Saturday, 21 January 2012

Early Memories – Kenya V

Terence McNally's postcard of Windsor Castle in Cape Town

It is amazing to think that when I was four and the family came to leave Kenya it was still normal for the company my father worked for to use ocean liners rather than air liners to move its staff around the world. Within just a few years this would change and the era of the ocean Liner would draw to a close.

By this time I had sailed across the Atlantic from Trinidad to the UK and then sailed through the Suez to Kenya and now I was about to travel the rest of the way around Africa and onwards back to the UK. We were using the Castle Line, and the two ships I remember were the Union Castle and the Windsor Castle. The ships Livery was pink hence my nickname for them being the ‘Pinky Ship’.

The event my poem describes is the Crossing the Line Ceremony. It takes place when a ship crosses the equator. Sailors who have already crossed the Equator are nicknamed Shellbacks, those who have not are nicknamed Pollywogs. (A Pollywog is another name for a Tadpole.)

The ceremony uses the guise of King Neptune’s court to convert Pollywogs to Shellbacks by submitting them to a number of embarrassing ordeals.

Dependant on which line of longitude you cross when you become a shellback you can be given different grades of shellback such as the Royal Diamond Shellback for crossing the equator on the Prime Meridian or Golden Shellback for crossing the Equator at the 180th meridian.

I just remember people dressing in drag, (as well as other fancy dress) and then being covered in shaving foam and being dunked into the swimming pool. I hope you enjoy the poem;

Early Memories – Kenya V

Traveling ‘home’ upon the ‘pinky’ ship,
around the cape, then North.
As we crossed the equator
King Neptune’s court called forth
the pollywogs in fancy dress
were tried around the pool
then covered in shaving foam
they were made to look the fool.

John Carré Buchanan
21 January 2012


  1. When I was young child my family sail a vessel whenever we go to the province for a vacation. I like traveling on the sea but sometimes I get scared/nervous.


    1. MharMS, Thank you for your comment, I hope you manage to quell your nervousness. I love the sea, before I was injured I used to waterski, to me it was everything, a real passion. Unfortunately I am unlikely to ever do it again. Now I just get to look at the sea and remember the fantastic times I had on it.

  2. Nice Memories John, i worked on Windsor Castle as a Bell boy for quite a few trips and loved this ceremony. A fab reminder and lovely pic of that handsome ship. i stumbled across your site while doing some research on crossing the line. My wife is currently working on Queen Elizabeth in the acting company. I want to send her some special words, i might send you poem if you don't mind
    Best wishes David

    1. David, What a special comment you have made. I am delighted that you found the post and decided to comment, thank you so much. I would be very happy for you to share my poem with your wife.
      I traveled on both the Union Castle and Windsor Castle, and since then my family has always referred to them by my childhood name for them, the pinky ships.
      When you consider that I have five or six memories of my first four years of life; for one of them to have been on board the ship, it must have been something quite special, at least as exciting as being charged by Rhino and Elephant (if you have seen my other memories).
      Such a shame we fly everywhere now. Thanks once again for your comment. John

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    1. Robert, Thank you for your comment I am glad you like my blog. Unfortunately I do not do news letters. To be honest I do not have the time to write them. Once again Many thanks for your kind comment.


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