Wednesday 21 December 2011

WW2 Wrens shooting spotlighted,

WW2 image of servicewomen are usually positive. They're 'our girls', working for 'our victory'. But now a story emerges of a Wren in uniform whom a mystery assailant shot four times as she was returning from an errand. She died.

The question is, was this a crime motivated by hostility to Wrens, to women, this particular woman, or was it just random? A crime of passion? Or politics? Or just a fluke? But let's bear in mind that more men murder and assault women than women murder men. So the bigger question is: does the murder expose a gendered hostility to servicewomen that has silenced?

Twenty-year-old Gertrude Canning, of Donegal, was a serving Wren (Woman’s Royal Naval Service) at Camp Quebec at No. 1 Combined Training Centre in Inveraray, Argyll, when she was murdered by four shots in 1942.

It's reported that 'Scotland's newly-formed Cold Case Unit could reopen an investigation into the murder...The Crown Office has listed the death... as part of the Unsolved Homicide Database, the result of which may see her case re-examined. A total of around 93 serious crimes are subject to a re-investigation due to advances in forensic technology.'

'Family’s fresh hopes for clues to mystery of Gertrude’s murder', 22.12.2011,

Lesbian sailors' famous kiss?

Yesterday two women kissed in what may become the most iconic real embrace in women's maritime history. It's been downplayed, it wasn't a show, but it's been photographed for posterity and shared with the world by Associated Press. You can even see it on video.

This real kiss compares interestingly to a spoof one posed by models ten years ago. It's a pastiche of the famous V-J Day 1945 kiss shot by Alfred Eisenstaedt (see this blog, 15.2.2010). To me a decade ago the embrace felt very very far from what could happen in reality. Now it's not.

And that progress merits celebration. I can see why the US navy is downplaying it. There must be anxiety that it shouldn't be fetishised or trivialised. And certainly human beings' right to embrace should indeed be taken for granted. But actually this a significant and serious step forward.

Journalist Brock Vergakis reports that 'A Navy tradition caught up with the repeal of the U.S. military's "don't ask, don't tell" rule on Wednesday [Dec 21] when two women sailors became the first to share the coveted "first kiss" on the pier after one of them returned from 80 days at sea.

'Petty Officer 2nd Class Marissa Gaeta of Placerville, Calif.,[left] descended from the USS Oak Hill amphibious landing ship and shared a quick kiss in the rain with her partner, Petty Officer 3rd Class Citlalic Snell, [based on the USS Bainbridge, the guided missile destroyer] Gaeta, 23, wore her Navy dress uniform while Snell, 22, wore a black leather jacket, scarf and blue jeans.

'For the historical significance of the kiss, there was little to differentiate it from countless others when a Navy ship pulls into its home port following a deployment. Neither the Navy nor the couple tried to draw attention to what was happening and many onlookers waiting for their loved ones to come off the ship were busy talking among themselves.

'David Bauer, the commanding officer of the USS Oak Hill, said that Gaeta and Snell's kiss would largely be a non-event and the crew's reaction upon learning who was selected to have the first kiss was positive.

'"It's going to happen and the crew's going to enjoy it. We're going to move on and it won't overshadow the great things that this crew has accomplished over the past three months," Bauer said.

'The ship returned to Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek-Fort Story following an 80-day deployment to Central America. The crew of more than 300 participated in exercises involving the militaries of Honduras, Guatemala Colombia and Panama as part of Amphibious-Southern Partnership Station 2012.

'Both women are Navy fire controlmen[sic], who maintain and operate weapons systems on ships. They met at training school where they were roommates and have been dating for two years, which they said was difficult under "don't ask, don't tell."

"We did have to hide it a lot in the beginning," Snell said. "A lot of people were not always supportive of it in the beginning, but we can finally be honest about who we are in our relationship, so I'm happy."

'Navy officials said it was the first time on record that a same-sex couple was chosen to kiss first upon a ship's return. Sailors and their loved ones bought $1 raffle tickets for the opportunity. Gaeta said she bought $50 of tickets, a figure that she said pales in comparison to amounts that some other sailors and their loved ones had bought. The money was used to host a Christmas party for the children of sailors.'

'Brock Vergakis, Associated Press, 'Marissa Gaeta And Citlalic Snell, U.S. Naval Petty Officers, Share First Same-Sex Kiss At Ship's Return',

SEE THE VIDEO of kiss and interview at

Images of transgressive sailors

When I was at the Edward Burra exhibition in Chichester last month (it's still on) I thought some of the very curvaceous and transgressive images of seafarers looked familiar in style. He definitely knew about trannies, but was he the first to visually comment on seafarers' sexuality?

I thought not, and now I've come across some paintings of mariners that seem to precede his. Try this 1929 painting by Austrian artist Marcel Ronay (lower image), 'Sailor and Girl'.(I found the image at Thank you, Barbara).

Surfing for more info about Ronay led to me another site where you will find many Weimar artists' images of 'sailors', of the kind not usually seen in maritime museums, for example Charles Demuth's 1918 'Sailors dancing' (centre).

Their sexualisation in these images is quite startling. It's easy to see the connections with Tom of Finland (see top picture, Seen Magazine, 'Tom arrives home') and his masculine gay men. Real name Touko Laaksonen, the late Tom's internationally acclaimed exhibition at Turku just closed 4 days ago. It was one of the official events in Turku's European Capital of Culture programme.

However the Wäinö Aaltonen Museum of Art and the Åbo Akademi Library want to gather permanent collections of his work).

There is certainly room in the world for a maritime museum to show this very different angle on rugged Sailor Jack.

Thursday 15 December 2011

First woman rear-admiral appointed in Australia

Women admirals are rare, so it's a big number that Commodore Robyn Walker (top picture) has just been appointed to the rank of Rear Admiral in the Royal Australian Navy.

Her distinguished fore-sisters include Grace Murray Hopper (US, 1985) (pic lower left). In June this year Rear Admiral Nora Tyson became the first woman to command a US carrier strike group (see

In Canada in May Jennifer Bennett (pic lower right) became the country's first woman Rear Admiral (

The Australian MOD press release says 'Admiral Walker is the first female in the Navy to attain the rank of Rear Admiral and to take on the job of Surgeon‑General for the Australian Defence Force.'

Not that she's doing a Nelson in high-profile naval battles at sea. 'Admiral Walker’s promotion follows her achievements as Director-General of Health for the Navy with broader responsibilities to the ADF [Australian Defence Force] in leading a $270 million revamp of the ADF’s health capability, and her previous roles in supporting the health of operational Defence personnel in Iraq and East Timor.

'Admiral Walker said she was honoured and humbled by her promotion.“I am looking forward to the challenges that I will face and continuing to make a positive difference in my new role.”

'Admiral Walker joined the Royal Australian Navy from Brisbane as a Direct Entry Lieutenant in 1991, and has continued to work in the field of medicine ever since.

'She served in HMA Ship Westralia and with the Sea Training Group, and has been involved in the planning of health support for several military operations.

'Admiral Walker led the health planning and assembly for Australia’s military medical response to the 2004 Boxing Day Tsunami, and led further developments to the Australian Defence Force’s Mental Health Strategy between 2005 and 2008. In September this year, she was named Telstra ACT Business Woman of the Year for 2011.'

