The picture shown above left is taken from one of several designs used by Thomas De La Rue & Co. Ltd. on the backs of playing cards made for the New Zealand Shipping Company
|To honour RMS Rangitiki and her Chef for many years, "Mick" Overall|
My name is Richard Overall and I
was conceived just prior to the Battle of
Britain getting under way in the summer of 1940. The following February
(in 1941), I made my debut appearance before an
unsuspecting world whining and grizzling and generally making a nuisance
of myself. A trait that I managed to continue throughout most of my
early years, if my mother was to be believed. I'm not at at all sure if the Rangitiki
port in May of 1940, but the arithmetic is strongly suggestive that conception was probably the result of reckless celebration by my parents'
for their eighth wedding anniversary.
Whoever said that maths wasn't a romantic subject?
When the shooting war began to look serious, Mum took it upon herself to leave their flat in Dulwich, S.E. London, and bring the household effects and son No.1, my brother Colin, to the end of the railway track - the lovely little market town of Dorking in Surrey (below). She was fortunate to be able to rent what was probably the last house available and the big house on Hart Road was my address until 1953. Actually I was born at a small nursing home where the family doctor had his practice by the arch at the entrance to Rose Hill, and was later christened in the big church, St. Martin's, in the centre of town.
All this would have been at a time when Dad was back at sea, and must have been a particularly harrowing time for Mum as reports of events, late in 1940 ~ such as the the sinking of HMS Jervis Bay and ss Beaverford, along with the sinking of the Rangitane ~ could not have lain easily on her mind.
One correspondent has commented that a seaman's marriage would always be "difficult." This was certainly the case in our house, and in retrospect, I can see clearly where the trouble lay. It was not with either parent individually, nor us boys of course, it was just the power struggle that developed whenever Dad came home and attempted to assume his role as head of household; a role that Mum was reluctant to relinquish. I don't imagine that such circumstances were unique to our family. Today, I can stand back and salute Mum and Dad for sticking with it, for making a difficult marriage into a successful marriage. When Dad died in 1975, they had been married for forty-three years. And in spite of all the trials, tribulations, highs and lows, ups and downs, they shared a deep and lasting love and respect for each other.
The Rangitiki was broken up in 1962, and I know this affected Dad badly. He had joined her as Second Cook in 1929 (Voyage 2). became Chef in 1939, and sailed on every trip thereafter until her final voyage from Wellington in 1962. He did not go to Santander with her ~ that would have been too much, I'm sure. For the next six years he worked on just two other NZSCo. ships, the Rangitoto and the Ruahine. In 1968, he went to sea for the last time and was retired by the Company at age sixty. His last voyage to/from New Zealand was also the Ruahine's last trip in Federal Steam Navigation Co. colours before she was sold. I don't believe for a minute that Dad was the longest serving seaman with the NZSCo., but I do wonder if there were many others who served for a longer period continuously (32 years) with any one ship.
Throughout all my young life - even into young adulthood - my Dad was mostly "at sea," and we boys never got to really know him very well until
much later in life. In consequence, and speaking for myself only here, I held my father in awe. To me he was a large, stern man who was not much fun to have around or to be around. The problem, of course, was that, following the war, my friends all had fathers who had come home and stayed. None, as far as I can recollect, had not returned and, for the most part, lived contentedly in domestic bliss with their families. But our Dad kept going away, only to reappear when things were settling down nicely from his last trip home. Even in the period when the ship was refitted and re-engined in 1947/48, Dad was away from home having been sent by the company to the Baur au Lac in Zurich, Switzerland (below) for some training in the Continental culinary arts as part of an effort by the company to improve its image.
About this time I was a young married man with two small children, Roger and Imogen, and although my little family and Mum & Dad always seemed to live a lengthy drive away, we still visited with them and they with us, quite regularly. It was during these years that Dad and I finally began to learn about each other and to become friends. He was a delight to be with, and the dour nature that I had perceived as a kid melted away like magic and I discovered a fairly straightforward man of simple tastes ~ a man who possessed a great sense of humour. His passion was horse-racing, and he and Mum would often go to the track for the day, trips that Colin would enjoy too when he was at home. They all loved to watch cricket, either on TV or on the local "green." And we were all ardent supporters of Arsenal F.C. - except Colin, that is - for some reason Blackpool F.C. was his team.
For the next five years he worked as Chef in a retirement home in Worthing, Sussex until he decided to retire himself at age sixty-five in 1973. Eighteen months later he died. The official reason was cardiac thrombosis - a heart attack. But I suspect that it was something else. He had often expressed his desire to retire to his beloved New Zealand where much of his adult life had been spent and where his friends, rather than their (i.e. Mum's) friends were. Mum, quite naturally, had absolutely no intention of giving up the life she had built in England, and Dad reluctantly gave up his dream. And I believe that the realisation that he would never again set foot in Auckland or Wellington again, and would never again meet with old friends in New Zealand, raised such powerful emotions within him - grief, sorrow, loss - that he died from a broken heart.
And now that I am getting on in years myself, I think the time has come for me to honour my father, and the ship with which he spent so much of his life. I was able to visit the Rangitiki at the London docks on several occasions and always enjoyed meeting some of the men Dad worked with ~ I was always treated with the utmost courtesy and kindness by all ~ and I developed a latent emotional attachment to her. Now that I have delved a little into the life and times of my father, I have discovered a simple, uncomplicated man whom I admire greatly, a man I can now better understand, someone I was glad to eventually befriend, and one I am proud to call "Dad". I also found that the ship was much more than just another second-string liner. Whilst not enjoying the cachet of the glamourous ships such as the two Cunard Queens, the 'Tiki managed to live a fairly chequered, colourful life and in her own way became quite famous.