Sound: merchant seafarer describes shipping out

John Montgomery was born in Wellington in 1923. After an unsuccessful attempt to join the army by faking his age, he went to sea at the age of 17 on the little scow Te Aroha. In 1941, in Wellington, he got a job in the engine room of the grand liner Aquitania, which was carrying New Zealand troops to the Middle East. He later served as a fireman on the New Zealand Shipping Company cargo liner Ruahine and the United States oil tanker Schenectady, which brought oil from the Americas and the Persian Gulf to New Zealand and supplied US naval forces during the Okinawa invasion.

Hear John Montgomery describe how he got a job on the Aquitania.


Anyway, it was 1941 by this time, September '41, and the Aquitania was picking up a crew. This fellow and I, called Titch Campbell – he was a bit younger than I was, he'd been at sea on the coast for a while before – we were both in the same boat, trying to get a job on a ship. Because they had plenty of seamen at that time, it was very hard to get into it really. So anyway, we went down the shipping office and everybody's crowding into the office, you see, and the shipping master got up on the bench and said, 'You'll all have to get out. This is not the way it's done. All out! Clear the place!' So they were putting everybody out, and this joker said, 'Come on, we'll get behind the door.' So we got behind the door, and [when the shipping master] said, 'Who's first?' of course him and I walk out first, and we signed on. He signed on as a bridge boy, and I signed on as a cleaner. I said, 'What's a cleaner do?' 'Well, we'll find out when we get on board.' I find out the cleaners are down on the boilers, keeping the boilers clean, and you had to run messages and one thing and another. So anyway, that was me well at sea by then. We left Wellington on – I think it was about the 15th of September.

John Montgomery

John Montgomery, photographed while serving in the United States merchant marine in the later years of the war

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Peter Montgomery

Posted: 01 Mar 2016

Love you Granddad, I always come back to hear your voice. what a great man!