Tyne & Wear Museums homepage

Contact us

John Nichols

John was born on the 18 September 1959 in the village of Earsdon near Whitley Bay.

John’s father worked for the Merchant Navy as a second Electrical Officer on board the Swan Hunter built ship the Dominican Monarch

He left school in 1976 at age of sixteen and entered the Merchant Navy. After leaving the Merchant Navy, John joined NAFFI (Navy Army & Air Force Institute) and ran shops onboard Swan Hunter vessels including HMS ARK ROYAL and HMS COVENTRY.

John was interviewed by Alex Magin on 24 October 2006. The interview took place at Segedunum Roman Fort, Baths and Museum and lasted for 38 minutes.

John Nichols's Memories

In order to view this file you need to use the flash player.


So what was a normal day like then once you joined the ships?

Some ships were very laid back, some were quite disciplined and when I say disciplined I mean from the Captain to maybe the First officer who would give us jobs etc. etc.  Most of the lads and the sailors on board were relaxed and got on with the job.  My first trip to sea I had to go to Rotterdam to join it so it was quite a little experience flying over there and joining a huge big tanker for the first time.  You didn’t know where your cabin was, where this was.  Actually one of the other deck boys, which is what I joined as, a deck boy, walked onto the deck smoking a cigarette on an oil tanker.  So he was told in no uncertain terms to put that out, but those were things you see, you had to deal with.  It was a strange environment, big ships, big cranes, a big working environment and that was straight from school.

So you say you were a deck boy, what does that mean?

That’s the lowest of the lowest if you’re staring work on deck basically.  The deck boy was, as I was, sixteen years old and you had to learn your trade on board the ship so you would do everything from washing the sailor’s clothes sometimes when there was nothing to do.  You were given the run around - fetch this, fetch that, you’d be general dogsbody basically.  You did that for a year and then you took a little examination and then you went onto Junior Ordinary Seaman and again that was for a year, and then it went up in increments.  So from Junior Ordinary Seaman it was to Senior Ordinary Seaman, then EDH which was Efficient Deck Hand so you had know everything about lifeboats, lifeboat drills, everything on board the ship.  Then a final exam after a year as EDH you got your AB certificate – Able Seaman.

What did that involve?

Well, Able Seaman meant basically you knew everything.  If somebody told you to splice a wire, do a Liverpool splice on a wire you should be able to go down and do it, with a fid, the spike, splicing rope, rope splicing, everything like that, everything to do with seamanship.  Dereks , you should know how to work the cranes, the Dereks, depending what type of ship you’re on, specific jobs came with specific ships.

So the way your talking makes it sound you became an AB, is that right?

Yes!  I got to the dizzying heights of AB.  That was probably after about five years, six years maybe of going from ship to ship and obviously every ship was different, but that was a good thing really because you got to learn a bit of everything about different types of ships.  You weren’t just on one ship because we used to call some people “tankerman”, that’s all they used to do just sail on tankers because basically it was easy work, but I sailed on a few like, tramp cargo ships.  You would leave one port and not know where you were going.  You could end up in Hong Kong, Singapore which we did.  It was full of Dereks and cranes and hatchers which was hard manual work, you know.