Vindicatrix: Vindi Boys tell their story of what it was really like!

The trailer...

“She certainly had a varied life and if she could talk just imagine the tales she could have told.”   John Strange 1960 n   

“We were only there 2 or 3 months, but we’ve never forgot it.”   Paul Sibellas 1964 s

“I will never forget the Vindi, worst & best 8 weeks of my life.  I think we were the last but one intake.”   Sagalout autumn 1966 s

“The Vindi, a place of wonderment, a place where even those in any of HM Prisons got better food.  A place where in the winter ice would form on the inside of windows so as it melted you got a face wash.  A place where many of us thought at times the officers were escapees from some horror movie.  But we went in as young very naive lads and came out ready to take the world on.”   John Strange 1960 n

Training Ship T.S. Vindicatrix - an intro

T.S. Vindicatrix moored with the since lost rail bridge in the background

The Vindi Boys may sound like the name of a boy band but it refers to 70,000 lads who came to Sharpness between 1939 and 1966.  They each spent 2 or 3 months training to get a job in the Merchant Navy.

Most were only 14 to 17 years old.  Today, those who have not yet ‘crossed the bar’ are all of pension age – the youngest being born 1951 – but they still call themselves Vindi Boys.  (The minimum school leaving age rose from age 14 to 15 in 1947.)

Training took place on and around an old hulk ship which during the lead up to World War II in 1939 was renamed T.S. Vindicatrix and moved from the Thames to Sharpness to become a sea school.

Although such a location may seem strange for preparing for life on the ocean waves, Sharpness was chosen as being relatively sheltered from enemy air raids.  In that era – long before modern container ships – there was growing demand for trained men to work above and below deck in the Merchant Navy.

The course was typically 12 weeks for deck hands, and 8 weeks for stewards who worked below deck.  Such a career with the opportunity to travel or escape their roots was appealing to many a young lad.  During the war, government propaganda was published to persuade young lads – and their parents – that this was the life.

Being a sailor in the Merchant Navy during the war transpired to be even more dangerous than fighting in the military forces, with the likelihood of dying being six times higher.  Sadly, many of the Vindi Boys who came to Sharpness during the early years lost their young lives at sea.  Others sailed until they married, whilst others sailed on and spent their working lives at sea, visiting all corners of the earth.  Many eventually settled abroad. Some became captains.

The ship was berthed on the Gloucester & Sharpness Canal at the location of the current Sharpness Marina.  The red brick building which is now a chandlery was a toilet block.

Initially, the T.S. Vindicatrix was used for accommodation as well as training.  So numbers could be increased, a camp was soon built on the high ground above the canal.

The training camp was closed in 1966 after around 70,000 boys mostly aged between 14 and 17 had trained at the Vindicatrix.   The camp was mostly demolished in 1967 and the area has returned naturally to nature.  But foundations and some overgrown building remains can still be found amongst the trees.

What was life truly like at the Vindicatrix camp?  The story that unfolds is best told by the Vindi Boys themselves.

Arial view of Vindicatrix camp today + Gloucester & Sharpness Canal + Severn Estuary (photo copyright Adam Dungworth)

Let's hear them tell it as it really was...

“Even tho’ it was tough and the food truly awful, I still have fond memories as it changed me from a boy into a man almost overnight.”    Maurice Tudor 1949 f

“Do not remember my 3 months there with fondness.  It was harsh, bordering on brutal.  Stood me in good stead though.  I was already wartime toughened when I went there.  (14 years old working on the bomb damage.)  Regardless, I wouldn’t have missed the Vindi experience for the world.”   Oldbosun autumn 1946 s

“Honestly, I always thought it was easy, I enjoyed every minute there, 12 weeks on deck.  After coming through the war years, nowhere proper to live, I loved it.”   Brian / Captain Kong 1952 n

“A holiday camp it wasn’t but met lots of good friends and had lots of fun.”   Ian / Vangooler spring 1954 s

“A cold bleak place. Always cold and hungry but the friendships made then were binding.  Although I have not met any of them again, the memory is still there and I would go through it all again.”   Ian Houghton autumn 1955 f

“I enjoyed it, life there for me was better than at home.”    Tom (Tucker) Kirby summer 1955 s

“It was tough but you had to do it to have a chance to go to sea after it.”   1959 William Westwood 1959 f

View of the Vindicatrix Camp - looking across the Severn to the Forest of Dean

The arrival...

