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By Jamie Shedden

When I joined Shaw Savill in 1967 as assistant Purser, one of the many jobs of the Purser was to “wear” the baggage tracing hat! Working on immigrant liners, Southern Cross and Northern Star, there were three categories for baggage, passenger’ personal baggage for storing in their cabin containing clothes required for the duration of the voyage, each cabin having one wardrobe and drawers for each person in the cabin.

The second option was Baggage Room Baggage, the baggage room was open certain hours during the day for passengers to access stored baggage which may be required to change from winter wear to summer wear, or vice versa, or to retrieve tuxedos or dress suits or lady's gowns for the formal nights on the voyage, which could be Landfall dinner before arriving in a new country or, indeed, for the Captain’s Cocktail Party, clothing not for everyday use.

The third option was for Hold Baggage, in these days of migrants traveling to the other side of the world, to start a new life overseas, much-stowed baggage, household effects, and general goods were stowed deep in the hold, which was not accessible to passengers during the voyage.

On embarkation day in Southampton, passengers carried only hand luggage to their cabins. Baggage with “cabin” labels would be delivered to cabins by the stewards. Baggage Room and Hold baggage would be loaded separately into their respective storage areas. Often after we sailed, passengers would report their baggage missing in their cabin, to the Purser!

Southern Cross

Southern Cross carried 1160 passengers in varying cabin sizes. Mostly 6 berth and 4 berth cabins, in lower decks, and twin and doubles on upper decks, quite often there would be 6 individuals or 4 individuals in these cabins, but could house a complete family of two adults and 4 children.

Shaw Savill - Southern Cross

Six berth cabin

If a bag was missing from a 6 or 4 berth cabin, it was a mammoth task to identify bags with owners, as occupants would not know names of other cabin companions, and the Purser had to check the passenger cabin list with names on the bags. Sometimes we had to advertise in the daily newspaper of events on board, for any cabin which may have a surplus bag and eventually find the missing one or in some cases several, as occasionally happened.

Jamie Shedden (middle right) with his parents on mv. Awawa in 1970

On another occasion in 1970 on MV Arawa, I was fortunate in having my parents on board for the 103 day round the world trip, with a 3-week stay on NZ coast, whilst the ship loaded frozen lamb for UK. The Arawa, was cargo-passenger liner, carrying about 450 passengers, and usually, we had up to one hundred round the world voyagers, the opportunity to have 3 weeks on NZ coast to visit family and friends or just sightsee, was a great attraction for voyagers.

As we carried cargo, we loaded in the Royal Docks, London and embarked passengers on completion of the cargo operations. On this occasion, sailing was delayed one day due to a wharfie strike in London, and the ship was allowed to sail to Southampton to embark passengers the next day. Before sailing from Southampton, a couple of senior passengers reported their baggage missing from their cabin.

I remember them well, Mr & Mrs. Carruthers from Blackpool, who like my parents, were on for the duration of the world voyage. Naturally, they were very concerned at the loss of their baggage, but we reassured them bags would be found and placed in their cabin. A search was made of all the cabins and of course the Baggage Room, and Baggage Master reported no sign of their baggage on board. On investigation with the passengers, we contacted by telephone, the baggage company who were assigned with the job of delivering the bags to the ship.

When they reached the Royal Docks, they were told by the Docks Security, that the ship had sailed, and without asking more details, they returned the bags to their base in Blackpool. We had no alternative and had to sail on the tide, without their baggage. The Baggage Company, liasoning with Shaw Savill, agreed to deliver the bags to British Airways, Freight Dept at Manchester Airport, who had bags air freighted to Barbados, our first port of call, 10 days later. Many of our passengers, including my parents, rallied round to provide the couple with essential items, fortunately, two days out of UK, we were in warm weather, so they only required t-shirts and shorts, some of which they obtained from the Ship's shop. They were reunited with all their baggage at Barbados.

