of laughter, as the lovely little pig became visible to all. Someone later reporting the story insisted that the pig winked at Caruso with one eye and had a friendly smile on his face when he saw his future benefactor. Caruso was overwhelmed! He thanked us all for the lovely present, Johanne, was in tears. Immediately the pig took over as Guest of Honour. Everybody admired him, especia1ly the ladies.

We all looked forward to lovely roast Piggy within a few days, but that was not to be. Caruso had other plans for his baby. What a roar of disappointment I when it was announced that the owner had decided to keep him as a pet - until death us do part. So, the ship's carpenter was called in again, this time to build a beautiful Pig Mansion, which was placed high up behind the bridge, to facilitate natural air conditioning. Caruso's boy was given lectures in pig-keeping - and 'cable farming' was born. Piggy moved into his new home, with ocean views all round. He grew fast and was soon everybody's pet, roaming around the entire ship. His house was cleaned by the boys and inspected every morning by Caruso, who gave him a shower every day and kept him clean. In a few months, Piggy was accepted as an important member of our cable family.

When he was fully grown, he loved to stand in the messroom door, watching us shake dice for Gin & Bitters before lunch. One day someone suggested we include a can of Carnation Milk in the gamble and from that day on, Piggy learned to keep the tin in his snout and suck it dry.

A few months later, Caruso decided to train his pet to catch the tin when it was thrown to him. He threw tin after tin, and all landed on the floor. Caruso growled, as only he could, and ordered Piggy to catch them, but he looked at him as if he was saying: "That's just not cricket!" But his master didn't give up, and after many weeks, he succeeded: Piggy caught the tin in his wide-open snout, and afterwards he never dropped a catch! The more we drank, the fatter grew the pig and before long, he was nearly as big as his 'father'. During cable work at sea he was kept aft, as all operations were carried out in the front section. Our technicians were very strict about that. Naturally, they all loved Piggy, but also their jobs. Caruso was held responsible for Piggy's movements, after all he was only a pig, with an elementary education - even though, he had shown great promise as a cricketer.

One day we were working a few hundred miles out at sea and Piggy was happily snooping around in his domain, when all of a sudden, we heard a roar and a piercing scream from the stern. Two Chinese sailors rushed out and pulled him out of the steering gear, where he was jammed and so badly hurt that the cook stabbed him and put an end to his miseries. Caruso arrived breathless, but took it like a man and thanked the cook for his quick action. He looked sadly at the poor remains of his once so happy pet.

Later, he announced, he would give Piggy a glorious send off the following day, to a better world with no steering gears or other oontraptions threatening him.

The steward promised he would prepare a lovely farewell dinner with Roast Piggy on the menu and almost unlimited French champagne to drown our sorrows. All were cordially invited. Caruso also insisted we should share Piggy with the Chinese crew. The next day, only one ate his dinner alone: Long Hansen, the Chief Technician. "I am not a cannibal", he said, "I just couldn't face Piggy on my plate!"

When dinner was served we all agreed, we had never tasted anything so lovely, but how many pigs are fed up on Carnation Milk? The champagne helped us get over our worst sorrows of Piggy's passing and we all joined in when someone began to sing : 'The Pig fell down and broke his leg, what a sad event? - and now the pig has gone, black sausage will be on!' A poor translation (by me) of an old Danish song. The Chinese were given enough Piggy to have a wonderful time, they were laughing and enjoying their part of the great feast. The Chief Steward had typed a menu for each of us, with the famous last words: Roast Piggy.

"May he rest in peace," someone said. "What do you mean?", I asked him. "Do I have to go into details about his whereabouts?" was his answer - no more questions. Later, I saw Peter. He was greatly relieved. He had been sure Piggy would be eaten soon after Caruso's party, but was shocked when he decided to keep him as a pet. Will pig farming be allowed on cable steamers in future-? I ha ma doot.

September 1937: Typhoon, Hong Kong

During the night of terror in Hong Kong, between the 1st and 2nd September 1937, I was eyewitness to the deadliest and most destructive storm experienced by the Royal Observatory there. I was on duty in the engine room of the Store Nordiske, maneuvering the main engine at the height of the typhoon, from 12 midnight to 4am on September 2nd, 1937, helping the Commander save our beautiful ship from being sent to the bottom of the harbour, when we were rammed head-on by a large Norwegian freighter driven towards us by the enormous pressure of the 192 mph wind - completely out of control.

The loss of life from the typoon was terrifying. Of 3,500 junks and sailing craft, 1,250 were sunk and 600 seriously damaged. There was the loss of 11,000 lives, maximum wind velocity 192 mph, 167 nautical mph or 307 km/hr, the highest recorded then. All above mentioned figures were supplied by the Royal Observatory in a letter and a booklet I received from them, July 12th, 1976.

Of 101 large steam vessels berthed in Hong Kong Harbour and its environs, 28 were stranded on the rocks around the periphery. The stranded ships included many passenger liners, such as the large P.& 0. liner, the S/S Corfu (three funnels), the Italian S/S Conte Verde, the Dutch Van Heutzt and many others. There were also a large number of freighters, one of which landed in the street running parallel with the harbour on Hong Kong Island, with her stern balanced precariously on her rudder and the bow of the ship almost submerged in the harbour. Her Chief Engineer lost his life the following night when he went onboard to sleep in his cabin, and the ship slid back into the harbour and sank.

On 1st September, the day before the typhoon struck, radio warnings were broadcast early in the morning and repeated at short intervals all day and night. The Store Nordiske was securely moored to a gigantic typhoon buoy with two very heavy typhoon wires, as thick as my wrists, shackled to a large ring on the buoy. In addition to this, the outer length of the 90 fathoms (180 yards) long anchor chain was secured to the same ring, with a short length of the part onboard wound tightly around the anchor windlass. The major part of the chain was coiled up below in the chain locker at the bow, where the last link was securely shackled to the ship's keel. The brakes on the windlass were screwed up tight. The typhoon buoy was anchored to a huge concrete block on the bottom of the harbour, the size of small house. "Only routine precautions", said our Commander, and it seemed as safe as humanly possible.

Why then did 28 large vessels break away from their moorings and land on the rocks when they were so securely tied up? The explanation is simple enough: a chain's strength is no greater than its weakest link. If only one boat was not suitably tied up and did tear away from its moorings, it would be blown across the harbour at fantastic speed, colliding with ships on the way, breaking their moorings and they, in turn, would be transformed into speeding 'missiles', wreaking havoc in their paths and completing their destructive work. The main reason without any doubt for the enormous devastation and loss of 11,000 lives was the immense wind velocity, never experienced before, combined with the extremely low barometric pressure - the lowest ever there recorded at 28.243".