“Met at the Sharpness station by a boy Bosun who took the opportunity to cadge fags from us, we were marched across the high bridge to the camp.  After being processed we were led down the towpath to the ship and given a supper which had the name of Sea Pie (corned beef hash) and looked pretty uninviting.”   George Hancox 1954 f

“It took me 2 days to get there coming from the Isle Of Man, but it was worth it, making some great shipmates.”   Alan Mckay 1951 f

“I remember it was as cold as charity but it was England, so it could have been midsummer!!   The catering instructor was a bloke named Costello and the first thing we new boys learned was the old Merchant Navy expression, “Backs to the masts boys!!!”   Once there, I thought seriously about signing for the Foreign Legion as an alternative *smile*.”   Rob Stafford c1959/60 n

“Great memories.  I was a country bumpkin straight from the sticks in N.E. Scotland.  Once I got used to all the foreign languages (accents) it was great.”   William Clark s2

“When I arrived they were looking for a bugler.  We went half way down the cliff road to a cave in the side to audition.  I had never played one before but had an ear for music and eventually got the job.  It opened a few doors and made my stay at the Vindi a lot better than most.”   Maurice Day 1964 f

“As a somewhat nervous 15 year old, I took two steps through the gates of the Merchant Navy training school N.S.T.S. ‘VINDICATRIX’ at Sharpness docks.  I could have turned and gone home, the choice was mine, if I’d known which way was home I might have taken that route, but along with a bunch of equally unsure young lads all trying desperately to look tough, I decided to stay and embarked on the greatest adventure a young chap could have.  We were told in no uncertain terms by the Officer who greeted us that if we didn’t think we could hack it then we should turn around and ‘get off’ now before we wasted his time and our own.  I was sorely tempted.”   Jeff Glasser autumn 1964 n

“I joined the Sharpness Training school in November, the worst time of year to start my training as the winter was drawing on.  I did three months training over the Christmas period, and I really missed home.”   Francis Blackwell 1965 f

“I was at the camp in November and December, me being a young fresh-faced 17-year-old Scot who had never been away from home before.  I don’t mind admitting that I cried like a baby … ah! memories.”   Allister Jones winter 60/61 f

“I was met off the train at Sharpness by one of the camp Instructors, then along with other trainees I was lined up for the three mile walk to the camp.  Once at the camp I was allocated a hut and a bunk, and we were all escorted to the ship for our first meal.  The ship Vindicatrix looked enormous.  Once on board we were taken to the mess deck and seated at long wooden trestle tables, where the catering cadets served us our first meal.”   Mike Hall summer 1958 m

Arial view of the Vindicatrix Ship & Camp looking south-east from above the Severn

The infamous first meal...

“Some of us decided we were not that hungry and let the waiting vultures tuck in.  It turned out to be the only meal we didn’t completely devour during our entire time there and, by week two, we had joined the vultures.  There were no vegetarians at the Vindi!”   George Hancox 1954 f

“I never forgot that first meal, it was the infamous scouse, took one mouth full and nearly choked.  Two seconds later an old boy said don’t you want it new boy, he scoffed it straight down.  It didn’t take me long to be asking the same.  Hunger soon set in.”   Dave Moore autumn 1958 s

“The first meal you had on arrival on the ship was a mug of coco and two slices of bread and dripping.  I drank the coco but pushed the bread away which was promptly picked up by one of the old boys.  I never ever made that mistake again.”   Des Taff Jenkins summer 1949 m

