IN THE final piece of our three part series, we look at the last of the ships to have carried the name ‘Oswestry’, starring on screen in a 1950s blockbuster, and we see how the demise of a earlier vessel in the 1800s gave rise to an incredible act of heroism.
Part Three: Tiger Bay
THE last of the ships to bear the name Oswestry Grange made the most of peace time, but found fame and stardom in the 1958 film Tiger Bay.
“Oswestry Grange was the third ship of that name, a Doxford of 13,390 deadweight and relatively modern,” says Oswestry’s radio officer, Barry Johnson, who has fond memories of his days onboard. “She was built in 1952 and I remember seeing her again in Buenos Aires in 1966.
“I was Second Radio Officer aboard the Oswestry, which sailed regularly between the UK and the River Plate. At the beginning of October, we were in Avonmouth, when the Tiger Bay cast and crew came aboard to film the dock scenes, which were supposed to be in Barry.
“The ship’s name was over-painted with the name La Poloma, and the white Maltese Cross on the funnel was transformed into a white square, but when we sailed, we still had to have our correct ship’s name painted on boards, which were suspended over the bows, and only removed when filming was taking place.
Still, our unique funnel must have caused a lot of puzzlement aboard other ships.”
(THE POLOMA CARACAS, WITH IT'S REAL NAME, OSWESTRY GRANGE, STILL JUST VISIBLE UNDERNEATH)
The BAFTA winning crime thriller Tiger Bay starred British actors John and Hayley Mills, who performed the film’s climactic ending onboard ship, including a leap from the deck into the Bristol Channel, as Barry recalls: “We sailed up and down the Bristol Channel for a few days, while filming John Mills’ arrival, as well as the chase and jump involving Hayley Mills’ character.
The jump was performed by a stunt
woman, who was very much bigger than Hayley. It was a cold day, and the Bristol Channel looked very uninviting, but the stunt girl was cheerful and unperturbed. Fortunately for her, only one take was needed!
“The film people, including John and Hayley Mills, were very friendly, but of course, we had no idea what it was all about. I didn’t manage to see the film until 1960 when I was serving with the Zim Israel line. It was shown in a cinema on Mount Carmel in Haifa and I’d expected to see myself in the scene where the ship was leaving Barry docks, but I’d ended up on the cutting room floor.”
The Grange vessels may have been the most famous ships to bear the town’s name, but they were not the first, however, with brief yet tantalising records of an earlier ship, back in the nineteenth century simply called Oswestry, stealing the prize for the earliest use of the name and enjoying one of the most heroic tales.
It was in 1888 that the Withy shipyards at Hartlepool produced the 300 foot long cargo ship Oswestry, owned by Sivewright Bacon and Co, which was destroyed 11years later in Ireland while en route to Manchester with a cargo of cotton, copper ingots, iron plates and Indian corn.
When the ship was wrecked in fog on March 3, 1899, on a rock pinnacle at a small bay north of Mizzen Head, local people rushed to the aid of Captain Wilson and his crew of 24, scaling the rocky outcrops to help the men to safety.
The ship’s engineer had been so badly injured that he could not make it up the rock face, the rescuers were at a loss and it seemed unlikely he would survive. It was
then however, that a local farmer arrived, picked the engineer up, put him across his
shoulders and proceeded to climb the rock face with the injured man on his back, in
an incredible feat of strength and courage.
The engineer made a full recovery and in the following years took gifts for the farmer each time he reached port as a mark of his gratitude.
The last of the Oswestry Granges is still in existence today and despite having enjoyed the most peaceful life of all the ships, has been well travelled, having changed hands no less than seven times, going by the names of Chelwood, Oswestry, Stenjohan, Gina T, El Billy, Gina T (again)and since 2001, Nadi. In fact, the name Oswestry was chosen by Houlder Brothers when the firm named their first ever fleet of ships, taking the letters of the company’s name and naming one ship after each, For the ‘O’ they chose Oswestry and while frustratingly there seems no record of why the town was so important to them, it must have been something significant to
have reused the name again and again.
CLICK HERE FOR PART ONE - The Oswestry Grange
CLICK HERE FOR PART TWO - The Rhodesian Prince