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Dominion Monarch - Call The Midwife

Updated: Aug 30, 2021

David Green runs away to sea in 1955

Dominion Monarch viewed from Saville Road - Royal Docks - Silvertown.

I was pleased to receive an email earlier this week from fellow Seadog David Green. He tells of running away to sea in 1955 as a member of the chain gang on Dominion Monarch. At the time the ship was new to me, little did I know that Dominion Monarch was the ship featured on the opening credits of the TV series “Call the Midwife”

The photograph depicts Shaw Savill Line’s Dominion Monarch at London’s King George V Dock, dwarfing houses in Saville Road, Silvertown. A photograph taken from the same spot today would take in the terminal buildings of London City Airport beyond the far end of Saville Road.

The ship was a refrigerated cargo liner launched in July 1938 and operated between London/Southampton and New Zealand via Australia.

At 27,000 tons, she was the largest regular user of the Royal Docks. She was also the largest cargo liner ever built and carried 525 first-class passengers and a crew of 385.

The date of the photograph is unknown, but the ship spent a month in the Royal Docks at the end of each voyage, discharging and loading cargo before setting off for Southampton to pick up wealthy passengers.

As demand for luxury liner travel declined, she made her final voyage back to the UK in April 1962. Following a brief spell as a hotel ship in Seattle for the World’s Fair, she was taken to Japan at the end of that year to be broken up.

We visited Silvertown last week, the area is unrecognisable however we did

discover a bronze statue of Athena by artist Nasser Azam near the London City Airport in Silvertown. It is the largest bronze sculpture in the UK.


David Green Recalls his Life at Sea

In 1955 I travelled to England ‘working my way on “Dominion Monarch” as a Utility Steward (such men were known as The Chain Gang). We were employed on any job required from cleaning and scrubbing decks to loading stores in port. My main job was assisting ‘The Silver King’ polishing teapots, milk jugs, salvers, and champagne buckets.

I shared a cabin with five others, a drunken Irishman, a homosexual Scot, a Cockney weightlifter, a low-IQ Scouser who spent all his spare time polishing his shoes, and a young lad whom the Scotsman was trying to seduce.

Six berth Shaw Savill cabin

My period of employment lasted 44 days during which time I learned a great deal about the Facts Of Life and how to bring my shoes to a high polish.

The ship’s route was Wellington – Sydney-Melbourne-Fremantle, then Capetown-Las Palmas- Southampton-London. At Sydney, we took on a D.B.S. . a handsome young man who

strummed a guitar and sang folk songs in a pleasant baritone voice (this was long before electric guitars and “Groups”).

He seemed a nice enough fellow and I couldn’t understand why or how he came to be landed and sent home D,B,S. At Las Palmas I found out.

It was a warm afternoon and a number of us were sitting on a hatch in the sun, watching two sailors larking about, one was chasing the other around the deck with a deck golf mallet: by chance he bumped into our young friend who was sitting near me. In a flash he was on his feet, whipping a bottle from his hip pocket he laid it along the sailor’s skull and, shouting “Get The F—er over the side": he had him halfway through the rail before anyone had moved. A couple of us hauled him off his victim and eventually it all calmed down. I was extremely wary of this young man from then on.

The next time that I boarded “Dominion Monarch” was to sign on as Junior Asst. Purser, this was on the 1st November 1960. My main task was to run the Mail Office selling stamps, airletter forms and radio messages to both passengers and crew. I was given the Sundries Account to handle, this covered credit purchases of the items just mentioned, also slops and shop purchases. With a crew of several hundred over a period of four months, the work was light but continuous – all having to be balanced at the end of the voyage. As the Junior, I was also landed with the task of bailing out crew members who found themselves in police cells while in port. There was a lot of this in Australian ports.,

The ship’s cabins were not airconditioned but the dining saloon was . Most unusual as the ship was built in1938/39.

The first time that I went down to dinner (to the junior officer's table) was wearing my brand-new tropical weight evening trousers: the sudden change in temperature was noticeable below the waist and for a moment I thought that I had left my fly buttons undone, so chilly did it strike.

David Green - Deputy Purser

Dominion Monarch

When we reached the New Zealand Coast there were on board a number of passengers who had embarked in Sydney or Melbourne to stay on board for the four weeks, returning to Australia on the homeward run. Whether they stayed on board for the whole period was up to them, the majority did as accommodation and meals were all provided in the terms of their ticket.

Normally only senior officers hosted a table in the dining saloon but, as it was Christmas, many other officers were designated – myself included. I had

a table for four for Christmas dinner, the single woman was elderly and partly deaf and the other two hadn’t spoken to each other for several days and weren’t about to start

simply because it was the 25th December. It was a very long meal.

I would have enjoyed a second voyage in her, having learned the ropes. The little mail office was private and highly suited to what has been called Advanced Footsie. I shared a cabin with the Purser Cadet which made things awkward in this department.

At the end of the trip I was promoted and sent to a smaller ship where I stayed for nearly three year

Other Shaw Savill Stories

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Ron Lewis
Ron Lewis
Aug 31, 2021

I was on DM for 2 years,from 1957 happy days,ron lewis,cheers

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