“My first meal was ‘Seapie ‘ which I fondly remembering turning my nose up !!!! followed by don’t you want that ‘newboy’ and it was gone and devoured… a lesson well learned… good times though.   Just the same never did anybody any harm and also helped you mix with lads from all points of the compass… IMHO”   John Montgomery summer 1957 m

“How I remember that fish pie on arrival and all the lads cadging anything you would part with and shouting ‘Where’re you from?’.  And ‘I’m a bridge boy’, it took me a couple of days to find out what they meant.”   Gerry Keating summer 1955 f

“Nearby was a bridge spanning the river Severn, which had 22 arches.  When the time came and I only had 22 days left at the camp I was known as a bridge boy, one day left for each span.”   Mike Hall summer 1958 m

The previous b&w scene but as seen today with the camp wooded and the stretch of canal now a marina --- @2021 Google - Imagery ©2021 Infoterra Ltd & Bluesky, Maxar Technologies, Getmapping plc

The accommodation....

“The camp was a collection of Nisson type huts, all of which accommodated 36 trainees.  Other huts included a Quartermasters store, offices, recreation hut, guardroom, classrooms.  Sick-bay, games room, reading room, washrooms, and a smart bungalow for the Captain Superintendent.
“As a hulk, the Vindicatrix now had her masts removed, and her former cargo holds had been reconstructed to provide messroom and classroom facilities, along with the galley and the stores.”   Mike Hall summer 1958 m

“Was there in December … remember a nissan type hut no heating so it was cold… but learned comradeship and all in the same boat syndrome”   Cappy n

“We were informed,that we had three days to accept our new mode of life.   However, after three days, this option was no longer in effect.   My new found friend decided after three days that nothing was up to his expectation, and so he quit!   I too found conditions not to be up to my expectations, however, there was absolutely no way that I could quit and return to my home after being such a pain to my parents to obtain my wishes.  After a month of living in the huts and marching each morning down to where the ship Vindicatrix was moored, our intake was eventually moved onto the vessel itself.   Vindicatrix was an old hulk,from days of yore.   Devoid entirely of any forms of comfort.”   Dennis Crosby summer 1944 w

“We were in the Huts for 8 weeks and the last 4 on board the Vindi.   One had to keep your mouth shut in the bunks as steam bugs abounded on board.   Mail and parcels were tossed at you at the noon meal.”   Brian Seward winter 1944/45 n

“I do well recall the accomodation, the huts.  I was lucky mine was a five star one.  On a clear night I could see them through a hole in the roof directly above my bunk.”   John Strange 1960 m

Meals were eaten below deck on the Vindicatrix ship

The food... or rather...

“I remember the food was awful.”   William Westwood 1959 f

“Food, that most wonderful absent item, had we had some, times may well have appeared better.”   John Strange 1960 n

“The actual food at the camp was poor, it’s a wonder we survived, consisting of stale bread and sea pie and other unsavoury concoctions.  Frequently you would find a cockroach within the food.  There was no point in complaining because no one listened.”   Mike Hall summer 1958 m

“The supper duty of pasting melted dripping onto a full sliced loaf with a paint brush so it could drip through is fresh in my mind!”   Maurice Tudor 1949 f

“Starving most of the time, food parcels from home & best of all Vindi Roll!”   Sagalout 1966 s

“All catering had to do a week in the galley.  I was there looking after a big pot of meat stewing away on the stove.  Something dropped from the deckhead into the pot, then again.  Told the chef who said no worries lad, just a few mice falling out of the nest, happens all the time.  Did not tell the lads as I knew they were hungry, though I doubt it would have made much difference.”   John Strange 1960 n

“I lived on orange juice and peanut butter sandwiches at the dockside cafe.”   Tom (Tucker) Kirby 1955 s

“Grub garbage and many of us got food parcels sent
cos all fed up eating ‘Vindi Pie’.  Going out for a plate of toast/beans was always looked forward to.”   William Clark s2

“I remember going down to the ship from the camp last thing at night for a couple of slices of bread and butter and a mug of what was supposed to aid sleep.  I was at the camp in November and December, me being a young fresh-faced 17-year-old Scot who had never been away from home before.  I don’t mind admitting that I cried like a baby … ah! memories.”   Allister Jones winter 1960/61 f

Staged & unrealistic image from a government wartime propaganda newspaper article about training on the Vindicatrix & aimed at recruitment for the Merchant Navy - a graduating lad is shown being collected by his mother!