Our ship was always the most handsome boat in any harbour, usually referred to as The Millionaire's Yacht, far too glamorous to be interfered with by clumsy freighters that should be kept under control!

I was on duty in the engine room in the early hours of 2nd September 1937. I had taken over the 12 midnight to 4am watch below. I kept full steam on the boilers, and had the main engine turning over at dead-slow in order to keep it hot, so maximum power would be available immediately in case of an emergency. This was typhoon routine. We had all been in China a long time and had experienced many typhoons before, although never any like the one approaching - but we didn't know that.

Down in the engine room about 2am, all of a sudden the engine telegraph rang: half speed ahead. I immediately increased the speed to half, wondering, "What on earth is happening up there? Half ahead and we are securely moored to a typhoon buoy, that's impossible." I sent for the Chief Engineer, but no. 2 fireman came back and told me, "The Chief Engineer is not interested!" He had experienced so many typhoons during his 25 years in China he wouldn't budge! "That won't do at all", I thought, and sent up a slip of paper, with the magic words written on it, "Going half ahead". He was down in a flash, in his pyjamas, almost falling down the ladder. He immediately grasped the seriousness of the situation.

The pumping and roaring of the wind soon reduced the air pressure in the large blower in the engine room supplying air to the boiler furnaces, and this, with the increased speed of the engine, lowered the steam pressure in the boilers. Only by racing the blower to the limit did I manage to raise the steam again to full pressure, so I could use maximum power of the engine, if necessary. I sent no. 2 fireman out to make sure the firemen in the boiler room had changed to larger burners, but he came racing back and said "All fireman have left!". "Call down the small fireman, quick!" I bellowed. I knew he was not afraid of anything. The small chap - alias The Jewess - arrived and had things under control in the boiler room in no time.

The entire ship was now shaking and shivering, everything was vibrating and falling off shelves and hooks everywhere, the wind was not blowing, it was hammering and roaring. Not a word was spoken, the atmosphere in the engine room was tense and rapidly reaching breaking point. I noticed the Chief Engineer was trying to say something, his jaws moved, but not a word came from his lips. My eyes were glued to the telegraph and my hands were on the controls, ready for action.

My pipe went out. I lit it again in a second, then suddenly the telegraph rang: FULL SPEED ASTERN. I realized 'That was it!' I reversed, without cutting off the steam pressure - there was no time for that. The engine thundered astern in twenty or more seconds, then the telegraph boomed: FULL SPEED AHEAD. I reversed again in record time and the engine roared ahead - maybe 15 seconds? - with the ship vibrating violently. Then a deafening CRASH which shook the hull from stem to stern, echoing through the ship. We listed so far to starboard, we thought we were going to capsize. Then a bumping and scraping noise: the port side was hit again and again, and all port life boats went crashing over the side, followed by ship's motor launch, torn off the stern, leaving the keel and motor on the ship. Then: Silence! The engine slowed, the Store Nordiske righted herself and started to roll gently from side to side in heavy seas.

I turned around and found the Chief Engineer had collapsed. He was a very heavy man and it took two firemen to help him up to bed. He recovered later in the morning, but was retired the same day after a doctor had examined him. He was 48 years and had been with The Great Northern Telegraph Company about 25 years, so he received a good pension.

When the wind abated slightly, the Chief Officer was sent out to the bow, crawling on all fours, and it took him five minutes to get out there against a tremendous wind pressure. He was carrying a big torch to inspect what was left of the bow section. He found the two typhoon wires broken like pieces of string, and the ends dangling over the ship's side. He couldn't see the buoy, but the anchor chain was taut, indicating that we were still hanging on. Later in the morning, we sighted the typhoon buoy, about 180 yds away. The brake blocks on the anchor windlass drums were burnt to cinders, but the inboard end of the anchor chain, shackled to the ship's keel in the chain locker, was still intact. The entire bow section of the ship was completely smashed in, the forepeak (bow tank) was flooded, but the watertight bulkhead was still in one piece and not leaking. So she had weathered the storm and was still above water. The enormous bow wheels, used for picking up and paying out cable, and the giant guards in the bow, had all been sent to the bottom of the harbour. But the handsome Store Nordiske with 80 men onboard, had fought the worst typhoon in man's memory - and won!

What actually did happen? How did the ship manage to survive the ordeal with such a narrow margin? After my watch below, I went up to see the Commander on the bridge to find out what had happened in the early hours of the morning and also his reasons for the most unorthodox maneuvering ever, with our ship securely tied up. Here is the Commander's story:

"It lasted only seconds, as you know," he told me. "The strain on the typhoon wires was enormous, even with the engine at half ahead. The wind pressure was the highest I have ever experienced in all my years in China. I dared not leave the bridge for a second. Suddenly a large freighter appeared out of the darkness and torrential rain, racing towards us, completely out of control. She came in from our starboard side and would have gone through amidships into the engine room within seconds. I rang FULL ASTERN immediately in order to turn the ship's stern to port by the propeller, thereby turning our bow to starboard in line with the freighter's stem. We were tied up, so steering by the rudder was obviously impossible. The response from the engine room was swift and when we were in line with the freighter. I rang FULL AHEAD to counteract the tremendous impact expected from the freighter and we were actually moving ahead slowly at the moment the freighter rammed us head on. Our forward movement must have reduced the strain on the typhoon wires and anchor chain. The fact that the wires broke and 180 yards of anchor chain was pulled out show how close we were to disaster - a delay in the engine room of a couple of seconds could have sent us to the bottom of the harbour."

This was the Commander's story of how he saved our ship, helped in some small measure by me. He knew exactly what to do, acted without hesitation and ordered the correct manoeuvers with great speed and precision in the few seconds he had before the collision. He also knew the bow of a ship is a kind of a bumper bar, or rather the least vulnerable part of the hull, partly on account of its great strength, but also because the forepeak is a bow tank with a watertight bulkhead separating it from the rest of the ship. Furthermore, a cable steamer's 6 to 8ft wide bow provided a much bigger target in a collision than that of an ordinary vessel.