Tuesday 13 December 2011

Gay US navy man wins victory

Google Alerts seem to daily highlight cases of LGBT people in the US navy enjoying new lives now that DADT [the notorious Don't Ask, Don't Tell law] has been overturned. I don't put them all on this blog because the stories are not about my point: lives on ships. And I'm no supporter of the US's military-industrial complex.

But today it seems like especially good news for someone TWICE ousted from his job. Justice has been done. LGBT Weekly reports that 'U.S. Navy Petty Officer 2nd class Jase Daniels, 29, was reinstated as into active duty as a [Hebrew] linguist after the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN) and the law firm of Morrison & Foerster pushed for his return to duty. He was sworn in Monday, saying.

'“Today, I took an oath and affirmed to defend the Constitution of the United States of America. I am humbled as I am reinstated to the job I love and by the enormous support I have received on this momentous day. I look forward to returning to the Defense Language Institute and ultimately, my career in the military.”

'Daniels was discharged in 2005 after coming to terms with his sexual orientation. He sent his commander a letter which confirmed he was gay. Daniels was discharged shortly thereafter, but later received a notice recalling him to serve in Kuwait for one year. He was discharged a second time under DADT [the notorious, now-overturned Don't Ask, Don't Tell law].'

(A longer version of this article was posted at It's called 'Discharged U.S. Navy officer reinstated after dismissal under defunct DADT policy' The original appears to be by Ruth Fine of San Diego gay news.

Monday 12 December 2011

19C women aboard Cornish ships

Selina Smith (above) went to sea with her husband, the master of the Gem, in 1887, along with their son Percy. They went to Malta, Greece, Curacao, and Galveston.

Fortunately - and unusually - she left a log. Joanna Thomas uses it and some fascinating census data to paint a very new picture of the extent to which women, in Cornwall at least, were aboard ships.

They were there - and maybe sailed - as wives and daughters of mates, seamen, boatswains, carpenters, shipkeepers, gunners, lieutenants and bargemen, as well as nurses, servants and stewardesses in their own right.

See her article 'Women aboard vessels in late nineteenth-century Cornwall' in Troze, the online journal of the National Maritime Museum, Cornwall, Vol 3, no 1, August 2011, pp.1-11.

I particularly value the way she discusses the problems of how the census recorded and omitted women on ships.

Thursday 8 December 2011

Submariners - women too, at last

(Cartoon from Facebook)

Well, the possibility of women becoming submariners on UK boats has been building up - as previous posts on this blog have said. Today, after an 18-month review, the go-ahead has been confirmed by Defence Secretary Philip Hammond.

The news has just been announced. It's going to be officers first, then ratings - perhaps because men see women officers as less harass-able. These officers will begin serving on the four large Vanguard-class nuclear subs in late 2013.

Then female ratings will be allowed to sail in 2015. By that point, it's thought women will also be serving on the new Astute-class subs.

It's an overdue move. Lots of silly excuses have been proffered in the past, like:
# nuclear subs can harm your unborn foetus
# pregnant women will compromise missions because if something goes wrong (like an ectopic pregnancy) the sub would have to surface and get the patient to land
# they'll commit adultery with men on board, and wrecking naval marriages
# hot-bedding will cause immorality.

The main problem, I'm told by submariners I know, is actually toilets. It costs a lot to adapt vessels to create separate facilities for women and men - and separation is seen as crucial.

And the main reason for allowing women on subs now is - as so often in wartime - that there aren't enough men to do the isolated work. It's not that there's a better commitment to equal opps.

Having said that, most women at sea think the Royal Navy is far more egalitarian than the Merchant Navy. It has excellent policies prohibiting sexual harassment, that are well enforced.

Nick Hopkins in The Guardian wrote that
'The Conservative MP Andrew Murrison, who served as a surgeon commander in the Royal Navy before entering parliament, said: "Women have proved to be an essential part of the surface fleet.

'"I can see no convincing reason to prevent female personnel from becoming submariners if they wish. The medical and physiological objections to women serving in submarines appear to have been resolved removing any real hurdle for potential female submariners."

'Women have been serving on Royal Navy surface ships since 1990 and there are now more than 3,400 female personnel in the fleet, though this accounts for less than 10% of the total. Some jobs in the navy are still men-only, including joining the Royal Marines.

'But more than 70 per cent of jobs in the navy and army are now open to women. In the Royal Air Force, the figure is 95 per cent.'

Researching women on the wartime seas - as I am for my next book - I am struck by how often women had to fight to be allowed to take part in sea work - and what flimsy excuses have been made to halt them.

On Aug 7 1940 MP Seymour Cocks suggested women should be accountants at sea in the Royal Navy. But the admiralty refused as it would cause problems organising relief staff. Where there is a will - or shortages of personnel- there is a way.

Wednesday 7 December 2011

Pearl Harbour women

On the 70th anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour on Dec 7 19141, a few stories are emerging about US women. At the huge US naval base there were many civilian wives. There were also women working in supprt roles, such as the 82 Army and 42 Navy nurses. Annie Fox (48) (pictured) the chief nurse in the Army Nurse Corps at Hickam Field, later received a Bronze Star for bravery after the attack.

The photo shows women there putting out a fire that day.

Women were not working on ships, but their lives were very ship-focused. And civilian wives of men in the US Pacific Fleet took to the seas because they were evacuated - in Beatrice Thacher's case on an unsuitable vessel.

Mary Jane Smetanka writes in Minneapolis Star Tribune that then-teacher Beatrice Thacher, now 95, was in Hawaii raising a 2-year-old and was pregnant with her second child. Her husband Bob was a gunnery officer in charge of the anti-aircraft battery on the battleship California.

'"I loved that battleship; it was always breaking down," Bea Thacher said with a smile. That meant the ship often had to come back to port for repairs, and she got to spend time with her husband."'

The Pacific Fleet had been ordered to Hawaii because of fears of war with Japan. 'Most Navy wives stayed on the mainland, but as Thacher ... vowed to join her husband on the island of Hawaii.'

'She had sailed there on a tourist ship, and said she spent the entire trip chasing her 2-year-old, Carol, around the ship deck...The couple found lodging in a run-down cul-de-sac crowded with Navy families. The landlord was a woman who mothered the young Navy wives, who saw their husbands only when they were off-duty.'

After the attack early on Sunday morning 'Bea wandered up the cul-de-sac and found other wives listening to the radio, playing bridge and drinking coffee. As she mechanically rigged a blanket to cover a window, she began to tremble."... was shaking so bad I bit on the blanket to stop my teeth from chattering."

'The Navy evacuated families to the mainland. She boarded a ship not knowing where it was going.

'The ship rolled in the waves because it didn't have enough ballast.. anxiety swept over those on board when the little fleet it was part of had to pause in the Pacific to deal with engine problems in one boat.

'Japanese submarines were thought to be in the area. Bea was wearing an old tweed coat that a friend of Bob's had handed her before she left.

'Bea didn't see Pearl Harbor until six weeks after the bombing...[she] spent the rest of the war years in New Jersey, dashing to New York to see Bob for an hour when his ship docked and he left for other assignments."I just missed him so much," she said. "I was dying to see him. It would be in on a Friday, out on a Monday."' December 07, 2011, 08:46 AM

Donna Trussel writes in Politics Today that 'During and after the Pearl Harbor attacks, 57 civilians were killed and 35 were wounded. (Estimates vary on how many of those deaths resulted from friendly fire.) The military deaths, by comparison, were 2,402, and 1,247 wounded... all the women (and children) casualties were civilians.

