CRSC@90: the 1940s

During a trip to the Clyde coast on 2 January 1940, CRSC founder member Leo Vogt photographed Dalriada and Marchioness of Graham at Wemyss Bay pier. The former had been painted ‘substantially black all over’ and the latter was in wartime grey apart from her funnel. The preceding four months had been characterised by a ‘phoney war’ between the United Kingdom and Germany, during which some peacetime habits were maintained. But wartime was already imposing all sorts of restrictions on civilian life, which would impact on the Club and its members in the years ahead.

In retrospect, the 1940s posed the biggest existential threat to our association in its entire 90-year history — an impression acknowledged by the CRSC management committee in October 1940, when it met ‘to decide upon the future of the Club’. Several key members were called up for the war effort, and numerous steamers were requisitioned, some — including Dalriada — never to return.

And yet, despite restrictions on photography and limited opportunities to meet and sail together, the Club survived the war and ended the decade in a flourish of activity, distinguished by two ‘big ship’ charters — of Lucy Ashton for her diamond jubilee on 29 May 1948 and, a year later (28 May 1949), of Duchess of Montrose to celebrate the diamond jubilee of the Caledonian Steam Packet Company.

Leo Vogt’s diary for Tuesday 2 January 1940 reads as follows: ‘0830 train St Enoch to Largs and Dunlop bus forward to Wemyss Bay. Crossed to Rothesay on Marchioness of Graham, now with the CSP colour restored to her funnel, this same remark applying to Glen Sannox which had been seen at Fairlie Pier earlier in the day. In Kylemore’s berth at Rothesay lay Loch Aline, now flying the blue ensign, but otherwise in her peacetime MacBrayne livery, and present also was Wee Cumbrae (grey) at pier and fussing around. On the return sailing to Wemyss Bay we passed close to Dalriada in the vicinity of Toward Bank. It was Lochnevis which took us across, her funnel now painted black, and her white upperworks had acquired an ochre/brown shade.’ It is in these colours that Lochnevis is pictured below arriving at Wemyss Bay in 1940.

Even in the late summer of 1940, wartime curbs on civilian crossings on the Firth of Clyde had still not taken full effect. Leo Vogt’s sailing diary (below, righthand column) reveals that on 4 September he made a trip on the CSP turbine Glen Sannox, now with ochre-coloured upperworks and funnels, from Fairlie to Brodick, Lamlash and Whiting Bay, sighting the minesweeper Jeanie Deans on the way. He recorded that Glen Sannox sailed outward between the Cumbraes and returned to Fairlie round the north end of the Great Cumbrae.

Despite fears of a complete shutdown of CRSC activities, Club secretary Norman Shields was able in November 1940 to circulate a delayed syllabus for the winter session of meetings (below left) which included presentations from Leo Vogt, George Stromier, Cameron Somerville, Fred Plant, Graham Langmuir, Edwin Wylie and Tom Hart. The 5/- subscription had not changed since the 1933-34 session. At the annual meeting on 16 April 1941 George Stromier was elected President, and at the following year’s AGM (below right) his cousin and fellow founder member Leo Vogt took the chair.

The 1940-41 syllabus indicates a delayed start to the session. Click on image to enlarge

Notification of the 1942 AGM, at which Leo Vogt was elected CRSC President



Leo Vogt repeated his day excursion on Glen Sannox to Arran on New Year’s Day 1941 (above) — sailing outward via Keppel, where 229 passengers disembarked and 200 were taken on for Arran. On the journey from Brodick to Lamlash, the steamer had to go round the south end of Holy Isle, there being boom defences at both entrances to Lamlash Bay. Leo noted that the former MacBrayne cargo boat Lochiel was among the vessels anchored there — and that the mate of Glen Sannox on this occasion was Fergus Murdoch (who was to become a firm friend of Leo and George after the war). Six months later, in June 1941 (below), Leo repeated the trip to Arran, this time for an early summer break at Whiting Bay in the company of George and his wife Kathleen.

Leo’s next trip to Arran was on 16 April 1942 (below), by which time Duchess of Argyll was on the Millport run and Glen Sannox had been painted ‘completely grey’. He did not make another trip on the ‘Sannox’ until September 1951.

In 1942 George Stromier was called up for war service, which he spent as a coder on HMS Fowey in the Mediterranean and along the West African coast. He is pictured below on 26 July with his wife Kathleen outside their home in Shawlands, before his departure. Like his friend Donald Robertson and several other Club members, George was not demobilised until  1945.