After all the excitement had died down, I felt quite pleased with myself. I thought I had successfully handled my part of the crucial struggle against heavy odds, to save the ship by my rapid response to our Commander's intense bellringing down below. Just for once, I felt quite important (an odd feeling for a third engineer). Later, a crowd assembled in the lobby up-top, discussing the past twelve hours events.

Our Commander arrived down from the bridge and said with a sigh of relief: "I passed through the toughest seconds of my long life - it seemed like so many hours. I hoped I had enough time to do what I had to do. It worked, with a terrible BANG. I am proud of the way she handled. We had no time margin."

In the morning after the typhoon, we were all on deck watching the most incredible sight we had ever seen. From the bridge, we had a perfect view of the large vessels stranded on the rocks around the periphery of the harbour. Close by were the three giant passenger liners, the Corfu, the Conte Verde and the Van Heutz, all high and dry on the rocks. In the afternoon, we went to Hong Kong Island and touched the rudder on which the large freighter rested in the street - it was unbelievable. Big fires were burning in Hong Kong and on Kowloon. During the following weeks our navigators made maps and blueprints of all 30 ships (not 28) and gave a set to the Royal Observatory. They tried to find them when I wrote to them recently [circa 1975] , but couldn't locate them. However, the writer who answered my letter agreed with me that there were possibly 30 odd ships stranded - not 28, as a couple may have been refloated without being officially reported to he harbour authorities.

The C/S Store Nordiske, normally engaged in maintaining telegraphic communication between China and the outside world, was given preferential treatment ahead of all other ships by the British Government in Hong Kong. She was sent to dock for extensive repairs the same day. It was several months before she was ready for duty again. In the meantime the other Danish cable steamer, the C/S Pacific, took over all repairs to submarine cables in the area. They included Shanghai-Vladivostok, Shanghai-Manila-Guam and also Shanghai-Hong Kong, Danish, American and British Cables, the four Danish lines: (two Shanghai-Nagasaki, two Nagasaki-Viadivostok, laid in 1869 and continuing overland through Siberia-Russia to Copenhagen and the rest of Europe). In 1969, when the Great Northern celebrated its first centenary, they also celebrated the completion of replacements of all telegraphic lines with telecommunication-type cables right through. The old cables were left on the bottom of the oceans, where they had served for nearly a hundred years.

The docks in Hong Kong and Kowloon worked overtime for many years, in order to refloat and repair all the stranded vessels, still on the rocks.

The story of this devastating typhoon was published under banner headlines in papers all over the world, showing photographs of all the stranded vessels around Hong Kong Harbour. Only a little space could be spared for the horror stories about the wives, mothers and other relatives of the 11,000 men who lost their lives. A year after the typhoon, we called again at Hong Kong and found quite a number of large boats still on the rocks.

September/October 1938: Working in Siberia (Vladivostok)

It was an opportunity of a lifetime for officers and men on the C/S Store Nordiske, Bolshoya Shevernoia to work a whole month inside: Russia. In September-October 1938, a year before the war, the Iron Curtain was normally airtight, but it was lifted momentarily for us when we began to work there, and was never lowered until we left for good. Our telegraphic transmitter was still operated by Danish technicians, like it had been since 1869, when cables and wires were put through Siberia-Russia to Copenhagen and the rest of Europe. We were later told our countrymen in Vladivostok would be replaced by Russians, after our big job was completed.

It all began one day in September 1938. The Store Nordiske was securely moored to buoys in Shanghai harbour and gin and bitters were served in the bar. As usual, the last loser signed for his round. After lunch, a boy brought sailing orders. We all crowded around our Commander, to find out where we were going. He told us absent mindedly, "Vladivostok." We all thought he was joking, but when we found he wasn't, we all shouted: "Vladivostok! What on earth would we do up there?" Our Commander apparently knew all about it weeks before, so he didn't appear very excited.

Our boss came up with a long and detailed explanation later. The United Soviet Socialistic Republics were assembling submarines on a large scale in an enormous factory at Vladivostok. They were built of prefabricated sections, sent over from Moscow and other cities by rail and joined together by welding, using powerful machinery. This produced violent electronic disturbances in our cables, situated near the plant, thereby greatly reducing the efficiency of our telegraphic transmissions. To remedy this serious trouble, we had to pick up the two Vladivostok-Nagasaki cables in the outer harbour, splice new cable to each of them, relay both to the shore and take them through the City of Vladivostok - miles from the welding plants - and finally through the playing fields of a High School. The cable would be laid in the streets on the way. The plans were worked out by our technicians, both in Shanghai, Vladivostok and Copenhagen, and finally by the City Engineers. Negotiations with the Russian Government had been completed and permission granted to carry out the extensive work involved.

Vladivostok means something like 'The Eastern City' and stretches along the northern shore of The Golden Horn, on the slope on a ridge of hills extending westwards to the shore of Amur Bay. The Harbour is accessible all year, kept open by ice-breakers. It was the most important naval and commercial centre on the Russian Pacific coast.

On our way to Vladivostok, we had discussions onboard about what we were really going to do up there. When we finally arrived within a few miles of the huge harbour, we were ordered to slow down, while we passed a small island with a signal station. It signalled: STOP!. So we anchored nearby and remained there awhile, after which we were cleared and told to proceed. Soon after we arrived, the work was in full swing and after the first day, all restrictions on our movements were lifted. After a week, we went on long walks over the hills near the harbour.

We had a perfect view of the finished products, turned out in the big shipbuilding yards. From high up on the hills, we counted 75 submarines, moored in the harbour below. They were small,and looked alike. They didn't seem to take up much room in the huge harbour, four miles long.

The idea of building large ships in sections, later up to 500,000 tons, and welding the pieces together into complete: vessels was fairly new. Previously, welded joints were not always very reliable. It took first class welders and modern machinery to produce large welds, stronger than the adjoining metal. This problem has since been solved by modern technology. The submarines manufactured in Vladivostok were quite small.

In Vladivostok's huge harbour, we picked up a young harbour pilot who climbed up the rope ladder, hung on the ship's side and greeted us with a charming smile. He was tall and fair and quite handsome and well spoken in English. During our long stay, he became one of our best local friends and spent quite a time piloting the Store Nordiske round the harbour, while we did cable work. When we were alongside the wharf, we discharged cable from the ship on to large trucks, using Russian and Chinese labour. It was coiled horizontally on to the table tops, after which the trucks proceeded to their destination in the City, where miles of cable was laid manually in 80cm deep trenches, a kind of cable-laying in which we had never previously been engaged.

