My Mother recently gave me my Grandfather’s record books and identity cards from his time in Merchant Navy.
Philip Murphy spent the whole of his working life with Cunard, mostly as a cook. This includes service in the World War 2 when the Cunard ships carried troops across the Atlantic. When he finished on the liners, he worked in the kitchens at Cunard head office, the middle ‘grace,’ at the Pier Head in Liverpool in the few years before he finally retired.
These beautiful and graphically evocative documents, rich pieces of tangible living history, record all the ships he served on during this golden age of ocean travel. I can only imagine the sense of adventure and excitement and the experiences he must have had docking in New York in the 20s and 30s.
Philip’s first ever posting seems to be in March 1924, aged just 22, when he sailed from Liverpool to Quebec on the Montlaurier as a ‘Scullery Man’. Nine more trips to Canada followed over the next year. The Montlaurier was apparently damaged by fire whilst at Cammell, Laird & Co in 1925 and was eventually scrapped in 1929.
In June 1933 Philip missed the birth of his second child, my Mother, by six days when he joined the Lancastria on the 24th. He was back on September 6th for three months at home before he joined the Laconia on 20th January 1934.
February 1936 saw the beginning of a long association with the Samaria. There’s a gap in the records here but the first entry in the next book, January 1941, sees him still with the Samaria. However, It seems that Philip did spend some time on the Mauretania. Only built in 1939, Mauretania was requisitioned by the government, armed, painted battleship grey, and despatched to America in December of that year. A certificate of discharge shows Philip was on that trip, he left it in New York on 2nd January 1940.
The wartime trips must have been treacherous. My Mother says that they never had any idea where he was or when they would see him again. All it says in his record books is OHMS. The Samaria carried troops between 1940 and 1948. It isn’t clear if he was ever on a ship that was attacked, but in the front of his 2nd record book there is a stamp which reads: ‘Renewal book issued free. Original reported lost through enemy action.’ Other ships Philip had served on earlier in his career, notably the Lancastria and Laconia, were later bombed and sunk in 1940 and 1942 respectively.
Philip ended the war on the Scythia, a ship that had seen extensive wartime service. He joined it in October 1944 and stayed with it for four years. One of it’s last missions as a troop ship was to bring home The 1st King’s Dragoon Guards from Italy, docking in Liverpool in March 1948. This was also Philip’s last posting on a troop ship.
Merchant Seaman was a reserved occupation in World War 2. Philip was aged 38 when the war started and 44 when it ended. We found his ‘Merchant Navy Gunnery Course’ certificate from 1942, the only real evidence that he was involved in any conflict. It must have been extremely stressful at times in the mid-atlantic at the height of the war.
I wish I’d asked him about it when he was alive but I was too young and had no real awareness of such things. He passed away in 1977.
After the war Philip served on several more ships, the Parthia, the Franconia, another stint on his old friend the Samaria, and the Ascania. His last recorded voyage was on the Media which, along with the Parthia, was one of Cunards first post war ships.
Philip docked in Liverpool for the last time on 2nd October 1952 bringing to a close 28 eventful years on the waves.