Tuesday 29 November 2011

Queer US seafarers and their union

Allan Bérubé has long been one of my favourite historians, so it was a great treat when his new book arrived through my letter box last week: My Desire for History: Essays in Gay, Community, and Labor History, Chapel Hill: UNC Press, 2011. And it was even better than I had imagined possible. Do get it!

Although Allan died in 2007, he is very much alive in people’s minds for the important community history work about sexuality that he did, most notably Coming Out Under Fire. And I am one of many who mourn that his incomplete history of the US Marine Cooks and Stewards Union is still not published.

Several draft chapters from it that appear in My Desire for History give us a taste of path-breaking material that deserves to reach the wider public: the story of men’s – and women’s - co-operation in building a union in the 1930s and 40s that was progressive, pro-black, gay-led (and then wrecked by the Cold War, as so many laudable initiatives were).

It’s very much a story that parallels my work on gay seafarers in the UK, 1945-1990. But Bérubé writes about men who camped their way across the worlds oceans two decades before most of my informants, and who were far more active in their organisation than British queens were in The National Union of Seamen.

The project of editing his manuscripts deserves prompt attending and funding. Such an extraordinary and heartening history is needed in a world where LGBTTQ matters and unionisation do not go hand in hand.

Imprisoned on a Scientology ship

Pic: Valeska Paris with son Declan

Ships can be prison-like enough, so who needs to be ideologically imprisoned too? Who needs to be kept from leaving by a guard at the bottom of a gangway?

The Village Voice today released an interview with Valeska Paris (born 1977) who was imprisoned for twelve years on the Scientology cruse ship Freewinds. The vessel sails the Caribbean and 'caters to wealthy Scientologists paying for the highest level of spiritual training' at $8,000 a time.

At 17 Valeska, from a Scientology family, was put on board but told her stay would only be two weeks.'For her first six years, she worked as a waitress in one of the ship's restaurants... [later she]became an auditor and an instructor of courses.'

Isn't a life on the ocean wave OK? the reporter asked her. No. '"The schedule in the Sea Org is very different than in the real world. You'd get up at 6 and go to work, and you'd work until midnight. In 1997 and 1998, after our regular jobs we were up every night until 4 am cleaning up asbestos," she says. "There was rubble on the deck. We'd have to go behind the guys doing renovations, vacuuming up dirt until 4 in the morning."

'For several months, she alleges, she was punished with an assignment in the ship's engine room, where at one point she passed out from the noise and heat.'Men were put there as punishment too, so it wasn't gendered. But she didn't leave. Why not?

'"You're so resigned to it," she says. "I had grown up in Sea Org. I never had a bank account. You get 50 dollars a week. You don't have a passport. If you want to leave the ship, you have to go down the gangway, and there's a security guard there 24 hours a day." (Valeska's passport had been taken from her when she boarded the ship; the church says that was just maritime procedure.)'

For all that her situation was so appalling, essentially it is not unlike that of many crew members on some cruise ships today: long hours, low wages, gaol-like conditions and the maintenance of a disempowering mindset that means people think they can't get away.

Tony Ortega, 'Scientology's Cruise Ship as Prison: The Voice Interviews Valeska Paris' Village Voice, 29 November 2011. her career).

Saturday 12 November 2011

Missing –woman crew member, and evidence about her disappearance.

Pic: Rebecca Coriam with parents Anne and Mike

Another woman missing from a cruise ship. Yesterday (11.11.2011) a Guardian journalist reported on what he’d found when he went looking for evidence about Rebecca Coriam, a youth activities worker on the Disney Wonder.

At least 171 people have disappeared from cruise ships since 2000, but she is Disney's first. Sixteen had vanished this year alone, before Ronson set sail. By the time he got off the ship, the figure had gone up to 19.

Rebecca, an Exeter University sports science graduate from Chester, UK, vanished in March. The formal position is ‘the investigation is ongoing’ – seemingly meaning nothing is happening. Her distraught parents, who believe she was murdered, have created a website;

Rebecca was last seen on CCTV camera looking distraught while taking a mobile call at 6am – and was known to be in a volatile relationship (with another young woman aboard) .

Ronson found the following things that illuminate life on cruise ships today – the non-magical, non-cute, un-Mickey Mouse context for a 'non-stop fun' brand.

• Only one police officer has ever been assigned to investigate Rebecca's disappearance, and did just one day’s on-board investigating.
• There’s official silence and denial, although the crew think something’s up. A waiter tells Ronson, '"It didn't happen. You know that's the answer I have to give.”’ ‘Melissa’, a shipmate, told the reporter that "‘After Rebecca went missing, Disney had a little ceremony. They put flowers at the wall next to the crew pool, "where they think she might have jumped from. But they didn't say. They put these flowers down but refused to answer any questions as to why… Nothing was clear."’
• There are CCTV cameras everywhere. Ronson spotted ‘four CCTV cameras on deck 4 – two on the port side, two on the starboard, evidently capturing every inch of the deck. They're hard to see at first as they're shaped like long tubes and look like some kind of nautical equipment.’ But the company say they have no CCTV footage about her death. When Ronson asks ‘Melissa’ why a shipping line would they suppress such information she replies ‘"To try to protect the brand. If it was 6am and they were doing their job and watching the front, someone must have seen her go over. Or if they didn't, they're covering up why they didn't.”’
• Crew say all phone calls are taped (so knowing about Rebecca’s call might have helped the investigation). But when Ronson asked the company if they had the tape, he was stonewalled:'"That pertains to specific details about the investigation and so it's not appropriate for us to share that kind of information."'
• The crew say life on board is ‘about the show’. Some crew members tell Ronson ‘“All the big smiles and happiness, it's all real. You couldn't act that." And "Disney wouldn't hire you if you weren't that sort of person."’But it’s a very hard job with long on-duty hours – until the kids are in bed, in fact. For background see a blog by former Wonder worker Kim Button: The policy of passengers getting unlimited drinks for one price on Royal Caribbean, and Celebrity, thinks Mike, Rebecca’s dad, adds to the risks of trouble aboard.

Ronson talked to Kendall Carver, who now leads a lobby group called International Cruise Victims, after his daughter died on ship.

‘Over the phone, he told me theories of murder, negligence and cover-ups. Sometimes he sounded angry and xenophobic; at other times he was incredibly compelling… It's true that passengers on just one ship – the Carnival Valour – reported nine sexual assaults to the FBI in less than one year.

‘"In other corporations, police get involved," Carver said. "On cruise ships they have, quote, security officers, but they work for the cruise lines. They aren't going to do anything when the lines get sued.”’

Stephen Mosley Rebecca’s MP, who on 1 November raised her case in the House of Commons, said, says Ronson, that Disney was "more interested in getting the ship back to sea than in the case of a missing crew member."' Yes, it would be. Port charges cost a five-figure sum every day.

