Castle Roland

The Trader

by Charles Bird


Chapter 5

Published: 14 Jan 16


Copyright © 2012-2015 by Charles Bird


SS Alpaco

The characters, localities and happenings in this story are the products of the author's imagination or, are used fictitiously. The story is copyrighted and is the property of the author and may not be copied, reproduced or retransmitted without his express permission.

From chapter 4: The Queen must have been expecting Taffy's message, they had not gotten out of the Radio Shack when the radio began to clatter with a message. It was from Tonga, telling Taffy that he must remain in Australia for his own safety; that he was the Hope of The Tongan People and he must keep himself safe. Funds would be sent to Captain Turner for his keep and education. She ended the message, telling him that she loved him and that if anything happened to her, he would be the King of Tonga. When Taffy read that, he burst out weeping, it was too much for his not quite sixteen year old mind to handle. Joe held the boy until his tears subsided and Gyles and Toby had their arms around their brother's shoulders. The Gods of War were not done with them yet, more tears would be shed very soon.


The two new ships, the Donkey and the Burro arrived as General McAndrews had said. Joe and James had been interviewing men for jobs on the two ships.

Sir Edward's younger, twin brother (he was all of less than two minutes younger) Thomas McPherson, had his Master's papers and had been skippering freighters in the Med. Sir Edward had talked his brother into coming to Australia, Thomas was his only remaining sibling and he feared for the younger (remember: just a few minutes younger) man's life, should war break out in Europe.

They found another ship Captain, Donald Davidson from Christchurch. He was familiar with the south-seas and he was eager to work for Joe, as he had heard good things about him from others.

The rest of the crew members filled in slowly, a Chief Engineer for the Burro was finally found, Joe was a bit uneasy hiring him, the man looked like a bum and it was obvious he had been living on the streets for a while.

Joe took him in his office to talk with him and he asked the man, Terry Wilson, why he was on the beach and not working. Terry seemed ready to cry and he looked down at his hands for a few moments and then replied, "'cause I got fired from my last position." Terry's face was beet red and tears were beginning to form at the corners of his eyes.

This worried Joe, so he asked, "Why were you fired, Terry?"

Terry replied, trembling, "Sir, I am a homosexual and someone found out and they told the Captain. Honest, sir, I wasn't hittin' on anybody on the ship. Now you aren't gonna hire me either, are ya'?"

Joe asked, "How did they find out?"

Terry said, "Somebody saw me and my mate movin' into our new house. Wes been together since we was children, wes have, honest Sir."

Relieved, Joe chuckled and replied, "Terry, ya' start today, I'll take ya' down to the Burro and introduce you to your new Captain, Tom McPherson. Welcome aboard, Terry!"

With tears running down his face, the distraught young man said, "Bless ya, Cap'n, me and Gary Bless ya, now maybe wes kin get our house back."

By the end of the week, the Donkey was ready to sail, they had a hold full of construction materials for the East Point Battery at Darwin.

The Burro would be a couple of days more, the new Chief Engineer, Terry Wilson had discovered a loose bearing on the main engine crankshaft and wanted to replace it before they sailed, and, yes, he and his Mate did get their house back, with a little gentle blackmail from Captain Turner that the two men never would learn about.

The Burro's Captain, Tom McPherson was impressed with his new Chief Engineer and made it a point to tell Joe about it. Joe just smiled and reminded Tom that the Australian Army was waiting for their cargo.

Joe thought to himself, "Keep your nose clean, Terry, you're gonna make it this time." Terry would not learn until after the war was over that Joe had gone to "war" with the United States Army to secure the job for him!

With four ships to keep employed, Joe and James were out and about beating the bushes for cargo, Joe was bringing schedules home to work on and burning the midnight oil.

Finally, Mrs. Collins said, "Captain, have you ever heard of salesmen? Let them chase down cargos and you do the scheduling. Let those youngsters do the legwork!"

Joe's first impulse was to tell Edna Collins to mind her own business, but he held his tongue and wondered if maybe she had a good idea after all. He talked it over with James the next day and they placed an ad in the Sydney Times for four Marine Services Representatives.

In less than a month, both men wondered how they had ever managed before they had hired the four young men, Carl Evans, Joel Greene, Roger Cochrane and Peter Van Fleit.

The four ships were completely sold out. By now, they were refusing cargo destined for both Japan and China, the belligerence of the Imperial Japanese Navy was making it dangerous to sail in any waters where they had a presence. They rescheduled the ships to keep them out of the warfare zones.