In common with several other CRSC members, Leo Vogt was spared active war service — in his case possibly due to ill health (an intestinal condition that was to dog him for much of his life), but more probably because of his employment at a firm of electrical engineers in Rutherglen, where his work would be considered essential to the war effort. For the main part of the war, trips on the Firth were confined to the occasional crossing to Rothesay — where Duchess of Montrose is pictured below in wartime grey next to a group of small Admiralty boats. Although Leo’s favourite steamer, King Edward, did not leave the Clyde in the 1939-45 war, he only managed to sail on her once during that time — from Kirn to Dunoon and Gourock on 18 May 1940. His next sailing on her was not until 8 June 1946 (a public holiday marking the first anniversary of VE Day), when he joined her at Bridge Wharf for a ‘doon the watter’ sailing via Govan and Gourock to Dunoon, Innellan and Rothesay — outward on his own and returning in the company of Donald Robertson.

Despite fears earlier in the war that CRSC meetings might not be possible, the core membership remained true to its ideals and continued to meet in winter months. The 1944-45 session (below) began in September and included such intriguingly titled talks as ‘What is this Firth of Clyde?’ and ‘Yarns about Ships’.

The first Club sailing after the war took place on 22 June 1946 (below): it was many members’ first chance to sample the pleasures of the Firth since 1939.

Throughout the 1930s and 1940s it was Norman Shields — the Club’s first, and largely unsung, Honorary Secretary — who organised all Club meetings and excursions, notably on 15 June 1936 when CRSC members cruised round Bute on the new LMS turbine Marchioness of Graham. In a group photograph of that occasion (below), Norman is seated second left in light grey suit and waistcoat. The young Graham Langmuir stands in the centre of the picture with his head turned slightly to the left. All the men are in jacket and tie, the women well wrapped in coats and hats. The group looks like a healthy mix of young and not so young.

A snapshot showing Norman Shields with the funnels of Duchess of Argyll in 1947 (below) is the only known individual portrait of him. Although there can be few alive today who remember him, Norman Shields played a crucial role in the development of our association, doing most of the administrative work from the very first committee meeting in 1932 until his untimely death in July 1950, after which George Stromier wrote a handsome tribute in the Bulletin newspaper.

The Club’s first excursion of 1947 was a sailing to Rothesay on the new LNER paddler Waverley on 21 June 1947 (below). Curiously, the outward rail connection was from Glasgow Central to Gourock — though the return was via the steamer’s home port at Craigendoran and on to Queen Street.

Five days after that auspicious occasion, the Club’s inaugural president, Andrew Mackechnie, was pictured (below) on the bridge of Duchess of Hamilton with the steamer’s new master, Captain Fergus Murdoch.

Early the following year, Leo Vogt and Andrew Mackechnie were photographed on Waverley with the paddler’s first master, Captain John Cameron DSC, who had also been master of her 1899 predecessor.

The first big CRSC event of the postwar era was a charter of Lucy Ashton on 29 May 1948 to celebrate her diamond jubilee. In retrospect it is remarkable that this otherwise unremarkable little paddler managed to survive two world wars and the post-1945 cull of pre-1914 steamers.

While ‘Lucy’, dressed overall for the occasion, prepared to leave Craigendoran (below), she was photographed in her new Caledonian Steam Packet Company colours next to Talisman.

Later that day Lucy Ashton was pictured at Rothesay (below) with a CRSC group including Leo Vogt on the right.

The 1948-49 syllabus had a healthy variety of talks, the speakers including such distinguished steamer authorities as Cameron Somerville and Rev. William Galbraith:


The Club’s progress through the 1940s came to a fitting climax with the charter of Duchess of Montrose for a cruise round Bute and Arran on 28 May 1949, in celebration of the CSP’s diamond jubilee. In the postwar climate of austerity, with rationing still in force, the event was a strong statement of intent for the still-young Steamer Club:

The ‘Montrose’ is pictured below shortly before her departure from Gourock on the CRSC charter. Also pictured is the Stromier-Vogt family entourage on the foredeck of the steamer (click on image to enlarge).

As a souvenir of the occasion, CRSC members were given a facsimile of the 1889 Gourock route ticket:

As the 1940s drew to a close, CRSC was clearly in robust health: the 1949-50 session featured a typically catholic breadth of speakers and subjects. Like the UK as a whole, the Club had survived the challenges of postwar adjustment and had the wherewithal to face the 1950s with optimism.

Compiled by Andrew Clark, with thanks to Fiona Stromier and Irene O’Brien, chief archivist at the Mitchell Library, Glasgow.


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Stromier & Vogt, Co-Creators of a Club Culture (paid-up CRSC members only)

CRSC in the 1950s

CRSC in the early 60s: springboard to rejuvenation

CRSC in the late 60s: an explosion of memorable activity

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Published on 17 December 2022