Two Former Clyde Pursers

The steamers most frequently mentioned by the two former Assistant Pursers were Duchess of Montrose and Waverley, seen together unusually at Craigendoran on 17 August 1963. Copyright Leslie Brown

One valuable asset of being a member of CRSC is being able to listen to speakers who have actually worked on the ships that we value so dearly in our memories. On Wednesday 11 January at Jurys Inn we had two such speakers, both of whom had served as Assistant Purser aboard Clyde steamers in that last golden era – the early 1960s. Jim Davis and Ian Milne regaled the 60 members who braved the weather with their tales. Report by Stuart Craig.

Jim started us off. Influenced by his father’s position as a Purser with the north bank fleet out of Craigendoran, Jim and pal, in their youth, attempted to board as many steamers as possible during the first week of July each year. It was perhaps inevitable, then, that he himself found similar summer employment during his school and university years. From 1961 to 1966 he worked as Assistant Purser aboard such ships as Maid of Argyll, Maid of Skelmorlie, Maid of Cumbrae and Waverley. His employment coincided with the shuffling of the Craigendoran ‘Maids’ and so Jim was sent all over the upper Firth. He gave us an illustrated summary of cruises to Lochgoilhead, Dunagoil Bay, Loch Striven and up-river sailings on the paddler. He recalled charters for such diverse groups as “a surprisingly well-heeled Morning Star contingent” (communist sympathisers) and a flock of New Zealand sheep farmers.

Maid of Cumbrae at speed

Jim fondly recounted trying to persuade “cavalier skipper” Captain Donald Crawford to race stablemate Jeanie Deans across to Craigendoran one afternoon. Waverley won!

Ian Milne worked as Assistant Purser during the same era, but was a ‘south bank’ man. Brought up in Largs he has early memories of watching Duchess of Fife, Marchioness of Lorne and the Ayr excursion steamers arriving at his pier. Applying for a summer job, and surviving the interview at ‘The Kremlin’ (the CSP Co base at Gourock), he commenced employment as Assistant Purser in 1960 aboard car ferry Bute. He had to buy his own uniform at Millets Store and a replacement cap, as the first one blew away on his first week.

Ian described in detail the duties of an Assistant Purser: hauling gangways, counting and cancelling tickets, checking the cargo manifest. He had to deal with dogs in boxes and calves in bags, and the general public too! Much of his time was aboard one of the three ABC ferries, where on a long day’s shift, on account of the slow hoist, “we spent more time tied up than actually sailing.”

Ian also worked on the ‘Maids’ and Duchess of Montrose. He was working aboard the latter on her last ever sailing and sold the last three tickets of her career on that evening – to three American servicemen who jumped aboard at Dunoon at the last minute.

Duchess of Montrose on charter at Rothesay. Copyright Ian Milne

Like Jim, he has memories of a particular race, this time between the two turbine ‘Duchesses’, when he was able to announce aloud on the ship’s tannoy “…and if you look over to your left we are passing the Duchess of Hamilton!”

Speakers such as Jim and Ian are able to give us nuggets of information unavailable elsewhere, and their presentations were full of such gems. There was the afternoon that Waverley carried 550 passengers above her limit between Dunoon and Gourock; the day Duchess of Montrose carried 2,700 passengers, but “not all at the same time”; the passenger on the Loch Long cruise who was being corrected for his pronunciation of ‘Arro-chair’, when all he wanted was a chair to sit on; the skipper who couldn’t make up his mind whether to berth at Dunoon or Hunter’s Quay in a strong south-westerly and caused on-shore chaos in the process.

My personal favourite was the announcement being made at Inveraray: “Don’t be late – we don’t wait.” To which a disembarking couple replied: “We know, we were here last week and had to fly home from Campbeltown!” I also found the answer to a conundrum I have been ruminating over for many a year. I knew a chocolate biscuit was included on the Café cruises by each of the ‘Maids’. But last night I discovered it was a Jacob’s Club!

CRSC is very fortunate in being able to attract such people as Jim and Ian to come and speak to us. These were real ‘back to basics’ talks and we thank both gentlemen sincerely for giving up their time to present their special memories to us.

CRSC’s next meeting is on Wednesday 8 February, when Ken Charleson, Chief Operating Officer of Hebridean Island Cruises, will speak about Hebridean Princess.

Duchess of Fife at Largs c1950

The Comet replica in 1962, with a ‘Maid’ in attendance. Copyright Ian Milne

Two ‘Duchesses’ at Dunoon. Copyright Ian Milne

Ship’s stamp from 1963 — posted after one of Waverley’s final calls at Lochgoilhead, where the pier closed after the 1963 season. Copyright Jim Davis

Duchess of Hamilton at Largs, watched from Duchess of Montrose after their final Friday morning race from Rothesay in August 1964. Copyright Ian Milne

Two former Pursers: Ian Milne and Jim Davis. Copyright CRSC

A reminder today of a glorious past. Copyright Jim Davis