What this sad story makes clear is how much can happen because these ships are far away and - if under flags of convenience - not much supervised by others. And as the crew are numerous, young, diverse – and not even relatively effectively unionised as in the old days - then anything can happen. It’s so unlike a Disney fairy tale.

The international trade union for crew, Nautilus International, yesterday (vol 44 no 11, p.25, wrote that the Coriams have joined the campaign advocating that the UK and EU copy the US Vessel Security and Safety Act 2010. This law applies to all cruiseships carrying over 250 passengers on international voyages that embark or disembark passengers in any US port.
Vessels are required to:
• have visitor identification peepholes on cabin doors
• set the minimum deck rail height at 42 inches
• have information packs on how to report a crime
• have examination kits for alleged rape victims onboard, as well as medication to prevent sexually transmitted diseases
• train medical staff to deal with assaults
• provide confidential access to sexual assault helplines
• keep a log of all shipboard crimes and immediately report serious incidents to the FBI or US Coast Guard
• have at least one crew member certified in maritime crime scene preservation

Friday 11 November 2011


Pic: Outcry about nurses lost on the Anglia.

Today on Remembrance Day I'd like to remember particularly the women who died at sea in WW1 and WW2. Most people don't know that there were such women, but I've found there were a number.

Of course they deserve to be commemorated. To put a face to a phenomenon let us remember Violet Long, drowned at sea on Saturday 3 August 1918. A Chief Controller of Queen Mary’s Army Ambulance Corps, she was 32 and had two young daughters.Her long bright brown hair was later described by her vicar as ‘magnificent’.

On her way back from Le Havre to Southampton to give a progress report, her ship, the HMAT (His Majesty’s Australian Transport) Warilda was hit by a torpedo. They were 37 miles south east of Selsey Bill, nearly home.

Charlotte Trowell, her orderly, was coming home on special leave to marry a man who had just returned from Mesopotamia. She told journalists:

‘There was no warning of impending disaster when I retired to my bunk at a quarter to twelve. Mrs Long came to my bunk just before retiring herself and inquired, “Are you comfy?” and gave me some chocolates.

'When the torpedo struck the vessel I was thrown out of my bunk. I hurried on deck, and just as I got up there the stairway was blown up… I was put into a boat filled with wounded, but as the vessel sank our boat was not level. A davit rope was cut, but the boat capsized and we were thrown into the water.

'I clung to a rope and a wounded American Officer and an Australian pulled me into another boat. The wounded soldiers who were in that boat insisted on wrapping their saturated blankets around me.'

While Miss Trowell was sitting in lifeboat number four with her feet in the water ‘someone said “that is a woman” and I saw Mrs Long clinging to our boat and heard her murmur “Oh save me. My feet are fastened. I have lost a foot."’

Violet Long had become entangled in some rope. ‘I caught hold of her hair to hold her up and she said “You are hurting me.”’ Despite all efforts to free Mrs Long’s limbs and get her into the lifeboat, Miss Trowel says, Mrs Long's

'grip suddenly loosened and she collapsed and fell back into the sea. I felt like collapsing also at the sight, for she had been very kind to me, but I took courage from the fortitude of the suffering and dying men around me. Strange though it may seem, the thought that was uppermost in my mind was that I should have liked those who strike in wartime to be there to witness the scene.’

They were about two hours in the boat before a patrol boat picked them up. ‘An officer called out “The badly wounded cases first,” but the wounded replied “there is a girl in the boat. Go on, Miss” and that despite the sufferings they had endured,’ Charlotte Trowell marvelled

With hindsight the attack is understandable. The ship was a legitimate target. It was armed and it was what the Admiralty termed as ship an ‘ambulance transport’, rather than a ‘hospital ship’. This meant it was permitted to carry ‘Government stores’ which of course could include war materials. But as this ship was homeward-bound, rather than outward bound, it would have unlikely to carry armaments.

It took two hours to sink, which meant many could be helped into lifeboats. 123 people out of the 801 on board died.

There’s confusion about who was aboard and what happened. The hurry to be gallant did not necessarily help the women, who tried to keep calm and do their job but found it hard to withstand men’s pressure to evacuate sooner than they wanted to.

Interestingly, British newspapers did not use the Associated Press report carried by the New York Times that said ‘Women were placed in the first boats lowered, notwithstanding their protest that they should not precede the patients.

The London Times headlined celebrated Mrs Long as ‘Last woman to leave the Warilda.’ However, as there were only seven women, and they were all herded into same boat, this matter of minutes seems hardly to be significant timing. Steward TE Redman said she was on the first boat with him.

In the media Mrs Long’s loss was treated as a key part of the tragedy of a precious hospital ship being unfairly sunk, in ‘one more [of] the most dastardly crimes committed by a dishonoured enemy.’The image above indicates the tenor of the media outcry.

But it did not bring calls to stop women sailing. They had become too crucial to the war effort for such exceptionalising to be possible

Thursday 3 November 2011

Women’s role in naval song

Left: Songwriter Charles Dibdin:set off for the East Indies but turned back at Torbay

PATRIOTIC SONGS were one of the Royal Navy’s key recruiting tools in times of wartime need when retention rates were already poor, argued Dr James Davey at Greenwich Maritime Institute, London, on Wednesday Nov 2.

Such songs led potential sailors to understand that not only would they be doing something fine for Britain/England. They would also gain personal wealth, social mobility, renown and jolly camaraderie if they joined up.

Lyrics valorised hegemonic masculinity (though Davey didn’t used that term) and mocked any cowards who would disregard the call.

In the long eighteenth century the songs were mainly produced as broadsheets by commercial companies – you could say the navy was outsourcing part of its public relations. The musical propaganda was concocted not by Admiralty wordsmiths but by a range of freelance writers. Charles Dibdin, the most famous of them, briefly enjoyed Pitt’s government fee of £200 a year for his work in 1803, at a time when Able Seamen got a shilling a day (less than £18 p.a.).

James Davey’s thorough and elegantly-organised presentation made clear these were honeyed lyrics, imbricated in imperial needs and myths.

But the labouring classes have always been good at ripostes that expose manipulation for what it is. By definition any such conformist represention of the Navy must have been countered by radicals who protested‘Hang on a minute, mate’ or ‘Who do you think you’re fooling, Admiral Anson?’ Davey explained that in this case it was cartoons, not songs, that showed the other half of the story: the horrors of the press gang and the difficulties of life at sea.

Of course I was interested in how women were represented in such songs. Three categories seem identifiable.
1. Potential wife. She'd say yes to a marriage proposal if Jack could bring in the promised financial rewards. Implicitly this posits women as motivated by greed and akin to prostitutes. It also suggests that the Jack-to-be is insecure about his desirability and thinks he has to top himself up with this inducement for consumers.
2. Soppy liabilities. They are wives and mothers who hold real men back from becoming naval stars. Would-be Jacks need to step up and shrug off such wimpy emotional ties, assert the lyrics. In this classic version of hegemonic femininity, women’s lives are implicitly represented as the binary opposites of career success, action and mobility, which actually takes no account of real women’s many strengths in supporting men and households.
3. Self-sacrificing patriot. A sweetheart in one song tells her man to go, because the country needs him even more than she does…. Well, it’s a good line, ladies, if you’re looking for excuses to get rid of a man.