The uniform & haircuts...

“I remember being dressed in that surge navy blue suit with a beret.”   McMillan 62/63 s

“Battledress jacket & beret, horrid clothes.”   Dickyboy 1964 s

“I remember it was freezing most of the time – we had short blue jackets.  I can remember taking the slops to the waste – my hands froze to the rope handles.  We had no sheets, just blue covers and blankets.  Quite a few lads went home early.”   Leonard Thomas f

“Then the barber who came in to give us those wonderful haircuts, with all the lads looking on as he cut the hair.”   
John Strange 1960 n

Trainee stewards learning how to set table & serve dinner in the Officers' Messroom

The officers...

“I recall three officer names Capt Duguid, 2nd Officer Poore, and Lt Strange who walked with a limp having no toes I believe.”   Brian Seward winter 44/45 n

“Dugaid was Captain, Popeye was my class teacher, Brown was sports master, Banbury was the lifeboat teacher, and Strange was the hard man.  But I enjoyed it all bad food not withstanding.”   Des Taff Jenkins summer 1949 n

“Strangy said I was there for him to toughen up.  I told him you’re too late…..sir.  My Dad has already done that.”   Oldbosun autumn 1946 s

“I was there for three months in 1952.   Strange always said he hated Stewards.   He was in a lifeboat after being sunk in the Russian convoys and had frostbite in his toes.  He asked a steward to chop his toes off with the axe.  He said, No.   He always walked with a limp.  After he died his widow said he lost his toes in a motor bike accident.
“He always said, “When I die my grave stone will be blank and people will say, That’s Strange.”  I went to a Vindi re-union at Sharpness and took a walk through the Cemetery in Berkeley.  I found his grave, and it had ALL his details on it.   He was a character larger than life.”   Brian/Captain Kong 1952 n

“I remember Captain Duguid, Chief officer Mr Pore, instructor Scott (Scotty) and Popeye.  Also there was an odd character who used to issue us with woolly swimming costumes when we swam in the canal.”   1955 Tom (Tucker) Kirby s

“If anyone was unfortunate enough to become ill then you were sent to the sick-bay.  There you would come under the care of the nurse Mimi Grey, her nickname was Codeine Annie.  She was too fond of dishing out Codeine tablets for any illness.  Unfortunately any time spent in the sick-bay was added on to your training period.”  Mike Hall summer 1958 m

“I remember the nurse, she was called Codeine Annie – you got that tablet for everything.”   John Bird f

“The captain’s name at the vindi was Duguid.  His wife and her mother lived with him for many years and he always looked well turned out.  Whether he was ever a ship’s master I don’t know…but a fair man.”   Cappy n

“Duguid was definitely the Captain’s name at the Vindi.  I was his Tiger, but I got on the wrong side of him and he had me scrubbing his garbage pail for my last week there.  He thought it was punishment but I didn’t mind.  I used to go to the galley and collect his meals and eat ’em myself.”  He lived with his family in Berkeley I believe and his daughter was on the scene somewhere too.”   Rob Stafford 1959/60 n

“Went there in 1960 and Duguid was still the skipper. Strange was there and he said to me, “Lad just because we have the same name does not mean you will get an easy time here”.  But like all the others I survived and lived to tell the tale.”   John Strange 1960 n

“Cpt D did well from 1939 and still there in 1960 and beyond.”   John Strange 1960 n