We had fun helping our technicians lay and bury the cable in the streets, using Russian and Chinese labour. We sometimes provided communication up the line, by telling the Russians and Chinese what to do. Once a length of cable was laid, spliced to the end of the one already in, it had to be straightened, by pulling it up tightly. This last operation was carried out by giant Russians, who were kingsize and so strong that our technicians told them not to break the cable.

One afternoon, we reached a High School. Our trenches crossed both the playgrounds and we had a lot of fun with the kids, boys and girls. They showed us their science books and others. They were similar to books used in our Western countries. In one about astronomy, the pictures were easy to identify without knowing a word of Russian. The children were bright and charming, but they gave their teacher quite a problem when the bell rang and they stayed out, until she had given up yelling at them. She was a young woman, patient and kind.

We had an acting Russian Third Officer onboard the Store Nordiske, a former Officer in the Russian Imperial Navy. Obviously noone in the world would be able to talk him into joining us on a trip to Communist Russia. He seemed quite sure somebody would be waiting for him in his Old Country, so he was replaced by his counterpart on the Pacific, who was delighted to get an opportunity to have a good look at the Soviet Union from the inside.

Cable steamers don't usually lay cable in the streets, so we and our technicians were quite inexperienced in the work we were sent up to do. We really had to use our imagination more than usual. It was certainly not routine, like most ordinary cable work (leaving out deep sea repairs). When laying cable in the oceans of the world, the cable is guided under a dynamometer, which shows within pounds the tension imposed on the cable being laid. The tension is adjusted by the Chief Engineer, by skilfully manipulating the large brakes on the cable machinery. This operation limits the degree of deviation from a straight line, preventing zigzagging and saving expensive cable.

When we joined working parties ashore, we usually put on an old boiler suit and often showed up with a two day old beard. The Russian workers would greet us with a friendly smile and the commonly used Tbvarischtsch! (Comrade) and pat us on the back. At other times, when we appeared in uniform, clean shaven, they wouldn't look at us (Bourgeoisie?). We found the Russians had their own customs and traditions, enormous respect for authority, and we all agreed that the difference between high and low was not as wide as it was during the Tsar's rule. There was fairly strict discipline, and men and women were hard-working and very friendly. On arrival in Vladivostok Harbour, an enormous security force had boarded our ship and gone through it from stem to stern, removing all newspapers and papers with anything written on it. They made a bad mess of our quarters and the crew's. Everything was pulled out and left in a mess. Their leader apologized: "Orders from Moscow!", he said.

Every officer on the Store Nordiske had a loaded 45 Colt revolver and ammunition in a small locker in his cabin. The search party took them ashore for safekeeping. They also removed the new ammunition in the Commander's small safe, but missed his large safe, with all our old ammunition, always kept for target practice.

While we were working in Russia, in September / October 1938, the Munich Agreement, involving what was popularly called 'The Rape of Czechoslovakia', was being negotiated between Hitler, the British Prime Minister, Mr Neville Chamberlain and his French counterpart, Monsieur Daladier. We followed it with great interest on our short wave receiver, which was still operational and quite powerful, and received both London and Copenhagen perfectly. The Russian security men had sealed off our radio transmitter. We followed every move between the great powers in Europe and were afraid the war would start then and we would be jailed or interned in Russia for the duration. The horror stories we had heard gave us an indication of what that could mean; they didn't make our prospects very attractive.

The Russians had caught the war fever as well as Europe, and we saw enormous mobilisations of troops being ferried across the harbour in thousands from many islands around Vladivostok. They were singing war songs on the ships and formed choirs, harmonizing. We enjoyed their singing, as their songs echoing across the still waters. The coastal artilleries on some large islands were repeatedly having target practice. Sometimes the heavy guns were roaring all day. Torpedo practice was also carried out in the harbour and one torpedo actually hit our shipside a gentle blow. One of our technicians who obviously didn't know much about torpedo practice was frightened, until we assured him it was quite harmless (no warhead attached). While we were moored at the wharf, we often discussed the possibility of being frozen in, but we were assured the icebreaker would rescue us, if necessary.

Towards the end of our stay, we had a dinner party onboard with two prominent Russian V.I.Ps: the very top executive in telegraphic communication of all of Russia, from Moscow, and the official in charge of Eastern Siberia, were invited as Guests of Honour to dinner onboard the Store Nordiske. Another Guest, the Harbour Office Secretary, who acted as our interpreter, had worked eleven years in England.

Our steward certainly knew his business and how a dinner for V.I.Ps. should look and taste and he really did his best on that day. The dinner was superb and the wines the best money could buy anywhere, but our guests didn't seem to enjoy their dinner nearly as much as you would expect They looked quite forlorn and uncomfortable during the entire dinner - we were very sorry about that - we wanted them to have the time of their lives. We quite liked and respected them. After the party, when our honourable comrades had left, the secretary from the Harbour Office stayed onboard for a few drinks, as she often did. She was immediately surrounded by our entire staff of cable men, including our Commander. We knew her well, she wasn't afraid of the Gestapo or what it was called in Russia. She said, "What a waste of lovely food and wine, your guests had never seen anything like it."

We didn't agree with our interpreter about our guests. After all, they were very polite keymen in their new country and we wished them well. They were also essential to our life lines through Russia. We called quite often at the Harbour Office, the Inflot, on business. One day, the secretary was in the middle of her lunch. It consisted of rye bread - no butter - and raw salted fish. She looked embarrassed and tried unsuccessfully to hide her 'gala dinner' from our view. My colleague and I had a quiet giggle when we were far enough from her office - but I think we both felt sorry for her.

Once our Commander called us together and told us all officers and men were cordially invited as guests of the United Soviet Socialistic Republics to attend a circus show in town. We all (70) turned up in our good clothes and enjoyed the show. The clowns and acrobats were probably the best we had seen. There were also lots of wild beasts, including elephants, one of which was performing tricks of the usual kinds, but when they asked the giant animal: is Stalin all right? he roared disapproval, with the whole circus vibrating from stem to stern. They repeated the question several times and every time he heard 'Stalin' he showed in the same noisy manner how he hated the beloved dictator! The applause from the audience was almost as loud as the roar from the elephant. We had turned up in suits and ties, so we could honour our hosts, but we were the only ones of the large audience who wore ties. All the locals wore open shirt with no tie. After the performance we met a German fellow outside. He was a member of the circus staff, and we had a talk with him in English. He told us the beer would be on in the Intourist Restaurant the next day, a Thursday, and we promised to meet him there for lunch. We arrived there before he showed up and ordered Peevo (beer). It came out of a tap like water would, without foam or head, as flat as a pancake. We also ordered some Zakuska - cold table. When our new friend arrived he sent back some of the rye bread we had received and ordered white instead. He spoke fluent Russian.