In being flippant I’m making the point that these songs are simple, one-dimensional, and not realistic about naval careers nor human relations. But the con worked – Dibdin was worth 10,000 recruits, a sizeable percentage of the 40,000 men who were needed then.

The songs feel like they belong to a different world to the shanties that evolved in the merchant service a century later. Shanties were not designed to recruit personnel for defence work, but to harness workers’ labours as they shared physical tasks that benefited from concerted breathing.

Women in these shanties, as I argued in a recent paper, were sung about in the following, usually autobiographical, ways:
• She’s run away, cross-dressed, as a cabin boy (sometimes to find her sailor boy who’s gone before). E.g. The handsome cabin boy
• The sweet lassie who’s waiting for (undeserving) me. She’s my honourable muse/true love back home. E.g. Walkalong, my Rosie; Rolling King.
• Tarts who fleece and betray us poor innocent lads just back home from the raging seas with our big pay packets. E.g. Maggie May; Heave away boys, heave away; A-rovin.

The songs varied with the direction of travel. Outward bound shanties revelled in the thought that a range of wild (sometimes black or yeller ) gals are waiting somewhere exotic, with rum, to give us roving he-men a good time. E.g.The Gals o’ Chile; The plains of Mexico; Rio Grande; Johnny come down to Hilo; and Mobile Bay. Homeward bound songs about leaving those wild girls (alack but whoopee) include Spanish Ladies.

Such shanties therefore ignored:
• Women going to sea in their own right, with a sense of vocation
• Women who might not be interested in men, actually
• Women who were competent at ‘masculine’ tasks
• The more usual view of women as low whores and objects in a quick cash transaction
• Men who preferred to have relationships with other men and form a shipboard culture where women are not needed


If there is anything that an uneven comparison between the 18C recruiting songs and 19C shanties can tell us, it is that there was an enduring, but differentiated, binary. It linked men with sea and action, in contrast to women’s connection with land, non-public life and passivity. Songs didn’t just reflect an existing binary. Their attractive memorable rhythms continued to reproduce it, and thereby reinforce gendered norms.

This worked to the benefit of society’s dominant groups, and seemingly arrested women’s motility and mobility. So I value the modern feminist ripostes – like the shantywoman who sings of circumnavigating Cape Horn on a microwave.

Maybe the call is 'Woman that satnav!' 'All Marigold-gloved hands to the pump!' 'Stand by the pink fluffy MP3 players!'

Where are we bound? To that free country some of us have espy'd: Beyond Hegemonic Masculinity and Hegemonic Femininity, just a short trip away across the Sea of Outworn Habit.

Tuesday 1 November 2011

Wrens’ founding myth dispelled

Was the initial idea of having ‘a women's navy’ the initiative of a smart feminist – or a pragmatic move by a chap who had no other choice?

At her talk at the British Commission for Maritime History Seminar at Kings College, London, on Thursday Oct 27 Ph.D researcher Hannah Roberts has shed new light on that pivotal moment in the Women’s Royal Naval Service History.

Up till then most people had accepted the story that in March 1917 the enterprising Lady Rocksavage, Sybil Cholmondeley (pic, left), was giving drinks to Sir Eric Geddes, the First Lord of the Admiralty (pic, right). He was worrying about the Navy’s shortage of people (well, men). So many sailors were dead or injured.

‘Why don’t you use women for shore jobs such as driving and typing? The Army does, who not the Navy?’ she asked. Although he was shocked, the idea went ahead, quickly. By November it was agreed: 3,000 service women were to be recruited for this new auxiliary service, the WRNS.

That’s the founding myth – which was surely enjoyed by the suffragette directors of Wrens, Katharine Furse in WW1 and Vera Laughton Mathews in WW2.

But in looking at Geddes’ records Hannah Roberts has found that as early as 1915 he was recognising that the war could only be won if women were recruited to do the work of men who were away fighting. His can-do approach - as Director-General of Munition Supply 1915-16, Director of Transportation on staff of C-in-C British Army in France 1916-17,and Director-General of Transportation for all theatres of war 1916-17 - meant he recognised economic necessity. His views on women's emancipation were not the point.

In that case, Lady Rocksavage would have been preaching to the long-converted when she buttonholed him over gin two years later. I like to see myths demolished, but I’m rather sad to see this sparky one go.


NB: The King’s seminars open to the public, and take place on Thursdays at 5.15pm. They are held in the Meeting Room of the Department of War Studies, 6th Floor, Old Main Building. The British Commission for Maritime History seminars are organised by Professor John Armstrong and Dr Alan James and are supported by the Department of War Studies, King’s College London, the Society for Nautical Research and the Maritime Information Association.

Thursday 22 September 2011

Sexual assault at sea exposed

Dianne Brimble, in dark blue top,climbing aboard the Pacific Sky, on which she was later assaulted at sea and died

New revelations that hundreds of women have been sexually assaulted on cruise ships emerge today in Noosa News.

Elizabeth Binning of the New Zealand Herald, reports that new research, jointly conducted by Canadian Professor Ross Klein and Dr Jill Poulston, Auckland University of Technology head of hospitality, has been passed to the New Zealand Herald.

'Dr Poulston described the findings as "chilling"...The research, which analysed data from FBI reports and three major cruise lines, found there was an unusually high incidence of sexual assaults and unwanted sexual contact on cruise ships:

~ Royal Caribbean International - 18 ships and 451 complaints of sexual assault and harassment between 1998 and 2005.
~ Celebrity Cruises - 9 ships and an average of 16 complaints each year between 1998 and 2002.
~ Carnival Cruise Lines - 92 sex-related incidents in the year to September 2008, including 48 of sexual contact, 40 of sexual assault and three of sexual harassment.

Cases include Australian mother Dianne Brimble who died on a P&O cruise in 2002.Her naked body was found in the cabin of four men. She had overdosed on the date-rape drug Fantasy. (For more details see, which includes a video and photos of the eight 'men of interest' allegedly involved.)

Jill Poulston's research found that 'Attackers were largely members of the crew, while the victims were predominantly female and of varying ages.More than a third of the assaults occurred in passengers' own cabins - often after crew forced their way into the rooms.

'Dr Poulston said the data used mostly involved American and Canadian incidents... the research found "the rate of sex-related incidents on cruise ships is almost 50 per cent higher than the rate of sexual assault on land in Canada".

RCI did, however, show a considerable improvement, dropping its rate of alleged incidents from nearly 112 per 100,000 passengers in 2003 to 45 in 2005.

'Dr Poulston believes one reason assaults are so high on cruise ships is the fact passengers arrive on board and let their guard down. Examples of sexual assaults given in the research varied from a 14-year-old girl who had been kissed and inappropriately touched by a Second Officer through to a woman who was raped in her cabin by a steward.

'A spokeswoman for Royal Caribbean International, which also owns Celebrity Cruises, said ... the company carried more than 4.5 million guests and crew members in 2010 and reported thirteen allegations of rape and eleven of sexual assault - not all of which were upheld.

'A spokeswoman for Carnival Australia, which operates P&O Cruises Australia and New Zealand, said claims of sexual assault on board its ships were extremely rare and there was no data to suggest assaults of any kind occurred at a higher rate on its ships than on land.'

