8th May 2008
Life of former Goole Captain
Last week marked the anniversary of the death of well-known Goole seafarer Captain Bill Laverack.
The former Merchant Navy and Associated Humber Line officer died of a heart attack while sailing from Finland to Holland on April 30, 1978. On the anniversary of his death, reporter Nick Towle looks back at the career of one of the most distinguished and longest-serving sea captains in Gooles history...
On April 30, 1978, Captain James William Laverack and his crew set off from the port of Kotka in Finland en route to Amsterdam on what was to be the noted seafarer's final journey.
Just off the coast of Sweden, Captain Laverack suffered a heart attack aboard the mv Lincolnbrook. He was airlifted off the ship - owned by Camben Longstaff and Co - by the crew of a Swedish air-sea rescue helicopter but, despite all their best efforts in gale-force conditions, Capt Laverack was pronounced dead on arrival at hospital. He was 58 years old.
Capt Laverack, known as Bill, was born in February 1920, the son of Captain James Laverack senior and Joan Ella of Marshfield Road, Goole.
Capt Laverack senior was a well-known master on the Associated Humber Lines (AHL) who commanded ships such as the Hebble, Blyth and the passenger vessel Melrose Abbey on the Hull-to-Rotterdam service.
Captan Laverack junior - who had an older sister Winifred (Winnie), who died in November last year aged 92 - was educated at the former Alexandra Street and Goole Grammar schools.
He began his career at sea as a navigating officer cadet, first with Furness Withy and Co. and then with the Harrison Line of Liverpool, with whom he made voyages to the West Indies, South America and South Africa.
Just before the outbreak of World War Two Capt Laverack was appointed Fourth Officer with Harrison Line's passenger steamer Inanda, sailing between the UK and the West Indies.
In the early years of the war Capt Laverack and his crew were torpedoed off the southern coast of West Africa by a German U-Boat while on a Harrison Line steamer called the Colonial. Capt Laverack survived and spent the night on a lifeboat. The following day he and his crew were picked up by the former World War One battleship HMS Centurion.
The Colonial's crew were put ahsore in Freetown, Sierra Leone, whence they returned home as the prize crews of two captured Vichy-French merchant ships.
After this, his first scrape with death, Capt Laverack, left the Harrison Line to join his father serving on local ships in Associated Humber Lines.
It was on April 27, 1943, at the age of just 23, that Capt Laverack junior survived his second brush with death. He was Second Officer on an Associated Humber Line steamer and was on a shore-based gunnery training course with other Goole seamen when the incident happened on an air base at Longniddry, on the Scottish coast.
It was the end of the day's training and Captain Laverack and his colleagues were sitting on a bus waiting to be taken back to their lodgings.
As they waited to go, the aeroplane which had been towing the targets for them to fire at got into difficulties on landing and exploded into flames after crashing into the bus.
As was reported by this newspaper at the time, twelve people were killed in the crash, including 37-year-old Able Seaman G. A. Osborn, of Hook Road, Goole.
Capt Laverack was badly injured but survived. Many put it down to his choice of garments that day (a three-quarter-length grey overcoat, gloves and hat), which prevented burns to the rest of his body.
He did, however, suffer severe burns to his face, ears and lower legs. The burns were so bad it needed many years of reconstructive plastic surgery to rebuild his nose, ears and eyelids.
Capt Laverack spent long periods in Bangour Hospital near Edinburgh and underwent many operations to rebuild his features. This was in the life-saving days of plastic surgery, when the skin-grafting operations were essential rather than cosmetic.
Also injured was Able Seaman G. Watson of Grange Road, Goole.
In 1947 Bill married Joan Ella of Ousefleet, who had been his childhood sweetheart since their days at Goole Grammar School. They had two sons - David, now 59 and still living in Goole, and Jeff, now 55 and living in Brighouse.
After Bill's death Joan remained at the family home in Fountayne Street, Goole, until she died in March 1999.
During the 1950s, sixties and early seventies, Capt Laverack served in most of the vessls belonging to Associated Humber Lines, including the steamers Alt, Hebble, Hodder, Blyth, Don, Dearne, Rother and - following in his father's footsteps - the Melrose Abbey.
Capt Laverack junior was the last AHL master to command the Melrose Abbey before she was sold to a Greek shipping company in the late 1950s.
In 1957 the veteran seafarer was made a member of the Honourable Company of Master Mariners, a City of London Guild of Livery company.
From the late 1950s he was to command most, if not all, of the motor vessels that were built to replace the steam ships. These included the m.v Whitby Abbey, Fountains Abbey, Byland Abbey, Kirkham Abbey, m.v Darlington, m.v Harrogate, m.v Selby, m.v Wakefield, m.v Leeds and m.v York, which he brought to Goole from the Clyde in Scotland and which traded regularly on the Copenhagen run, with beer and butter as the staple cargoes.
In the latter days of AHL, Capt Laverack was master of the Third Crew which alternated between the two passenger/container motor vessels, the Bolton Abbey and Melrose Abbey, on the lucrative Hull-to-Rotterdam trade route.
However, the formation and success of North Sea Ferries - with their roll-on, roll-off service from Hull to Europort - sounded the death knell for Associated Humber Lines and in 1973 it collapsed.
Upon AHL's demise, Capt Laverack, like so many master officers and seamen, was made redundant.
After redundancy he qualified as a North Sea pilot but ended up taking a job with Comben Longstaff & Co, for whom he commanded many of its coal-carrying '-brook' ships, which were well-known visitors to Goole.
Capt Laverack served on a number of fleet vessels including the Caernarvonbrook and the Selby-built sister ships Sussexbrook, Solentbrook, Somersetbrook, Surreybrook and Stirlingbrook.
He also commanded various ships managed by Comben Longstaff, including the Windle Sea, Windle Sky and the 'Ro-Ro' car-carrier Autostrada.
His final years with the company were in command of the motor vessels Lancasterbrook, Leicesterbrook and, finally, in 1978, the Lincolnbrook, on which he died.