We could buy Vodka in China, but it didn't compare to Vladivostok's local brand, which was far better. The Zakuska was tasty and the white bread O.K., so we ordered another helping and more Vodka. It made us very happy! Our new German friend soon began to sing an old German song we all knew: 'Trink, trink, Bruderlein trink!' - drink, drink brother-dear, drink! We didn't think his lovely voice would offend anybody, and our friend sang louder and louder. Finally, we joined in. The more Russian Vodka we drank, the more beautiful our song - until a tall, handsome man in glamour uniform appeared in the entrance to the restaurant. He looked very serious and so did we. He stood there for a while, looked and listened, then he waved our German friend over, spoke to him a few seconds in a quiet voice and they both left.

We froze in our seats:! I looked at my colleague: he looked glum. Our friend had ordered more expensive white bread, Zakuska and Vodka, than we could possibly pay for, with the few Roubles we had between us. My colleague suggested we jump out of the window. We were not amused. The following half hour, we kept planning our escape, but everytime we got up, the waitresses jumped to attention. Finally, I went over to them, they turned their backs on me when I came near them, until I said "Barschnia" (waitress) and one turned round and looked quite friendly at me. I made a gesture, showing her we wanted to pay what we owed them. Next thing (I could have kissed them all!) they were eager to show me by signs and gestures that our German friend had paid the bills before he was taken away.

We left quietly, but it wasn't the end of the story unfortunately. Two days later, when our Commander joined us for drinks in the lobby, he told us he had received a complaint from the Russian authorities, stating that two of his officers from the Store-Nordiske cable steamer had been guilty of houliganism in the Intourist Restaurant. He told our Commander to inform his officers that that kind of behaviour would not be tolerated in Vladivostok. We solemly promised we would never set foot in a Russian Restaurant in Russia anyway. We were not reprimanded for bad behavior as we expected - it would have violated the cable men's code of ethics - but a bit of friendly advice regarding the local powers that be was in place, and not likely to be forgotten.

We made friends with several Russian Officers who were stationed onboard more or less permanently. They enjoyed our Far Eastern hospitality. The handsome Harbour Pilot, who loved to examine a pile of Esquire Magazines, representing two years' subscriptions, was very impressed by Petty's very famous, almost naked, beauties in lovely colour. He asked us if many American girls were so beautiful? "Millions!" - we lied! He said he could hardly believe it. I must admit I didn't see anyone in the streets of Vladivostok who looked like any of Petty's models, neither do I remember meeting any such girls on Fifth Avenue in New York when I lived there. Another of our very good friends who was the 'biggest shot' of them all (with four bars on his shoulder straps - Navy Captain?), was immediately christened 'General Satan' (Danish and Russian pronunciation, Sahtan).

Satan was christened by our 2nd Officer, Axel Ingwerson (he was a famous yacht skipper, the second winner of The Blue Water Medal in the world, 1924, for his trip from Shanghai to Copenhagen in a 47ft Ketch, built in China by a Cbinaman, Ah Long, designed by two Danish Yangtze Pilots).

Satan was a good natured, big, fat comrade, probably the boss of the entire crowd we had onboard. He soon got used to his new name and liked it. With half a bottle of rum in his guts, he had a delightful sense of humour. When we all befriended him, our supply of the main ingredient used in gin & bitters, Old Tom Gin, was running low and Ingwersen promptly invented a substitute, rum & bitters, which was greatly appreciated by the General. I have a feeling he never liked gin & bitters anyway. Rum and bitters became his favourite drink, but it caused a serious drain in our rum supply. I remember we were on Rhine wine on the way home to China.

The third Officer, Petersen, and I went for long walks in the city and the surrounding countryside and talked to many people on our long trips. We had acquired great talent of conveying our thoughts by sign language. We saw people fill their old kerosine tins with water on street corners, where the tap was located for public use. Other sources of supply were tank cars with kerosine. Again, people would come out of their homes with kerosine tins to fill them with fuel for their Primus stoves. Very few homes had any water on tap and sewerage was something to hope for in the future. In the little house at the back the head of the family would read the morning news in Pravda.

On one of our many Cook's Tours, we saw a carriage with a wheel missing, running on the hub left by the missing wheel and on the remaining three. In the uppermost corner, diagonally opposite the missing wheel, sat an old man, urging his horse on. It was hard to believe.

Our Third Officer and I were both interested to learn as much as possible about the local population while we had the opportunity. We knew it wouldn't be easy. Finally we had a break. On a long trip, several miles out in the country, we met a young country girl, about 20, she was quite pretty, in a healthy sort of way. She had a yoke over her shoulders and was carrying two buckets almost full of water. My friend offered to carry the buckets for her, but she declined his offer with a charming smile. So we walked along, considerably impressed by her incredible energy and strength. For half an hour, we escorted her and conversed with her in sign language which we all enjoyed and which often was subject of a hearty laugh by all. When my friend later repeated his offer, to take the load off her shoulders, she laughed again and said something in Russian, which we both agreed probably meant: "Don't be silly - they aren't that heavy". Later, we came within sight of a large farmhouse, undoubtedly her home, and she showed us, with a gentle but firm gesture that she would much rather return home alone than being escorted by a couple of Martians. Had she mastered the English language, she would have been able to express herself more clearly, by saying for instance: Get Lost! or - if we pretended not to understand: Drop Dead!

Down on the wharves, women were loading and unloading heavy crates into and out of large ships, moored alongside. We admired those hefty female wharf labourers. They were not young women, but they looked very healthy in their blue overalls, and all had rosy cheeks, working hard and showing great skill at their jobs. We watched them with great interest over an hour and found them all very conscientious, trying to achieve perfection. We all agreed they all deserved good wages for their outstanding effort. We knew they wouldn't be very well paid and strikes were outmoded in Russia. Their working week was five days, with only one day off. Every sixth was a holiday in Russia, no long weekend. Of course, Sunday was just another day. While we were there, they had only one God, his name was Stalin, Man of Steel, Russians were God-fearing!

