James Hadfield-Hyde

Canada and The Empress of England

"That evening I went to say my au revoir to Yvonne as I had no intention of staying in Canada long term. I made love to her twice on her sitting room floor while her parents watched television in the next room, (I liked to live dangerously,) then again up against the front door as her parents got ready for bed.
The following day we arrived early at Liverpool Docks and Ivy's son-in-law, Peter Dawson, drove us there. There seemed to be thousands of people milling around. Everywhere people cried and hugged their loved ones who were staying behind. People threw coloured streamers from the ship and shouted last messages to those on the dockside. I, on the other hand stood in silence, observing it all. I felt I was dying at this point because a dreadful fever had come over me following my camping escapade. I spent the first three days at sea in my bunk. My Father and Ivy had their own cabin but I had to share with three other men in a four bunk berth.
On the fourth day I felt better and after a stroll around the decks I was feeling decidedly peckish. Then came the Captain's announcement that we were heading straight into a mid Atlantic Hurricane. We were to steer due north toward the Pole in order to try and avoid the brunt of it. Hurricanes usually start in the Caribbean, climb up the American eastern coast, go across to Iceland and fizzle out at Scotland. We couldn't be in a worse place. I thought just my bloody luck. I escaped death last week and now I'm going to die in the freezing waters of the North Atlantic.

That night the Hurricane struck. The crew lashed all the doors with thick ropes, the grand piano in the dining room was tied to a post and anything that moved was secured.
As the storm got under way, plates, cups and glasses flew everywhere. The waiters and crew tried their best but it was impossible to stand up. Looking at the portholes was like looking into a washing machine in mid wash. People in their hundreds lay in the corridors clinging onto the brass rails. I saw literally dozens of people vomiting all at the same time, the walls and floors were covered in sick and the stench was
unbearable. There was no air as all hatches were battened down tight. In everyone's mind there was the constant fear we were going to sink.

The Captain tried to keep us informed with regular announcements. We heard that an Italian fishing vessel was very close and had sent a Mayday. She had lost members of her crew overboard but there was nothing we could do. Obviously the Captain's biggest additional fear was a mid ocean collision.

By luncheon of the following day it seemed as if the worst was over, but I was wrong.

What follows a mid Atlantic Hurricane is a terrifying giant swell. Great mountains of water standing higher than the funnel of the ship suddenly disappear into valleys. Half of the ship's bow seems to stand proud of the water only to embed itself into the oncoming mountain. No less than one third of the ship submerges itself under the sea before reappearing on top of the next mountain, that was far more terrifying than the fullness of the storm. Passengers were still locked in and the ship's crew did their utmost to clean the place up but they were on a losing battle. You may think that I am exaggerating for dramatic effect but you have to remember, this wasn't just a bad storm at sea; this was a full blown hurricane!

The following day we found calm waters. We were just south of Greenland near Newfoundland but our next problem was giant floating iceburgs. It is the time of the year when they break free and start to float down the Canadian coast. I saw about half a dozen but I thanked God when we safely entered the mouth of the St. Lawrence.

A cutter ship had broken the ice for us as we entered the river and the doors were opened. Everyone flooded out onto the decks. The sun shone and the air was crisp and clean. We took such deep breaths that the chilled air would hurt your lungs. There were more prayers thanking God that day than he could possibly cope with.

We cruised leisurely past the Heights of Abraham and Quebec and on to Montreal."


Extract from 'Lust,for life'