“I heard that Captain Duguid died the same day as the Vindi was towed away for scrapping.”   Brian / Captain Kong 1952 n

“Wasn’t Agate the bloke who was rumoured to ride his bike around the deck on the full moon?  Then there was Popeye who used to blow his cheeks out like a balloon and go red in the face.  Costello knew as much about catering as my crazy cat.  The Chief Steward was there but nobody ever saw him.  What a madhouse.”   Rob Stafford c1959/60 n

“Yes it sure was a mad house.  I recall one morning at 0400 hours the door of our hut burst open by one of the mad officers telling us it was time to get up.  We never did find out why, just another crazy day in the looney bin.  Looney bin yes, but we loved every minute of it.”   John Strange 1960 n

“The only instructor whose name I remember was Mr Agate.  He would come around in the morning with a fairy liquid bottle of cold water and if you weren’t up you got squirted.”   Jim Field-Mitchell n

The name Agate brings back memories of one of the Vindi songs, We’re gonna join old Agate’s Navy up at six o’clock…   Another Vindi song:  They say upon the Vindi the officers are good, there’s old Costello with a blooming great piece of wood….they say upon the Vindi the birds are mighty fine, you ask for Betty Gable they send you Frankenstein… they say upon the Vindi the food is mighty fine, an egg fell off the table and exploded like a mine…plenty more verses.  Great memories.”   Dave Moore autumn 1958 n

Below deck classroom lesson about navigation - another staged picture

The training & duties...

“I remember Mr Agate too.  About the Alcantara, I always thought it was Chief Officer Pore’s old ship.  I do recall we all had to paint or draw a picture of that ship as part of a lesson.  I discovered I had a talent for painting ships and still do to this day.”   Tom (Tucker) Kirby s

“Joined with a friend, we were catering boys.  After doing early part of training both of us posted to the officers dining saloon, a cushy job.  The first few weeks we slept in the barrack huts, then down on the ship.”   George Johnson early 1947 f

“I particularly remember being wakened at 3:45am by the light of an oil-lamp for my 4-8 watch.  The fellow who woke me placed the lamp upon the deck to allow me to dress.  When I looked,the whole deck was absolutely alive with thousands of cockroaches!
“Upon me arriving at my post by the gangway, I looked across to Sharpness docks to find it to be completely empty!! The evening before, it had been crammed with vessels. Later, about 6am the radio announced that D-day had arrived!  All of those ships had left to become a part of the invasion.”   Dennis Crosby summer 1944 w

“I joined the Vindi and did catering.  I remember two of the lads in our hut going over the wall one night, must have missed their mamas.  I first trained in the galley but was sent to the dishwash station, then to the spud locker in the focsle.  I guess I coudn’t go any lower so that’s where I stayed while aboard for the last two weeks.”   Neville Roberts late 1955 f

“Remember polishing floors.  Night watches on board, which included the only decent meals, fry ups!”   Dickyboy 1964 s

“The wooden floor had to shine or the whole hut was in trouble.  Get two guys to sit on a blanket and a couple pull it up and down.  Got a splinter from it then go and see Codeine Annie.”   John Strange 1960 n

“Hi John, sounds like you had it soft, polished floors and Codeine Annie!”   Terry Sullivan n

“I remember playing lights out and Reveille on the bugle, and loading coal from the barge and scrubbing the decks of our billets.  They were great days and stood me in good stead for my future at sea.”   McMillan 1962/63 s

“I was the camp bugler until I was relieved of my post because I was caught sitting down at the back of the church when I should have been standing.”   Colin Friend f

“Another thing I learned very quickly was not to volunteer.  What you volunteered for was not what you thought.  It was usually some chore no one else wanted to do.  I also remember we had a song we would sing. “We are some of the Vindi boys…”   John Grafton summer 1953 n

“Coming from a very comfortable home life this place was a shock to the system to a kid who had no idea how laundry was done or that there actually was a time before 8 am!”   Jeff Glasser autumn 1964 n

This curve in the canal edge is now hidden by a straight metal edge to the marina

The exercise...

