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  • When I answered the phone back in July 1980 little did I realise that I was about to have probably the most important conversation of my life. During the conversation I would need to make a decision, just a simple yes or no answer that would save my life. Unfortunately, and this is the part that I always struggle to get my head round, it would ultimately mean that somebody would die in my place.
    At the time I was 17 and back home in Liverpool following my first trip to sea, a four and a half month journey on the MV Lincolnshire that had been eventful to say the least. If I could remember clearly everything that had happened during that trip and find the words to describe it then I'd be able to put together a small novel. Even then I'd need to remain anonymous and change the names of those involved or all sorts of hell could break loose!!
    The time spent at sea entitled me to about seven weeks paid leave and I'd been home for no more than four of the seven weeks when I received the phone call from Bibby Line, the shipping company I was employed by. The person on the other end of the line was Stan Clayton, who I suppose nowadays would be classed as a HR Manager. His job was to fill crew positions on the ships as and when they became available and he had an offer for me. There was a position available within the fleet and he wanted to offer it me before having to go down the route of finding somebody through the shipping pool. As I still had paid leave outstanding this would be credited to me at sometime in the future so I wasn't going to lose out and could look forward to probably a two month break when I returned home.
    Remember I was only 17, I had pockets full of money and was seriously enjoying myself. As much as a fantastic experience my first trip had been I just didn't feel ready to pack my bags again just yet. But at the same time I didn't want to do anything that may jeopardise any future employment. This was all explained to Stan and, fair play to him, he was honest enough to explain to me that if I decided to turn this ship down it wouldn't reflect badly on me in any way. The only other thing that I needed to be aware of was that it may be a while before another ship became available which would mean that I'd be unemployed for a spell. After giving it some thought I told Stan "No. I'm not ready to go back yet." Six weeks later I joined the MV Hampshire to begin my second trip with Bibby Line.
    On September 9th the whole ship, officers and crew alike, were called together. The Captain gravely announced that one of the Bibby Line fleet, the MV Derbyshire had disappeared on it's way to Japan. 44 lives were lost. It seemed that most of the older hands knew somebody working on the Derbyshire. I just knew somebody who could have been if he'd not said no.

    (The photograph shows the Derbyshire during her fit out at Swan Hunter shipyard. She was originally named Liverpool Bridge)
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