Towards the end of our stay at Vladivostok, we began to run short of food, so both officers and men threw lines over the side and caught a lot of mackerel in the harbour. When our Commander reported to our main office that we were running short of food, he also informed them, we had been fishing and caught about 250lbs of mackerel from the ship. With officers and crew numbering about 80, the fish didn't last long, but we must have saved the company quite a few Roubles. Later, enough food was ordered for the rest of our stay and our trip back home. When it arrived, we were told it came from Moscow, deep frozen. We were all assembled on deck for the great occasion, curious to see what was going to keep us alive the following couple of weeks.

The frozen part of our consignment was landed on deck, lowered by our winches. There was a large pile of big frozen carcases, all covered in cheese cloth. Noone was able to identify the animals. They were odd looking. Somebody suggested they were lions. An inquiry solved the question: they were pigs without skins, which were undoubtedly used for shoes and boots in other parts of Russia. The Chinese crew were happy - they love pork, and so do Danes. It turned out to be quite O.K. in the end.

One day a Chinese sailor became very ill, so our Chief Officer rang the Harbour Office and they sent a doctor. We didn't then know there were more women doctors in Russia than men, so we were quite surprised to see a woman doctor come alongside in a motor launch. We were in the middle of the harbour, so she had to climb the ladder hung over the shipside. It did not worry her in the least. She was young - 25, we found out later. When she had climbed up all the way level with the railing, the Chief Officer, Big Pete, lifted her over the railing himself - as if she were a small child - and put her down on deck very gently. She greeted Peter with a polite smile and shook his hand. She spoke fluent English, without much Rusky Accent. She went down with Peter and examined the sick sailor and reported he had a stomach ulcer, and wrote at a prescription for him in Russian (what else?). After a polite conversation with all of us, she smiled and left. The Chief Officer and others thought her diagnosis incorrect. Back home in Shanghai, our English doctors confirmed her diagnosis, after X-rays were taken.

The two Danish engineers at the transmission station in Vladivostok were to be replaced by Russian technicians shortly after we left. The Stations at Moscow and Leningrad would then be the only two manned by Danish Engineers. In the 19th century, all stations were built and run by Danes.

We were often invited to visit the Seamen's Klub and we finally went there. The personnel were kind and friendly, and all the walls were covered with Communist Propaganda, in English. We found out that Soviet Russia was the People's Democracy. I think we had tea made in a Samovar tea machine. It was not very interesting, and I think we were there only once.

At last, one unforgetable day, we were informed that all cable laying, joining and splicing and all testing and re-testing of the lines both ways to Shanghai and Copenhagen were completed, and we could get ready to leave Vladivostok the following day. Almost immediately the large gang of Security Officers arrived for their final search of the ship, before we would be allowed to leave. Everything was turned upside down in the same manner we had experienced when we arrived in port. There weren't many papers left this time, but everything was left in the same mess we had seen a month earlier. The snooping over and under all furniture and fixtures was repeated. This time we didn't mind: we had had Russia, we wanted to get out.

All seemed to work out to everybody's satisfaction until the men came up on the bridge and stopped at the Commander's big safe. They sent for the man himself to get the key to open it. He arrived and unlocked it.

A deafening roar from the Comrades echoed through the ship. There in front of everybody was a stack of revolver and rifle ammunition. I was standing behind our Commander. He certainly didn't lose his head. I admired him and froze in my shoes. He immediately sent for our Danish-Russian speaking technician who explained in Russian to the leader of the search party that we always kept our old ammunition for target practice when we had received new supplies. Furthermore, the Commander stated that he had decided to throw all ammunition overboard before we reached Vladivostok,but he was sorry, he had forgotten.

The Store Nordiske was arrested and refused permission to leave port. All cables buried in the streets of Vladivostok, our lines via Nagasaki to Shanghai, submarine cables on the bottom of the East China Seas and all the phone connections to the local Commissars, became badly overheated during the following 24 hours. From Copenhagen, direct through the Baltic-Finland-Russia-Siberia cable, came the usual polite message: We fail to understand. Shanghai wanted to know what the hell we were doing up there, being arrested etc. Moscow was ominously silent all day, until later in the afternoon our Commander announced that he had been fined 450 Roubles for not declaring the old ammunition in his safe (I think one Rouble = US $0.50). The ammunition was packed in big boxes, taken ashore and confiscated.

Quite a few barges and motor launches followed us out of the harbour. We realized we had made some friends in Vladivostok, but I'm sure not one was a member of the Communist Party. On a motor launch stood General Satan, waving like mad, his dear friend shouted 'Dashvidania' - farewell. He insisted the General shed a tear, overwhelmed by emotion(?). He agreed with me that if we carried out an analysis of the Satanic Bear, it would probably register 95% of our best rum.

When we were going full speed for good and Vladivostok was being swallowed up slowly in the distant haze, our Commander, still on the bridge, turned round facing the big city. A touch of humour seemed to pass over his young face, when he mumbled: "Bloody Vostok!" The Second Officer overheard it and entered it into the logbook in the Officer's Mess, under 'Famous Last Words by our Commander' and in the appropriate space on our menu on the last day.

All of a sudden, first the Chinese, then everybody else, began to shout: Look at the two rainbows on the horizon! Our Chief Technician had seen the same natural wonder in Japan years before.

On our way back to Shanghai, we held daily discussions about the country we had left behind. We all thought the Russians would recover from the Revolution, after the next war we all knew was on the way. They certainly have. They lost 20 million dead in the last war, took a large slice of Europe as compensation, and are now regarded as a Super Power, like U.S.A. I sincerely hope they will advance peacefully, without trying to build an Empire of their own and one day in the future let their people govern.

April-October 1939: Home Leave in Denmark

Back in China from Russia, I was soon planning my next home leave in Denmark. Everybody knew the war could start anytime. After the Munich Crisis, settled by Hitler, Chamberlain and Daladier, Neville Chamberlain said: "Peace in our time". I discussed my prospects with several of my colleagues - one said, "Go to America and stay there, or Hitler will grab you!"

I had decided to visit my father in Copenhagen. He would turn 70 on the 16th May 1939. I booked my passage to Marseilles on a French liner, the Jean Laborde. She was directed to Hong Kong, making it necessary for me to go there by another French boat, the N/V Porthos. Jean Laborde was due at Marseilles about the end of May, so I would miss my father's birthday - it couldn't be helped. On the day of departure from Shanghai, a big crowd of friends arrived onboard the Porthos to see me off, an old tradition and usually a moist affair. More so this time: French champagne was ten bob a bottle, ex-bond. We tried all famous brands: Pommery & Greno,Veuve Cliquot and Piper Heidsieck- all lovely! My choice, (bestseller), Veuve Cliquot, Brut. Our guests insisted noone could pronounce 'Piper Heidsieck'. Our bartender helped us out with something like: Pee-pay Hee-edsec. A bell rang, indicating our departure. My friends left, and we moved down the river. They shouted, bon voyage, correctly pronounced in French - showing how potent French champagne really is.