“At 06:30 every morning come rain or shine there would be physical exercises on the camps parade ground after being awoken by the sound of a bugle.”   Mike Hall summer 1958 m

“It was a particularly cold winter but it didn’t stop the trainers from getting us to do PT at 6.30am wearing singlets and shorts.”   George Hancox 1954 f

“One officer had a delight in getting you out of bed at 3am to do PT, mainly if it was raining.”   George Johnson early 1947 f

“I remember a few “grudge” fights on boxing evening. All so long ago, I sometimes think that I wasn’t actually there, and that I dreamt it all.”   John Dodd s2

“And yes we all had to go in the Boxing ring and get punched out or beat some poor kid.”   Brian Seward winter 1944/45 n

“The early morning training (Square Bashing as it used to be called) then a long run into the nearest village (Berkeley) and all before breakfast which was on board the Vindicatrix then on to the classrooms for lessons.”   Francis Blackwell 1965 f

“Anyone remember Agate’s song?  It went something like this:  We’re gonna join Old Agate’s navy up at 6’oclock, twice around the block, dirty great icicles hanging from your …, just a vest and shorts it was just about true.  In truth I loved every minute while there, went in as a boy came out as a man.”   Dave Moore autumn 1958 s

The Vindicatrix was berthed in a north facing, exposed location & winter training could be bitterly cold

The discipline...

“One rule that was strictly enforced was “No Fighting”.  If any one was caught fighting, then they were sent home immediately.  Which would then end their career in the Merchant Navy.”   Mike Hall summer 1958 m

“We had to get up early and if you were not quick out of your bunk a bit sharpish an officer nicknamed Squeezy Jackson used to come round with a squeezy bottle and a bucket of freezing cold water and squirt it all over you and your bunk.   The good old days, it taught you to be obedient, respect your elders and salute every officer that crossed your path.  It made me grow up quick and I would not have missed it for the world.”   Francis Blackwell 1965 f

“Every Saturday morning was hut inspection.  If any of the inspection staff found just one thing incorrect, then the whole hut was denied shore leave.”   Mike Hall summer 1958 m

“They let all the local English kids go home for Xmas and us north of the border nuts were allowed to sleep aboard the Vindi, where we got into a pillow fight!! and I finished my last 3 weeks in ‘Jankers’.”   Joe Docherty winter 1955/56 f

“An association now exists for ex Vindi boys.  Most of us couldn’t wait to leave the place and the worst punishment a boy could get was to have a week added to his course and now we can’t wait to get back.”   George Hancox 1954 f

Another photo from a government wartime recruitment article in The Illustrated 1941

The money...

“We were always hungry and short of money, cigarettes were a form of currency.”   George Hancox 1954 f

“I got 15 shillings a week Dole money. I had worked for 18 months before going, in engineering, coal mine and cotton mill so I was entitled to Dole money.
“Then they took ten shillings a week off me to pay for the uniforms and oil skins and seaboots, dungarees and a seabag. etc.  So had five shillings a week spends for the mission, or the cinema in Berkeley that cost one shilling to go in.”   
Brian / Captain Kong 1952 mn

“It was the only time I ever got out for nowt… remember queuing at one side… getting some money then queuing at the other side to give most of it back… then buying a wagon wheel or a kit Kat.”   Cappy m

“Always hungry and on pay days we signed for our money, then went to another table and gave it nearly all back.”   Alan Mckay 1951 f

“I cannot recall what clothing was given except a navy blue sweater and at that time our pay was about 2/6d.”   Brian Seward winter 1944/45n

“Do not recall getting any money paid to me whilst there.”   John Strange 1960 m

One popular shore leave escape was to The Berkeley cinema - shown here with neon lights gone after it closed in 1980s

The shore leave...

