A report written by a young Midshipmite in 1947.

Carrying Pilgrims

Jeddah is situated on a flat sand plain which cannot be seen from the sea until you are right on top of it and as the anchorage is only a space between hundreds of coral reefs it cannot be approached at night. Usually, the first indication that you are anywhere near it is when a motor boat appears out of nowhere and a big, fierce looking, bare footed Arab leaps out of it on to the pilot ladder and introduces himself as the pilot. He guides the ship between the dangerous reefs, which show up very well in the early morning light of November 14th.

A running moor is the only way to lie in the anchorage as there is very little room to swing. This is one of the few places in the world where a running moor is still used. (Port Swettenham is another.) Quite a few places still have ships to two anchors but they usually run them in the same direction.

Now we are anchored and we can relax because we are quarantined for five days owing to a cholera scare in Egypt when we came through. So the intensely hot, dry days ( 125 degrees F is chickenfeed here) are spent preparing for the pilgrims who are going home to Malaya, Java and even China with us, after making their trip to Mecca and Medina where Mahomed, their prophet, lived and died.

The 'tween decks, where they will live, are all cleaned out and disinfected, the lower hold hatches are covered with tarpaulins and locking bars (to prevent broaching of cargo), booby hatches and pilgrim ladders are shipped and bolted into place, lifejacket racks are put in position and filled, extra fire extinguishers are put in place, tween deck ports are opened, jackstays for awnings are fitted and set up taut, windsails are hoisted, galleys erected, latrines and showers tested, ration cards prepared, and 50-gallon drums cement washed, ready for issuing fresh water. However, everybody knocks off at 4 p.m. each day as there is plenty of time to get ready.

Everything is completed on the 19
th. First thing next morning, whilst we are waiting for the pilgrims to arrive, we dress ship in honour of the wedding of Princess Elizabeth and Philip Mountbatten.

The ship is anchored about three miles off shore and there are not many motor launches so most of the pilgrims have to come off in dhows. But the wind is blowing onshore all day and the dhows can make very little progress against it. That means, of course, that we stand around all day waiting for them and when knocking off time comes so does the offshore breeze and the dhows all arrive at the same time, causing a great deal of pandemonium. However, we get them all stowed away and then wait for the morning for the rest of them to come aboard.

When they do it seems as though they all try to board at once, carrying petrol cans full of holy water, and souvenirs, and babies, and luggage, and anxious to secure the best possible space as soon as possible. One old woman comes aboard on a stretcher, a horrible sight with her face covered in flies and her unable to do anything about it and probably not noticing it anyway. She is taken straight aft to the hospital but she dies before she gets there and is taken ashore again, for the last time.


Pilgrims sorting baggage on Agamemnon

Before we can sail, they all have to be counted and the middies get the job of moving everyone from the foredeck to the after deck, whence they will file over the centrecastle, through a narrow alleyway, have their tickets etc examined at a table set up by No.3 hatch, receive their ration cards and move on to the foredeck. After this is done they can return to their chosen spaces.

But to get them to move aft is the first job. Naturally, nobody wants to leave their hard won space, nor their possessions, and it takes an awful lot of persuasion to get them to do so. Fortunately, some of them speak good English and with their help we are finally able to get them moving. Sick people are allowed to stay put - so it is hardly surprising that many go sick immediately! However, we manage to sort them out and send the obvious malingerers aft. One woman, lying on the deck by the masthouse, completely unattended and looking as if she is travelling alone, is obviously going to have a baby in the near future. Her body is periodically shuddering convulsively and she is muttering to herself. We call the quack, of course, but he says that there is nothing he can do yet, so we leave her and concentrate on getting the rest of them aft.

It takes all morning to get the job done and all afternoon to count them, but eventually we're through, we steam round our anchors to get the turns out, heave away and head out through the reefs.

The following day our routine begins.
0600 Rolls and coffee. We mark the ration cards whilst the cooks issue one roll and one measure of coffee (no milk or sugar) to each person.
0700 Water issue. One man marks the cards, one man issues three-quarters of a gallon of water to each haji.
0800 Breakfast. We mark the cards whilst the cooks dish out about a handful of rice and a ladle of stew to each person.
After our own breakfast we turn to on ordinary ship work. On the first day we wash down, to try to get rid of some of the sandy dust we picked up in Jeddah. It's a bit difficult because lots of people have decided to live on deck rather than go below. But we manage. As we are about to wash around the foremast house we see the expectant mother, shaking all over and sobbing and holding a piece of rope between her feet while she grips it tight and heaves hard. We drop the hose and rush off to find the Doc, but by the time he arrives she has already given birth to a son - to be named Agamemnon.
1500 A second water issue. Three-quarters of a gallon once more.
1600 Second and final chow. We put a handful of sweets and chocolates into our pockets from our sweet ration and give them to the kids who come along, and they teach us to count in Malay as a return gift.

And that's all we have to do, apart from lashing their baggage and holy water when the weather looks like getting bad, and closing all the ports when the sea gets up. Opening them again when the weather improves is not a pleasant task after the seasick inhabitants have been down there for a couple of days with little ventilation.

On the second morning the Mate calls for us as soon as we get up and tells us to go forward to get a firebar and take it aft. We do so, not knowing what it is for, and when we find out we do not care for it. A man has died during the night and his relatives are preparing him to meet his maker. He is stretched out on the deck and his wife is washing him down with salt water from an old bucket. When he is clean enough they dress him in his best dhoti (sarong) and vest and carry him aft. On the poop he is placed on a flat board with a rope in each corner and the firebar is lashed to his legs. The assembled crowd do some chanting and weeping, then the engines are stopped, the board lowered to the water, the after lines slacked off and the body slips gracefully into the deep. The engines start up again and everyone goes about their normal business.

We grow used to the deaths after a while but, thankfully, we do not have to get used to births.

Daybreak on December 4
th sees us arriving in Penang. We anchor to four shackles. Most of the pilgrims depart here, with us tallying them into the boats. The balance leave in Singapore on the 6th and our Pilgrim Bonus of £4/7/6, at a penny per head, is paid.


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