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Our Engine Room Bell
The Background to the Engine Room Bell from the ship PORT CHALMERS
Shortly after WWII Port Chalmers School, like many other schools in New Zealand and other Commonwealth countries, joined the patriotic British Ship Adoption Scheme whereby schools and ships “adopted” each other and established mutually beneficial relationships.
Port Chalmers School was very fortunate in adopting one of the most highly decorated merchant ships to have survived the Second World War.
Built in 1933 by Swan, Hunter & Wigham Richardson Limited at Newcastle-On-Tyne for the Commonwealth & Dominion Line, the 8535gt PORT CHALMERS was the fourth vessel of the name to serve companies associated with what later became known as the Port Line. When completed she was considered to be the most modern of designs for refrigerated cargo vessels and was in fact the first vessel especially equipped for the carriage of chilled beef on a commercial scale.
She served with distinction during WWII when she became known as a “lucky” ship. In December 1939 she was fortunate to escape when the nearby DORIC STAR was sunk by the German pocket battleship ADMIRAL GRAF SPEE in the South Atlantic. PORT CHALMERS relayed the distress messages while making her escape, and this brave action helped the Admiralty plot where the ADMIRAL GRAF SPEE would head, leading to the famous action off South America and the eventual scuttling of the German Warship in the River Plate.
In July of 1941 PORT CHALMERS was assigned to her first“Malta” convoy. This small island nation in the middle of the Mediterranean was of immense strategic importance, and it was vital that the allies retained control. The six merchant ships in the convoy managed to survive but several of the naval escort vessels were sunk & one of the other merchant vessels was torpedoed.
In August 1942 PORT CHALMERS was involved in her second Malta Convoy. This became the most “famous” of the Malta Convoys. Of the fourteen merchant vessels involved, only five survived, while many of the 37 warships providing cover were sunk or damaged. PORT CHALMERS was the only vessel to reach Malta undamaged. She did have a fright though when a torpedo was found hooked up in her paravane wire. The wire was cut and the torpedo exploded when it hit the bottom, giving the ship a mighty shake up.
Whenever the ship visited Port Chalmers the officers would visit the school, and in about 1950 the ship’s officers and crew presented the Port Chalmers School with two trophies for the school’s champion athletes. These trophies (known as the Ships Cups) have been contested every year since, and are still competed for to this day.
In 1964 it was announced that PORT CHALMERS was to be withdrawn from service and sold for scrap. Mr Garry Bain, a youngish teacher at the school, was appointed the school’s liaison person (probably because of his maritime interests). The ship’s last visit to Port Chalmers became a special occasion. The whole school (at that time about 300 pupils) was invited aboard and every child was given a piece of the grand farewell cake baked by the chefs, as well as soft drink and sandwiches. The ship’s officers and crew competed with the school staff and senior pupils in an “informal” soccer match at the school, and were guests at a special school assembly.
These items of nautical interest and historic importance are now in the most appropriate place to be viewed by the public in general and by Port Chalmers pupils & staff, past and present, in particular.
© Port Chalmers School