By January of 1938, it was clear that war was inevitable. In fact, it was headed their way at full throttle. Everyone was beginning to lay in supplies of goods they knew would not be available if war broke out. Edna Collins had their basement looking like a small Myerson's, there were canned and dried foods everywhere. Clothing for the boys and themselves were packed securely in moth proof trunks. They kept the cellar locked at all times, lest they be accused of hoarding.

The news from Europe was universally bad, but commerce in the Southern Ocean remained relatively benign and peaceful. There were rumblings from some of the small, island nations that Japan was interfering in their affairs, but, on the whole, peace still reigned.

General McAndrews kept Joe up to date on the situational analysis produced for General MacArthur and Turner Marine Services ran several cargoes into Manila, dodging Japanese patrols.

School was out for the summer until May of 1937 and Joe told the boys it was getting too dangerous for them to sail.

They would be entering their senior year at the academy.

In February of that year, disaster struck, Sir Edward McPherson was recalled to England, his Battalion was being mobilized. Lady McPherson was determined to return with him. They asked Joe to accept custody of their son Gyles until they could return, which he was more than glad to do.

In August, Joe received word from General McAndrews that the Japanese Military had taken over the Japanese Government and he was advised to keep all their ships well south of the Philippines.

Business was, however, running at a high level, consignments of food and medicines were being ordered by every government in the region, as was ammunition and weapons. At least one ship a week sailed, loaded with munitions from the Royal Ammunition Factory in Sydney.

Taffy received a long letter from his Mother, Queen Shalote, telling him to keep a low profile and to do everything that Captain Turner told him to be safe.

In a separate letter, Queen Shalote transferred a large portion of her wealth to Captain Turner for Taffy in the case that something happened to her or Taffy's step-father. Joe immediately deposited the letter and the enclosed transfer documents in the Royal Bank, for safekeeping. He did not burden Taffy with that awful news. Joe was looking on Taffy as a brother to his own son, Toby.

By September, European Governments were beginning to fall to the Germans and Japan had declared a "Unity of Purpose" agreement with Germany.

In September, one of their customers in Chile reported an attempted Coup led by local Germans and Nazi sympathizers. As a result, Joe cautioned everyone to be careful scheduling cargos to or from that country. Chile, however was an important source of nitrates for the Royal Ammunition Factory. The factory was to become a principal source of ammunition for the Allied Forces resisting Japanese conquering forces.

There were several islands in the South Pacific that were covered with centuries worth seabird guano and the Australian Navy promptly stationed a guard ship nearby. Contractors were scooping huge loads of the prehistoric sea bird guano and shipping it back to Australia for its nitrate content.

By the end of the month, China was all but gone and had been recreated as a Japanese Protectorate. Accordingly, Turner Marine Services had ceased sending cargoes to China. Several Merchant ships had been seized there by the authorities that they were sure were in the pay of the Japanese Navy.

School reopened and the boys entered their senior year. The Australian Government had started air raid drills for all schools and many of the older boys were already entering the Army.

Since Joe had custody of Gyles, the boy was exempt from call up as he was not an Australian Citizen, much to his disgust. That would change shortly when the classification was changed to include any citizen of the British Commonwealth.

Joe was worried sick about both boys, they were both rapidly reaching draft age. He applied for Merchant Marine papers for both Toby and Gyles and had them listed as Apprentice Mates.

They both were a bit annoyed at this and they made Joe promise that, when they graduated from school the next July, they would, in fact, be actually working as Apprentice Mates on one of the ships.

It was a promise that they would hold him to!


With their High School Diplomas in their hands, Toby and Gyles descended upon Joe, demanding he make good his promise to employ them as Apprentice Mates on one of the ships.

Joe had already sounded out Dennis Cochrane on the Camel and Tom McPherson on the Burro and they both agreed to take one of the boys on.

Taffy was feeling a bit left out, but Joe felt he just couldn't take the risk of something happening to the Heir to the Throne of Tonga, so he told him he could work as a runner in the office.

It turned out that Taffy saved their bacon with his knowledge of small island politics. They sewed up the freight business on New Caledonia, Fiji and Somoa with Taffy's help. When shippers discovered they were working with the Crown Prince of Tonga, the island nations shifted all their business to Turner Marine.

Toby Joe was the first to sail, the Camel departed mid-week after graduation. Joe had given both boys a sextant and plotting tools for graduation. They had been studying the use of the sextant for several months and had become fairly proficient in its use.

The Camel sailed for Noumea on New Caledonia with construction supplies for the American Navy. They were building an air strip and fueling facilities for both long range aircraft and war ships.

