When Leonard was ten his mother sent him away from the farm to J.A. Gibbs Nautical School in Penarth, South Wales. He left this school in 1922, aged fourteen, and started an apprenticeship, serving four years as an apprentice seaman on the SS Rhymney out of Cardiff. He was paid in total the sum of £60 for the four years!
On finishing his apprenticeship he worked on the SS Treherbert, also out of Cardiff, before working on the following Union-Castle Line ships: the RMS Grantully Castle, the RMS Llanstephan Castle, and the RMS Dunluce Castle.*
From around 1929-31 he served on the cable ships CS Faraday (2) and CS Dominia. In December 1931 he married my mother, and, deciding that life at sea was no longer suitable for him as a married man, he took a land job.
That should have been the end of his time at sea, but then in 1939 the Second World War started. At thirty-one he was too old to be called up for service, but he volunteered at the local RAF recruiting station.
The recruiting officer suggested that with his maritime experience, Leonard would be most suitable for boat crew, and he spent the rest of the war serving on an RAF High Speed Rescue launch, No. 2559. This launch appeared in the 1950s film The Sea Shall Not Have Them. This was the start of another sea adventure, and there are too many stories from this period to relate here.
My father passed away in 1991 aged 82. Some people thought that he still walked with the roll of the ship; I guess the sea had never really left him.
—Brian Ellis, August 2008
TREMORS ARE EXPERIENCED BY CABLEMEN
Third largest cable ship in the world, the S.S. Faraday, in from repair work in the ’quake zone, docked at Imperoyal [Nova Scotia] this morning.
There is absolutely no doubt that a tremendous upheaval of the
ocean’s bed took place 300 miles east of Halifax and extending
over an area of 200 square miles during the earthquake of November
18th, declared officers of the cable steamer Faraday here this morning. For the first time the exact location and extent of the upheaval
was defined. Supporting their theory the officers brought back specimens of red clay, believed to be of volcanic nature, grey clay and bits of granite picked up from the ocean’s bed. These, it is understood,
will be examined by geologists at Halifax.
Slight tremors experienced over the location of the earthquake were experienced two weeks ago.
This is believed to have been caused by the re-settling of the bottom. Broken cables were traced, buried, twisted and broken beyond repair
for a distance of 60 miles.
No changes were reported in the depth of the ocean, it being pointed out that as the ship worked in from 200 to 1,600 fathoms, only a very great variation would be noticeable.
Leaving London on Nov. 26, the ship has since been engaged on repair work.
The Star, January 7th 1930.
ADVENTURES ON A CABLE SHIP.
Waves 60 Feet High, Icebergs And Hurricanes.
VOYAGE OF THRILLS.
Waves 60ft. high, icebergs, ice-floes and winds of hurricane force were some of the obstacles encountered by the British cable ship Faraday; which returned to London to day after 2 1/2 months in the North Atlantic.
The Faraday left London in the middle of November to repair cables belonging to the Commercial Cable Company that were broken by the American earthquake. Her voyage was a long series of mishaps. Many times during the furious gales which swept over the Atlantic she had to stop grappling for the broken cables and fight for her life. Cables were fished up from the bed of the ocean two miles below, only to be lost again to the mountainous seas.
His Roughest Trip.
“It was the roughest trip I have ever been on,” one of the officers told a “Star” reporter who went on board the Faraday soon after she docked to-day.
“For two and a half Months we were buffeted about in the Atlantic, and the only time we saw land was when we ran out of fuel and had to make for Halifax. When it was not blowing a gale, there was a fog or a blizzard.
“Nearly half the time we were out it was impossible to do anything, and for days on end we were hove to. Time and again we picked up the broken end of a cable, but lost it, or were forced to make it fast to a buoy and run for safety.
“Our bad luck started almost as soon as the voyage began, when one of the engineers got badly burnt in an accident in the engine-room, and had to be put ashore at Plymouth.
“One day, when we were nearing Newfoundland, where the broken cables were, we ran perilously close to a giant iceberg. When we reached a spot about 300 miles east of Sable Island, we fished for three days for a broken end of cable, without luck. At last we hooked it, only to find that the earthquake had buried it for miles, and that it was impossible to bring it to the surface.
“We grappled again at another point, and, after three days got the broken end to the surface, but wind of hurricane force blew up, and the cable had to be dropped.
“Buoys that we put out to mark the spots were swept away repeatedly. We lost so many this way that we had to go to another cable ship on the grounds for fresh supplies.
“Once, after several days’ fishing, we brought a cable to the surface only to find that it was a loose end.
Ran Out of Food.
“We ran out of food supplies, and had to go to another shop for them, encountering every difficulty imaginable. Yet, chiefly owing to the wonderful seamanship of the captain, we were able to retain two broken ends and splice new cable on to them. At one spot we laid 75 miles of new cable, and joined it to the other broken end.
“Coming home, when we thought our troubles were over, we encountered the worst weather of the trip The seas were 60-feet high, so that when the ship was down in a trough the tops of the waves came up to the crow’s nest. To make matters worse one night we suddenly found ourselves in a thick ice-floe. It was three days before we got out of it.”