On my way to Hong Kong, I met four Swiss engineers. Three spoke German and one French, but all spoke fluent English with no accent. They had all been sent to the Far East by Swiss manufacturers of anti-aircraft guns. Two spent six months in China, establishing a factory there, training the Chinese staff and workers, and the other two were on a similar mission to Japan.

They were a happy bunch of globetrotting engineers, all displaying a delightful sense of humour, preventing me from having one dull moment on the entire trip to Marseilles. From the first evening we met, I asked them if they could yodel, after a few drinks at the bar. No, no, not any of them, they assured me. About midnight and after quite a few Kirch liquors, they changed their tune and nobody could stop them. The French-speaking engineer had a powerful and quite outstanding tenor voice and he wouldn't stop. He was middle-aged and seemed to be the boss. They all had great respect for him. His seniority and lovely voice caused real problems in the early hours, all the way. Our fellow passengers, who were mainly of French nationality, seemed to like him, quite possibly because he was French speaking.

One afternoon in calm weather, one of my Swiss friends walked on his hands on deck and when I did the same, they all joined in, greatly appreciated by our French passengers. This was neither odd in Switzerland nor in Denmark, both countries with compulsory gymnastics in schools.

Red wine was served with lunch and dinner and was free. It was greatly appreciated by all The French passengers cooled their wine with crushed ice. My Swiss friends consumed up to two bottles at times! I felt like a teetotaller, the first time in my life.

I often wondered how our French Bartender managed to survive at all. Our French-speaking Swiss friend christened him Monsieur Fatiguer from the start. He complained we had kept him up till all hours, night after night. We always reminded him how business had picked up since we arrived. Only at the very end of our trip, when we disembarked at Marseilles and promised never to return, did we see a very charming smile on his face ¨C radiating relief.

I am sure we were not as bad as that, and I have decided that my Swiss friends were good-natured modern and civilized samples of our species. We called in at Saigon - pronounced something like "Segong" - a beautiful city in French Style, with many French restaurants, cafes, and shops, nice and clean. We loaded rice there, two days, the world's best, they said. Next stop, Singapore. On the way there, I had to share my cabin with two Fathers. I complained to the Purser, who said he understood, but refused any personal investigation of my trouble. I slept on deck until Singapore, where another cabin was made available for me. While at Singapore, I visited several families I had known for years. They enjoyed my stories about Monsieur Fatiguer and thought I had been lucky with my travelling companions. They had often been bored on their long travels. Colombo was next stop after Singapore. I went on a trip by car up to Kandy on top of the island, took a whole day, a beautiful and interesting trip, and we met a dozen elephants on the way. On top we admired the topless young tea-picking girls and the lovely scent of the tea-leaves being picked. Down to earth again, we all went into the Grand Hotel bar to quench our thirst.

Next stop - no you couldn't guess it: Djibuti in French Somaliland. We arrived there after playing ping pong and betting on mechanical wooden horses, propelled and very ingeniously adjusted to surprise everybody who bet on them, including me. The man who called out the numbers of the winning horses taught me quite a bit of plain French, the language used by Frenchmen and not pronounced in any other language - like English! Two nights we had had fancy dress balls, with some stunning disguises and a first class dance band, not to mention champagne, by the gallon. French people are very kind and polite, but they seldom mix with other nationalities. It is difficult to make friends with them, unless you know their beautiful language to perfection. If you cannot avoid mutilating it, speak English. Djibuti is a city you will be proud of having visited, as few of your friends have ever been there (like Istanbul). When we arrived for a few hours stay, our gang plus an Oxford-born Englishman went ashore and settled down outside a restaurant, where a negro waiter asked us, what we would like. We all said, "Biere", and when he asked us, "Tuborg?", I said, "Sure, my guarantee goes with that - Danish beer at its best. Seven million bottles produced daily at Copenhagen - available everywhere."

Soon we were on our way to the Suez Canal, going through at slow speed - seven knots - and stopping at Port Said for the night. We went to a night club, where a bellydancer showed her skill. We drank Scotch: French champagne was a lot more than 10s a bottle in Egypt. I wore a fez for the occasion, bought along the way.

Marseilles: Church bells woke me at 6am at my hotel and kept on for hours. After breakfast, I boarded the Train Bleu to Paris, where I was soon settled at Hotel de Choiseul, Rue de Saint Honore, a lovely hotel built around a large, beautiful garden, strawberries and cream in bed for breakfast, a good restaurant on the first floor and a hotel manager (French) with an Oxford accent, who hated young American women trying their college French on him! Otherwise, he was very efficient organizing bookings for The National Opera, Gounod's Faust, Folies Bergeres, Casino de Paris with Maurice Chevalier; later, Notre Dame, Sacre Coeur, Moulin Rouge and trips to Bois de Bologne and, finally, Versailles with its beautiful gardens and also many sightseeing trips all over Paris.

Faust's and Marguerita's voices were glorious at the National Opera and the Soldiers' Chorus was what you would expect in Paris. My only complaint was not the volume of the prima donna's voice, but the volume of lovely Marguerita herself. Once during the most dramatic part of her performance, she was lying on the floor, and had to be supported by Faust to get up again. But, I agreed with an English couple next to me, we would never forget her lovely voice.

Down to earth again, Folies Bergere. I got a slight shock when the curtain went up and a line of pretty young girls, all topless, appeared, floodlit. They looked beautiful! But immediately after, a middle-aged English woman jumped out of her seat and screamed at the top of her voice: "I have never been so insulted in my life - come here Alfred! Out! Out! Out!", and she dragged poor Alfred with her and both raced out through the front entrance. Naturally the audience roared laughing. I didn't know it was part of the show. I mentioned it to my friend, Le Maitre d'Hotel. "I suppose you wouldn't have missed that scene for anything", he said. "It is very well done. Next time you won't enjoy it quite as much."