The meanings of this story for me are not just that it affirms my findings that ships are highly sexualised places, and reiterates the question 'why?'. Nor that it confirms that abuse happens, especially to women, and that perpetrators get away with it; we already know from the case of Akhona Geveza and the Gorch Foch crew (see earlier entries in this blog). Nor is also that shipping lines are dilatory in admitting the problem and disciplining the wrong do-ers.

It's more that research into gay seafarers shows that, ironically, shipping lines in the past dealt with the problem very well - by employing male seafarers who were not heterosexual, and therefore seldom a threat to women passengers.
Some may joke that the obvious solution is simply to employ an all-women crew.

But the real answer is to tackle the pervasive sexism that means women are repeatedly victims of assaults. The over-sexualisation of holiday, over-use of booze and availability of date-rape drugs doesn't help either. As commentators of Dianne's death said, have a lot of fun, but have it responsibly.

For more info on such crimes see:

Tuesday 20 September 2011

Victory day for LGBT navy personnel in US

Today September 20 2011 marks a big - and long-overdue step - in the struggle for Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Trans rights. The US military's anti-gay “Don't Ask, Don't Tell” policy is repealed today.

Under the 1993 law that bans gay and lesbian personnel from serving openly,14,000 people were discharged - distressed. Many careers were ruined.

Although it's a victory, it's not a complete one. American Veterans for Equal Rights
will still be fighting for the rights of transgender service members. National AVER President Danny Ingram, said

“'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' had nothing to do with transgender issues, so the repeal doesn't do anything for it.“Being transgender is considered a mental illness. Until that changes, the military will not accept or allow transgender people to serve openly.”


The Pink Paper reports one poignant and personal story that shows the impact the changes will have. 89 year old World War II veteran, Melvin Dwork 'spent decades fighting his discharge status, which involved filing countless requests with the Navy, travelling to Washington, lobbying lawmakers and hiring a law firm to help him.

'As a result of his discharge, he was denied GI benefits to continue his studies as a young man and was denied medical care in his later years, resulting in him being unable to afford a hearing aid.

'His discharge papers [have been] changed from “undesirable” to “honourable”, seventy years after he was expelled from the navy for being gay. [He] was notified last month that he would now be eligible for benefits he had previously been denied, including medical care and a military burial.

'The move is thought to be the first time the Pentagon has taken such a step on behalf of a WWII veteran, since the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.'

Tuesday 23 August 2011

So some pirates do chivalry?

Two Somali pirates were sentenced to life terms in Virginia yesterday for killing four Americans yachters in February. Reports highlight that one pirate tried to urge that that the two women on the Quest should not be shot.

Associated Press reported that 'Burhan Abdirahman Yusuf’s attorney... said Yusuf had argued that Jean Adam and Phyllis Macay should be released. However, Yusuf was only a guard aboard the boat and was not considered a leader by the others.'

Well, 'he would say that, wouldn't he' as Christine Keeler famously said in court. Desperation can make us claim all sorts of things to protect ourselves. But let's suppose he really did try to give Jean Adam and Phyllis MacKay especial privileges.

For people interested in gender issues this is an interesting dilemma. Gallantry is by definition sexist and denigrating, however well-intentioned. The person doing the gallantry is positioning the recipient as automatically in need of his protection, not quite competent.

(Women are seldom said to gallant or chivalrous. Kind, yes, but that's not predicated on any gendered assumption that her recipient is frail and she herself is a 'gent').

So was Yusuf, presumably a Muslim, being sexist? If he was simply being kind, surely he would have argued that the two men should also be released.

But as with the many feminist debates over the last century about the Women and Children First policy when evacuating ships, shouldn't women be thankful when they are given an extra chance to live?

I think I'd be among those who argue that fair is fair. If we really support equal rights, then we have to accept equal rights to die, not preference based on presumed need.

The issue in this whole story is really another kind of unfairness: inequalities of wealth. Of course people from hard-pressed countries are going to seek ways to extract money- in this case a ransom - from those in wealthier countries. It's called trickle-down larceny. And how remarkable it is that sometimes they, as Yusuf apparently did, express humanity towards the privileged.

The irony is that Jean Adam, with her missionary ideals, might well have automatically been very kind to Yusuf.

Monday 8 August 2011

UK's first woman to head war ship

The UK Navy has just announced the appointment of first woman to head a warship. Lt Commander Sarah West will take charge of the frigate HMS Portland, with its 185 (mainly male) crew next April.See Martin Wainwright's article in yesterday's Guardian. Photograph: Ben Sutton/PA

If it was a simple matter of equal opportunities at sea I'd be pleased, although I'd have to comment - yet again, unfortunately - that the process of giving women room to progress up maritime career ladders has been rather tardy, hasn't it, chaps. Not what you'd feel fair if it was your son or nephew who was being similarly held back, eh?

As someone opposed to war I actually only feel heavy-hearted that a member of my sex is going to be furthering Britain's war work. But hey ho.

And at least this blog is able to continue to report several of these firsts. The world is not going backwards when it comes to letting women in. And she gets equal pay: £65,000 a year.

Hope she gets on well - she certainly is well-prepared. Wainwright writes that Sarah West, 39, who joined the Navy in 1995, is 'an expert in underwater warfare and large-scale naval planning, took a law degree on top of her university maths honours while serving in the Middle East.

'She is also the first woman to achieve the rank of commander, a promotion due at the end of the year and only a step away from captain and then the various categories of admiral.'

'Signs of a high-flying career developed in her successful role in planning international exercises, including periods at naval headquarters co-ordinating operations in the Balkans at the time of Kosovo's declaration of independence in 2008.

'This followed a major logistical role in the evacuation of 4,600 UK citizens and others from Lebanon in 2006, and a spell co-ordinating the navy's contribution to operations in Iraq.

'"This appointment is good news," [a RN]spokesman said. "The Royal Navy is committed to ensuring equality of opportunity for all its personnel to enjoy challenging, fulfilling and rewarding careers."'

Sunday 7 August 2011

Amsterdam Pride: Head of Navy's LGBT forum visits

At Amsterdam's LGBT Pride parade on the Prinsengracht canal on Saturday (Aug 6), uniformed Members of the Netherlands defence forces including Navy joined in for the first time.

At the parade was Lieutenant Commander Mandy McBain, the 51st most influential figure in Britain in the Independent on Sunday's LGBT 'Pink List.'

In 1974 the Netherlands made it legal to be openly gay in the military. The UK was far slower. However, as McBain reports, after the bin was lifted in 2000 big progress is now being made.

As part of the navy for 24 years, she's seen a major turnaround. Ships now carrying Equality and Diversity Advisers and LGBT naval personnel marching every year at London Pride, in uniform.

McBain joined the Navy in 1986 as a Writer and went to Britannia Royal Naval College in 1989. She didn't initially know she was lesbian, and later kept it quiet until the ban was lifted. A Logistics Officer, her roles have included being a member of the Admiralty Interview Board and the spokesperson for European forces in Bosnia.She heads the Navy's LGBT Forum (established 2008).

