He had been married: he left a widow, whose name was Kath. June had some photographs.
WW1: The letter that reveals a brutal day at Scapa Flow
In one, Les is wearing a baggy suit, standing in a garden, apparently having just taken a cigarette out of its packet. He looks the sort who would be able to keep his footing on the slicked and rolling deck of a tugboat. June and I thought the picture must have been taken not long before he was killed.
Les was off-duty the night of the 13th. He was telephoned at home in New Brighton and told to come in and cover for the master of the tug, who had called in sick. George was working — he was on the phone in a pub, talking to the crews. It was George who rang Les and told him to take the Applegarth out.
June remembered an anguished night after the news came through — the Applegarth had sunk and the crew was missing.
Six hundred mourners filled the pews. Verdicts of death by misadventure were eventually recorded on all the men. That does not affect this court. It may be for another court to decide. It just got about that Les Fenby had made a fatal error. He needed someone to look after him.
When Kath married George, he went to live with them. Her family brought him up, after Kath was killed. Tugs were barrelling into Bramley Moore dock, half a dozen of them, one after another, the fleet of Cory Towing of Liverpool returning to port in the early afternoon. I watched the tugs from the dockside; so did the taxi driver who had brought me down Dock Road though I had paid him off. You might not think tugs capable of stopping the traffic. The first tug to tie up in Bramley Moore dock was the Norton Cross. Her crew stepped over the gunwales, carrying sports bags.
They were going home for their dinners. I asked one of them what they had been doing that morning. When the ship has reached the end of its useful life, the tug tows it to the breakers. Nothing else can do the job. The master of the Norton Cross was in no hurry to go home to his wife: or perhaps, like George Fenby, a widower twice over, Larry Radford had no wife to go home to. When I found him, I thought better of asking him about his domestic circumstances. His veined face and watery blue eyes spoke of a lifetime on the river.
The tug was his home, more than any building on shore.
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There was a place set for one. Radford had joined the Rea Towing Company in , at the age of He used to go drinking with the pilots. I remember the accident, of course. The river was in flood. The Applegarth came across the freighter — not just in front of her, across. But Uncle Les had had an exemplary career. He had apparently once tied up a barge a little too smartly in Alfred Docks and damaged a stanchion; some rudder gear took a knock a week later, but this was attributed to the actions of a passing trawler, and in any case both accidents happened during the war.
In fact, the Applegarth had had a more chequered history than her master.
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Even before she went into service, she sank — coming out of dry dock in Liverpool in August No need to ask what superstitious mariners made of a Lazarus boat, a tug which had already been to the bottom. There was an industrial dispute on the tugboats at the time, and James Duncalf, a trimmer, was sacked by Rea Towing over the incident. He was reinstated a month later, and was engineer on the Applegarth the night she sank for a second time.
So what went wrong forty years ago? If it had been possible to try my great-uncle over the disaster, would he have been found guilty? There was no public inquiry but there was a preliminary investigation by the Ministry of Transport. It was carried out by Captain John Hampton, a senior nautical surveyor. The speed of the liner appears to be at least as noteworthy as that of the tug. The report states that the Perthshire was probably exceeding the speed referred to by her master and the Mersey pilot in their statements.
Baxter grabbed a telephone to tell the bridge to stop the engines. The inquiry was told that the delay between this command being given and the engines coming to rest would be 20 seconds, twice as long as it took for the Applegarth to go to the bottom of the river. I caught a ferry from Liverpool Pier Head. It was a cold day and the river was hangover grey. I remembered how I had liked to look down from the deck of a ferry as she tied up, squashing the old lorry tyres fixed to the landing stage.
I used to imagine that the gassy wake of the ferry was ginger beer. The ferry passed the spot where the Applegarth went down. It looked close enough to the riverbank to wade ashore, though the mud exposed by the low tide was treacly. Even on this stretch of water, the consistency of quilted kitchen towel, there were eddies, current, shapes.
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The quietly-spoken man across the table from me was demonstrating how the Perthshire sank the Applegarth with the aid of a beer mat and a sachet of sugar. There was a Malcolm Fenby in the phone book, and I knew him as soon as he walked into the pub. Malcolm was in his forties. He was a good captain. The business was very competitive then and they were afraid of making a fuss with the shipping companies.
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My father was known and admired. There was a book of remembrance in a side chapel. It listed Merseyside sailors lost in the two world wars, and the crew of the bulk carrier Derbyshire , which sank off Japan in But I could find no entry for tugboat men, no mention of Les Fenby.
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Diary Stephen Smith. Inside the card, June had written: The River Mersey is central to all our lives — where your Dad and I played on the shore as children; crossed over on the ferries for many years and where Rea Towing Company sailed their tugs with all kinds of ships in tow. Contact us for rights and issues inquiries.
USD 8. Sign in to Purchase Instantly. Explore Now. Buy As Gift. In Voice from the Bow, Bruno Temperoni meticulously compiles in a diary, his military experiences in the Italian Royal Navy taking the audience to the battlefront in a simple but skillful way. During his twenty-eight months of military service, the author measures up not only to the tragedy of the war, by participating in the Battles of the Mediterranean against England, but also in those clashes with his comrades and superiors that inevitably involve him in a complex, coarse everyday life.
Temperoni, in his book narrates episodes of courage and heroic sacrifice of his comrades by proclaiming and honoring their actions. Written originally in Italian it gathers a part of history that should not be forgotten. Product Details. Average Review.