I left Shaw Savill’s Northern Star in May 1973, and migrated to New Zealand, by air, in July, the last leg of my trip from Glasgow, was on an Air New Zealand DC10 from Singapore to Auckland, fortunately, all my personal baggage arrived with me. Personal effects including my new 3 piece suit for my wedding, were shipped by ACT 6, containership from London to Wellington, and arrived in November, over 4 and half months since being couriered from my home in June. Within 5 months of leaving UK, secured a good job in passenger services with Air New Zealand, at Auckland International Airport. Previous experience, being a Purser on Passenger Liners, well suited the position I had applied for with the airline. Trained in all departments including check-in, concourse duties, loading and ground service control, I find my forte in Baggage Services, which became my permanent job for next 30 years. At first, it was all manual tracing as computers were relatively young in these days, I was selected by AirNZ to attend a computerised baggage tracing course in Los Angeles, one of three staff from NZ, this was the start of BagTrac. There are many stories I could relate about lost bags, so many I could write a book. However, a couple which relate to ships and aircraft !

A young American lady reported her bag missing, however, there was a similar one unclaimed on the baggage carousel, “a bag switch” was quite a regular occurrence in those days with careless passengers uplifting the incorrect bag. The lady was quite concerned as her wedding dress was in her baggage as she was getting married to her Kiwi sweetheart in a few days time in Queenstown, Southern New Zealand, a mid-winter occasion, so her bag was full of her winter wear as well as her wedding outfit. She had just traveled from USA where it was summer so her travel clothes were light comfortable clothing. When we checked the name on the other bag, there was no passenger of this name on our flight.

This was before 9/11 so security back then was rather lax. The luggage had Royal Caribbean Cruise labels, so phoned RCCL in Miami to check if any of their passengers were missing baggage. They checked the name in their system and found the passenger had reported the loss of his baggage in Bermuda, and yes, they had a bag that didn’t belong to anyone on the ship.

We requested RCCL place the bag on a flight from Bermuda back to New York, and then tranship it to New Zealand, they advised due to Customs regulations, they were unable to land the bag in Bermuda as no passenger on the ship, so the bag had to return by ship to New York, and RCCL had to arrange for it to be air freighted to Los Angeles and on to NZ. The bag arrived in NZ too late for the wedding.

Part of our job function is finding owners for unclaimed tagless bags with no external identification. The BagTrac system automatically matches similar bags type and colour, and also contents. Some bags are locked, padlocked, or combination locked, and we manage to open most with a collection of keys or experts at picking combinations (I was quite an expert) however some we needed to force open. On opening this rather heavy suitcase, I immediately recognised the uniform of a Merchant Navy seaman’ Chief Catering Officer. Other documents inside showed that this officer was on a cargo ship Cap Trafalgar, being ex merchant navy, contacted the agents for Scottish Ship Management, who advised me the officer was without his baggage since the ship sailed from Auckland 10 days ago. He was now in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea.

Another item in his baggage was a letter postcard, which had 6 photos of my hometown in Scotland, so before I sent off his bag to Port Moresby, I enclosed a little note saying I also came from Bute. He later sent me a ‘thank you’ note and said we must meet up for a dram, next time I am home to Bute. On my next visit to Bute, traveling on the car ferry to the island, I always placed my baggage near the gangway for ease of getting off and headed to the bar for a pint. Was standing beside my baggage, drinking a beer, when this voice said ‘Jamie’ and this guy says to me, you found my bag in New Zealand. I said to him, how you know it was me, he recognised the Air New Zealand tags on the bag and checked the name!! Could not believe we could be on the same ferry at the same time – what a coincidence!

By the way, the shipping agent in Auckland, who helped me find this Catering Officer, also came from Bute. Talk about coincidences – I know Salty Seadog can share a few coincidences about me!! It truly is a small world.

Out of interest, I was with the airline 37 years and never lost a bag!

More stories by Jamie

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