Mandy McBain photo:Steven Joseph Davidson.See an online interview by g3 magazine. Watch her great talk - we can make it happen - at

Friday 29 July 2011

Sexual services at sea: highly productive

My Google Alert for 'women, sea' has just come up with this interesting insight into sex and gender on Scandinavian ships in the 1950s.It relates to the provision of sexual services, and to accepted incest.
In an obituary of nurse Jennifer Worth (pictured) The Telegraph mentions that Worth worked with another midwife, 'Chummy' who was sent 'aboard a Swedish cargo ship one stormy night to deliver a baby for the captain’s daughter, a 35-stone blonde called Kirsty, who thought she had a stomach upset.
'Kirsty, Chummy was shocked to learn, was “the ship’s woman”, cheerily servicing the 20 crew members, including her father, at least 10 times a day. “I keep the men happy and happy men work hard,” said Kirsty matter-of-factly.'
The reference to this very pragmatic 'prostitution' appears in Worth's trilogy: Call the Midwife (2002), Shadows of the Workhouse (2005) and Farewell to the East End (2009).
The wider question, of course, is "Is this an anomalous situation in Scandinavian merchant shipping? Or is it the tip of a huge iceberg?"
The highly opportunistic practice has implications not only in relation to sexually transmitted diseases. (There would have been a loop of infection and re-infection, from shore encounters with sex industry workers).
It also suggests a very unusual power structure aboard, both democratic (intimate access to the master's daughter) and collective collusion in illegal incest.
And it underlines the way the ship at sea is an exceptional space where the moral values of land life do not necessarily operate.

Women ships' pilots

Women marine pilots are still rare, not because of lack of talent but because of traditional attitudes to women in power at sea. But in post-apartheid South Africa the first three female marine pilots are now sailing: Precious Dube (left), Bongiwe Mbambo and Pinky Zungu (right).

The information is revealed at The women appear to be well-established so I'm not clear why it's news.Perhaps they have reached a new career stage.

Anyway, the three 'were among the earliest development candidates introduced by Transnet National Ports Authority in the late 1990’s. [It was part of a policy move] to encourage more black participation in the company’s operations.' It would be useful to know what enabled these three to apply and what hindered those who didn't apply.

They 'followed similar career paths, first receiving bursaries from Transnet to pursue a one-year maritime studies programme. Following the at-sea stages they took oral examinations with the South African Maritime Safety Authority (SAMSA). [Afterwards they] obtained Class 3 tickets to be junior deck officers responsible for auto piloting vessels and managing safety equipment. They then trained and worked as tug masters at Transnet, manoeuvring ships in and out of the port with the aid of small tugboats.

'After a one-year pilot training programme they qualified as junior pilots before progressing through the various licence grades. [They started] with smaller ships of around 16,000 gross tonnes progressing up to 35,000 tonnes in stages.'

Eventually they finished] with an open licence. This 'gave them authority to guide anything from the very smallest vessels to the biggest supertankers and container ships into port.'
Bongiwe Mbambo reported that when she drew alongside her first ship '"The captain actually took photographs and recorded a video while I was performing my job alongside him. It was very funny."'

'Her newly-qualified colleagues had similar experiences, and no few difficulties whilst undergoing the experiential training stages as cadets out at sea with shipping lines such as Safmarine and Unicorn, sailing between South Africa, Europe and the Far East.

'Pinky Zungu remembers:“Being at sea was difficult at first. I was the only cadet and the only female on a Russian cruise ship where only the captain spoke English well.”

Monday 27 June 2011

Women ruling the water? Oh yeah!

Pacific Pearl's feted line-up of top women officers: Zoltina-J Medwick Daley (Cruise Director), Martina Damonte (Administration and Revenue Director), hotel director Jane Herron and Captain Sarah Breton >(Photo: Ana Mckay-Smith)


"Women ruling the water! says the silly headline in Travel Bite today. Oh yeah, sure. Just as if!

This all because one of the rare women cruise ship captains, Sarah Breton, is setting off on her 32-day cruise around the South Pacific with three senior officers who happen to be female.

It is the biggest group of female senior officers on any cruise ship in this region. Well, will the time ever come when the media comments 'This is the biggest group of male senior officers on any cruise ship in this region'?. It is time that equality stopped being remarkable and became the norm.

The article quotes Pacific Pearl’s hotel director Jane Herron as luaghing “We are women in a woman’s world.”

Excuse me? Several swallows do NOT make a summer. Thousands of women are seeking not only maritime work, but respect when they do it, and equal opportunities in their career paths.

I agree somewhat with the post by Sarah from Melbourne, on 28/06/2011 1:18:41 who wrote:'So what does Gender have to do with it? I thought that gender equality was supposed to be promoted? What a joke. Can you imagine an article talking about an "all men" boat crew in a positive manner? It would be EVIL SEXISM AND MALE OPPRESSION.

'So why are things like "womens olympics" and "all womens ship crews" talked up as something amazing? The double standards with this "equality" is mind blowing. Just like "equality" with races.... this [is]reverse sexism.'

Jill Tar or Jack Tar under those clothes?

It's rather funny that the very day the world's e-media comes up with TWO stories about women seafarers' successes in modern times, I get information about how their counterparts fared 150 years earlier. You absolutely had to be mistake-able for a lad, if you wanted a job at sea.
In her stunningly commodious online treasure trove my friend Helena Wojtczak has put no less than 13 original 19C newspaper stories of women seafarers who crossed dressed to get work at sea. See them at
Perhaps best of all, it was joked that every Jack Tar might really be Jill - not transsexual or transvestite but absolutely born female.
On March 25 1843 The Examiner said that 2-3 years earlier - ie 1840 - 'there was a great run on female sailors. Every newspaper has its paragraph announcing the discovery of a female sailor.
'The result was a thorough conviction in the public mind that all sailors were female sailors - that there were no other sailors than female sailors in disguise; and now the curiosity would be the discovery of a male sailor, if such a phenomenon could be well authenticated.'

Former woman captain wins award in NZ

Photo of Maree Turner by John Borren.

Today's a bumper day for news about women who exceptionally make it in the maritime world. Maree Turner has just won the inaugural Aspiring Director award from the Institute of Directors' Bay of Plenty branch in New Zealand.

The story of her career path and the gendered struggles is really telling. In the Bay of Plenty Times, Graham Skellern writes this:
"Award winner Maree Turner has always believed people should be chosen on ability, not gender - and that you shouldn't pre-judge them.
"Over the past 30 years Maree Turner has had an interesting and varied career in the maritime industry, earning her oceangoing Master's Ticket, managing stevedoring gangs, organising cargo movements, and even helping to plan new container terminals.
She has held her own in the man's world. Now, she is taking the next big step in her career - gaining the experience to become a full-time company director...
"This is a huge opportunity to get more experience," said Mrs Turner, who is now a consultant with NZL Group, based at Mount Maunganui. "There is now a willingness to give younger senior managers development opportunities.
I've gone into port company, shipping and union meetings and been the only woman there," she said.
"I guess I've got tenacity and leadership skills. And I've always believed that people should be chosen on ability, not gender - and that you shouldn't pre-judge them," said Mrs Turner.
She held that belief when she left Carmel College in Auckland and headed for the Union Steam Ship Company.

