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Children at sea

2 June 2008 by stepheng

Black and white photo of children and members of crew posing on deck with a life ring rading 'Alaunia, Liverpool'

Nancy Mildon with her brothers. Image courtesy Liverpool Daily Post and Echo

I was taken aback recently to learn that one of my relatives still has a teddy at the age of 19. He takes comfort having it near as have countless other people – including our own royal family. However, it didn’t appeal to me after the age of about three.

Countless thousands of children have travelled on passenger ships but very little has been recorded about their experiences unless by adults.

At Merseyside Maritime Museum there is a collection of material linked to a young girl who sailed across the Atlantic with her mother and brother during the First World War. She was Nancy Mildon, aged eight, who sailed on the Cunard liner Alaunia from New York to Plymouth in July 1916. Nancy and her family were returning to England after spending six years in Canada. The crossing was frightening because of the threat of attacks by German U-boats.

Nancy had her toy lion Fido to hug for comfort during the voyage. She called him Fido because at first she thought he was a toy dog. Nancy (later Mrs Hall) kept Fido until she was almost 90 years old, when she gave him to the museum. During the voyage, Nancy was upset when her mother lent Fido to passenger Ruth Merrington who wrote an ode starting:

A British lion watch do keep
O’er a little bunk
Where I tried to sleep.
He rolled his eyes and he wagged his tail
When spooky sounds my cheek did pale.

Family photos (including this one) record Nancy on the voyage – one with her sailor-suited brother and other child passengers and crew members.

From an earlier era is The Big Ship (Great Eastern) Alphabet. The front cover shows Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s huge ship with its churning paddle wheels. Other illustrations on display show a children’s race on board the Andes in the 1930s. There are two from the 1950s – playroom on a passenger liner and bedtime stories on the Ivernia.

Many souvenirs could be bought – one is a “take to pieces” model of the Queen Mary dating from 1936.

A sailor boy doll dressed in bell-bottomed trousers wears a cap carrying the name Lancastria. This pre-war souvenir is a poignant reminder that many children were among up to 5,000 people who died when the liner was sunk by the Germans off France, in June 1940. It was the worst-ever loss of life on a British ship. 

A new Maritime Tale by Stephen Guy appears every Saturday in the Liverpool Echo.

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