The Burro sailed next for Watje Atoll in the Marshall Islands with Gyles on board as Apprentice mate. The same facilities were being developed on that island as well. Nether young man would remain in that position long as the needs of the ships demanded mates, NOW!

The Mule and the Donkey were employed around Australia and New Zealand, hauling military cargoes, both ships departed loaded to their limit lines and their deck space filled with crates.

Joe had fuel oil tanks built for their pier, General McAndrews had suggested it to them and Joe felt it was good advice. He had two, 150,000 gallon tanks built and fueling ports plumbed in on the docks.

All their fuel had to be imported, there were no oil wells or refineries in Australia or New Zealand, but, with the General's help, they were able to get an allocation and the tanks were filled.

The boys' ships were in and out on a regular basis, the demand for cargo space was so intense, they were rarely in port more than a day or so.

Dennis Cochrane, the Third Mate on the Camel was brought back with an acute appendix and there was not another mate available, so Joe was forced to upgrade Toby on a temporary ticket. He feared this was going to become routine. He was right, it did!

The Camel sailed the next day for Kiribati in the Line Islands, with cargo for the US Navy. They were building a radar station there and an emergency landing field. From there, the Camel was headed to Santiago, Chile to take on a cargo of nitrates for the Royal Munitions Factory in Sydney.

Their ships were fully employed, the crews had only brief stays in their Homeport and Joe feared it would only get worse.

When the Burro was in Sydney Port, Chuck Falworth advised Joe that he had been offered a job on another ship as First Mate and he felt he had to take the offer.

Joe had no choice, he had to authorize a temporary upgrade for Gyles as Third Mate. Now, both boys were upgraded and would soon be going in harm's way. Joe was having nightmares at night!

Taffy, by now, was managing freight throughout the southern oceans and their customers liked the young man. He related to them well and knew first hand their problems. They knew Taffy would respond to their emergencies in every way possible and, if it was warranted, he would even divert a ship to meet their needs!

Joe figured Taffy earned his salary several times over every day!

Without fanfare, Joe raised the salaries of all three boys to the going rate of the jobs they were filling and he made arrangements for both Toby and Gyles to take the Third Mate Examination at the American Embassy when they were next in port.


When the Burro next came into port Joe met the ship at the pier. His face was long and somber, the crew knew something was very wrong.

He went into conference with Captain Tom Falworth and then the Captain passed the word for Gyles to come to his stateroom. The crew then knew just how bad the news was going to be. Gyles was very popular among the crew and they all felt for the young man as if he were their own brother. Joe's face had told the crew that something had happened in Gyle's family.

It was left to Joe to tell the young man that his father, General Sir Edward McPherson had been killed while aboard the British Cruiser, Ajax.

Joe hugged Gyles and held him while the young man cried out his anguish. Joe knew he was going to have to repeat the anguish as soon as the Donkey pulled into port, as Sir Edward's brother, Thomas, was now Captain of that ship.

Joe asked Gyles if he wanted to be relieved for this voyage, and Gyles refused, saying, "Sir, my duty is to the Burro and to you, I cannot let either of you down."

Joe had sent a Marconi to the Camel for Toby and a message came while Joe was still on board the Burro, for Gyles. When the radio operator handed the message to Gyles, the youngster clung even harder to Joe. Gyles whispered in Joe's ear, "He loves me sir, Toby loves me."

Joe had suspected that the two young men were more than just friends, but he said nothing and hugged Gyles tightly as he whispered back, "That's good, Gyles, I am glad for both of you."

As soon as they had time, Toby and Gyles, in their turn, went to the Embassy to take their tests. It was no surprise to anyone, except, perhaps, themselves, that both young men passed the test for Third Mate with no problems and were issued Unlimited Third Mate Licenses. The fact that Gyles was not an American citizen seemed to mean very little in those war times.

The pressure for cargo space was so critical, the Burro needed to sail the next day, taking a still grieving young man with it. Sir Edward's twin brother, Thomas, was little better, but he, also, had to sail almost immediately after refueling the Donkey.

The pace of operations was running at breakneck speed and looked to get even worse. As 1939 closed, half the world was at war and the other half was getting ready!

By early 1940, England was fully involved with the war with Germany and the members of the British Commonwealth were left to hang on for themselves. The Mother Country was hanging on by its teeth.

The ships of Turner Marine began making voyages to the United States and hauling cargo back to Australia and New Zealand. America had become the lifeline for both island nations.