"I didn't realise there weren't any women there. Here I was, from an all-girls school and the only girl on the ship."
She was actually the third female sea cadet in the country but the only one in her intake of 35 in 1982. Another cadet that year was Tauranga-born Peter Jackson, who became her husband and is a ship's pilot at Port of Tauranga after also earning his Master Mariner certificate.
Turner began as a Third Mate on the cargo ships Rotoiti, Marama, Ngahere and tanker Amokura during two tough years at sea.
"We cleaned the bilges, changed the crane wires, went down the crank case, and over the side of the ship to paint. Cleaning out the chain locker was a dirty, dangerous job, and we also went on the bridge to do some navigation and sights. You knew all about the ship, and the jobs, from top to bottom."
Turner progressed to Second Mate, then Chief Officer and finally gained her Master's Ticket after having six years at sea and study periods at the New Zealand Maritime School.
She worked on the Sea Link Cook Strait ferry, the gas tanker Tarahiko, and Forum Line that delivered general cargo around the Pacific Islands.
Then she was selected for P&O's main fleet and joined the Fishguard Bay container vessel on the Eastern Asian run between Singapore, Taiwan, Korea, Japan and Jakarta.
"The ship had a Chinese crew and British officers, and I was the only New Zealander and woman. It worked out fine and I certainly learned how to manage people," said Turner.
She came ashore in 1992 and moved to Tauranga to become cargo superintendent with Tasman Asia Shipping (now Quadrant Pacific), planning the loading of ships....
She is now consulting. Her present project is helping to prepare the legal case for NZL - supported by Ports of Auckland - to reinstate its container terminal operation at Sulphur Point.
Turner, who has a post-graduate diploma in management studies from Waikato University, was director on the Conlinxx board, a joint venture between Ports of Auckland and NZL that established and operates the inland port at Wiri.
She is also a member of the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport and is running for national vice-president this year."

Another women cruise ships captain breaks through!

Cruise shipping developed in the late 19th century with Hamburg-Amerika Lines winter trips to southern parts. Over the century since, thousands of cruise ships were captained by men. But in the few years (see early entries on this blog) women are finally getting those roles - that recognition of their competence.

Today P&O cruises have announced the appointment of Australasia’s first female cruise ship captain, Sarah Breton, who will be on the Pacific Pearl.

The press release says:

"P&O Cruises today welcomes the first female cruise ship captain to sail in Australasian waters.

Captain Sarah Breton, 46, boards Pacific Pearl in Auckland today for a 32-night South Pacific cruise. Beginning with a handover from Captain Andy Willard, she officially takes the helm of the ship on 12 July.

Capt Breton’s arrival means the crew on this cruise includes the biggest group of female senior officers on any cruise ship in this region, a sign of changing times for women in shipping.

The impressive line-up of female officers includes Jane Herron, Hotel Director, Zoltina-J Medwick-Daley, Cruise Director and Martina Damonte, Administration and Revenue Director.

Ann Sherry, CEO of Carnival Australia which operates P&O Cruises Australia, met with Capt Breton in Sydney on Friday.

"It’s taken a long time but we’re really proud that P&O is again leading the way by bringing the first female captain to this region,” Ms Sherry said.

“We are delighted to have Sarah as captain of Pacific Pearl and to see her joining such a large contingent of female officers on this cruise.

“She is an outstanding officer and one of only three female captains on major cruise ships anywhere in the world.”

Capt Breton said many women set out on shipping careers but the long periods at sea also led to a high rate of attrition as they grew older and wanted to spend more time with family onshore.

"It takes time to build up the necessary experience so rising to this position takes many years – there are no shortcuts,” she said.

“The responsibility as captain is huge, but it’s the same responsibility whether you are a man or a woman and the reaction to my captain’s appointment last year has been terrific.”

Capt Breton began her maritime career as a cadet on a freighter and has also served on ships including Pacific Princess (the original Love Boat), Grand Princess Pacific Princess and Artemis in roles including navigator and first officer.

“Growing up near the water I always loved boats and the ocean, so it really does fulfill a lifelong ambition of mine to be a captain with P&O Cruises,” she said.

Capt Breton has been sailing with her family since she was born and her earliest memory of a P&O ship was on a school cruise, at the age of 11, visiting Bergen, Oslo and Copenhagen on the Uganda.

Captain Breton lives on the Essex Coast and when on leave spends her time with family, in her garden, sailing - whenever the weather permits - and watching Six Nations rugby and Formula One motor racing."

Thursday 23 June 2011

Sylvia Pankhurst, suffrage campaigners' mobility, and the sea

This year's Sylvia Pankhurst Memorial Lecture is by me, and called Suffrage campaigners on the ocean wave

The lecture takes place at Wortley Hall, Sheffield, on Friday August 12 at 7pm.This is what I'll be saying in my very illustrated talk:

Fighting for women’s rights brought an inadvertent side-effect: it encouraged thousands of suffragists and suffragettes to seize the freedom of the seas, roads, and railway lines.

Women who had never before left their home town went campaigning and networking across the Atlantic and Pacific. They ventured thousands of miles, alone or with sisters from movement, to give attend key conferences, make lecture tours and investigate conditions. It was a revolution in international connecting as profound as the internet revolution of our times.

Sylvia Pankhurst was one of the many women to seize her rights to mobility by sailing on ships, be it cross-channel steamer to Paris, little ferries from Dublin, or deep sea liners.

In WW1 a tiny number of suffragettes such as her mother Emmeline and sister Christabel sailed with impunity for reactionary ends, whereas suffragists were effectively banned from the seas.

However Sylvia was a key fighter against the ban on peace campaigners’ rights to attend the 1915 Hague International Conference of Women for a Permanent Peace; it could have ended the war. More than any other organisation, her ELF supported sailors’ (and soldiers’) wives.

This lecture tells the stories of both gallant sailings and frustrations at quaysides. It celebrates the geographical mobility that accompanied women’s new freedoms as they pressed impressively forward to build justice worldwide.

Information about the Sylvia Pankhurst Memorial Committee:

Women pirates as widowed businesswomen?

I'll be talking about women pirates at a Pirates study day, at the Museum of London, Docklands. It's on Saturday 24 Sept 2011 from 10.30am–5pm. The title is Delve deeper into Pirates: The Captain Kidd Story.

No, Captain Kidd, wasn't secretly a woman, but gender is on the agenda.Come and find out whether pirate life was anything like this picture:Captain Kidd in New York Harbor.

It's by Leon Gerome Ferris (1863–1930)from the series The Pageant of a Nation. This is a a postcard published by The Foundation Press in 1932 and portrays a very fanciful amount of fancy women, for a working pirate vessel.But at least it makes the realistic point that many male seafarers seek female company when they dock.

My session is Women pirates: heroines and hell vixens, or victims and boss's wives?

I'll be arguing that female buccaneers such as Anne Bonney have become modern icons of girl power, not least thanks to Geena Davis in Cutthroat Island. But were they actually admirable heroines?

This talk proposes that we think more deeply about women seafarers’ place in shipboard society. Could they be re-seen as, like lads, targets of cruelty? Could some have been simply widows who had to keep the family business going?

Leading academics will be discussing the history and cultural resonance of pirates and piracy. They include David Cordingly, Hilary Davidson,Ed Fox,Angus Konstam and Tom Wareham.

Topics include pirates' life and organisation; the mythology; Henry Avery; Blackbeard;and Captain Kidd himself.

Book in advance £20 (concs £15, Friends £12.50)includes tea, coffee and exhibition entry., tel: 020 7001 9844.