Mailboats gave many their first taste of foreign travel

STATELY ... the Blenheim, sister ship of the Braemar.
STATELY ... the Blenheim, sister ship of the Braemar.

GIVEN where we live, I wonder how many people’s first experience of ‘foreign parts’ was a trip on one of the old mailboats out of the Tyne? Reader Malcolm Bambrough’s was.

It’s been nice to hear from Malcolm, who was pleased to see the picture the other night of Fred Olsen’s Braemar, which operated latterly on the North Shields-Oslo route until she was taken out of service in the mid-1970s.

I went to Norway on the Braemar, landing at Kristiansand. The cost of the return sea trip was £24, all meals included.

Malcolm Bambrough, Gazette reader

Malcolm was taken back to being an 18-year-old in 1960, and the experience of his first foreign holiday.

“I went to Norway on the Braemar, landing at Kristiansand,” he says. “The cost of the return sea trip was £24, all meals included.

“I had a quick glance down the engine room and I am almost sure it had a Doxford engine.”

Really, £24? Sounds like a bargain, now, but equates in value to nearer £370 today.

Since last writing about the Braemar, I’ve come across some notes on her last skipper on the North Sea run, Captain Harald Mueller, who had joined Olsen’s as a deck boy in 1930.

He had made his first run to the Tyne as second officer in the old Blenheim, predecessor of the ship you see here of the same name which he was commanding when she caught fire in the North Sea.

He was decorated and made a Knight of St Olaf for his bravery in saving the ship, her passengers and crew and her cargo.

Also, those of us who have travelled the North Sea route from the Tyne – once to Norway, now to Amsterdam – know that it isn’t always kind (though compensated for at night by looking out at the stars, and the flares of the gas platforms. I found that magical).

But Captain Mueller’s view? “The North Sea in dirty weather is fantastic. You are really battling, 24 hours a day on the bridge. You see great big seas curling up and you try to escape them with your ship.”

A senior master of Fred Olsen’s, he retired from the Braemar, having clocked up more than 1,056,000 miles, over 1,760 crossings.

• One other shipping matter: I mentioned a while back the model of the Swan Hunter-built liner Mauretania which was coming up for auction this week.

Liverpool was hoping to raise the £50,000 it was expected to fetch, so it could be put on display at the maritime museum there.

They were bitterly disappointed, then, when the model – similar to one in the Discovery Museum in Newcastle – went for a staggering £162,000.