Joe purchased two small freighters that had been seized by Australia from the Germans. He renamed them the Yak and the Ox. They were not the same class ships as his Camel Class ships, but they were of a similar size and, as soon as they had been cleaned up and inspected, they were put into service.

Getting crews was difficult and he was forced to take Gyles and put him on the Yak as a Temporary Second Mate and the same with Toby on the Ox.

All four ships, the Ox, the Yak, the Camel and the Burro were to sail with no Third Mates, the First and Second Mates on the four ships would have to double up until Third Mates could be found.

With the help of General McAndrews and the American Navy, Joe was able to keep the fuel tanks full and all of his ships were making back to back cargo runs to places where the bullets were flying and bombs were falling from the sky.

As 1940 began, the European Low Countries, Belgium and Holland were invaded by the Germans and the Dutch Navy fled to the South Pacific.

Three of their small freighters were assigned to Turner Marine and Joe assigned them new names to confuse the Germans, who were known to be operating in the southern waters. The Oosterdam became the Packer, the Harle became the Bearer and the Handam became the Trekkor. He retained most of their crews but he did assign American Captains and Mates.

Gyles was transferred to the Packer as Second Mate and Toby was placed on the Trekkor also as Second Mate, also. Joe had obtained Emergency Certificates as Second Mates for both of them and the pace of operations became even more hectic!

All nine ships were hauling cargoes from Los Angeles in California, down the west coast as far as Chile, before heading west to Australia. They were bringing not only war supplies but also food for the civilian Australians. They had previously purchased many supplies from the mother country and now, the mother country was battling for its very life.

The American Navy was building up in Hawaii and several of the Turner ships would make the Los Angeles to Hawaii run, before returning to Sydney.

Cargo rates soared and demand for cargo space became more competitive. Joe refused to accept any cargo that would take his ships into the Japanese sphere of influence, several competitors had ships that had been interned and their entire crews had disappeared. None of them were ever found, there were not even any records of them after the war.

Japan had invaded Indo-China in September and Joe recalled their ships in that area immediately. They had to sneak out of the harbors, running with no lights until they were far away.

The pace of operations again increased, the offices of Turner Marine were a madhouse. Joe had transferred Taffy to be the Central Pacific Island Freight Manager and gave him a small staff to coordinate all freight to the Pacific Islands.

At barely nineteen years of age, Taffy was controlling millions of dollars' worth freight and the continued existence of the lives of people living on those islands, many of whom he was related to.

In Europe, France had fallen to the Germans. Australia sent two fighter wings to aid England in her time of need as the German Air Force was tearing that island nation to shreds.

As 1940 came to a shuddering close, British troops arrived in Sydney for training in preparation for a thrust into Indo-China and newspapers announced the first deaths of Australian Soldiers fighting in Europe.

Four interned freighters were assigned to Turner Marine, they were Polish and Dutch ships that had escaped as their countries fell to the German onslaught.

Again, to confuse the Japanese and Germans, Joe renamed the ships the Baggage, the Cart, the Handler and the Wagon. All four ships were larger than the rest of the Turner Fleet. The crews were interned and Joe had to find people to operate the ships.

By now, all merchant ships' crews were exempt from the draft and Issuing Countries were allowing "For the Duration" upgrades of licenses. Joe immediately upgraded Toby and Gyles to First Mates and assigned Toby to the Wagon and Gyles to the Handler.

The smaller ships were still sailing with just a Captain, First Mate and a Second Mate, but the Handler and the Wagon were too big and required all three mates.

Getting Engineers was only slightly easier but, here again, General McAndrews came to their aid. He found American soldiers who had licenses and, suddenly, Joe had his office swamped with Second and Third Assistant Engineers and Mates.

After interviewing them, he sent Carl Bowman and David Early to Toby on the Wagon as Second and Third Mates. Billy Tatum and Warren Houer were sent to Gyles on the Handler and the engineers, he apportioned out to the ships that were running short handed.

As soon as the Wagon and Handler were loaded and fueled, The Wagon headed for the South China Sea to support the Australian Forces invading Indo-China. The Handler headed for Malaysia with vital food supplies, medical supplies and munitions.

Both ships came under fire and Joe stayed glued to the Marconi in the upstairs of Turner Marine, fearing the worst and praying for the best. All the ships carried food supplies for the ground troops. He got so he could pull the call signs of his ships even before the Marconi Operator had transcribed them.


The next part of this story will tell of the terrible attack on America in the Philippines and Hawaii. Our boys, already First Mates on their ships will find themselves in the hot seats of command and will learn just how lonely that position is.

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