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Documenting a deck apprentice’s journey

4 February 2019 by Vicki Caren

bundles of letters in air mail envelopes

The Jim Fitt collection, before

Today’s guest blog post is by Brenda McCafferty, who completed a placement with us in January as part of her Masters in Archives and Records Management (MARM) degree:

“Recently I was fortunate to receive a placement in the Maritime Archives and Library in partial fulfilment and completion of my Masters of Archives degree program at the University of Liverpool.

My work placement involved arranging and describing a recent acquisition of letters and photographs received from Jim Fitt, detailing his early experiences at sea as an 18-19 year old deck apprentice with Shell Tankers Ltd, 1962-1963. 

The archival letters of correspondence arrived in carefully packaged, tightly packed bundles, chronologically organised by voyage and ship vessel.

The preservation work entailed removing and unfolding each letter from the envelope, paying close attention to maintaining the original order (see before and after photographs). Each letter and attached envelope were then transferred into to acid free envelopes and each item individually labelled with pencil notation.

My role as an archivist is to catalogue the letters in order to help ‘navigate’ the collection for the use of future researchers. The letters reflect an interesting and not well documented era during the early 1960s, when far east politics dominated the news with covert CIA manoeuvres, the outbreak of the Vietnam war and other topical news forming part of the subjects contained within the correspondence.

Significantly, both responses and replies to Jim’s letters to his doting parents back home in Essex are included in the collection. A complete and comprehensive set of correspondence is what makes these holdings unique. Jim’s ‘folks’, as he addresses them in letters, relate day-to-day life in Essex during that period. Jim details his daily life aboard a tanker ship and accompanying photographs add context to the interesting Shell oil ports visited throughout the world, and provides a glimpse of a bygone era.

Everyday occurrences of life at sea are described including sometimes violent storms and sea sickness aboard the ship.

Lastly, a bundle of love letters to female acquaintances offer researchers interesting avenues and opportunities for future study.”

photos, letters and other documents, in protective wallets

The Jim Fitt collection, after

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