At Casino de Paris, Maurice Chevallier, the owner, spoke to me during the performance. I just happened to sit on a seat nearest to him when he was walking down the aisle. He asked me "What would you do, if it was:you? That's what I did too!" He was talking about Mimi, all I did to answer his question was to shake my head. The French - and everybody else - loved Maurice. He was very funny and extremely popular. He showed the audience how bandy-legged he was, "On est comme on est", he said, and translated it for the benefit of the English-speaking audience thus: 'One is, as one is'.

The Louvre you ought to visit every day for a month if you are a connoisseur of fine art - which I am not. To see and admire as much as you can of Paris in one week is hard work, but it is worth an immense effort. I felt I needed a holiday when I left for Copenhagen on a Swedish plane.

My father didn't look old when I landed at Kastrup airport and he, my sister and niece met me there. I went home with them and had a lovely home-cooked dinner. I always had a good memory for good food - sure I remember: it was good Danish pork chops!

Early in July 1939, I went onboard the Polish liner, the M/V Batory. I think she was on her maiden voyage, a beautiful ship, built in Italy, and powered by Burmeister & Wain double-acting diesel engines. She was very modern, with indoor swimming pool and gymnasium and, best of all, a Danish chef and restaurant personnel. The food was the best I had enjoyed on any ship, on level with the Scandinavian American Line where I served as Junior Marine Engineer for two years.

I arrived onboard with my father, my sister and my niece, hours before we were due to leave for New York. I entertained my family in old Far Eastern tradition on Dry Martinis, which I am surprised to say, they quite liked. Years later, I have often thought with a giggle that it must surely have taken quite a bit of the sting out of a sad farewell! I kissed my father several times on his cheeks when I found he quite liked that (Russian or French style). Finally, the siren blew three times, and it was time to say goodbye. My father insisted he would never see me again. "Nonsense," I said. Seven years later, in New York I was offered a trip to Europe by my old Commander, Carl, but I declined his kind offer - there was only one person I would rather: see, Marge! Carl knew her, he understood.

Back to reality again: the war hadn't started yet, while we were leaving Copenhagen for our trip across the Atlantic, for my 31st crossing. It was just as well: Batory's sistership,the Pilsudsky was sunk shortly after the war started.

When we were out at sea, I couldn't help recalling my experience fourteen years before when I served as a Junior Engineer on the Copenhagen-New York Run. Many memories came back to me. I had a fantastic time, with seventeen other young engineers. We all qualified as able-bodied Juniors in the end. The ones who didn't, ended up as certified landlubbers - a fate worse than death. I noticed that the bumping knocking noise below was not as melodious as our old musical steam engines, but it meant less work.

The Batory was a beautiful boat, but the passengers were from all parts of Europe - not like the Far East variety I had been used to on my many travels. I soon befriended a Swedish Chief Officer on his way to Philadelphia. He loved his Snaps and Bitter, at 11 am every day, and I had no difficulty adopting his bad habit. He was quite entertaining. The rest of the time I swam and enjoyed the Danish culinary works of art. Danish Camembert was one of my favourites, but I have never since been able to get the same quality and flavour - not even in Denmark.

Oslo Fiord! I should know it well after many trips up and down - I think it is the most unforgetable scenery I have enjoyed in my eventful life. Later, we went through Pentland Firth, North of Scotland. I have indelible memories of a radio message, we received in 1925: the MJV Gripsholm passed the lighthouse two minutes ago - one hour and forty-three minutes after S/S Frederik VIII. It was the end of our 3,000 mile race acrose the Atlantic. I was on duty down below in the aft boiler room, looking after four boilers, when someone shouted it down to us. The firemen went mad!

The weather was fine all the way across the Atlantic to the big trading port of Halifax, Nova Scotia. We entered the large harbour, but the Port of Halifax always looked sad and dilapidated, as I remembered it years before when we used to call in on our way to New York.

We were soon on our final lap to New York, and two days later the famous Manhattan skyline of highrise buildings appeared far away.

{Editor's note: William Elmgreen (and Luba and Rebecca) then travelled across the USA by Greyhound bus to San Franscisco, war breaking out when he was in Chicago, and from San Francisco by ship back to Shanghai, via Japan.]

When we sailed up Shanghai Harbour, passing beautiful Store Nordiske, I felt at home at last. The Store Nordiske, gleaming white, had Danish neutrality markings, two Danish flags and Danmark painted on each side of the hull. When a Japanese passenger remarked that the name Danmark was misspelled, I informed him that Danmark was spelled correctly in Danish. After arrival, the usual welcome party at the Palace Hotel Bar entertaining everybody who could come. Afterwards, home to my flat for a dip in the downstairs pool - and relax.

Shanghai was a neutral port with British, American, Japanese, German and Italian cruisers moored at buoys in the Whangpoo River. Shanghai was occupied by the Japanese and Italy was not in the war yet. Our two cable steamers were O.K. - so far - being neutral. We continued repairing Danish, British and American cables, as usual under normal conditions.

On 9th April l940, Denmark was invaded by Hitler's army. We still carried out repairs as usual, until May, when it was rumoured that some local Nazis were quietly planning to take over our ships. Both steamers immediately raised steam and left for Hong Kong. I was on the S/S Pacific and we arrived at Hong Kong four days later. We signed British Articles, pulled down our old Danish flag, and hoisted the Union Jack. Our neutrality markings were covered with war paint and we left immediately for a repair job on the high seas. On our main mast was a sealed document with this inscription: 'Thirty days from this date, the C/S-Pacific will be a Prize of War, belonging to his Majesty King George VI.' After this, the cable steamer, C/S Pacific was a Man-of-War, according to the Geneva Conference.

While we were heading for an American cable repar, the Store Nordiske was held up in the Yangtse Kiang River repairing a cable damaged by an American passenger ship which had anchored in the cable and broken it when she weighed anchor. On completion of her repair, the Store Nordiske proceeded south, heading for Hong Kong, when an Australian destroyer fired a warning shot across her bow. Of course, she was regarded as an enemy vessel and an Australian crew boarded her. According to our colleagues onboard, the boarding crew were treated like Royalty all the way to Hong Kong, judging by a slight reduction of the beer supply. Another lovely Prize was added to King George VI's Fleet of War Prizes. My ship the S/S Pacific was later stationed at Singapore, relieving the British Cable Steamer, the C/S The Cable and I was promoted to Second Engineer - it almost made feel giddy. Arriving at Singapore, where we had been relieving before, we were made temporary members of the Swimming Club and also the Cricket Club.

© John Elmgreen 2007