“I also remember with fondness my numerous visits to the mission where Kate and staff served the best jam and beans on toast going.  Happy days.”   Maurice Day 1964 f

“Remember counting down the Popeyes every week at the movie?  Beans on toast at the Mission?   I could go on forever.   A hard place, but it stood me in good stead for a life at sea.”   Dickyboy 1964 s

“We went to the Berkeley gospel hall Sundays.  We got tea and sandwiches and that was a luxury.  Being at the sea school I had food parcels from home.  I was glad when training finished.”   John Bird f

“I remember fighting for ciggy ends.  We used to go to the local cafe and we went to Dursley once to the pictures.”   Leonard Thomas f

“My fondest memory I think was the latest music they used to play prior to the film show.”   Allister Jones winter 1960/61 f

“The one place to go when we were allowed shore leave was to the Seaman’s mission, there was always someone playing the piano as I recall.  I also remember we had a song we would sing, ‘We are some of the Vindi boys…'”   John Grafton summer 1953 n

“The Mission in Dursley gave out buns and tea along with a copy of the Gospel of St John.”   Brian Seward winter 1944/45 n

The ship's' figurehead was known as Mrs Drysdale after the wife of a director of the company that had the ship built in 1983

The girls...

“I can still see that goddess from the farm standing up riding the milk cart every morning whilst we were at muster.  No wonder they dished out cocoa every night.”   Jim Docherty h

“Another of the boys in our hut and I were out in the village of sharpness when we met a couple of girls.  One of them clung to my arm and said to her mate he’s mine you can have the other one.”   Mike Hall summer 1958 m

And let’s hear from one of the local girls:
“Oh yes, I remember the Vindi boys, ha!  We girls used to notice them around Berkeley because they came up to the cinema.  My father used wag his finger and say to me, “Don’t you dare ever let me see you sitting on a bench with a Vindi Boy!””   Jenny from Berkeley

All on deck and looking happy, possibly to be leaving!

The departure...

“If I recall correctly the only time catering crew had a shower was a Friday night when on Fire Watch.  Only one for the six weeks there and that was the last Friday.  Guess they wanted us to go home looking clean.”   John Strange 1960 n

“We were expected to go home in full uniform, but as soon as most of us were on the first train we changed into our civilian clothes.  Then once I was on the train to London I went to the buffet car to have a beer.”   Mike Hall summer 1958 m

“The warrant in your mitt was a sure sign that you were going home, or onto a ship.  Via the dreaded pool.  I certainly found it tough, tougher than any ship I was in, and a different world to the one that I was bought up in.  It stood me in good stead in later years though.”   Dickyboy 1964 s

“When you left you had to wear that stupid uniform but most of the boys used to get changed in nearest toilet before boarding transport so you did not stand out, though I dare say we stuck out like sore thumbs with our fantastic hair cuts.  Those were the days.”   William Clark h

“We all received our discharge books when we completed the course.  The boys that had trained for the deck joined their first ship as a Deck boy, the Stewards as either cabin boy or Galley boy.”   Des/Tugger p

“Then it was off to the pool in Liverpool, my home town.  Got my first ship the Forester, Harrison Line to East Africa.”   Neville Roberts late 1955 f

“Got to Tilbury pool friday afternoon, signed on saturday morning.  Mum made me wear my uniform and that was the last time it was worn.  Joined the SC Blairspey.”   Tiger Cub 33 summer 1956 s

“My pool was south shields. 1st day signing on I was told I had to report in my Vindi uniform, what a laugh!  I loved my 1st trip maiden voyage.  Happy days.”   Terry Morrow autumn 1960 s

“Uniforms never worn again… but always proud to say I was a Vindi boy”   Cappy n

Looking from further along the canal towpath towards the now wooded Vindicatrix camp above the ship's old canal berth

The careers at sea...

