by

N.J. Thomson # 777 – 1934/36


On passage from the continent to Rio, South America, in 1937, we, the crew of a small tramp steamer lived in a little world of our own. Every day was exactly as the day before – the endless sea and the blue vault of the sky above – time seemed to stand still. There was Ron and Joe, Harry, Jock, Paddy the Irishman, Bert, Bill, Doug, Richard and the Jamaican, a very dark-skinned man with his cockney accent, but a likeable sort of chap none-the-less. There was no apartheid but there was clear distinction, strictly observed, between the lower deck crew and the officers. What we saw today was what we saw yesterday and would be seeing tomorrow. Time did not matter all that much. The past was a memory, the future but a dream individual to each person. All time including the present seemed to be fused into one.

The next morning was expected to be as before but there was one little difference. There off over the starboard bow was a sailing ship. A full-rigged sailing ship and we would soon pass each other. She was beautiful to behold. A pure white hull and pure white sails. With all sails set and drawing she looked a picture. Yes, a painted ship on a painted ocean. I thought she could have been the Herzogin Cecily, one of the last few wind jammers to ply the oceans, but then I remembered that she was wrecked and lost on the Devon coast the year before. It could possibly be the Passat, Pommern or the Moshula which were still in service until 1939. She was obviously on passage from Rio to the continent and must have earlier rounded the Horn with her cargo of grain and wool from Australia. She was surely a symbol, a symbol of the past.

In order to get a better view the whole crew came up on to the bridge to see the sight. As we neared each other, a faint hum or drone could be heard. It did not come from the sailing ship and it did not come from our ship. It was coming from astern, and we turned and looked aft. There in the sky and approaching was a huge silver cigar-shaped object. Had it been in our present age all would have sworn that they had sighted a UFO. But UFO’s were not known in 1937. What was it ? Then realisation came. It was Germany’s pride and joy, the giant airship Hindenberg on passage from the continent to Rio in Brazil. On the same course south-westwards as ourselves, she would soon fly over us. Here again was a symbol, a symbol of the future. Air travel was to become common place. Truly she was a Queen of the Sky. Slowly and majestically she passed over the bridge at the exact moment that we passed the sailing ship. Here was the past, the present and the future all fused into one.

The next morning it was as if it had never been, or only a dream. For there we were, the crew of this small tramp steamer, and we lived in a little world of our own. There was Ron and Joe, Harry, Jock, Paddy the Irishman, Bert, Bill, Doug, Richard and the Jamaican, a very dark-skinned man with a cockney accent, but a likeable sort of chap none-the-less. There was no apartheid but there was class distinction, strictly observed, between the lower deck crew and the officers.

The past, present and the future had, for a moment, all fused into one, or was it all a dream ?