“I was rapidly changed from ‘mummy’s little soldier’ into a young man who grew up very quickly in the time I was there, and would be given a set of basic rules to live by for the rest of my life.  Value true friendship, never take anything or anyone on face value, don’t touch anything that doesn’t belong to you and always do the best you can with whatever you do and have respect for authority.  There were a few more.  I’ve tried to stick to them but there have been lapses.  I know that nearly all ex Vindi boys feel they became better people by staying the course and have never regretted the time spent there.  Thank you dear old ‘Vindi’.”    Jeff Glasser autumn 1964 n

“I was Vindi, deck 1946.  Harsh 3 months there after 5 years of wartime.  Vindi taught me the basics of living amongst men who were teenagers at that time.  Vindi stood me in good stead and I always look back as a valuable part of my life prior to those many years spent at sea amongst hundreds of great shipmates.”    Oldbosun autumn 1946 h

“From the Vindi I immediately joined the Empress of Australia out of Liverpool for four months trooping and regular voyages.  Then went on to travel the world for ten years.”   Tom (Tucker) Kirby 1955 s

“I was at the Vindi on Deck. Spent the next 40 years at sea.  I wouldn’t change a thing.”   Charlie Hannah 1953 s

“My first ship was the MV ‘Swiftpool’ which I joined in 1959 after I had been home for one weekend.  I was all excited as I found that we were sailing to Port Arthur in Texas, USA.  It was a good experience, we went all over the world after this.  I had one weekend at home in over a year, as a 17 year old I could not wait to get to brag to my mates about where I had been.  I spent another 4 years at sea, till I got married, then the wife put paid to my life at sea.”   William Westwood 1959 f

“I stayed at sea for 25 years, mainly SSM and Supply Ships.  For me the Vindi was brilliant, even with the shortage of food for a growing lad.  I never once sailed with any other Vindi boys apart from my first trip on the Iron Barque.”  
James Brown Autumn 1965 n

“I do value my training there and it helped me all through my 42 years at sea deck boy to bosun.  I still meet up here in Toronto with Vindiboys who settled in Canada.”   Oldbosun autumn 1946 s

“Every Vindi boy will tell you that the school made men of them, trained them in many aspects of life, including of course seamanship, cleanliness, honesty, comradeship.  There are Vindi associations all over the world, the main one in Sharpness where it all began.”    Des/Tugger p

In memory of...

The memorial for the many Vindi Boys who lost their lives during World War II --- Monument erected by the T.S. Vindicatrix Association at the site of the camp 1943-1966

Thanks & feedback

A note from the Berkness Bosun…

I hope you find the Vindi Boys’ memories and the way they told them to be as informative, interesting and entertaining as I do.  Many sincere thanks to all the Vindi Boys who contributed.  Some may have since crossed the bar already but I anticipate that all would be delighted to see their memories shared here.

My original idea was to write a short article about the Vindicatrix, mainly with links to other websites.  But whilst doing my online research, I came across a number of threads spread across various websites and forums.  I really enjoyed reading all the first hand comments written by the Vindi boys.

So, my article idea gradually evolved into taking many of these quotes from a number of disparate and jumbled sources and pulling them together into some kind of cohesive, story telling order.  That took me a mighty long time… and in retrospect I wish I had used a spreadsheet on the way – yes, really!  It has turned into a long read.

Any feedback or comments are very welcome – I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic.   I can add to or amend this article.  To contact me, please see this website’s top or bottom menu.

Coming soon to Berkness

A history of the ship that became T.S. Vindicatrix:  The ship itself had several previous lives before she came to Sharpness, and has a fascinating history at least as interesting as SS Great Britain.

Further reading – more photos and memories! – scroll down to find the section that begins, “I was born and lived in Northern Manchester,in a suburb named Higher Blackley. I finished school…” by Dennis M.Crosby – fuller memoir by Mike Hall – great old photos, memories, & photo prints for sale – Gazette article – T.S. Vindicatrix Association – S.E. Queensland Vindicatrix & MN Mariners’ Association Inc.

Credits & sources

Old photos above:   Copyright owners – or whether the photos are still under copyright – are unknown.  If you are an owner, please contact.